Showing all posts tagged social:

Gatekeeping

There has been a bit of a Twitterstorm lately over an article (warning: Business Insider link), in which the executive managing editor of Insider Inc., who "has hired hundreds of people over 10 years", describes her "easy test to see whether a candidate really wants the job and is a 'good egg'": Did they send a thank-you email?

This test has rightly been decried as a ridiculous form of gatekeeping, adding an unstated requirement to the hiring process. Personally I would agree that sending a thank-you note is polite, and also offers the candidate an opportunity to chase next steps and confirm timelines. However, I would not rule out a candidate just because I didn’t receive such a note – and I have also received overly familiar notes which actively put me off those candidates.

The reason these unstated rules are so important is because of the homogenising effect that they tend to have. Only people who are already familiar with "how things are done" are going to be hired or have a career, perpetuating inequality.

This effect has been borne out in a study recently summarised in The Atlantic:

The name that we gave to the culture there was "studied informality" —nobody wore suits and ties, nobody even wore standard business casual. People were wearing sneakers and all kinds of casual, fashionable clothes. There was a sort of "right" way to do it and a "wrong" way to do it: A number of people talked about this one man — who was black and from a working-class background — who just stood out. He worked there for a while and eventually left. He wore tracksuits, and the ways he chose to be casual and fashionable were not the ways that everybody else did.

There were all kinds of things, like who puts their feet up on the table and when they do it, when they swear — things that don’t seem like what you might expect from a place full of high-prestige, powerful television producers. But that was in some ways, I think, more off-putting and harder to navigate for some of our working-class respondents than hearing "just wear a suit and tie every day" might have been. The rules weren't obvious, but everybody else seemed to know them.

I have seen this mechanism in action myself – in much more trivial circumstances, I hasten to add.

One day I was in the office and unexpectedly had to attend a customer meeting at short notice. I was wearing a shirt and a jacket, but I had no tie and had on jeans and sneakers. I apologised to the customer, and there was no issue.

On the other hand, it happened to me to visit a "cool" cloud company in my normal business warpaint, and was told in the lift to remove my tie as "otherwise they won't listen to you"…
Let's not even get into the high-school sociological aspects of people wearing the wrong shoes. Distinctions between suits are subtle, but it's obvious when someone is wearing cheap sneakers versus branded ones.

Instead of unstated and unspoken implicit rules like these, it is much better to have clear and explicit ones, which everyone can easily conform to, such as wearing a suit and tie (or female equivalent – and yes, I know that is its own minefield):

In fact, suits & ties are actually the ultimate nerd apparel. You have to put some effort into shopping, sure, and they tend to cost a bit more than a random vendor T-shirt and ancient combats, but the advantage is that you can thereafter completely forget about wondering what to wear. You can get dressed in the dark and be sure that the results will be perfectly presentable. If you want you can go to a little bit more effort and inject some personality into the process, but the great thing is that you don’t have to. By wearing a suit & tie, you lead people to pay attention to what you say and do, not to what you are wearing. And isn’t that the whole point?

Another unstated gatekeeping mechanism is "culture fit". This is all but explicitly saying "I only want to hire people from my social/class background, and will exclude candidates with a different background".

Here I do think there is some subtlety that is worth exploring. I attempted to respond to the tweet above, but expressed myself poorly (always a risk on Twitter) and did not communicate my point well.

First of all, there is a collision here between "is this person like me" and "would I want to spend time socially with this person". I feel that the sort of people who do this implicit gatekeeping would indeed only want to associate with people from the same background as them, and so this question becomes problematic in that context.

However, some of the reactions to the original tweet appeared to me to take the objection too far, stating that looking for social compatibility at work was ipso facto wrong. Having made several friends through work, I disagree with that view. In fact, I would go so far as to say that my work friendships are influenced in no small part by the fact that my friends are good at their job, and the factors that make them good professionals are also the factors that make them good friends: intelligent, trustworthy, honest, high EQ, and so on.

The correlation is of course not 1:1; I have known many successful and effective professionals who are not my friends. However, by excluding these factors entirely from the decision matrix, I see a particular failure mode, namely the fallacy that only people with abrasive personalities are effective, and therefore all people with abrasive personalities are good hires because they will be effective. It is not surprising that those sorts of people do not make friends at work.

The particular weight placed upon these factors may vary depending on which role in an organisation is being looked at. Customer-facing positions, where it is important to establish and maintain a rapport, may place particular emphasis on high EQ, for instance.

Of course the opposite failure mode is the one where everybody looks the same, dresses the same, went to the same schools – and only hires people exactly like them. This is why explicit rules and failsafes in the process are important, to avoid "culture fit" becoming – or remaining, if we’re honest – a fig leaf used to cloak institutional racism and classism.

As ever, the devil is in the details.


Images by Kelly Sikkema and Hunters Race via Unsplash

The Shape Of 2019

They said they need real-world examples, but I don’t want to be their real-world mistake

That quote comes from a NYT story about people attacking self-driving vehicles. I wrote about these sentiments before, after the incident which spurred these attacks:

It’s said that you shouldn’t buy any 1.0 product unless you are willing to tolerate significant imperfections. Would you ride in a car operated by software with significant imperfections?
Would you cross the street in front of one?
And shouldn’t you have the choice to make that call?

Cars are just the biggest manifestation of this experimentation that is visible in the real world. How often do we have to read about Facebook manipulating the content of users’ feeds – just to see what happens?

And what about this horrific case?

Meanwhile, my details were included in last year’s big Marriott hack, and now I find out that my passport details may have been included in the leaked information. Marriott’s helpful suggestion? A year’s free service – from Experian. Yes, that Experian, the one you know from one of the biggest hacks ever.

I don’t want to be any company’s real world mistake in 2019.


🖼️ Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Seriously?

So there I was scrolling innocently through Twitter, when this Tweet popped up in my timeline:

A Promoted tweet? What, are they trying to sell me fighter jets?

The account seems legit, although I am baffled as to why the F-35 needs its own Twitter account. Also, who on Earth are these SIXTY-SIX THOUSAND people who follow it?

Anyway, I still don’t get why they are paying to show tweets to me. Fortunately Twitter lets you look into that, but it just raises more questions:

Why on Earth is Lockheed Martin trying to reach adults in Italy? This seems like a gross misuse of social media marketing. Or am I missing something?

This Is Where We Are, July 2017 Edition

A quick review of the status of the Big Three1 social networks as of right now.

It seems Facebook is testing ads in Messenger now, which is an incredibly wrong-headed idea:

Messenger isn’t really a “free time" experience the way Facebook proper is — you use the former with purpose, the latter idly. Advertisements must cater to that, just like anywhere else in the world: you don’t see the same ads on subway walls (where you have to sit and stare) as on billboards (where you have two or three seconds max and your attention is elsewhere).

I always hated Messenger anyway, just out of reflex because they had felt the need to split it off into a separate app. In fact, I kept using Paper until Facebook finally broke it, in no small part because it kept everything together in one app. It also looked good, as opposed to the hot mess of FB’s default apps.

Between that and the “Moments" rubbish junking up the top of every one of the FB apps, I am actively discouraged from using them. At this point I pretty much only open FB if I have a notification from there.

Meanwhile, Twitter is continuing on its slow death spiral. It is finally becoming what it was always described as: a “micro-blogging" platform. People write 100-tweet threads instead of just one blog post, and this is so prevalent that there are tools out there that will go and assemble these threads in one place for ease of reading.

It’s got to the point that I read Twitter (and a ton of blogs via RSS, because I’m old-school that way), but most of my actual interaction these days is via LinkedIn. I even had a post go viral over there - 7000-odd views and more than a hundred likes, at time of writing.

So this is where we are, right now in July 2017: Twitter for ephemeral narcissism, Facebook for interacting with (or avoiding) the same people you deal with day to day, and LinkedIn for actually getting things done.

See you out there.

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash


  1. I don’t Instagram, I’m too old for Tumblr, and - oh sorry Snapchat, didn’t see you down there

A New Law

I was hanging out on LinkedIn, and I happened to notice a new pop-up, offering to help me boost my professional image with new photo filters.

My professional image may well need all sorts of help, but I do wonder whether this feature was the most productive use of LinkedIn’s R&D time.

Maybe this is the twenty-first century version of Zawinski's Law:

Every social networking app attempts to expand until it has photo filters. Those apps which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.

(I did not use the filters.)

What is Twitter for?

In today's "wait, what year is this again?" moment, Twitter is once again trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up - and because it’s Twitter, of course it did it in public:

The company's CMO, Leslie Berland […] in a speech at CES 2017 […] aimed to redefine Twitter and explain why 317 million people use it every month.

And what ultimate definition did Twitter’s CMO come up with for her big speech?

"So, we were a platform, a product, a service, a water cooler, a time square, a microphone, and we are every single one of those things"

Ugh - why not just say it's a dessert topping and a floor wax?

It does get better, as Ms Berland at least recognises the category Twitter needs to be playing in:

"The first thing we did is we actually took ourselves out of the social networking category in the app stores and we put ourselves where we belong, which is news"

After the year we have just had, I don’t think anyone can deny that Twitter is where news happens. US president-elect Donald Trump does not take to Facebook every morning to post his rants, and the Black Lives Matter movement did not start on Instagram or Snapchat. Twitter is a news platform, as is underlined by its asymmetrical nature.

Now there's dessert topping all over the floor

On a true social network such as Facebook, relationships are symmetrical and transitive: if I am your friend, you are also my friend.

On Twitter, that is not the case; I follow accounts that do not follow me, and I have followers that I do not follow. Twitter is where news is made, announced, and discussed; that is its role and its value.

Didn’t we go through all of this last time?

Twitter is not a social network. Not primarily, anyway. It’s better described as a social media platform, with the emphasis on “media platform." And media platforms should not be judged by the same metrics as social networks.
Social networks connect people with one another. Those connections tend to be reciprocal. […]
Media platforms, by contrast, connect publishers with their public. Those connections tend not to be reciprocal.

Now what?

The issue for Twitter is, as ever, how to monetise its role at the heart of the news cycle. Arguably it is shackled by the misplaced expectations of early investors who were looking for another Facebook. I for one hope that they manage to extricate themselves from their current difficulties without getting borged in a totally inappropriate acquisition by Google or whoever.

In particular, these investor expectations for continuing exponential growth are suspected to be interfering with some much-needed changes to curb ongoing abuse on the platform - whether simple problems like follower spam, or the truly nasty harassment that many experience every day. Both of these activities can look like user engagement, at least from a distance, potentially discouraging their prevention.

This is the strategy tax that Twitter is paying: the choices that it finds difficult to take today, because of the choices it made in the past. Some suggest that an acquisition would both inject some much-needed cash, and help break this trap.

I disagree. Twitter needs to be its own thing, not Google's latest attempt to buy more social visibility for itself. There is value in Twitter just being Twitter, if Twitter's management can figure out how to unlock that value.


Image by Daria Shevtsova via Unsplash

How To Lose Friends and Influence People

I am a huge fan of Evernote. I have used their software for many years, and its many features are key parts of my workflow. I take notes on multiple devices, use tagging to sync between those devices, take snapshots of business cards and let the OCR and the access to LinkedIn sort out the details, annotate images and PDFs, and more.

I should say, I used to be a fan of Evernote. They recently made some changes to their privacy policy that have users up in arms. Here is the relevant entry from their changelog:

Privacy Policy

January 23, 2017 updates to the October 4, 2016 version:

We clarified that in building a more personalized Evernote service that can adapt to the way you think and work, a small group of engineers may need to oversee these automated technologies to ensure they are working as intended. Also, we added that we will be using data from other sources to tailor your Evernote experience and explain how you can get more out of your Evernote account. Please see our FAQ for more information on these changes.

Updates to our legal documents | Evernote

This may be fairly inoffensive, but it is worrying to me and to many users. These days, “personalisation" is often code for "gathering data indiscriminately for obscure purposes that may change at any time". This exchange is generally presented as a bargain where users sacrifice (some) privacy to the likes of Google in exchange for free use of their excellent services such as Gmail or Maps.

Evernote's case is different. As a paid app, we users like to assume that we are opting out of that bargain, and paying directly for our services - instead of paying indirectly by authorising Evernote to resell our personal data to advertisers.

In addition, we use Evernote to store data that may be personal, sensitive, or both. Evernote have always had some weasel words in their Privacy Policy about their employees having access to our notes:

  • We believe our Terms of Service has been violated and confirmation is required or we otherwise have an obligation to review your account Content as described in our Terms of Service;
  • We need to do so for troubleshooting purposes or to maintain and improve the Service;
  • Where necessary to protect the rights, property or personal safety of Evernote and its users (including to protect against potential spam, malware or other security concerns); or
  • In order to comply with our legal obligations, such as responding to warrants, court orders or other legal process. We vigilantly protect the privacy of your account Content and, whenever we determine it possible, we provide you with notice if we believe we are compelled to comply with a third party’s request for information about your account. Please visit our Information for Authorities page for more information.

So basically, Evernote employees have always had access to our stuff. This part of the privacy policy has not changed substantially, but the changes are worrying (emphasis mine):

  • New: Do Evernote Employees Access or Review My Data?
  • Old: Do Evernote Employees Access or Review My Notes?

  • New: Below are the limited circumstances in which we may need to access or review your account information or Content:

  • Old: As a rule, Evernote employees do not monitor or view your personal information or Content stored in the Service, but we list below the limited circumstances in which our employees may need to access or review your personal information or account Content:

  • New: We need to do so for troubleshooting purposes or to maintain and improve the Service;

  • Old: We need to do so for troubleshooting purposes;

Privacy Policy | Evernote
Privacy Policy - 2017 update

Now, here is why people are all up in arms. We would like service providers to tread extremely carefully when it comes to our personal data, accessing it only when warranted. 2016 has provided plenty of object lessons in why we are so sensitive; just today I received an email from Yahoo detailing their latest hack. Yahoo hack: Should I panic? - BBC News

In this case, Evernote appear to have made two mistakes. First, they designed and built a new functionality that requires access to users’ personal data and content in order to do… well, it’s not entirely clear what they want to do, beyond the fact that it involves machine learning.

Secondly, they completely mis-handled the communication of this change. I mean, they even removed the disclaimer that “As a rule, Evernote employees do not monitor or view your personal information or Content stored in the Service"! How tone-deaf can you get?

It’s also very unclear why they even made this change. In their response to the outrage, they say this:

We believe we can make our users even more productive with technologies such as machine learning that will allow you to automate functions you now have to do manually, like creating to-do lists or putting together travel itineraries.

A Note From Chris O’Neill about Evernote’s Privacy Policy

The problem is, users are perfectly capable of managing to-do lists and itineraries, and based on an informal sample of Twitter reactions to this new policy, do not see enough value to want to give unknown Evernote employees access to their data.

An unforced error

This is such a short-sighted decision by Evernote. As one of the few cloud services which is used primarily through fat clients, Evernote is in a privileged position when it comes to pushing processing out to the users’ devices.

Apple have the same advantage, and do the right thing with it: instead of snooping around in my mail and calendar on the server side, my local Mail app can detect dates in messages and offer to create appointments in Calendar. Also, CloudKit’s sync services are encrypted, so nobody at Apple has access to my data - not even if law enforcement asks.

Evernote have chosen not to take that approach, and have not (yet) clarified any benefit that they expect or promise to deliver by doing so. This mis-step has now caused loyal, paying users like me to re-evaluate everything else about the service. At this point, even cancelling the new machine-learning service would not be enough to mollify users; nothing short of a new and explicit commitment to complete encryption of user data - including from Evernote employees! - would suffice.

Evernote's loss will be someone else’s gain

One possible winner from this whole mess is Bear, a new note-taking app that does use CloudKit and therefore is able to provide that encryption at rest that Evernote does not.

Bear - Notes for iPhone, iPad and Mac

The Bear team have even been having some fun on Twitter at Evernote’s expense:

I composed this post in Bear, and I have to say, it is very nice. I copied it over to Evernote to publish here, but it’s the first crack. Before this mess, I was a vocal advocate of Evernote. Now? I am actively evaluating alternatives.

Respect your users, yo.

Finding My Audience

The perennial question when creating #content is where to post it so that it will get maximum traction and build the author’s personal #brand. Back in the dark ages of blogging, when I first started out, the received wisdom was that you needed to post to your own server, with your own domain name, and pretty nearly roll your own CMS to manage the blog - or just hand-code every single entry.

These days, the buzz is all about big platforms like Medium and LinkedIn. Even Coté has given in and moved to the bright lights of Medium. So I decided to try a little experiment and post the same piece on my own blog, on LinkedIn, and on Medium. It’s pretty much exactly the same post in each case, except for minor differences like footnotes and a different header image.

So, what happened?

The results seem pretty conclusive: on my own blog, I got 22 unique users looking at that post. On Medium, I got a whole 6 reads. And on LinkedIn, I got 132 views, 18 likes, and 5 comments - well, 4, because one of those was me responding to someone else.

Pretty conclusive.

In fairness, the subject matter of that post is well aligned to LinkedIn, and perhaps less so to Medium, but the disparity is huge, and very significant - unless LinkedIn is counting something different than Medium and Google Analytics are. I feel I gave each post roughly the same amount of promotion via social media (very little), so it’s more about how each platform presents its content and how users interact with it.

Medium is just too much of a firehose for anyone to be able to engage with everything on the site, and its recommendation engine seems to focus on popularity rather than relevance. It may also be the case that I just haven’t fed it enough metadata, but writing only for people who spend time relentlessly honing their Medium preferences seems like a losing game.

There are other reasons not to write on Medium, too. Remember the old saw: if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, not the customer. In the case of Medium, writers and their #content are definitely the product.

Of course a similar situation exists with LinkedIn, but the point there is to raise your professional profile, no matter how much some might disagree. What I am doing there is absolutely professional self-promotion, and so my interests and the platform’s are perfectly aligned in a way that is not the case with Medium.

Regardless of the numbers, I’ll be keeping my own blog for posting things that don’t fit with LinkedIn - but anything that I do want to get out there is getting posted natively to LinkedIn from now on, not just linked from there.


Image by sergio_rola via Unsplash

Misunderstanding Tools

The sour taste in my espresso this morning is courtesy of yet another dudebro tech VC, opining about how ties are uncool, maaaaann! and basically nobody should write on LinkedIn.

If you have a tie on in 2015, it probably means you are a salesman in a non-transparent industry and are generally not to be trusted at any cost. When I see a tie on somebody, I get that funny feeling you get right before the dentist. Let’s face it, the people left wearing ties every day are the confidence-men stealing your money. Think insurance, financial services, bad shoes and, of course, car salesmen.

Well now.

I am on record as not only a tie wearer, but also a tie apologist. To quote myself once again:

In fact, suits & ties are actually the ultimate nerd apparel. You have to put some effort into shopping, sure, and they tend to cost a bit more than a random vendor T-shirt and ancient combats, but the advantage is that you can thereafter completely forget about wondering what to wear. You can get dressed in the dark and be sure that the results will be perfectly presentable. If you want you can go to a little bit more effort and inject some personality into the process, but the great thing is that you don’t have to. By wearing a suit & tie, you lead people to pay attention to what you say and do, not to what you are wearing. And isn’t that the whole point?

This mindset of “distrust anyone dressed like a grown-up" is just one more symptom of the Revenge of the Nerds chauvinism that is rife in the tech industry. The nerds complain about being victimised by the jocks, but it’s not the victimisation itself that they object to, it’s just being on the receiving end of it. “They mocked me for dressing differently from them, but now I mock them for dressing differently from me! Haha, I win!"

No, no you don’t win. You just look like an overgrown, entitled man-child. Grown-ups wear ties as a sign of respect to one another. If some sleaze balls wear suits & ties, that is because they are trying to fake that respect - but just because something is faked, does not mean that it’s not aping something real.

If I visit a customer or a prospect, I am a guest, and I dress and act appropriately. I’m not more “genuine" or “passionate" if I show up in jeans, sneakers and a Zuckerberg-approved hoodie. If I’m doing it right, my passion and competence will show regardless of what I wear. Today, wearing a hoodie to work is not transgressive or cool - it’s just imitating a more successful person. And let’s not even pretend that your hoodie doesn’t get judged for materials, cut, brand, etc., as much or more than suits ever were.

Basically, he is wilfully misunderstanding what people use LinkedIn for and why they would want to write there. Yes, it’s an advertising tool - that’s what we are all there for! LinkedIn is buttoned-down, professional me - although I like to think that I still put some personality in there. Twitter is where I let it all hang out, and talk about what I am up to at work right beside books, music, and whatever has got the Internet in a bunch lately.

Amusingly, Dudebro VC's piece ends up being an example of exactly the sort of writing he decries, since it’s a listicle:

1) LinkedIn has become a giant branded entertainment platform for selling us crappy fake expertise.

2) Crappy writing

3) No real authentic sentiment

4) LinkedIn notifications are predatory

The real kicker is at the end, though, where he says that it’s perfectly okay for him to write a listicle, because it’s not on LinkedIn, plus he got paid for it and doesn’t care about how many times it gets viewed.

Firstly, this is insultingly disingenuous. Writing this sort of flamebait, custom-designed to go viral and provoke reactions1 and then making a big show of turning away and not watching the ensuing furore is a cheap trick - but one that is perfectly in line with the rest of the piece.

Secondly, this is pretty transparently elitist. He's attempting to pull up the ladder behind him, mocking anyone who has not achieved his supposed level of clout in the industry. What he is saying with this piece is, if you’re a big shot, you can wear a hoodie to work and be paid for your opinions. If you have to dress professionally and are still having to work hard to get your opinions out there, you’re a loser.

Just in case you thought Martin Schkreli - he of the 5000% drug price increases and one-off Wu-Tang Clan albums - was an outlier: now you know that he is not. There are plenty of utter tools in VC.


I also took special pleasure in cross-posting this piece to LinkedIn Pulse, just to make my point one more time.


Image by Olu Eletu via Unsplash


  1. Such as this one - hi! Congratulations, it worked! 

Social Reaction

I talked over the previous post with my wife at lunch, and she had a good perspective. Since I don’t do comments on my blog, she wrote them down and sent them to me by email.

Take it away:

While I understand your point and I think it comes from a good place, I cannot agree with your conclusions.

Yes, sponsoring a message with any kind of mistaken data (be it a logo, a price, or any kind of valuable consumer info) is a big "faux pas", especially coming from a big company, one that should have a working structure, and enough work force to enable that structure to talk through its various organisational changes.

Yes, not talking to each other is bad.

Yes, brand messages, and “content" at large, should be shaped by the people who know about it, and live and breathe it every day.

This is all very true, except that you seem to forget that packaging that message, and distributing it in the right way is just as important.

What is worse? getting a message that is not quite correct, or getting no message at all? I would argue they are both bad. So here's the deal: in my experience there are two sides to communication - one side is about the vision, and the other is about the execution. One side cannot thrive, or even function, without the other. In social media that means knowing your audience, targeting your readers, breaking down the message to suit different platforms, and also dealing with a lot of conceited people who think they can judge your work by the number of likes it gathers. Sounds familiar?

We have all been guilty of trivialising social media managers’ jobs, because the very concept of spending all your day on Facebook as a job is worth a laugh, while grumbling about our own jobs in communication being trivialised by others. Like those others were, we also happened to be mostly wrong. The message is a company's most valuable asset, but it needs to be packaged and delivered so that people can hear it and receive it and make it theirs, otherwise it is just as worthless as the wrong logo on a sponsored post.

If you have thoughts, you can find her on Twitter as @mrscwellington.

For my part, I agree with her qualification: I lumped content and delivery together, and criticised a situation where the delivery had actually worked pretty well, but the content had fallen down. As my wife cruelly and correctly noted, my own delivery is not that hot1 - Google Analytics says I got 105 unique visitors in the last month, which is about typical for this blog but not exactly setting the internet on fire.

I do think my main point stands: that the disconnect between the two aspects of social media is a problem, and can be taken as a symptom of a more general issue of barriers between different parts of an organisation that should be working much more closely together.

Since I still don’t have comments, if anyone else has thoughts, please hit us up on Twitter.


  1. My wife took mercy on my fragile male ego and refrained from commenting on the content here.