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Disclosure Isn’t Enough If You Want People’s Trust

I think a lot about trust. And maybe more importantly, I think about how mistrust happens. Specifically when it comes to writers, columnists, bloggers, and journalists.

Often, when people talk about disclosure, they are usually talking about money. And if you’re a blogger or writer and money is changing hands, I think you should always be on the side of clear, full disclosure. And just for the record, I’ve been called out about disclosure. More on that in a second, though. First, let’s talk about money.

$ $ $

Money is powerful. I think about the work I do with ERE and how I take our work there (and especially the parts I’m intimately involved with) very personally. But I should, because ERE doing well means I do well and there’s a trigger there in my brain. That’s why I disclose when I talk about our events or publications, usually right in line with the text so you can’t miss it.

I also think about the relationships I developed with the folks at Crimcheck, Halogen Software, Rypple or (who paid me for the first time, not as an advertiser, but as a writer). Or when I worked on MeritBuilder or for some of the other companies I’ve been lucky enough to be at, it makes sense that I became vested.

That’s not easy an easy reality when you’re solo and trying to put your best pieces out there without conflict of interest. We have a stellar sales team at ERE and they take care of all of the deal making. It is so much easier when there is that separation. When it is just you, it is a struggle. And I’ve seen a lot of bloggers and writers go down that path and take some wrong turns.

Even though it is difficult to know when or where to disclose, I think there is a clear line: when money (or something of value) changes hands, that’s when you look for opportunities to disclose. And the part about looking for opportunities to disclose is the distinction there, and I think it is the right and appropriate choice. Do it often, with clarity and bake it in with a one-time visitor in mind (if someone comes in off a Google search knowing nothing about you or your publication and reads a piece with a conflict of interest, do they know money changed hands?).

Beyond Money: Honesty

So if you disclose money relationships, shouldn’t that be enough? Well consider what I did above: I linked to an article critical of my ability to disclose. Now obviously, I wasn’t paid by Workforce to include that link. While I didn’t think it was very fair at the time, I do think it is fair to point out that some may have questioned my approach in the past. You should have the opportunity to see that.

Similarly, I may disclose the fact that ERE is my employer, but if I blow smoke up your ass about the company, spin the truth or you get the feeling like I’m not giving you the full story, I become less credible. At least as far as writing is concerned, being honest about both successes and struggles of what we’re doing means people take me mostly at my word, even with the knowledge that I’m an employee.

That’s why disclosing about money is simply not enough. The best way to gain and maintain trust is by abandoning (as best as possible) the built-in bias that the relationship creates and speak the plain truth. And you have to do both, consistently, over a period of time to gain trust.

The Changing Rules Of New Media? Not So Fast

Two and a half years ago, I said at a conference that bloggers were not, in and of themselves, journalists. That’s still true today. I struggle with the term myself but I don’t lose sleep over it, either.

The principles of the old ways, of that idealistic view of journalism as the respected fourth estate, is still within reach, even in this digital, anon-blogging, rumor-monging, money-changing-hands-under-the-table environment that the new media works in these days.

What’s easy to forget is that there was a time when the most prominent people evaluating technology didn’t just pick a side and arrogantly and mindlessly defend it until the bitter end. Or that trading money for half-hearted disclosures and favorable coverage was harder to come by. Or that concepts like black hat SEO, astroturfing and throwing anonymous commenters at a situation could influence the discovery and perception of information.

We’re not talking about a zine or underground newspaper with significant costs and logistical hurdles to get it beyond a few dozen miles of its origin. We’re talking about the same web that you used to get to this very low cost blog today can get you to other sources with millions of dollars staked into their sites.

The biggest misconception is that old media rules are outdated and unneeded. In reality, the key thing that happened is that not playing by those rules was finally a choice for nearly anyone who wished to publish something with almost unlimited (and low-cost) distribution.

That’s a great thing for information flow. But if you want to be trusted wholesale as a writer, blogger, or whatever you want to call yourself, you’ll quickly learn that these journalist quacks may have been on to something with their silly rules. They knew it was about trust. Even if you had to get ink on your fingers to read about it.

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Is HR Technology A Boring Story?

TechCrunch got some serious flak for their reporting of the acquisition of SuccessFactors by enterprise giant SAP with a despondent and bored tone.

The truth of the matter is that the comings and goings of the entire enterprise software industry is boring. I love technology and I love HR but even I know most people probably aren’t fascinated by this acquisition.

Now being interesting and being important can be (and often are) two separate things. Outside of the CIOs, CHROs, HRIS pros, industry consultants and analysts and the employees and clients of these companies, there is only a modicum of interest. Again, lack of interest doesn’t mean it is unimportant. SAP is a giant and this transaction will only broaden their reach.

Of course, the problem many people had with the TechCrunch story was the over-editorializing of a really important story by the author. That she dissed on an important story by saying it was boring. I get it.

Editorializing on a story can be great, though. Especially if you’re not the one breaking the story, adding analysis, quotes from experts or finding a different angle than anyone else can be an important piece that will make your story stand out from a simple, factual brief. Certainly, TechCrunch took that approach to the extreme and it was rewarded with a rash of tweets (over 600 at the time of this writing). Not too shabby for the most boring story EVAR.

You can’t go to the well too often on that though. If everything is boring, or new, or extreme, or the best, or the next ____, all of your stories can start to blend together. Eventually, they lose their punch in any extreme. Not every story can be spun, sometimes news is news is news. And knowing when to go off the deep end really go at a story and when to avoid it makes sure that the stories you do invest in beyond reporting really do count.

This is news that TechCrunch probably couldn’t afford not to report but isn’t in their wheelhouse. TechCrunch isn’t above simply reporting the latest tech news. They often do so with very little editorializing.

That probably would’ve been the best option here. Then again, would anyone in our niche be linking to or responding to the TechCrunch story on this acquisition if they hadn’t?

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Want Social Network Privacy? Pull The Plug

Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I was raised in an age where this stuff became equally apparent very early on. But here’s my modus operandi when it comes to online behavior:

If you enter anything on the internet, even in “secret” and you haven’t gone through significant measures to mask your identity, you should assume that the information can be publicly identified and traced back to you.

Does that sound paranoid? Sure it does. But that doesn’t mean it is incorrect, either.

It is easy to feel secure behind passwords, filters and closed systems. When I used this blog to post without my name, it was still easy to find out who I was. Guess what? I operated as if I was being monitored by everyone who knew me.

When we setup Facebook filters, when we have sensitive e-mail conversations, or when we use a pseudonym in an online forum, that feels like a secure place where we can cut loose. But here’s what else happens: copy and paste, BCC’s, Google cache, screenshots and IP address captures.

Every sensitive conversation I’ve ever held has been in person or over the phone. And sure, phones can be tapped and someone can wear a wire but that has to be premeditated and even I’m not paranoid enough to assume everyone is wired up like a snitch. (Okay, maybe now that I think about it, I should… no, never mind).

With online communication though, there doesn’t need to be premeditation. In fact, I recently was contacted by an out-of-work recruiter about some recommendations for some jobs in my area. The name sounded familiar and I searched my e-mails and it was a recruiter I talked to in, wait for it, 2005. And, the e-mail record shows that I received a phone interview but wasn’t ever contacted back afterward.

Now, my intention isn’t to be evil, hold a grudge and out this person but I wanted to make a point. We had a conversation that I had passively saved (one of thousands) and now, I could go back and say “Ha! Six years ago, you weren’t so willing to help me out!”

(And yes, I was nice. Could you imagine anything else?)

When the recommendation among people concerned about privacy is changing social networks, messing with privacy settings, changing to more secure passwords and not following unknown links, we’re not actually fixing anything.

Some things do not need to be posted online. Some conversations need to happen some place other than Twitter DM’s, Facebook messages or e-mails. And if the answer to every embarrassing privacy gaffe on social networks is “more security” and not “better venue choice for communicating sensitive issues,” it’s time to wake up. Once that digital record is created, it is very hard to destroy.

True privacy doesn’t exist online. Expecting privacy on any social network is going to burn you at some point. And if you’re that concerned about social network privacy that you can’t even put up basic information and interact in the most vanilla way, well, good luck.

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A Playground For The Narcissistic: Surviving Social Media With Dignity

I know a thing or two about narcissism. I’ve been blogging for over ten years in one form or another. I obviously think I have important things to say. Enough where I’ve spent a lot of time crafting messages that get read by a relatively small number of people.

There’s no punchline there either. I don’t think you write as long as I do without a healthy dose of ego. It’s not something to be proud of, just reality. Something has to fuel you through commentless posts and bad ideas. You have to be good or delusional (or both in my case, depending on the day).

So when I read a quote by Laurie Ruettimann in a post about Twitter, it resonated with the little part of me who writes:

I’m only on Twitter as an extension of my narcissist self… and I’m nearly bored with it, which is saying a lot.

And then I think about the reaction one friend gave me when she found my Twitter account: “Why do you have 3000 followers on Twitter? I read some of your tweets. I don’t get it.” She was serious too. And right.

I later read a post by Chris Ferdinandi about how he thinks Twitter sucks now. He wrote:

Two years ago, it was really easy to find meaningful conversations on Twitter. Lots of signal. Little noise. Sometime over the last couple of years, though, things changed.

Now there’s lots of noise. Mindless retweeting. Daily quotes. Follow Friday has devolved into a laundry list of everyone you follow.

It’s really easy to become cynical about social media. You see the way people automate, degenerate and exploit a system that was really built to democratize content distribution and it is easy enough to say forget it. Unlike Chris though, I don’t think this is a recent change. Blogrolls, lists, SEO blackhat and spam to even common social tricks like trolling and sock-puppetry have all been a part of the explosion of social media.

If you’re a decent person, you’ll probably tire of it. And there are a couple different options.

  1. Flip the switch off. You’re done and you get more vitamin D.
  2. Be annoyed and cynical all of the time. You’ll participate but not enjoy it.
  3. Power through with positivity. See how that goes for you!
  4. Turn to the dark side. Embrace the bullshit and become what is wrong with the internet.
  5. Make social media a utility. You use it for its purpose but it isn’t the end all be all.

And in case it isn’t completely obvious, I choose number five. I use social media like I use the telephone or e-mail. Sure, there are people who still abuse the telephone and e-mail. Most e-mail messages are still spam after all but it doesn’t make it any less useful for me.

This isn’t some sort of battle of principle either. How you decide to use social media doesn’t have a major impact my usage. I use it to connect with the people I want to connect to in the way we both decide to connect with one another. How you choose to use it only impacts whether I choose to connect with you or not.

And if you’re being a jackass or even just really annoying on social media, that doesn’t make blogging or Facebook or Twitter suck. It makes you suck. And if you’re a decent person who just wants to connect with great people, cull your friends list or blogging buddies list down as low as you need to go and use it that way. I met a lot of great people when I only had a few people reading this blog and I meet many people everyday using social media as my utility.

I guarantee you, the narcissism will find whatever new piece of social technology that comes out next. Finding the next Twitter or Facebook is only a temporary refuge. Create your own sane space on the playground and live in it.

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E-Mail, Twitter, and Unsurprising Changes

The Evolution of E-mail

Does anybody remember their first e-mail address? I do. It was The same company that hosted my favorite dial-in BBS also became my first e-mail provider. And it was great except I only knew three other people who used e-mail (and they lived only a couple of blocks away from me).

So I would check my e-mail address for weeks and not receive anything. What did I do to remedy this? Well, I signed up for some newsletters (about cars because I was still a teenager) and I started conversations online about politics, sports or Ham radio that would spill over into massive reply all e-mail fests.

Which was great, at least for awhile. Then more widespread adoption of e-mail took place and in between newsletters and virtual conversations came e-mails that I needed to read from family and friends. And then later, e-mails from fellow students and co-workers. In between all of those were e-mail forwards from people I did want to hear from but just not on those subjects.

What eventually happened was the initial use transformed into something different as time went on. Now I am rarely involved in an e-mail chain that lasts more than three or four e-mails because then we need to discuss it in real time. Now I rarely receive e-mail newsletters for anything but the most pertinent industry news. Now I rarely have discussions with strangers via e-mail that goes beyond either a “not interested” note or a “let’s discuss this on the phone” note.

What’s Happening With Twitter

When Frank Roche posted about his 10,000th tweet, I was first a little surprised that he beat me to 10,000 (by about 1,200 tweets too!) even though he was on the service only a few weeks before me. But then, I was interested to hear that he thought the best years were behind Twitter.

I’ve told my friend Chris Ferdinandi multiple times that Twitter was easier to manage four years ago. There were maybe a few dozen then maybe a couple hundred people that were on in our niche and almost all of them were worth following. Early adopters of a service usually have similar goals, norms are established and the network is smaller so it is easier to influence (and be influenced).

Now? You can’t watch ESPN without hearing Twitter mentioned. Not a conference goes by where I don’t end up talking about Twitter at some point. It’s a different world out there. You can’t just follow back everyone like the “good old days.” The network feels less tight, less special, and less useful. So does that mean its heyday is behind it?

Twitter is Changing (And We Shouldn’t Be Surprised)

The way we use Twitter is changing. For me, it has become a utility like e-mail or my RSS reader. The people I follow are more than likely people I know or have met at least virtually. Some people I have met I don’t follow because they tweet too much. Some companies I do like I don’t follow because their updates aren’t interesting. Some people I haven’t met but are producers (writers mainly).

It’s not about being cool or being part of a clique anymore. After all, anyone can send me an @ message. And for those longer messages, my e-mail is widely available. There isn’t a special crew of people who knows a special e-mail address. It all comes into the same box

It is about getting the maximum usefulness out of the service in as little time as possible. It’s the same way we manage e-mail, calendars, or reading schedules. That may seem cold but it also makes Twitter something that I view like e-mail: indispensable, constantly available (though not constantly monitored) and available to anyone who wants a quick reply to or from me.

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Let’s Stop Talking About Social Media Experts

I am tired of talking about how social media experts are ruining everything that is good and pure about social networking.

I mean, of course they are.

There are a million BS professions out there that are ruining something:

  • Reality TV producers
  • Televangelists
  • Romance novelists
  • Pop music artists
  • Paparazzi

Yes, these people bring down their entire broad industries through shoddy work, scummy tactics and rampant backstabbing.

What’s the real problem with all of these people though?

Someone is paying them!

Some jerk is paying that social media guru (who is giving you blog posts like “Ten tips to shoot to the top of Digg”) either on a contract or a full time gig to keep sustaining them in their practice. Or they are unemployed and just saying they are an expert until they find a real gig.

So if you want to know why these folks keep persisting, it is because someone is paying their mortgage and light bills. People don’t do this crap for free for too long.

You want to know the real deal?

If you want to be useful and successful in social media, you have to be useful and successful in society. That means contributing useful things to your community. That means not doing shady things as a means to work your way into the hearts and minds of your audience. That means creating useful ideas and products that don’t require automated Digg submitters, blackhat SEO and crappy Twitter accounts.

* * * * *

Most of all, it is about educating and involving yourself with social media. That’s why companies who get it don’t care about social media experts. When they get it, they end up caring less about social media “rockstars” and more about people who are willing to talk to their former, current and future customers in a way that makes sense and is authentic.

So while it is easy to get stuck in the trap of complaining about social media gurus, let’s do the hard thing and just make them go away by stopping their cash supply. That’s the hard way. Any comparison to cockroaches is purely coincidental too.

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Being Effective in HR Isn’t About Technology

I just left the HR Technology Conference and really had a good time. I love talking about the intersection of humans and technology. Learning how it can be used to improve (or even degrade) the quality of our life (which includes work) is fascinating to my nerdy side.

Here was my takeaway from the show: Having an effective HR function has very, very little to do with the technology you have.

Seems like a strange message to get from a conference focused on HR technology and that’s got to be a little scary to vendors out there that sell themselves as the end all be all to their current and potential clients. But let’s back this up a bit to get some perspective on it:

  1. Technology will not replace leadership — Of course, nobody explicitly sells their product this way but many vendors sell something that may replace parts of leadership or automate processes of leadership. Now if you have solid leadership, can automating processes improve reach and effectiveness? Sure. But you have to start with leadership.
  2. Don’t put the cart before the horse — Don’t build your programs and processes around software, select your software based on your programs and processes. The biggest mistake is people seeing a problem and throwing technology at it without thinking about their culture, history and current process issues.
  3. Execution is all that matters — We can talk about bells and whistles on products all day but the biggest thing most vendors sweat is implementation and execution. The software may be great but if employees and administrators don’t use it, you’ve already lost the audience.

And guess what? That last point is why HR has so much more impact on HR technology than the HR software providers. Not saying that there aren’t some bad products out there (there are, believe me) but that they aren’t the reason why HR is ineffective. Just like social networking isn’t the end of the world. Nor is HR process outsourcing.

I’ve got another post early next week but I wanted to thank Bill Kutik and the team over at HR Executive Magazine for allowing me to show up at the last minute.

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On buying my first iPod…

I am sure this sounds comical, but I bought my first iPod this week.

This is from someone who is technically part of Generation Y. An iPod is supposed to be standard issue along with an inflated sense of entitlement.

This is from someone who has been blogging well before the term was invented and before software was widely available.

I honestly don’t know what took me so long. And it isn’t even that I am ashamed of it. I really appreciate all of the things you can do with the iPod right now. Between the podcasts, audiobooks, video, picture and presentation capability (I keep think I am forgetting something…), I have a nice setup for a small dollar amount.

This is a lesson to me that being a late adopter isn’t always bad. Sure, it isn’t sexy. And yes, friends laughed at me. But I have a great system that has been tested over six product life cycles. That’s why copy cats are successful.

Being on the cutting edge of (job seeking, recruiting, HR theory, leadership, management) can be rewarding and can give you a competitive advantage when you need it. And if that’s what you need, that’s what you do. But for those who need tried and true, there is no hating for copying techniques (or using products) that have been vetted.

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SimplyHired and MySpace together at last

SimplyHired has pulled off quite the deal here.

There is going to be a lot of “old money” companies saying this isn’t significant. “Who cares? These kids on MySpace don’t have any skills we need. Plus the whole lot of them are probably child molesters anyway.” The good thing for these “kids” on MySpace is that they will have one of the most effective job searching tools out there easily accessible to them. Even the old money will be benefiting tremendously through this marriage of sorts (since SimplyHired aggregates millions of job listings including many of old money’s newspaper ads). MySpace has consistently ranked in the top 10 websites since the beginning of the year.

It is all a matter of people eventually figuring out that MySpace has a job search. It will be used and it is really only a matter of time.