Practical Notes Trust Me I’m Lying

I’m 2 years late to Ryan Holiday’s book “Trust Me, I’m Lying“. Never much of a PR person, I learned quickly from his nonfictional account of being a “media manipulator” that marketing can be everything after you’ve built a great product. Since I have to return the book by 12/20 to the San Diego Public Library, I figured this is a good time to write down my notes as a blog post.


Quotes in “Trust Me, I’m Lying”

“We play by their rules long enough and it becomes our game” –

Orson Scott Card

“Social media isn’t a set of tools to allow humans to communicate with humans. It is a set of embedding mechanisms to allow technologies to use humans to communicate with each other, in an orgy of self-organizing… The Matrix had it wrong. You’re not the batter power in a global, human-enslaving AI, you are slightly more valuable. You are part of the switching circuitry”

-Venkatesh Rao (Entrepreneur in residence at Xerox)

“It’s a prime example of the feminist blogosphere’s tendency to tap into the market force of what I’ve come to think of as “outrage world” – the regularly occurring firestorms stirred up on mainstream, for-profit, woman-targeted blogs like Jezebel and also, to a lesser degree, Slate’s own XX Factor and Salon’s Broadsheet. They’re ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism. These firestorms are great for page-view-pimping bloggy business.”

-Emily Gould from

“Companies should expect a full-scale, organized attack from critics. One that will simultaneously overrun blog comments, Facebook fan pages, and an onslaught of blogs, resulting in mainstream press appeal. Start by developing a social media crises plan and developing internal fire drills to anticipate what would happen.”

-Jeremiah Owyang

“Our illusions are the house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience.”

-Daniel Boorstin


Practice Advice from the Book

  1. Control your Wikipedia page (use any press mention from blogs or traditional media)
  2. Study the top stories and you’ll notice a pattern: the top stories all polarize poeple. If you make it threaten people’s 3 Bs – behavior, belief, or belongings – you get a huge virus-like dispersion
  3. Write stuff bloggers can post right away without any work. Feed them their own lies “help them trick their readers”
  4. Loaded headlines are popular
  5.  Silence on blogs is the worst.
  6. Faking leaks with email editor (from different sources) can work if you have the right contacts

Media historian W.J. Cfambell once identified the distinguishing markers of yellow journalism as follows:

  • Prominent headlines that screamed excitement about utlimately unimportant news
  • Lavish use of pictures (often of little relevance)
  • Imposters, frauds, and faked interviews
  • Color comics and a big, thick Sunday supplement
  • Ostentatious support of the underdog causes
  • Use of anonymous sources
  • Prominent coverage of high society and events


Concepts from the book

Ongoing Narrative /Iterative Reporting -damage is already done, there’s no such thing. Iterative reporting is bullshit, people treat news headlines as “cultural truth”, the damage is already done, even it it is a baseless accusation.

Faking leaks with email editor (from different sources)

The Psychology of Error – Errors and mistakes get rewarded, causes outrage = pageviews = money

For example, each picture is a different load screen = more pageviews (short term vs. long term metrics). Usability vs. profitability – publishers are focused blindly on pageviews, but in the longterm, user trust will be important. Meanwhile, irresponsible bloggers are making millions from sensationalizing untrue stories.

Snark – deadly weapon (humour in its dark form. Example = “Your Daily Douchebag: John Mayer Edition”. Another online example: Hot Chicks with Douchebags

All that happens -> All that’s known by media –> All that is newsworthy ->All that is published as news -> All that spreads. This is the systematic limiting of the information seen by the public

My Action List / Lessons from the Book

  1. Headlines matter
  2. Blogs hold a lot of power
  3. The right contacts at the right blogs in a certain industry hold lots of sway. Example: Apple announcements
  4. Building a new site with high viral traction (but with the right user metrics in mind) can take off quickly. Sites like Watch Mojo, Ebaumsworld,, ride the wave of copying content from others, organized in a digestible way that users can quickly spread. Millions of dollars are made this way while sources are never credited. There must be a way to do both.
  5. There is a need for a reputable news source, or an industry specific source that does not pander to “mass hysteria”. Example: