Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Value of LinkedIn Endorsements

In the past couple of months LinkedIn has unveiled a new link and, perhaps more importantly, some new features, among them Endorsements. Basically, the feature aggregates the lists of skills a member claims to have and then asks his/her connections to endorse them for the skills. While it works as advertised, surprisingly, few have asked the $10,000 question, which in my mind is "What's the point?

There's nothing really new in the feature that can't be obtained through a recommendation, which gives a person additional room to expand on the reasoning for their recommendation. With endorsements, your only options are "endorse" or "skip," so other than the act itself, it doesn't really serve as a testimonial. 

It's true the whole discussion could be seen as academic, since no one's going to give someone a bad recommendation, just as no one's generally going to give someone a bad reference. You will likely either give one or you won't. LinkedIn -- and its users -- would have been better served if the site had created a portfolio area or something similar where someone could actually showcase work. Let's hope a feature like this will be coming soon!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Social Media World Needs More SMB Case Studies

It seems every time you open your inbox, there's another invitation from a company promoting a social-media seminar. While I'm sure most of them contain very useful information, there's something consistently missing in all of them.

If you attend many of these seminars, one of the first things you'll note is there's a good chance many, if not most, of the representatives will be from large corporations. Much has been written about how Zappos, IBM, Pepsico and other large brands are leveraging social media.

For sure, many of them are doing interesting things with it and dedicating large sums of money to increasing their "mind share" among the social Web. But I think there's an argument to be made that a household name could increase mind share using most any channel. In other words, more people will willingly interact with a household brand than a small or mid-sized business.

That's an important distinction to make, in my opinion, because SMBs are the growth engine of the economy. Also, getting them to adopt leading-edge marketing techniques is tougher; yet, most marketing pros aren't going to find themselves working on accounts of leading brands. Therefore, it's in everyone's best interest to identify and promote ways that these smaller organizations can become a social-media success story.

Certainly, that will probably come as more SMBs "dip their toe" in the social-media waters. Given that, the lack of their presence isn't necessarily a problem at this point. But it would behoove those in the social-media sphere to do more to cultivate these types of companies as clients and show how it can help them succeed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bloomberg's Verbal Gaffes Show Biz Skills Don't Always Translate

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's no stranger to verbal gaffes; he frequently finds himself in situations that reflect his experience as a business leader has translated into a different philosophy than a typical politician. While that can sometimes produce refreshing candor that voters will appreciate, it seems to make him unaware of how to properly respond in a crisis.

Most reading national papers or watching major news networks are probably aware that the New York metro area was hit with a blizzard Sunday night that left the area struggling to deal with up to two feet of snow. While most of the suburbs have recovered, a microscope has been trained on New York, as airport delays and transportation issues took a toll on visitors and residents alike.

Bloomberg caught the ire of city residents when he basically chastised them for complaining that their streets hadn't been cleared -- saying that the world wasn't coming to an end. That led many to seize on the fact that, as an independently wealthy person, he was incapable of showing empathy in connection with the struggle of average city residents.

On several occasions, Bloomberg has essentially called city residents "whiners" for voicing opinions that differ with City Hall's policy. While his characterization certainly holds water in some instances, when it comes to situations that are having a big impact on people, he often shows a striking lack of empathy.

It's this lack of empathy that I think most who think successful business leaders make great politicians don't always see in advance. We often complain about career politicians, but in a sense, we get to better see what we'll be getting because much of their professional life is played out in the media. Contrast that with someone like Bloomberg, who as a leader of a private company before assuming the mayor's office in New York, had to answer to no one and who didn't have to disclose any information about his business or personal life to anyone else.

This kind of "like or leave it" mentality can make it difficult to get things done in politics, as most don't have city councils or other supervisory bodies that are "rubber stamps." Also, this attitude can quickly come across as abrasive and make voters cool on you relatively quickly. Bloomberg's isolated from this concern, as he's in his last term, but verbal gaffes can be costly for politicians.

New York is a resilient city, not so much because of the leadership of its politicians, but because residents must quickly acclamate to a life that often means putting up with a variety of temporary struggles, such as power outages, building issues, etc. But like any group of people, sometimes they reach a point that makes them feel they've had enough. They're definitely in that spot this week, which has Bloomberg feeling the heat.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Careers Need Effective Messaging Too

Being a public relations pro, one of the things I consistently stress is the need to create an effective, articulate message. Unfortunately, all too often people assume the a product or service’s "wow" factor will automatically put them over the top, even though that’s not always the case. While it may not automatically seem like something that’s vital to career management, messaging should be one of your top considerations here too.

Stop for a moment and think about how we’re communicating these days. As much as we’re actually talking with others in some interpersonal setting, we’re also communicating online via some sort of social network, e-mail, etc. We may not automatically think of them as such, but all of these conversations are actually messages whose impact can vary tremendously depending on how we structure them.

When it comes to career management, we all know that we should put our best foot forward, but here too many tend to focus more on how to interact in an interview than any other step in the process. Problem is, you’ve got to do a good deal of effective positioning to even get to the interview – especially in an era where unemployment rates are still hovering a post-Depression highs and not forecast to decline dramatically over the next couple of years.

Given that, put some thought into the messages you create when you’re seeking a career. Concentrate on using specific words and phrases that articulate how your skills are better than the competition’s. And if you’re between jobs, please – no matter what you do – don’t label yourself as unemployed. Hiring managers these days are becoming increasingly concerned about someone’s skills becoming rusty, given the fact that long-term unemployment – that is people who’ve been without a job for at least six months – is also at post-Depression highs.

During your job search, focus on doing all you can to get your skills in front of people, whether it’s starting and promoting a blog showcasing your skills or doing pro-bono media relations for a local non-profit. All of these things will not only illustrate the sharpness of your skills, but will also get you in front of someone who might very well be able to help you.

And when you do get some help, whether it’s a recommendation from a former employer, a job interview, etc., please make sure you properly acknowledge that help. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard hiring managers say that if they have two equally qualified candidates, they’ll advance someone who remembered nice touches like sending a follow up "thank you" letter to someone for an interview.

One of the venues where I spend a good deal of time each week is LinkedIn. As such, I have an opportunity to review a number of different profiles. I’ve been amazed to see some list their current position as "unemployed." These people may be superbly qualified for a great opportunity, but honestly, I rarely read past that because of the way they position themselves. Given the fact that this tight labor market is likely to last for some time to come, think about messaging and use clever, concise descriptions of your skills and experience in hopes of giving yourself a leg up on the competition!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Economic Downturn? Wouldn't Believe It By This Story

We've been living through an economic downturn that in scale is unlike anything we've seen in this country in easily more than 30 years -- some say since The Great Depression. Yet you wouldn't know it to read one tale involving a major international PR firm.

The PR Coach featured an interesting tale of a small Dallas-based software company that markets a technology platform for restaurants trying to hire a major international firm.

As is often the case, the in-house marketer had to work furiously to convince senior management to hire a PR firm. After a few weeks of reluctance, he gave in and the marketing executive brought representatives from a well-known firm in for a meeting. Following a meeting that involved a variety of team members, including high-level officials, an agency executive indicated they'd be putting together a proposal that the prospect would have within a week's time.

More than two weeks went by without any response from the firm, despite attempts to get information on the proposal's status via e-mail, cell phone outreach, etc. Finally, another executive in the agency is reached, apologizes and indicates the senior member of the team who met with the prospect has been traveling and will put together something soon. Perhaps not surprisingly, nothing was ever submitted by the firm, leaving the in-house marketer frustrated and furious.

Unfortunately, it's a sad tale that irritates many who don't work in the global agencies. While their bottom line can withstand not getting that prospect's business, their actions damage the industry as a whole and are one of the prime reasons we have an image problem. Paradoxically, they're also in many cases the same firms that head up PR industry efforts to rehabilitate its image. Anyone else see a problem here?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pass On a “Spec” Opportunity

One of the methods I use to keep an eye on the “pulse” of the PR industry is participating in professional forums on LinkedIn. Recently, I've come across a number of postings by younger professionals that highlighted a trend I thought others might be interested in.

While certainly not new, the trend of asking for work to be done on "spec" – i.e. as a sort of audition before landing an ongoing and/or permanent role with an organization – has seemed to be on a dramatic rise given the current economy. Although it's certainly easy to see why individuals would be interested in taking this route, especially if they're relatively new to the industry, these types of opportunities should generally be considered offers you can refuse.

There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to prove your merit to a potential client or employer and there's certainly no mystery as to why they ask. The potential employer or client is essentially getting a portfolio of work for free. Although the potential employer or consultant may see benefit in going along with this arrangement, remember that for the other side there's nothing but upside, whereas for you, it's at best a mixed picture.

From hearing others' tales of these situations, the biggest issue lies in the fact that almost all the time, they get the job seeker or consultant nowhere. There's almost always some "hang up" that the other side has with the work: its quality, the way it was done, the time in which it was completed. In many cases, it could be something that could win industry acclaim, but still wouldn't be good enough for the prospect or potential employer.

At the end of the day, what the potential employee or consultant is left with is a time investment that was at best not productive. We tend to think of time as something that's valuable only to the very wealthy or important, but the truth of the matter is, time is a commodity that none of us can manufacture. Therefore, it has value and should be used wisely. Given that, the best course of action when you're embarking on a search for a job or a new client is to devise a plan that specifies what type of arrangement you're looking for, along with tactics that position you with a decent chance of getting it and stick to it.

Using this approach doesn't ensure success, but it does come with a much higher likelihood that your time will have been used for a worthy pursuit. Even if your ultimate goal isn't achieved right away, no matter how long it takes you can feel better that you maximized the time you had to pursue it. In contrast, if you'd continued with the speculative opportunity, there's a chance that you will come away empty and behind the "8 ball" in terms of time.

Lest you think I'm just preaching from the pulpit and not speaking of experience, like many PR pros, I went there too earlier in my career. And while few things in life can be spoken of with any degree of certainty, I feel certain in saying that should you try a similar situation, yours will end up like mine: with nothing to show for it.

While the economy's improving on many fronts, the job picture is estimated to be relatively weak for the next 24 months, given the sheer number of individuals that have to be absorbed back onto payrolls and the average number of jobs being gained in a given month. With that the case, these “speculative” offers are likely to come fast and furious for some time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This Was News?

OK, I get it; Twitter's all the rage and everything they do or even think about doing gets covered with microscopic detail. However, I was a bit surprised when the whole tech news world basically stopped for a second while Twitter unveiled details that many think will pave the way to an ad-supported business model.

As most anyone who follows tech knows, how Twitter's going to make money has been one of the biggest reasons the platform has stayed in the press -- at least if you don't count Kanye West's most recent apology to Taylor Swift. We've all been waiting for many months, especially after the announcement of several new high-level executives, to see what kind of innovative platform for making money the firm was going to unveil.

This week we got our strongest hints when Twitter unveiled some changes designed to basically keep people on for much longer periods. Most know think they're leaning toward an ad-supported business model -- which leads me to my next big question. "Haven't we been there before?"

It seems Twitter thinks that it will be able to finance itself with ads despite the fact that the increasing glut of inventory has pushed down ad prices significantly. Bottom line: Advertising brings in less money all the time because there are more places to display ads and because reading patterns are becoming much more fragmented.

To be fair, Twitter did unveil several new features on its site, including the ability to include multimedia content, that many see as a move Twitter is making to directly position itself as a Facebook competitor. One big difference I see, however, is Facebook is designed as more of a "walled" garden where you can control who sees the content you distribute. In contrast, Twitter's more of a broadcast platform designed to get your message out to as many as possible. This is illustrated not only in the ability to send messages to followers, but by the fact that retweets are often the primary reason that someone's message gets wide enough distribution for mass attention.

Niall Harbison of The Next Web penned a laudatory piece on the announcement, saying that what at first appears like a Web site upgrade will emerge as something much more meaningful given the role that Twitter now plays in our every day lives.

Time will tell on that prediction, but it seems to me it's going to take more than another ad model for Twitter to reach its full potential.