[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).