The Price of Doing it Wrong is a Cycle: Corporate Hiring Mistakes in Social Media

I won’t name names, that isn’t the point of this post, the point is that I am seeing it “all over again”.

I began my career as a web designer in 1994, I was a trained Graphic Designer with a focus in Editorial Design/Visual Psychology, and as a long time computer user was well enabled to tackle the new-ish thing known as “GUI design”.  GUI stands for Graphical User Interface, it was brand new to the majority of the public, having grown from the Apple/Mac UI which was graphical, and with Windows 95 launched in 1995 it was all about the graphical.

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”

That quickly became my mantra as I tried to break into the big software companies around the Eastside of Lake Washington near Seattle where I lived, and even into Seattle. I interviewed more times than I can tell you at Microsoft, Adobe and others, but I never got the jobs and I always knew why. Even though I truly had the background, experience and credibility there was always someone else who was “more qualified”. That really wasn’t that possible in that day and age, but what I discovered was that it was standard practice to “inflate” one’s job experience. I saw many self-taught web “developers” (read: they taught themselves HTML) suddenly have credentials that did not even exist. I could not, and would not, “inflate” my resume – I felt that in the space credibility and integrity were everything to me so I lost out because of my honesty. Or did I?

We Have Coders – They Can Do It

Companies like Microsoft already had programmers so they shuffled them around and put them into new niches. A “code monkey” could learn HTML and web development, but you can’t teach some thing to an analytical. I aspired to be a “code monkey” – as a self taught Visual Basic and C++ programmer I desperately wanted a job at Microsoft where I could sit in my office with an endless supply of Mountain Dew and Popcorn and code all day, becoming a Microserf with people feeding me flat food under the door during major product deadlines. Who was better qualified in the area? I was an expert at Editorial design and visual psychology – that was what usability was all about, understanding how the human mind processed information, and I “got it” naturally, I still “get it”. But alas – bad design ran rampant, animated gif’s overwhelmed us all. Remember Hamster Dance?

If it flashed and buzzed then everyone had to have it! Again “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. So fast forward to 2011 and I see it all happening again.

The Hamster Dance of 2011

There are very few truly qualified social/digital/new media experts out there, and there are far more corporations that desire,  or more appropriately NEED the help of those few experts. The one caveat – they are unwilling to pay the high price of what a true and qualified expert would cost. Mack Collier wrote a great post in 2010 on pricing, and updated it in 2011, I will personally call that the benchmark for understanding pricing. This all ties back into the early web development days because back then companies didn’t want to pay the premium when they felt they could get it done for far less by someone else.

You Get What You Pay For

Anyone can sell you a bill of goods, there are enough books out there on the subject that if someone reads enough they can regurgitate the points as though they had just crammed for a high school final exam. Does that mean you get the same value for 40% of the cost? Not at all. The cost will actually be significantly higher in the end. Rather than paying the price for a qualified person like Julien Smith, Scott Stratten, Robert Scoble, Andy Sernowitz (for the right price I have photos of Andy at summer camp in 1987), Chris Penn, CC Chapman, Whitney Hoffman, Amber Naslund and  Chris Brogan to do it first, and do it right – those “Fortunate” ranked companies will hire the underqualified or the “pretender” and in the end cost them at least twice as much – more likely quadruple as much when you consider the PR/marketing aspects of the social spaces.

My experience might not be scientific, but I make notes of what companies don’t respond, who isn’t monitoring the social spaces. It is easy to see what Frank Eliason did for Comcast, what Chris Barger did for Chevrolet, and what Scott Monty is doing at Ford. When I did Future of Marketing last fall the list of people I spoke with – wow, Bonin Baugh, Jeffrey Hayzlett, Liz Strauss, Ekaterina Walter, Sonia Simone, Steve Garfield and on an on – these are the people that GET IT. Yet companies don’t want to pay the price. But at what cost to those not there?

Word of Mouth Can Make or Break You

I had AT&T for about six months, and I tweeted about their service, I tweeted about their failures. I talked to their customer services representatives when I called in – they were never helpful, thoughtful or pleasant. I lost so many calls and therefore lost a lot of business – I fired AT&T because they broke their contract with me. Did I write about it on my blog? Did I tweet about it? Did I put it on Facebook? Absolutely. Did AT&T respond? I think I got about three replies asking if they could help, to which I replied and never heard from them again. I have seen that with other companies, and that is all about reputation and risk management.

If it is in the social spaces, it must be true. That is the assumption we must all have, therefore not engaging and responding to people talking about you – in this day and age – is considered validation of those complaints. So I ask again, at what cost to those companies not doing right? Is an attempt to do it right by doing it “wrong” to save money really a cost efficient strategy? I don’t think so.

We can probably count the big companies doing it well on our fingers and our toes, but would need a lot more people to count those not doing it well or not doing it. What is the true cost of making a poor hiring decision when it comes to your corporate PR or Marketing department?

My friend Chris Smith tweeted something today that got my attention, Chris is also known as @TechSavvyAgent – he works for Move Inc. and has created an incredible social media program for his direct employer Top Producer, his sales were always amazing but Chris is also a really smart and strategic guy.  He may well be one of the most generous and thoughtful people I know, he gets social a lot and he really helps others, so when he tweeted the following:

It’s amazing that all these associations and companies are hiring social media consultants who have not executed social media 4 themselves.

I took note and responded. As I continued to respond, and respond, I realized I needed way more than 140 characters times 10, so I blame Chris for this blog post, but more importantly I thank Chris. This is a topic that has bothered me for a long time.

I Gave Up

In 2001 I gave up on my web design/development career. I was tired of “prostituting my own creativity”, as I put it to anyone that asked. In reality I was tired of being trumped by those that “created” their resumes. I won’t give up again.

Myself and many others, like Chris Smith, Jeremy Blanton, Margie Clayman, Jessica Northey, Estrella Rosenberg, Sheri MoritzJa-Nae Duane and many others get it. Yet every day I see the “un/underqualified” getting hired. Not everyone can afford the a-list I mentioned above, but many can afford those of us on the B-List, and there are lots more of us, the blog would go on for a few more pages if I got to everyone. What they really can’t afford is to not hire from the extensive list of well qualified folks.

It really all comes down to credibility. The big corporations want it and need it, so they should hire it. Period. Check references, ask questions, face the cost of success. We all busted our bank accounts and financial stability to do something we love, why cut corners which might turn out to be the corner of your money jug. So where’s the problem? Seems pretty clear cut to me.

How about you?


  • rob

    On a similar note, i find it amazing that in my area (Central Ma) and i imagine in a lot of markets, business owners have yet to set up and maintain accounts w/ yelp, foursquare, etc… They are virtually unaware of what their customers are saying about them. Or they know and arent responding…either way they are missing the boat. Sometimes i want to go into my favorite local restaurant and show my foursquare account to the owner and offer to get him started on claiming his business….they need help…
    This is on a different level than what you were discussing but its the idea that they dont and may never realize the value in investing in Social Media.

  • MHarris

    You are absolutely correct. Hopefully I made your B-list. Lol but seriously, the amount of time alone that it takes to build a quality social presence is astounding. When you add a per hour charge to that then it adds up to an unbelievable amount of money, so you would be better off hiring from the A-list in many cases. Granted, I have some clients that I work with them to bulk up their content, but also show them how it is done and monitor their use and make sure they are doing it correctly themselves.

    On the consultant side of social media, we have decided to transition to training products that are interactive and actually help the user learn social media from the ground up.

    Just because a graphic designer or other marketer is out of a job doesn’t mean they get it and can do it for others.

    Thanks for great insight Maya.

  • Angie @AgentKnowHow

    I am trying to think of the first time I ever heard of social media marketing. Was it something I learned from Hub Spot, champions of inbound marketing, or was it something that finally came to fruition after twitter went mainstream in 2008/09?

    When I was reading your post, I immediately thought about the life cycle of a trend. Social media marketing has been a buzz word for the past several years and just recently many big corporations have started to pay attention. (I know this because I an noticing an uptick in the number of social media marketing coordinator positions on sites like Hiring in the traditional fashion for a position like this (SMC) doesn’t much make sense to me. You hire talent like this using the same medium you want to leverage. But that’s just my take.

    Interestingly enough, unlike radio or television, which took many, many years to have an impact on our social economy, the internet has completely alter the way people interact with other people in addition to how people get their information.

    For kicks, I looked up SMM on wikipedia (wikipedia, the very essence of a global, social economy). The term (SMM) itself is still so new that companies may continue to dance their way around hiring “right” talent. But, you are so right. You get want you pay for in life day in and day out.

    We all know that the right type of talent generally pays for itself and then some. The wrong type of talent will costs more in the long run and that’s what really becomes the vicious cycle (retraining).