[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).
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…
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…
“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:
- You’re not a master of using social media if you’re not on Facebook.
- 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:
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:
- you lose the opportunity to monitor what is said about you and…
- you give up the ability to contribute to the conversation about you.
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…
Perhaps summer isn’t the best time to schedule a learning opportunity for education professionals. Unfortunately the Paperclip Webinar on Community Colleges and the Impact of Social Media has been canceled and will be rescheduled for a later date.
As soon as we have a new date, I’ll post it here.
Community colleges across the country are finding ways to teach, market and communicate using various forms of social media. In this rapidly changing environment it is challenging for professionals to stay up to date on the latest trends and functions of a social media landscape.
In many cases, higher education has led in the adoption of these new tools and technologies. Much more can be done, however, both inside the classroom and outside the college engaging publics.
Join me for an interactive webinar where you will learn how to develop a greater awareness of hot trends in social media as they relate to community colleges and begin the process of creating an effective social media marketing plan.
Register Here: http://bit.ly/ccsandsocialmedia
"...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*
- Millennials: The Reason we Can't Have Nice Things (Vine/Instagram "Wrecking Ball" Parodies Mark Demise of Padnos Hall Sculpture)
- Update - Burger King's Twitter Account Hacked; Finally Suspended 1 1/2 Hours Later