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When is a Marketing Job Not a Marketing Job? – At Grand Marketing / Cohesion Inc / [Future Name Here]

July 23, 2013 16 comments

I feel an obligation to protect the students that I teach and mentor.  Whenever possible, I try to steer them away from mistakes I’ve made or lend them some of the limited wisdom I’ve acquired in nearly two decades of being a professional.

The latest effort to help students and young professionals out is advising them to stay away from “Cohesion, Inc.” (formerly “Grand Marketing”), “Prestige Enterprises,” and other similar companies, which are essentially door-to-door sales or telemarketing jobs falsely promoted as jobs in marketing, advertising or public relations.

These companies target college students and 20-somethings with promises of jobs in marketing and advertising, when what they really offer is commission-based sales.  They claim to represent companies in the “Sports” and “Fashion” fields because they know these industries are top targets of young professionals.  In reality, students end up selling undesirable products (like health supplements) and work on commission – and often they’re set up as multi-level marketing operations (ie pyramid schemes).

In doing some digging, it appears that many of these companies are all franchises of Cydcor (the Mother Ship). Their entry on PissedOffConsumer spells out many of the same complaints that others have had.  The parent company, be it Cydcor or some other group, provides the franchisees with canned website copy and direction on how to set up their business (which makes them all easy to spot - see below).

Fortunately social media gives former employees and interviewees a way to share information about the deception with others, resulting in this long entry about Grand Marketing / Cohesion at PissedOffConsumer.com.  In fact, social media could be what drove the company to switch names as the negative reviews rank higher than the actual company website in Google search results:

Grand Marketing Google Results

Another company of the same variety in Grand Rapids has come to my attention: Prestige Enterprises Inc.  They appear to be the same type of operation, as the copy from their website shows up on the sites of dozens of other similar “marketing” companies around the country.  I took a unique phrase from the websites of Cohesion and Prestige and googled it – these are the results (so either they’re all plagiarists, or they all are using the same website template):

These companies also share similar Facebook page characteristics (inspirational quote photos – some even use the same ones, group photos, and a “careers” page that links to the Jobcast recruiting app).

Prestige Alpha Comparison

Impulse Adamant Comparison

These companies are starting to get more savvy about how they recruit, as they’re realizing that people are figuring them out.  They’ve even started to infiltrate the job boards at colleges and universities (so you can’t even trust that those have been vetted properly, a fact I was disappointed to find out).  Moreover, Cohesion appears to be trying to get out in front of the negative reviews, and mysteriously a couple of rave reviews have shown up on the company’s Glassdoor.com page (and somehow the same photos from their Facebook page are uploaded to the Glassdoor profile on the same day as one of the reviews):

Cohesion Similar Pics

As many young professionals need to be warned about these deceptive outfits as possible – so if you’ve had a bad experience with a company like this, post a review to Glassdoor.com, RipOffReport.com, or PissedOffConsumer.com, or give us their name here. If you’ve received a job offer from a company you’re suspicious of, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help you do background research on them to see if they’re legitimate or not.  If you want to do your own research, here are some tips:

How to Tell if a Company is Really a Marketing / Advertising / Public Relations Firm

  1. Check their website and social media presences for photos of actual, real people.  Most of these companies rely heavily on stock photography (because real photography of real people is expensive or time-consuming to produce).  If they do have photos of “real” people – they’ll typically be large group photos which make it appear like there are more people working there than actually are.
  2. Do they talk about “Sports Marketing,” “Fashion Marketing,” or other really desirable industries that seem too good to be true? – They probably are.
  3. Search for the company name in your local business publications (for example the Grand Rapids Business Journal, MiBiz or Rapid Growth) – have they made any lists?  Are there any profiles of their executives or employees?  If not – that’s a red flag.
  4. Check your local County Registrar or the Michigan State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (DLEG) – they will allow you to search for people who have applied for DBA record (“Doing Business As”).  Most, like Kent County, have an online search feature. This can tell you who is behind the company and much more about them – particularly the State of Michigan DLEG directory; it contains the company’s annual report and incorporation documents (watch for companies where the same person holds all of the offices – ie President, Secretary, Treasurer, Director).
  5. Find what appears to be a unique string of text somewhere in their website (usually from the “About” section) and search for it in quotes in Google.  When the results come back, if you see the exact same string of text in multiple other websites – you’ll know they’re not legit.  Note: Google will sometimes omit similar results – so you may need to click the “repeat the search with the omitted results included” link.
  6. Look for a company on Linkedin.  They should have a company page (especially if they’re a marketing, advertising or public relations firm).  If they don’t have one, red flag.  If they DO have one, you can use it to get more intel on the company: if you view a company page and click “Insights,” it will give you a wealth of data.  You can find out who some former employees are (so you can look up their work history or perhaps even contact them to get insight on how it was working there), who some current employees are, what similar companies people also search for, and the most common places their employees came from.
  7. Search for the company on job websites (I recommend Indeed.com, which is right now by far the best job website).  If they have a LOT of positions posted and yet they’re small enough that you’ve never heard of them, that should be a big red flag.  Just look, for example, at how many positions Prestige Enterprises is trying to fill (and the variety of titles).
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UPDATE: Are Classes at GVSU Canceled Due to a Bus Accident and Weather? – HELLS NO

March 19, 2013 1 comment

UPDATE 2 – 3/25/13: See Below

Mark Twain once said “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Let’s test that hypothesis in the era of social media.

GVSU Email Confirmed Fake

Right now, students at Grand Valley State University are circulating the image above which appears to be a screen capture from a mobile phone showing an email from a GVSU faculty member describing in elaborate detail why classes will be canceled tomorrow (3/20/13).

Some of my students forwarded it to me and inquired if I’d heard anything.  To date (7:50 pm on 3/19/13) I’ve received no emails from the administration, and there are no announcements on the college’s website, nor any messages pertaining to a cancellation on the college’s Facebook or Twitter pages.  Moreover, there are no cancellations for GVSU in the news media.

So it’s probably false.

What also makes me think the image is a fake is that there’s no date in the email (and I’m not aware of any version of the Gmail client that doesn’t at least show the date or time in the header information of an email).  I’m betting it was probably photoshopped.  To test my suspicions I ran the photo through Photoshop Killer, an online tool that detects when changes have been made to images.  The report seems to indicate photoshopping; in addition to the lack of EXIF data about the image, it appears to have possibly been sharpened (possibly to hide traces after blurring out some portions to edit them).

Photoshop Killer Analysis of the Image

It’s true, the weather hasn’t been optimal today – but it’s hardly bad enough for GVSU to cancel all of its classes at all of its campuses.  It’s also true that there was a bus accident on campus today A student was struck by a bus at GVSU a month ago – however the female student who was struck by a Rapid bus only suffered minor injuries.  Also definitely not reason enough to cancel all classes.

I sent an email to Dr. Kevin Cole, the professor from whom the email purportedly originates.

Updates to follow.  It would be great if we could debunk this in real time.

UPDATE: 9:40pm 3/19/13

Dr. Cole returned my email in record time confirming that, indeed, the email is a hoax.  Here’s his response:

GVSU Email is Confirmed as HoaxIt’s going to be interesting to see what GVSU’s Computing and Technology Support department finds when they go through the digital trail that this email likely left behind.  Unless this person was seriously savvy, it’s likely they will have left multiple bits of identifying information behind as a result of sending this message.

UPDATE: 12:45pm 3/52/13

A couple of days after this blog post, GVSU responded to the situation; apparently there were several instances of these fraudulent emails being sent.  Today they announced that they were able to track down the student who was responsible (who may now be charged criminally and possibly disciplined by GVSU).

Social Media Director at U of M Becomes Casualty of Social Media Transparency

December 11, 2012 4 comments

Jordan Miller Case Study Collage

[Disclosure: I applied for the University of Michigan Social Media Director position.]

In October of 2011, the University of Michigan announced that it had created a Social Media Director position.  I was elated; it was a great sign that the practice was gaining the recognition it deserves.  In February of 2012 they announced that after “dozens” of applicants (a suspiciously low number for that high-profile of a position with an elite school that paid $100k/year) they had selected Jordan Miller to be their new Social Media Director.

Flash-forward to December 7 when a post appeared on Reddit titled “UM Social Media Director Jordan Miller lies on resume about bachelors degree, keeps job.” posted by citizenthrowawayx.  The post contained links to three scans of documents that pretty conclusively demonstrated that Miller had indeed lied on her job application claiming to have completed her studies at Columbia College in Chicago when in fact she had not.

Jordan Miller's Followgram Profile Description

Jordan Miller’s Unfortunate Followgram Profile Description

As of today, Miller resigned from the position at U of M.

There’s a lot more to the story (that the anonymous individual who did the legwork and posted the damning information is an ex-husband who happens to also work at U of M and who is involved in a custody battle, alleging that Miller manufactured child abuse allegations against him to negate his custody of their child) but I’m less interested in that than the larger ramifications of this case study in how not to approach social media.

Beat the Dead Horse: Radical Transparency

What I can’t get over is that someone would think they could get away with something like this in applying for (1) a social media leadership position at (2) one of the best universities in the US.  Who thinks this sort of deception can last in such a position of scrutiny?

Forget unethical (although it’s certainly that), in the age of radical transparency duplicity is just plain impractical.

Digital Shrapnel

Here is just a sampling of the ripples Miller’s lying has sent off in the direction of everyone she’s had contact with:

U of M Human Resources: Why doesn’t the University of Michigan’s Human Resources Office vet the higher education credentials of its applicants?  How many of the rest of the university’s employees are lacking in degrees from accredited higher education institutions?  Why didn’t the HR department take action on this information when it was forwarded to them “a few weeks ago?”  Why did it take contacting the university’s Compliance Hotline to get something accomplished?

Past Employers: Now that we know Miller lied on her U of M job application, does that mean that she lied on her application to the Ann Arbor News?  As a journalistic organization that trumpeted her hire and is now reporting on her downfall – it’s incumbent upon them to now shine that same light on themselves and their hiring practices.  How many of their other reporters are lacking in degrees from accredited colleges/universities?  Why don’t they verify higher ed credentials? Ditto to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the advertising agency that employed her for a year and a half.

References: This kind of situation makes me less inclined to want to give out references or endorsements, which are becoming ever-present on social networking sites.  You practically trip over them logging in to Linkedin, they’re on Facebook and its apps (like Branchout) and everywhere else.

Past Work: If Miller lied about something as substantial as her higher ed credentials, what else is lurking in her past?  Has she fabricated any of the information in the stories she wrote for the AnnArbor.com?

What They Think I Do - Super Hero

Social Media Pros: Specializing in social media is already a profession that hurts for credibility.  Here’s a comment from the story announcing Miller’s hire typical of the opinions of many people on social media:

“Wow. $100K per year to Twitter (aka “gossip”) and create seminars teaching other people how to Twitter (aka “gossip”). It’s too bad the UM doesn’t have any marketing students or anyone like that, who could devise and maintain “social media” strategies as part of their degree programs. What’s another $100K in taxpayer dollars anyway? It’s just disgusting. A hundred THOUSAND dollars a year. It’s incredible.”YpsiVeteran

This act can’t help but contribute to the sentiment that social media pros are charlatans and hucksters.  As a result, all of us suffer.

The Other Applicants for the Position: There were some other applicants for the position who were probably better-qualified than Miller (whose social media credentials I found to be surprisingly sparse – leading me to long suspect that there was some sort of backroom arrangement for the hiring process which is depressingly common at higher ed institutions).  Forget me, Lindsay Blackwell comes to mind – even I was impressed by the multimedia site she set up to apply for the position.  I worry that U of M will eliminate this position and kill a great opportunity for someone else (and an opportunity to show how far ahead of the business world the academic world is in terms of social media acumen).

The Silver Lining

Radical Transparency is here to stay.  It is the norm.  It is one of the rules of the ecosystem.

As we work to get past the social norms that are in conflict with this new reality, we can facilitate this by making use of all of the amazing computing power arrayed before us.  There is value in verification – think of what Linkedin could do to further attract employers as a job posting website by offering the verification of credentials.

I’m not optimistic about the odds of it happening, but hopefully the human resources world takes this opportunity to reflect on how outmoded its conventions for vetting job applicants are.  There are so many ways to measure the abilities of people online, and so few HR departments are flexing all of those resources.

Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out (and it is literally playing out right now on Reddit as Miller’s ex-husband is able to respond to the questions and comments of other Redditors).

Yes I am a Social Media Jedi, Ninja, Sherpa, and Guru

August 17, 2012 4 comments

Social Media Jedi

Eric Stoller at Inside Higher Ed recently wrote an article (You Are Not a Social Media Jedi, Ninja, Sherpa, or Guru) poking fun at people who use any of the wide array of “Social Media _______” titles online. As someone who has used such titles in the past, I feel it’s up to me to write a rebuttal and defend those of us who feel we’ve earned these appellations.

To be sure, there are tens of thousands of people running around claiming credentials they don’t rightly deserve for a variety of fields. Social media is currently the most notorious for this because it’s a field in its embryonic stage and as such hasn’t had any formal rigors applied to it. Moreover, it shifts so much more quickly than other disciplines that establishing an objective rubric by which to measure one’s bona fides is virtually impossible. Read more…

Michigan’s Education Transparency Bill is a Good Idea – Poorly Executed

August 2, 2012 1 comment

Michigan Legislature Derp

Here in Michigan, a provision was added to the Education Omnibus Budget Bill this year that concerns me as a website administrator for an educational organization.  It’s poorly crafted by legislators who are clearly (but not unsurprisingly) ignorant about technology.

The specific portion of the bill is Sec. 209 in P.A. 201 of 2012.  The full text of the public act is below, but it basically says that all educational institutions in the state (including K-12 and colleges/universities) now have to put a large, dog-ugly logo on the front pages of their websites linking to details about their budgets in the name of transparency. Read more…

You’re not a Master of Social Media if You’re not on Facebook

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

facebook800lbgorilla

In a recent blog post on Inside Higher Ed (Visiolibriphobia: Fear of Facebook *), Professor Afshan Jafar discussed her concerns with Facebook that keep her from using the platform.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Call me crazy, but I am not on Facebook. That’s strange for somebody my age and stranger still for somebody who belongs to a group of writers here at UVenus who are masters at using social media.”

I have two issues with the article:

  1. You’re not a master of using social media if you’re not on Facebook.
  2. It’s impossible to stay off Facebook.

Permit me to explain…

1. Mastery of Social Media

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m touchy about the subject of social media mastery.  A primary means I make my living is through my understanding of social media, and my ability to ply my trade is substantially hampered by people who falsely claim to be experts like me.  Regrettably the learning curve with SM is so great that the average person often isn’t able to distinguish good practice from bad practice.  I’m hardly alone – virtually every profession or area of technical expertise faces this problem.

The 800-lb Blue Gorilla in the Room

Facebook is easily the most massive social networking site world-wide – particularly in the West.  Right now they’re coming up on one BILLION users – or one 1/6 of the planet.  Mastering social media inherently requires a thorough understanding of Facebook given its dominance.  To be a social media expert and have no ongoing hands-on experience with its most key player is the equivalent of attaining a Master of Film Theory degree without learning anything about Sergei Eisenstein.

Social Media’s Shifting Sands

Online the only constant is change.  As such, remaining a master of social media means constantly learning, growing and evolving with platforms.

To wit: every single social media presentation I do is different.  I often stay up late into the night before a presentation revising it with the developments that happened that day.  I even modified a recent preso I did for Crime Stoppers International from one day to the next because the social media world had changed significantly overnight.

Professor Jafar qualifies my first assertion by arguing in her article that Facebook nurtures two characteristics of McDonaldization (efficiency and calculability) that are harmful.  Hopefully Professor Jafar is heartened by the fact that we as a society have evolved away from those measures precisely because of the effect of McDonaldization.

Social media experts AND Facebook know that impersonal shotgun blasts of information are far less effective than one-on-one engagement and discourage it (in the case of Facebook, its algorithms will de-prioritize that content so it shows up in the newsfeeds of fewer users).  Even casual users of Facebook are opening their eyes to this reality, and todays’ students are getting better at communicating differently to different audiences.

With respect to calculability, virtually everyone from tweens to multinational corporations know that sheer numbers don’t matter online.  Actual interactions and action are what matters – and those qualities are rarely present in inflated numbers of fans or friends.

2. You ARE on Facebook

Whether or not you want to be, you likely are on Facebook already.

If you know anyone who is on FB (or possibly even people who don’t know you), doubtless they’ve uploaded photos of you, updates about you, and if you’re a publisher of content like Jafar – that is being shared, liked, and commented on in Facebook.  Institutions or events also publish content about us – like TEDx Conferences:

At the very least every web-accessible digital snippet about you is searchable through Facebook:

AfshanJafar_FacebookSearch

The ubiquity of recording equipment in society means that there is constantly digital documentation of our behavior.  We’re able to ignore this reality on a daily basis because it’s usually never interesting.  That changes the minute we do something sensational or outstanding in either a positive or negative sense.

In Professor Jafar’s case – this likely takes the form of her students discussing what an excellent teacher she is.  Right now these wall posts, photos and posts are mostly unsearchable in Facebook – but that will invariably change as our notions of privacy evolve and become more permissive (a massive shift in public opinion that Pew has documented).  The pressure Facebook is under to monetize its users will only accelerate this trend.

Don’t get me wrong – Facebook should give everyone pause with respect to their privacy.  They’ve made a number of moves over the years that remove control from their users over what is shared about them.  A decade ago, staying off a social networking site was a viable pursuit, but we’ve reached a saturation point where that is no longer the case.

The solution is not to abstain – it is to engage.

When you refuse to engage digitally (be it on Facebook or the web in general) you accomplish two things:

  1. you lose the opportunity to monitor what is said about you and…
  2. you give up the ability to contribute to the conversation about you.

How to Create the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

July 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Template for the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

Given the field I work in, I pay a lot of attention to billboard campaigns.  I suspect this makes me different from many of the publics we target.

One thing I’ve noticed in my years of careful Billboardspotting is how remarkably similar all outdoor advertising is for colleges and universities.  It’s eerie.  It’s almost as though everyone is watching what everyone else is doing and copying it in some sort of marketing feedback loop.

This is likely what is actually happening, which explains the creative entropy. Read more…

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