Why I claimed the St. Louis Rams defunct Twitter account (before it was suspended)

Yesterday afternoon around 4, I was hanging out working on a website. I took a brief break to look at Twitter when I saw someone post the new Rams switch from St. Louis to Los Angeles. My first thought, being a uniform nerd was “I wonder if they’re going to change their colors,” so I went looking to see and typed “Rams” into Google. That was it.

The first thing I saw beneath the top results were their twitter handle which had not cached changes. You can’t see it now, because they’ve asked google to remove Twitter because their old name still comes up.

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Once I saw the team hadn’t backed up their old Twitter handle (@StLouisRams) when they switched to their new one (@RamsNFL), I wondered if the old one was available. My only thought was “maybe some fan group would want it,” since the team probably had no interest in keeping it.

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Mentions streamed like crazy for a while — and still are — because people hadn’t gotten the memo that the team changed names. Especially since the now Los Angeles Rams weren’t able to convince the actual person with the name LaraMS on Twitter since it’s her name.

Maybe an hour into the experiment, Twitter put the suspension hammer on the account. Which is fine. It’s just a silly story that gives me material for a future presentation.

So what was the point, you troublemaker?

Not fame, that’s for sure.

Here’s the deal. This is really a story in thinking about your users.

Think of your twitter profile like a phone number with a forwarding number.

Whoever ran marketing point for the social media team probably had their people under a fast turnaround to get the new website up announcing the official name of the team and to switch the twitter accounts were literally the last thing on anyone’s mind, I bet. Even the Fox story that quotes me indicates my belief, “they just forgot. There’s no real precedent for this sort of thing,” because it’s not like we had Twitter when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in the 50s.

Most companies realize their old customers want to know where their new location is. In the case in the Rams, you’re leaving behind an entire fan base and keeping the old account to say “please follow us at @RamsNFL” might seem unnecessarily cruel and yet, it’s precisely what they needed to do.

People are still looking for them and tweeting at the old handle. That happens and will eventually stop, but the 15 extra seconds it’d have taken to do that would’ve saved the team a modest amount of embarrassment and directed new traffic to their account.

Also, if I hadn’t done there were actual fans of the team who were going to do it if I hadn’t beaten them to it.

“UX stopped being about people and started being about rounded rectangles and parallax animations” – Golden Krishna, The Best interface is no interface

The user become an ancillary part of the equation in so many of our design decisions. Whether it’s deciding how to deliver content or how we disseminate information, too much the argument is focused on a notion of duping people’s eyeballs to our content, rather than engaging their interest.

We need to create holistic customer journeys that establish and maintain loyalty. Brand loyalty is that niggling thing that your parents and grandparents demonstrated by buying the same kind of toothpaste for forty years or going to the same accountant until they died. These days, with companies sprouting and dying in short one-act plays, it’s harder to achieve that kind of relationship, especially for new-economy tools and platforms.

The sooner we think of the customer as a partner, rather than an adversary, the better our decision-making across silos will be.

The suspension is a bigger issue in ownership of accounts.

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You don’t own your social media presence. I’ve managed social media for brands (mostly universities) and one of the things you realize quickly is that investing too much of your brand equity and lead generation in a platform that doesn’t belong to you, is a very dangerous precedent.

In higher education, I remember that it was not long ago many institutions were horrifically reluctant to use tools like Facebook and certainly not Twitter. Now? You have presentations that litter conferences on the best uses of Snapchat, institutions have these platforms as integral part of their communication, marketing & recruitment strategies.

If your account is blocked, you have very little recourse unless you’re a huge advertiser with the platform. Even if you are, if you’re not a major brand, good luck finding an ordinary person who can talk to you about your problem. Is there another scenario where companies spend millions on a service where they have no control over the product they’re receiving?

The Congressional hubub over the design of the Stolen app that came and went last weekend was overblown and yet, abuse is not okay. That was a design problem that was squashed because people have become to think of their profiles as an extension of themselves (or their brands.)

In a heartbeat, your entire business model and strategy built around a platform could be laid to waste without a second notice. It’s a very risky way to work, but we’re not talking about it enough.

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In retrospect, was the 30 minutes or so between when I did this and the time it was suspended worth the trouble? Probably. I had no designs on it being anything other than a solid story. It surpassed my expectations in that regard.

I’ll think about this topic a bit more and intend to make it part of a broader presentation later this year about social media. There’s a lot to learn not so much about this specific story, but the broader implications of how brands treat customers and the UX strategy of platforms.

On hiring: Puzzle pieces & how to fit them

The discovery problem that Silicon Valley — and tech hiring in general has — relates to an issue of finding the right pieces.

Right now, the methodology goes something like this. Somebody stumbles upon a good idea that gains traction. Hell, maybe it’s a bad idea that gets traction and succeeds. Investors like the gold rush flood in seeking to see if that market bears anymore gold or whether they need to seek out a new mountain. Sometimes, they find more gold. Other times, you have to go elsewhere.

Jigsaw puzzles are fine if you like doing them. Depending on how big, they can be a challenge. What happens when you’re about to complete a puzzle and you’re missing a piece? What do you do? Search for it? How long do you search before you give up? Even if you complete the puzzle, what is your next task? Either get a new puzzle to complete or dismantle the one you’ve put together and start again.

I think of tech hiring in a similar way.

We’re really comfortable putting together puzzles that are challenges, so long as all of the pieces are in the box where we need them.

Solving your culture problem

Organizations like to manufacture excitement because they don’t trust their own people to create it organically. We feel like we need to create events to bring people together without thinking about how people are already talking in the cubicles, in meetings and through their natural work together. In big organizations, all huge interactions do is create tension and anxiety. It’s akin to a musical chairs exercise where the favorites always have a seat at the table and the unfavorables are always scrambling to find one, jam their seat that the table and sit there awkwardly, hoping that someone will talk to them and that they can be part of the conversation too.

The myths of meritocracy

The One True Pairing of hiring.

“No one goes to the Golden Corral buffet to stuff themselves with lettuce and quinoa.”
Ty Tashiro, The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love

In fan-fiction circles, OTP is the ‘one true pairing‘. It’s your favorite characters that you think ought to be together. It’s apparent from job descriptions that companies think they’re going to find their own OTP.

Look, it’s important to communicate your culture and what makes your company stand out. The hottest job seekers can choose where they want to go and you’re trying to find them, so you want to use rhetoric that attracts them. But a quick scan of job descriptions

make a difference in an exciting industry; if you like the idea of developing clean, lean solutions to tackle problems that have never been solved before; if you love to learn, have a passion for your work, and enjoy being part of a small, family-oriented environment…help small businesses inspire the world to experience life-changing adventures…

Our people are technically exceptional, but more importantly – built to the core to wow our clients and coworkers as to how helpful we can be. If this is the sort of culture you look for in an organization we want you as a part of our team.

Are you a Mobile UX Superstar who wants to be on the ground floor of a startup focused on social change? If so, read on…

The OTP problem isn’t confined only to jobs. These days, it seems like everybody wants to be the VP of their own startup that simultaneously make them rich while enable them not to feel bad about it through a social mission or talking about how their work will “change the world.” I’ve advised people who only want to work at “the best” companies and find themselves shocked when those companies aren’t interested. We’re often focused on becoming, rather than being.

There is no perfect company. There are no perfect candidates. Keeping your expectations checked is a good way to avoid disappointment and yet, you have to start somewhere. Companies often do, as do people. It just seems there are better ways for us to match without feeling like we’re settling.

 

The Fallacy of Data Meritocracy

So hiring is hard. No revelation there, but how do we fix it? We can rely on data, right? Not if that means taking people’s ability to value what the firm needs out of the process.

In his provocative book, To Save Everything, Click Here, Evegeny Morozov has a chapter on algorithmic gatekeeping. There’s a theory in both hiring and college admissions that we can use algorithms to make decisions better than humans do.

“Being objective is hard work; it doesn’t just happen naturally once all the important work has been delegated to the algorithms.”

For decades, the highest level of college football relied on human polls of media members & coaches to select a national champion. Not surprisingly, this process came fraught with biases that often created mixed results — or several national champions — due to split opinions. A few years ago, they allowed computer rankings to be mixed with human polling. This created better results, but required tweaks every year to achieve a semblance of approval and ultimately scrapped in favor of a playoff that was decided by a panel of humans and no computers.

Having a pulse on the organization enables us to monitor what makes sense and what doesn’t. Paper applications, results and test scores might be an entry point to filtering candidates, but there are people arguing for entirely different methods to review candidates like this NYTimes op-ed from a UPenn professor explaining the assessment center method.

Hiring in flyover country

 

Flyover country startups have an additional challenge that their partners on the coasts lack. That’s in addition to finding a critical mass of talent, they have to compete with far more ‘desirable’ places to live to get people to settle in. They often pay less, but will tell you “how much cheaper it is to live,” and when you find the right cultural fits, using family as a draw, it can work.

I run across people for years who don’t fit the prototype. Maybe they didn’t graduate from the “right” schools,” perhaps they had families early and got into the tech game late. Whatever their reason, our processes are broken because they assume there’s an ideal candidate that fits a certain methodology and if we can just crack that code, we’ll find good people.

Whether our biases are geographic, we’re all too reliant on referrals. We want our friends, our colleagues or whoever else inhabits our circles to tell us who we should choose. These blinders cost us millions each year, because we’re failing to identify the right people and spend lots of money targeting the wrong candidates, hiring them and in the event we get lucky, paying them to leave us when they’ve reached their apex.

 

For years, I’ve been assembling teams for startups and even launched a conference based on the idea that so many off-the-beaten path places I’d go had these micro-communities surrounding their startup cultures, but nothing in the way of cohesiveness because people want to be in charge of their own destinies.

Making your puzzle work

Finding the right mix of a team is difficult work. Especially trying to move outside of your comfort zone or network to fill a team is a challenge. It’s still a worthwhile task that can have dividends on your bottom line.

1. Go beyond referrals in your immediate network.
It’s tempting to let people in your own world influence who you work with. After all, if we’re going to stake our work on somebody, we need to know they’re the goods. While this is useful, it assumes your company can’t benefit from outside perspectives well beyond the people you know. Be willing to give people a real shot at breaking through.

2. Test your own culture.
Let your people conduct the interviews. Watch them and see how they react. Do they speak the values of your firm without being coached? Is the way they approach the process consistent with how you’d do it? If not, why? The best ways to understand what people have learned is involving them in game-changing decisions involving outsiders and seeing how they perform. It’ll tell you more about your company than hiring a six-pack of management consultants.

3. Tear up your job descriptions.
Rather than hire for a specific role with lots of bullets of what you need, pair back the content and see what types of replies you get. Too often, we get caught up in envisioning an OTP that must exist for our firm, because the world is large and lots of people want jobs. The reality is, hiring is like dating and finding the right person is a mix of science with a heavy dose of luck. You have no idea who might apply under these conditions.

On Selfie Fatigue

Selfie (http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3718/9549248214_4e12daf5a1_z.jpg)

Using digital tools is really about practice. Not the kind of practice where you spend hours perfecting your backhand. Or the kind of practice where you get really good at landing a particular kickflip, but the sort of practice where you adapt your usage and habits to work with your life. Valerie Heruska’s post about her own fatigue at the endless stream of friend selfies and exhaustion at people using social media as a proxy for real professionals is well taken.

Especially if you work in this field day to day, you can’t help but log countless examples of seemingly silly questions you get asked from week to week. Whether it’s friends posting about seemingly mundane things going on in their lives or an instagram full of food pictures; I don’t really think it matters what other people do online. Where the practice comes in, is understand what I’m doing online and what my purpose is for using it. Then it’s less about passive consumption and more about interacting with folks from disparate places that I’d never have met if it weren’t for amazing tools that make it so possible for me to reach out and connect with my friends and family on a daily basis.

I don’t understand why it matters what other people think. I wake up, do my hair, get dressed and function without anyone else’s opinion. I don’t need someone on the internet to tell me what looks good or what I should or should not be doing with my physical activities.

The beautiful thing about a critical mass is having different people using the same tools in different ways. For someone relatively well-connected digitally, I know a lot of people who don’t use social tools at all. Or struggle with their usage. I can’t count the numbers of times someone has told me how “stupid” Twitter is. (Full disclosure: Five years ago, I wrote about how Twitter was too much like High school”) I usually proceed to tell the people who hate Twitter how much it’s helped me. I’ve met good friends, been offered consulting and speaking opportunities and even jobs thanks to Twitter.

If you get to a point where you’re not enjoying what you’re reading, what’s wrong with unfollowing? Are the hurt feelings worth more than your sanity? I went through Facebook recently and purged people who I hadn’t talked to in years. A lot of them were people from college who I never talk to, barely talked to then but added back when it might be plausible that I’d run into them on campus. Now? Those connections seem far less useful.

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that social media composed right, is a way to expand your network and influence beyond your local borders. My career in higher ed started in Wyoming, without good timing and people who appreciated my work, I’d still be in that same job I started with. We often want the good with the bad. We want the good information, links and “usefulness” without the out-of-context tweets or the gratification that comes from knowing exactly how many followers you have.

I think we have to take the good with the bad, if we want the positives that arise from participating. When you want a break, you take a break. If your needs aren’t being met, reach beyond your network and find ways to connect with people you don’t know. If you’ve been doing the social thing a while, you start to close to certain communities of people who used to be strangers but become something else. I like pushing myself out of that comfort zone every so often, because I remember what it’s like being new and having good ideas. (Or at least what I thought were good ideas…)

You can’t help but measure when it’s otherwise part of your life. I don’t think it makes us self-absorbed. It’s not our friends job to curate for us, we just have to find ways to filter. On Facebook, I employ a diverse array of filters just for my sanity’s sake. On Twitter, lists never worked for me really. Instead, I employ the use of hashtags when I’m really trying to follow a particular thing. Otherwise, I only engage when 1) I have something to say and 2) I see things that are of interest to me.

Our friends have always had things to say. Maybe our definition of what that means has been extended a bit. In a world where breakups are no longer breakups, we’ve got lots of ways that things can slip through the crack.s

The selfie has always existed, we just finally came up with a name for it.

What’s Your Social Media Doomsday Scenario?

A carousel

Recently, the Wyoming legislature debated a Doomsday scenario bill which in the event of a collapse of the U.S. political system would’ve given the state legislature to form a task force that could’ve created a Wyoming armed forces, a statewide currency and other absurdities. While the intentions and merits of the bill are curious at best, it led me to consider my own doomsday scenario in regards to social media. What happens when Facebook goes away?

I read a lot of insights from smart people who make generally compelling pitches for the whys and hows of using social media to extend your brand. In the higher ed space, we spend a lot of time talking about tactics to reach prospective students, engage alumni and use these tools at our disposal to boost enrollments and raise tons of cash.

The conversation I hear less (as in, never) is what happens when they go away. The obvious answer is “something else will replace it” but that negates the time and energy it takes to invest in those networks in the first place and how all of that gets lost when the network dies. Those of us who’ve been doing this for a while joke about AOL or Friendster or Myspace (what? you’re still using it?!)  and bygone niche social networks that burst onto the scene like Pinterest. Facebook is a panacea today and Twitter is a modern miracle for a bevy of diverse activities.

Of course, the telegraph was once the most advanced piece of technology on the planet. It all goes in cycles I guess. Where I’m going with this is less an admonishment and more of a set of broader questions about priorities, resources and time.

In a situation where there’s limited resources (read: staff) and a lack of institutional dexterity, does it make sense to drive precious energy towards social media? Answer: People are already doing it anyway. So there becomes a need to corral what’s happening and find a way to contain that rather than allow a wild west approach.

There was a conversation a few weeks ago on HigherEdLive about social media and whether there should be consolidated social media presence or whether schools ought to have targeted social media for different departments/colleges/programs and so forth. There were no outliers who argued — even on twitter — for a consolidated strategy.  This owes to size and scope, though.

When you’re an engaged digital denizen, working with others who are similarly inclined it’s easier to advocate for the “smart” strategy. When you’re in a more constrained situation (for example: there’s one or two people wearing the less defined hats of an entire website) this becomes a bit more unwieldy. These one-size fits all answers don’t work for small, niche institutions (tiny colleges with no web marketing plan, community colleges serving a small target area) where it might make a ton of sense to have one page with 1,000 likes and a centralized repository of information rather than five or six different pages that are not curated as well and heavily dependent on the individual who might be in that job at that particular time only to be abandoned by a future person based on their skill, interest, etc.

But back to my original question, I’d argue that it’s counterproductive to invest significant amounts of institutional resources trying to woo constituents through external networks when your own presence fails to engage them. It’s akin to fishing with a lure and no hook.