[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.
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.
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?
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).
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…
My favorite thing about working at Grand Rapids Community College is the small group of amazing people I get to collaborate with on a regular basis on really innovative and tech-driven projects (many of which we’ve managed to get through bureaucratic hurdles and actually put into practice – like being the first college in Michigan to offer text message alerts for students/employees in crisis situations back in 2005).
Some of these people (Szymon Machajewski, Garret Brand, and Eric Kunnen) and I recently entered GRCC’s “Armen Award” competition as a team with a mobile application built entirely by Szymon in his free time based on a concept we developed that would help save both students and the college time and money and promote conservation and sustainable practices at the college. Read more…
[File under "shameless self-promotion"] If you’re working on a social media policy for your organization, I’m hosting a webinar for Paperclip Communications: “Social Media – Campus Policies & Protocol.” The program is aimed specifically aimed at higher education institutions and will cover legal issues, employer/employee issues, student/faculty/staff “boundary” issues, online reputation management, campus PR issues, and generally provide advice and tips to help keep a school’s use of social media positive and lawsuit-free.
Social Media – Campus Policies & Protocol – February 17, 2011 Webinar
Date/Time: Thursday, February 17, 2011 from 2:00-3:30 PM ET
Length: Approx. 90 minutes
Register here: http://bit.ly/SMPolicyWebinarFeb17
It should be a lot of fun; there have been no shortage of fascinating case studies regarding employees and social media policy in the news and this is a topic that I love discussing. If you’re interested in reading some of my other posts on social media policy and online reputation management, here are a few:
- State Farm, Glenn Beck and Social Media
- Fear of Transparency Nixes Blog at University of Colorado
- 100 Percent of Companies/Organizations Have a Social Media Policy
- The Remote and the Real: Shopping for a BP Oil Spill Thong
- Sample College Social Media Policy Guidelines
- Your Visible Social Network: Radical Transparency as the Great Equalizer
Data integrity is really, really important. No, I mean *really* important. It’s tedious, boring, and unsexy – but how we tag, label, sort and publish information is critical.
It’s more important than before because the good news is that it’s being used more than ever (instead of wasting away in moldering file cabinets). The open architecture of so much of the Web 2.0 platforms means that we can mash data in new ways for new ends. The bad news, though, is if the data isn’t sound – it can lead to problems.
Case in Point: my friend and colleague Donna Kragt in Grand Rapids Community College’s Institutional Research & Planning Department just informed me that I helped uncover a state-wide problem in how colleges in Michigan report data to the Federal Government.
If the Internet is Middle Earth, I try to be the equivalent of the Eye of Sauron for GRCC [ask your geek friends].
I discovered that “Braintrack College & University Directory” (a 3rd party student-oriented website) was incorrectly informing students that GRCC offers degrees in Public Relations Management. I found out that they had scraped the data for GRCC’s profile from a federal database. They also scraped a variety of other data from other locations, like our Student Life offerings and enrollment numbers.
One’s first instinct might be to get upset with Braintrack for repurposing this data – but that’s misguided. It’s actually good that other entities like Braintrack are doing so; it ultimately helps put GRCC in touch with more students (they’re a third party so their reporting on GRCC has more credibility than our advertising efforts, plus they may format the data in a more user-friendly way for prospective students, and they may even do their own promotional campaigns – all of which benefit us).
Related to data integrity is a story that was just published in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Marc Perry (“College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities”) about a study showing that most college web content can’t be viewed by people with visual impairments. This is important not only for ADA compliance, but because computers (like those that power search engines) are very similar to people with visual impairments: they rely on text to be able to experience the world – and making a site more ADA-complaint also allows search engines and social networking platforms to more easily index the site. On a positive note – Blackboard (the course management tool used by GRCC) was just lauded for its handicap-accessibility.
I’m an avid reader of the web comic XKCD by Randall Munroe, which offers a daily dose of hilarity in the form of snarky, science/geek-laden humor depicted by stick figures and often charts and graphs. One recent strip (below) featured a Venn diagram illustrating the problem with most college/university websites:
The instant I saw it I forwarded it to the web team at Grand Rapids Community College, which is gearing up for a redesign of the site.
The comic is a superb example of how comics/cartoons and a bit of humor can parsimoniously strike at the heart of an issue in a way no lengthy academic treatise can.
The comic has been passed around many higher ed circles, and was recently featured in an article by Inside Higher Ed (“No Laughing Matter”) about all of the other web development staff who did exactly what I did the minute they saw the cartoon. In the comments section, a discussion was sparked and unfortunately much of it focused on “clicks” and navigation – which I don’t feel are the heart of the problem with too many college/university websites.
For what it’s worth, here’s what I had to say:
Navigability is important, but thinking about websites in terms of navigating by clicks ignores how the web has evolved, which has resulted in the dominance of search engines. It’s far liklier that a prospective student is going to run across the information they need on a college/university website by searching Google than by typing in the domain of the school and picking their way through menus.
Search is doubly-important when it comes to mobile web use (which a growing majority of our students are relying upon as their main connection to the Internet).
Any college/university website that can get students to the information they need in a couple of clicks likely doesn’t have enough information on it to be truly valuable to students; higher education is very information-dense and even portals are strained to provide enough real estate for links to all the content students need.
This is why navigation schemes are inherently problematic, and why they’re de-emphasized as we move toward the Semantic Web where search (and recommendation) are king.
I would rather see an emphasis put on freeing the data locked away in our vast enterprise systems than paring down content to streamline the front page of a website in order to meet an impossible standard.
Rather than trying to please everyone by imposing click limits on navigation – it’s more important to be developing a big footprint online and tagging content so that it’s easily indexed by search tools (and social media platforms).
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
- The Less Than Definitive Guide to Grading Student Blogs
- The Most Important Aspect of the WikiLeaks Debate
- Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Over 25*
- Update - Burger King's Twitter Account Hacked; Finally Suspended 1 1/2 Hours Later
- The Presidential Race may be Close but Google is Winning Election Reporting