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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).

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Unexpected Reveals in the Age of Radical Transparency

December 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Linkedin Company Insights

Government reform activists are constantly working to shed light on the dark dealings in politics, particularly on government employees and officials moving to the private sector to lobby the agencies and offices they used to occupy.  In the past, this information was difficult to obtain.

Enter Linkedin.

Like all social networking platforms, the strength of Linkedin is in its ability to mine profile data with algorithms to create connections and paint a picture unseen from other vantage points.  Also like other social networking platforms, they’ve been steadily adding features and doing more with the growing body of data they hold.

Even with a free Linkedin account and a few minutes of research, one can look up the top ten lobbying firms in the US for 2012 and get a glimpse of insight about the comings and goings of employees from and to the public sector by looking at these organizations “Company Insight” pages on Linkedin:

  1. Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck (4 employees from the US House of Representatives)
  2. Hogan & Hartson (4 employees from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, 3 from the US House of Representatives)
  3. Quinn Gillespie & Associates (one employee recently departed for a job as a Press Associate for the Senate Finance Committee)
  4. Holland & Knight (9 employees from the US House of Representatives)
  5. Ernst & Young
  6. Williams & Jensen (one employee recently departed for a job with the US Department of Energy)
  7. Van Scoyoc Associates (3 employees from the US Senate)
  8. Cassidy & Associates (4 employees from the US Air Force)
  9. Akin, Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP (10 employees from the US Senate, 9 from the US House of Representatives)
  10. Patton Boggs LLP (9 employees from the US Department of Justice, 6 from the US House of Representatives)

 

Someone with more programming expertise than I could easily create an automated program to mine and archive this publicly-available data (and mash it up with other bodies of data).

Something important to consider about all of this information is that it came from the users themselves; not from the companies.  As always with data security, even the most robust program is only as strong as its weakest link.

There is very little that is certain about our rapidly-evolving world, but one certainty is that more data will become public and we’ll have more and better ways to understand and sift through it.

Any institutions that rely on a lack of transparency are going to be in for unexpected surprises if they don’t fundamentally change their practices, or invest in some heavy-duty online reputation management.

Fair warning.

The Presidential Race may be Close but Google is Winning Election Reporting

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

There has been some pretty impressive tech on display during the 2012 election, but one of my favorites has been Google’s Election results:

Google's Amazing Election Results Reporting

Their live, interactive display that allows the same sort of smooth and intuitive navigation as Google Maps is truly stunning.

In addition to mapping county by county data, they’ve also tied in a variety of analytics and news sources from their various other platforms from Youtube to Insights to Trends.

Not only are they doing real-time mapping of the reported results, but they’re tracking where the AP has called the race for one candidate or another (I’d love to see them wrap in more news outlets and who they’re calling the races for – unfortunately they have an exclusive arrangement with the Associated Press).

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More of this, please.

 

Case Study Update: Family Promise GR Receives Toyota Truck

October 27, 2012 Leave a comment
Family Promise GR Receives Toyota Truck

Family Promise Director Cheryl Schuch, right, accepted a ceremonial key for the program’s new pickup truck at Toyota of Grand Rapids Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Michael Croff)

I was fortunate to work with a great team of people who helped Family Promise of Grand Rapids win Toyota’s “100 Cars for Good” competition this year (a full case study is available here).  Yesterday, the organization took receipt of the car which was another great public relations opportunity from the competition (which has given the organization a great platform to reach more members of the community).

West Michigan charity takes delivery of Toyota truck it won through Facebook contest
By Jim Harger | Grand Rapids Press | on October 26, 2012 at 11:49 AM

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Family Promise of Grand Rapids took delivery of its new Toyota Tundra pickup this week thanks to its success in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good competition earlier this year. (More)

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…

Slow Clap for the Harvard Business Review; Finally Catches up to Social Media Marketing Circa 2004

August 15, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m not one enamored of the Harvard Business Review.  The ivory tower often isn’t the best vantage point.

That’s why I’m unimpressed with the recent piece by Bill Lee, “Marketing is Dead,” published in the HBR.   The article does little to live up to the provocative title, rehashing conclusions most savvy marketers and advertisers came to nearly a decade ago (even the slowest among us arrived at them at least five years ago).

Why is marketing dead?  CEOs are frustrated and customers are ignoring traditional media – just look!:

“In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group, 73% of them said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.”

So what?  The percentage of Americans that say CEOs lack credibility is at 79 percent.  Moreover, the turnover rate for CEOs is at a six-year high.  Audiences have been tuning out from the traditional mass media for over a decade. Read more…