LinkedIn Tries to Wiggle Out of Its Work Khakis

Think fast: what social networks do you expect girls in bikinis, political statements, and religious rants? Facebook…Instagram…LinkedIn. Wait what??

Insert screeching brakes sound here.

These types of posts are becoming more and more common on LinkedIn. In fact, a war is being waged in the LinkedIn community upon itself. Newsfeeds are filling up fast with complaints of personal, off-color or racy images, mixed with those defending it. And it’s gotten downright nasty, taking up more real estate than ever.

Examples? (replete with thousands of comments pro and con)

– Before-and-after photos of a woman in a skimpy outfit to demonstrate a personal trainer’s results

– an image of a fast food employees praying through the drive-through window with a customer

– An image of an orange-faced businessman with bad hair who happens to be running for president

-A dad showing off the breakfast food porn his kids made that morning

-Posts complaining about these types of posts

-Posts complaining about posts complaining about these posts

…Get the idea?

The fact is, many LinkedIn members want the network to remain the buttoned-up workplace they know, while others choose to use it as a fertile sharing ground for anything.

While LinkedIn does have a community behavior policy in its terms of agreement (like other networks), its ambiguity leaves the policy’s implementation frayed at the edges and open to interpretation (also like other networks). The specific clause forbids a LinkedIn member to “Act dishonestly or unprofessionally, including by posting inappropriate, inaccurate, or objectionable content.”

But what do those words mean in the age of social media and increasingly blurry lines between personal and work lives?

The grandaddy of social networks has made it clear it wants to stay out of this touchy conversation and leave it to members “work it out.”

But me thinks there is something much bigger going on here.

The loud silence gives voice to the idea that the old network is simply
“pivoting” in true Silicon Valley fashion. All of the signs and symptoms are there. And it would seem like the next logical step to attempt unicorn social media status and attain relevancy in all parts of its users lives.

But no matter how it dresses for casual Friday, LinkedIn screams work. It’s decidedly not the go-to for a fun fix like a Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook. And that’s why the company is taking its cue from the blue-logoed, most popular social network in the world.

Look at the mounting evidence: the red notification that excites and brings on that Pavlovian response for more; the “like” button for posts and new jobs; larger, multi-size imagery; more targeted ads and messages on the sides of the pages; the ability to publish (ala post); the new chat feature replacing messages; network birthday notifications, a snazzy new Facebook-like app, and other telltale signs.

The only thing that’s missing so far? Community acceptance.

The fact is, something is not quite connecting for  millions of LinkedIn users. Could it be that the community DOES like a modicum of  personal and work life to remain separate? Most people feel uncomfortable sharing vacation photos, opining their views on political candidates, or ranting about lousy customer service to a network mostly from former and current employers, professional event or other work circumstances.  We have lots of other places to do that, thank you very much.

LinkedIn wants to have it both ways—to be the “world’s largest professional network”— but  change the definition of what that means in order to grow and more deeply engage its users.

And it may be fighting a losing battle and in the process turn off community members to what is perceived as a degredated, cheapened network.

The fact is, we all have our own definitions and standards of what stays in the outer circle but there are some common threads—that’s not going to change much over time. It’s the reason we don’t wear shorts to an interview. Or tell our boss we got in a big fight with our mate. Or share that we’re going to a political rally on the weekend. It’s this thing called “boundaries.”

My rule of thumb is if it’s not something I would say to a colleague, it doesn’t go on LinkedIn. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun or a sense of humor or show my personality— it just means I have no interest in doing more than that on LinkedIn.

This is as personal as it gets.

 

 

 

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Corporate Marketing Commandments for 2013

Since the world didn’t end on December 21, it is appropriate to bow down to our gods and beg forgiveness for some of the most egregious marketing sins of 2012. We’ve been given a second chance so now we need to follow some rules:

Thou Shalt Not Degrade Thine Own Brandinstagram-facebook

Listen up Netflix, aka the former Quikster (for a nanosecond); and Instagram, aka Facebook: Brand equity is the richest gold you can have—and yours has been on a downward trajectory. When people love and believe in you, it’s much easier to forgive. But when you keep screwing up, consumers lose not only their patience but their loyalty. For Netflix it’s been the gift that keeps on giving, and on Christmas Eve it was a streaming outage that stretched across the U.S. The company blamed Amazon Web Services, but customers don’t care about who supplies the power, only that Netflix was down—yet another PR bomb. And Instagram’s hipster, indie vibe has been catching heat due to its purchase by the behemoth Facebook as well as a 24-hour about-face on terms of use for photos. They’ve outraged their customers multiple times now, so patience will be wearing thin for 2013.

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Calling All Skeptics: Five Reasons To Embrace LinkedIn Now

Disclaimer: I am not being paid for nor compensated in any way by LinkedIn for this blog. In fact, I’ve probably been one of the most vocal champions of LinkedIn since I joined on the site back in 2004 (I got an email recently congratulating me as one of their “first million” users—now how’s that for feeling special?) Moreover, I recently approached a milestone myself: having over 1,000 connections on LinkedIn.

How some people explain LinkedIn

Do I know all of them well? Hardly. Am I glad I have them all? Absolutely. But some regular, smart people don’t seem to understand the underlying, subtle and not-so-subtle value of LinkedIn, the largest business networking site on earth and can’t be bothered with it. If I had a dime for every time someone challenged me with: “Well, did you ever get a job from LinkedIn?” I could have a meal at Gary Danko every weekend. I always explain the answer, which ends up sounding more like “It’s complicated.” So here goes again, this time in writing. Here’s why you should get on board and some tips to get things started.

#1 Investment in your career Some call LinkedIn the granddaddy (or fuddy-duddy) of social media. It’s not exactly “fun”—you won’t be posting vacation photos or  food porn, but it serves a direct purpose that cannot be overlooked: your career. I’d say that’s pretty darn important. When LinkedIn first opened its internet doors, capabilities were somewhat rudimentary, offering the ability to create a simple profile and add connections. Over the years it’s expanded features and continues to at an accelerated rate: activity updates to let you know what your network is doing, applications, keywords so employers and connections can find you, job opportunity monitoring in your field, participation in groups, and much more. It’s like an online career center if you use all the bells and whistles.

Best Practice: Fine-tune your profile on a word processing document before you publish it. There is no way to see a “draft” on LinkedIn. Turn your activity broadcast off temporarily after you publish your profile to make sure it looks the way you want, no typos, etc.

#2 Build Your Brand: We’ve heard about building a “personal brand” a lot the past few years. For those working for corporations, this may seem unimportant, but in this digital age, recruiters and potential bosses want a 360° view of how you present yourself online. Add to that, a resume is a one-dimensional reflection of who you are as a person and a potential employee. A LinkedIn profile lets you show off skills, interests, and most importantly, give you a voice that cannot be heard on a CV. You can include books you are reading, events you are attending, companies you follow, and other professional and personal touches.

Best Practice: Check out all the applications and groups and posting options available on LinkedIn and sprinkle some into your profile. It shows that you are keeping current with your career, industry and care about your presence on LinkedIn.

#3 Get the 411 As a consultant, I am always on the look out for people I know or might want to meet and determine if I have a connection—LinkedIn is a great way to do that. You can see where people worked, what or who you might have in common and act accordingly. Conversely, many people over the years have asked me for an introduction to a network connection and I am happy to do it. It almost serves as a personal referral. Which leads me to my next reason to embrace Linkedin. But before that…

Best Practice: Though you will hear conflicting advice about connecting with people you don’t know, I recommend that you do if you have something in common: interests, industries, secondary connections, groups, etc. Reference anything you have in common in your invitation for context.

#4 Shortcut to Approval  Back in the day, it was standard practice to provide potential employers with references. Occasionally I still am asked for that, though it is becoming as rare as a first-class letter. When LinkedIn added Recommendations, it was something I jumped on. Gathering and displaying how others view my work gives potential clients an instant reference and increases trust immediately. This also applies to LinkedIn’s new Endorsements feature, or what I would call “Recommendations-Light”  to provide skill-based references with one-click. I am just starting to scratch the surface of that feature.

Best Practice: There is a fine line between showing recommendations and going overboard. Some people have 30 recommendations posted. Too. Many. Whittle down to those showcasing your variety of skills from different vantage points—bosses, colleagues and vendors. Though frowned upon by some, I think it’s fine to swap recommendations with colleagues as long as you honestly respect their work.

#5 You Can’t Afford Not To Being on LinkedIn is considered the norm at this point. If you don’t have a profile, or a lame one with information gaps, people will notice. Who exactly? Recruiters, potential managers, and colleagues, connections—and everyone that is looking you up on the web. It’s part of the digital landscape to be on LinkedIn. Even if you have an off-beat or small consulting business, are a student, or not even looking for a job, your absence will be noticed. It’s an inexpensive, easy and effective way to be a part of the online universe and you have everything to gain.

Best Practice: If you want to maximize your LinkedIn profile impact and network potential, use Branchout to connect the dots in your personal life with other social media.

And by the way, if you want to connect, I’m http://www.linkedin.com/in/janicecuban

Next up: Nobody’s perfect:  Suggestions for LinkedIn for the future.

Daily Deals Sequel: Groupon Hangover And Mobile App Madness


Almost two years ago I wrote a blog about the growing online coupon business. At that time the frenzy was in full swing: Groupon was the media darling, copycats were everywhere, and the future was so bright, they had to wear shades (half-off of course). There were, however, naysayers calling out problems with the daily deal model: they were putting small businesses in the red, they only made money for greedy Groupon-types, daily deals were just a phase. They were right. But not completely.

Fast-forward to September 2012: Consumers still love saving money (DUH) and deals are here to stay, but in different incarnations. Groupon has become to online deals what Kleenex is to tissues, but there are major shifts in the landscape.

1) Groupon went from a rock star to has-been: As the deals market became more crowded with me-toos, combined with the “thrill is gone” from consumers. the daily deal concept itself became stale. Groupon tanked after its initial IPO at $20 a share in November 2011 (at last check, its price was a paltry $4 a share) which coincided with the domino effect of lackluster social media company IPOs. LivingSocial, Groupon’s biggest competitor with a sizable ownership by Amazon, has also been steadily eating into its market share. The most recent blow was Starbucks choosing LivingSocial for its daily deal, which sold out immediately and was the biggest revenue generator yet for the company.  Yelp and OpenTable  still offer deals but scaled back on promotion and rely on their core businesses.

2) Alternative deal sites, niche markets and buy outs, oh my: As the daily deals market became saturated, Groupon and other companies started hawking national and local offers with a longer shelf life. New business models and after-markets also popped up; sites curating a city’s “best of” deals such as Dealery and Yipit, or expiring, unwanted deal sites such as Couprecoup and FatWallet. There were also many companies renamed, bought, funded and vertical niche start ups in clothing, food, and other services, as seen in this 2011 Deals InfographicMarqeta, a different concept altogether, uses a discount card that rewards loyalty to its vendors.

3) Mobile apps rule: No surprise, smartphone apps is the fastest growing area in the deals segment. Location-based apps such as Mobsav, Yowza and others offer national and local deals but most consumers are still uneasy with companies tracking their whereabouts. Companies already on mobile-friendly turf, like Foursquare and Facebook Check-in Deals (formerly Facebook Deals), have a built-in advantage. Some location-based apps combine offline shopping habits with mobile apps to discover discounts when a consumer is approaching that desired item. These apps all operate differently but the premise is the same: Vendors like Swarm and Spotzot knows who you are, what you want to buy, and will “activate” when you are near the location of your holy grail. Not ok with Deal Big Brother watching?  Scoutmob offers free half-off deals (yes, FREE!), a cheeky brand personality, and entertaining, useful e-newsletter. Scoutmob only charges the vendor on redemption, so it’s a win-win for the deal-bearer and the consumer. Credit card companies like American Express are also getting in on the action and benefit from having a solid social media presence. Groupon and LivingSocial have added mobile apps to their menu but operate the same way as the website.

So what’s next?

Deals will continue to transform with new technology and consumers’ behavior and preferences. The market will also continue to shake out: Some deal apps and sites will thrive while others will go to the coupon cemetery. A glaring weakness and missed opportunity for all of these companies offering deals (other than location-based apps) is good target demographics —sounds counterintuitive but true. Knowing subscribers well would arm companies with a goldmine of data to offer relevant deals. In a recent experiment I did, Groupon is the only company that asked for even the most basic information. Either these companies are not marketing-savvy enough, worry that consumers will bail if there is an avalanche of questions, or are too busy focusing on the bottom-line to pay attention to their customer. All. Bad. Ideas. Having subscriber access to email is a privilege and a gift. If the balance of interest tilts, these companies could lose their coveted spot in subscribers’ in boxes.

And like all good marketing campaigns, closing the loop on deal usage is the next frontier. Deals present tricky ROI math: companies may know how many deals were sold but not how many were actually used, or redeemed by a mobile app but not tracked, or sold on a website. Or any other number of scenarios. A recent deal by Coca-Cola and Auntie Anne’s hopes to trailblaze this path but it will take long-term data to show true bottom-line value to both the company offering the deal and the vendor distributing it. The ROI results could provide compelling data that could easily shape future deals for customers.

In the meantime, I’m still waiting for a deal to upgrade my site on WordPress.

BeTwixt by Twitter No More: Quick Start Guide For Small Businesses

By 2012, I resolved to finally land on Twitterverse. Bring on the 140 characters. Hashtags. Retweets. Followers. For all my marketing and small business swagger, I was not using Twitter. Shame, shame, right? I knew that I needed to engage on Twitter, was intrigued, but nevertheless put it off.  Now that I’m officially Twitterfied, these are the quickstart rules I learned, not by reading but by doing:

1) Don’t forget your homework: This may seem obvious but it’s surprising how few bother to read what friends and colleagues tweet and who they follow. Also, go through your mind’s Rolodex, what businesses and columnists you “like” on media outlets, Facebook, LinkedIn contacts, what mags you receive via email. But be wary of following too many people initially and also remember that your Twitter page can be seen by anyone. If you are following @SPANX, everyone else can see it too.

2) Don’t get hung up on being “perfect” when you begin: One reason I delayed Twitter was that I fell prey to all the hype. It had to be the best Twitter account everrr. I consulted with my social media guru, talked about it, asked all kinds of questions, but never took action. Get your handle, (which should either be your own name or your business name, whichever will have more recognition), fill out a quick profile and get yourself tweeting! You can change anything at anytime. Don’t let perfection be an excuse to procrastinate.

3)  Size matters – only follow the accounts you care about: I found myself incredibly popular on the first evening I joined in the Twitter conversation until I noticed roughly half were either spam, services looking for business, or “hot high school girls” from the Midwest. Go through the tweets of each handle that follows you. How many followers do they have? (Hint: If they have no tweets, don’t follow them back). I quickly learned the unspoken rule of reciprocity: You follow me and I follow you. But don’t expect everyone to do the same. If you are truly interested in someone’s content, stay with it.  Remember that others in the Twitterverse can see who you are following and likewise, so it’s a public forum and frankly a bit of a numbers game. And the more handles you follow, the larger the gap, particularly in your Twitter start-up days. In other words, you could have a slim 50 followers and be following a fat 500. Playing catch up can be a challenge.

4) Make your mark on retweets:  Just because you retweet content doesn’t mean it’s simply a pay-it-forward or to bank your tweets. Add a fact or commentary at the beginning, that will attract attention, show your point of view, and add value for your followers. It also provides the opportunity for whoever you retweeted to follow you back.

5) Get unruly with the Twitter “rules”: Some experts say you should tweet seven times a day, refrain from tweeting at 8am or 8pm or use the word “ahmazing” (OK, I’m making the last one up but it really should be banned). As social media evolves, any rules or guidelines that exist might not stand tomorrow, so make your own based on the type of business you have and what your marketing goals are. That’s not to say you shouldn’t read up on tips and tricks-you should. My personal guideline is to  tweet at least once a day and even more if there is something really stellar  (or strategically save it for the next day as back up). Some days I don’t see anything worth tweeting so I refrain. Better to have quality than a tweeters dozen — people will stop reading if they are constantly deluged with useless ones (I’ve unfollowed a few handles because of this). Something else:  Even though I joined Twitter for my business, I like to throw in entertaining bits or something that reveals character, humor, or my interests. But don’t do anything so far out there that it could be construed as offensive or racy. You might consider having a second handle for your personal interests, say cooking or soccer, or something more edgy so that you can reach a different audience.

6) Participate in the conversation: Read what others are saying and reply and comment. This will not only get you more enmeshed into the Twitterverse, it will also help gain new followers and potential interests. Don’t overdo it though, just to get your handle out there. And be wise — once you say something anywhere on Twitter, be it a tweet, retweet or reply, it’s there forever. You can delete your own tweets on your page, but they’re already in Twitterville.

7) Writing rules still apply: edit, edit, edit:  I can’t imagine putting out my blog after one revision, and Twitter is no different. Don’t rush your tweet. Make sure it’s as tight as possible (the 140 character rule will also help keep you finely tuned) Think about what and how you want to say it. Don’t waste words, abbreviate where it makes sense, and make sure you use the Twitter URL shortener. Check spelling. I’ve already gotten dinged by this a few times. When you use a hashtag, make sure it makes sense and don’t put too many hashtags or try to be overly clever like #OMGsodumb, which ends up being, well, dumb.

8) Put on your own marketing hat:  There are many ways to promote and cross-promote your Twitter account. Link it with your Facebook business or personal page, Linkedin, blog, and other social media outlets you are on. Don’t forget to add it to your email signature, business card (if you’re still printing one) and anywhere else you can identify your business and handle. Any opportunity available, bring Twitter along!

9) Set long-term goals:  There are many reasons for a small business to be on Twitter, be it to offer discounts to customers, build thought leadership, gain new business, or challenge/intrigue your followers. Whatever you do, make sure your tweets align with those objectives and stay focused for the long haul. Be patient — it can take a long time to reach high numbers of followers. Growing your business is a process, and Twitter is just a part of that.

10) This concludes 140… seconds: The rest is up to you. As you get more experienced, you can add bells and whistles, fine tune your content, and track your social analytics to see what is working and what is not. But the most important thing is to get on Twitter. Period. Like most things, the anticipation is scarier than the outcome. And you might actually enjoy it like I am!

2012 Marketing Wishes and Caviar Dreams

It’s that special time when self-anointed marketing experts look at the biggest trends of the year and give their unadulterated snarky opinions, and marketing sages look into their logo’ed crystal balls and predict what will happen for 2012. But alas, enough about other marketers. From my slightly jaded journalism-cum-marketing POV, here is what I want and don’t want for 2012. And the soothsayer in me knows that none of these will actually  happen…or  will they?

QR Codes Should Be Banned Until They are Easy (and Worth It):  Everyone and their marketing mother was talking about QR (Quick Response) codes in 2011 as if they were going to reach Facebook proportions, but it’s clear now that their stickiness factor is weak (by the way if you don’t know what a QR code is my point is made). Several reasons they haven’t taken off: (1) Many people still do not know what they are (2) When they do, motivation is not high enough to scan the code since it takes some effort. Even though QR codes are plastered everywhere from posters to mailers to web sites, T-shirts and more, reading QR codes is still not an automatic function on mobile phones and users have to download an app typically. QR code readers need to be built in. Humans are essentially a lazy bunch and won’t bother otherwise, including moi. The second part of the equation is that whatever is at the end of the QR code scanning process is worthy of receiving, but that’s a whole other marketing wish (more here on my earlier QR Code blog post).

Social Media Tipping Point: Even Klout Lost its Clout: Let’s face it, most marketers are pretty fascinated with social media. It’s enabled a whole new sandbox to play in, but we also need  to show some restraint: Just because there are the tools out there doesn’t mean every company has to engage on Twitter 24/7, Facebook feed overload, and YouTube mania. Marketers should pick and choose carefully those social outlets that resonate with their audience (and test, test, test). Also stock those outlets with the freshest, greatest content possible on a regular basis. Which reminds me…

Learn How To Write For the Web: It pains me both as a former journalist and a freelance writer to see all the growing, embarrassingly poor prose on web site copy, online coupons, email campaigns, blogs and just about every other orifice of the web. I’m not sure how the most global opportunity for the written word could be hijacked by so many atrocious, mangled sentences. I think it’s wonderful that the web provides a platform to reach so many but it should be used with care, and most importantly some training.  For those without formal training, enroll in a writing class. If you have an employee that is a horrible writer and can’t change, fire him or her (ok that’s harsh, maybe they’d make a better editor? or html coder?) And lastly if you are not happy in a writing job yourself, make it your new years resolution to do something you enjoy. If you care about your readers, you won’t let us suffer your pain as well.

Big Corporations Acting Like PR Idiots:  Think Netflix. I mean Quikster. I mean Netflix. Or Lowes removal of an ad on a Muslim family reality show.  Or Bank of America’s $5 transaction fee.  PR (and plummeting stock) disasters are usually the fault of the company itself. It typically a involves a predictable four-step recipe: 1) Make a big mistake 2) Don’t admit the mistake 3) Make yet another mistake to try to recover from the first blunder such as blaming consumers, investors, the media, or anyone other than your own company 4) Admit guilt with your PR tail between your legs and apologize after you have been flailed about by aforementioned-blamed. And with social media helping to spread consumer unhappiness like wildfire, companies must learn to do this and quikster. I mean quickly.

Make Marketing Proud in the New www (Wild West Web): This was a banner year for web marketing:  not only social media but mobile marketing, gamification, online deals, you name it. As someone from the traditional marketing times, I am personally overwhelmed learning all the technologies, trends, and “new rules” but enjoy that we have such great room to grow in this new frontier. It’s exciting and also offers the chance to produce better, more layered and sophisticated marketing programs using a hybrid of online and offline strategies. Marketers have more opportunities than ever to be creative, explore ideas, measure successes, and yes, also produce complete flops. So let’s take the time and energy to do things right.

Don’t Forget Who the Boss is:  No, not the woman or man with the windowed corner office — the person who buys your products or services. They are also the king and queen of your world. This is why you are racking your brain to come up with campaigns to engage with them, keep them happy, and treat them like gold.  And lest we forget, our customers and prospects have never had such a panoramic platform to display their happiness or unhappiness, be it on your company’s web site, review sites, chat rooms, or blogs, which means we are more accountable than ever.

Let’s make everyone–most of all ourselves–proud in 2012 and have a happy marketing new year!