I don’t know if I can believe that the public really cares about net neutrality anymore.
I want to, but the truth is, when you look beyond the voices and at what people actually use the public is making a fairly convincing argument to the contrary.
If you give me a minute, I’ll explain what I think a lot of advertisers are afraid to tell you.
They have pretty good reason to be, there’s not a lot of money in tipping over this particular apple cart.
I started writing because I felt like there isn’t enough content out there that struggles to hit the high bar of “not making people feel bad for the sake of feeling bad.” I got into advertising because it was a chance to develop those skills in a way that got things done.
The user experience of advertising is lousy.
All day people got peppered with content that made them feel bad, and there’s really one reason why.
Advertisers don’t have the marketshare to get into fights with platforms.
They’d have had it if they weren’t asleep at the switch and spent some capital buying startups. They’d have had it if they bothered to recognize that mass culture can’t just be willed into existence: it exists because there are masses.
The nature of our work (particularly our recent Learn Communications project) means I get to work with a lot more “0–1” startups than a number of my colleagues in the industry do.
In so doing, I can’t tell you just how many people I’ve seen with a good idea that didn’t take because they couldn’t get the user base over the line.
The number one reason why was that they didn’t build for a world where mobile app acquisition was only viable in an ever shrinking number of media sandboxes.
Truth is, that’s the world we live in.
If you can find people willing to subscribe, you capture them.
The trouble is, while many people are willing up to say “hey I want an open internet,” very few people stop to think about what that means, if they’re willing to pay for it or put in the real work it takes to support it.
Think for a few moments about what you do with your life online right now.
What percentage of your time are you actually spending on a site created, let alone hosted, by an individual?
We’re headed to a world where we all use a handful of networks. Each one operating with its own rules. Each one holding data in its own way. Each one used for a different purpose.
If you spend some time watching early-adopter user groups you can actually see this happening now.
Some of our lives online live on places like Facebook that we don’t check very often and instagram that we only visit when we do something cool and then get bored and decide to curate. Some of our lives live online on places like Facebook that we check very often and instagram that we always visit when we do anything and want to see what our favorite people are up to.
some of us do the same thing in a totally different way inside of chat apps. on message boards. on image boards. with handles. whatever.
the truth is, none of it has ever been anonymous. even when it told you it was — and while that may be news to some folks, it really shouldn’t be. the platforms were transparent about what they were doing and how they were paying for it.
if you want to change it tomorrow, all you have to do is switch up your consumption patterns.
so, if you have strong feelings about advocating for an open internet, I have to be honest with you. the time for talking about it is far spent. the time for acting, is now.
next time you’re considering a community project. ask yourself, should this really be a facebook group or can I host a diaspora? you could stand up a trello board in just a few clicks, or you could click a little further and roll your own Taiga.
I’m going to let you in on a secret that isn’t very well kept.
When you meet a communications professional who tells you “there is no viral lever,” you need to start looking around more.
The trouble is that all too often the people who make the changes that change the world aren’t particularly adept at the art of communicating them.
You can actually make yourself quite potent if you can learn to walk between the cultures a little. Sometimes this means you’re an arts kid who sits down and learns calculus. Other times it can mean taking a break from questioning the futility of memorized reference values to enjoy an obscure text. Walking down the middle of the path can take you to some truly fascinating places.
When you are the sort of person who sets out to make a thing, it is rather easy to fall into the trap of believing that the world is an infinite sea of possibilities.
The trouble is that just because something is bigger than you can perceive doesn’t mean that it isn’t also finite.
One of the greatest advancements in this sort of work has come of the world of network engineering, and while I could bore you with specious detail, it would be far more interesting to think of the ways in which you encounter media throughout your life.
Before you decide on something, you’re likely to send it to one or perhaps a few different people.
Your relationships exist across contexts. Each from a different life you have lead. When a message propagates across those spheres, you pay attention to it.
You aren’t the only person who does this — we all seem to.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some version of that idea.
Growing up, I remember keeping a list of each time I ran into it. I don’t know that I kept it up, but I do know I first heard it as a shoddy explanation from a caricature of a public school art teacher.
I normally write slightly longer posts, but I just wanted to take a moment to share one thought.
I think this sentence was meaningless. It was code for “I don’t like your thing and you should feel bad.”
It is important to remember that in today’s communications landscape it is possible to know precisely who you are communicating with and how they feel about it.
Today, millions of people across the world post their lives, waiting for someone to listen.
As a communications professional, it’s your job to be that person.
I am not a recruiter. I am not an HR expert. I don’t really even have that much management experience. I just see the people around me, especially the ad industry, losing top tier talent left and right with no real actionable plan to stop the root problems. First, we need to frame the problem.
“It’s 2017″- Some Canadian Guy.
Freelance opportunities are exploding. In fact there’s more freelancers in the US economy than there have ever been. Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork are only accelerating in popularity.
Companies like Stripe, Etsy, and Shopify are making concrete steps to make it easier to get started freelancing or starting boutique businesses than ever before. Not to be overlooked, but doing a startup is in vogue. Lots of people want to be an entrepreneur, or at least pursue what they envision entrepreneurship to be. The point is that your top tier workers don’t need you as much as you need them. If you give them a raw deal they can and will forge their own path.
Now this isn’t the cause of why you’re losing talent. This simply is the reality that the modern economy makes switching costs much lower than they were in the past. As I’ve seen it, there’s 3 core reasons this happens.
You’re Punishing Innovation.
I’m sure you’ve had lots of meetings about how you’re going agile, and you have a growth mindset. Totally.
The truth is most organizations aren’t ready to accept the other side of the coin when it comes to innovation. Failure.
They repeat mantras about the path to success is filled with failures etc. etc. But very few people are ready to actually accept the reality. Failure hurts, and more importantly it doesn’t fit into the modern spreadsheet driven projections that is the modern corporation. You aren’t setup to let people try, and by extension, fail and you’re losing the most innovative and highest performing people because of it.
You’re Optimizing for Pedigree Rather Than Performance.
Be honest with yourself. A resume comes across your desk that says Yale you give that person an interview. When you have people with an advanced degree on your team you give them deference in their decision making. You think you’re giving your best performer the ability to drive productivity and results, but are you? Going to an Ivy League is the ability to optimize for a legacy system when they were 17. That’s literally it.
It’s not just education. I see these biases all over with lots of things. You’re ignoring the people taking the chances and doing truly bleeding edge things, instead focusing on the person who takes safe options and moves the needle just slightly. Most people wholesale aren’t willing to deal with their biases so I expect this section to get hand-waved away. If you are willing to look though, think about how you’re treating employees that take the chances versus the ones truly trying to build and grow new things and initiatives in your company.
Your Business Model Doesn’t Reward Performance.
I’m going to make a bold statement. There would be a lot less startups today if large companies did revenue splits with the teams that built the products that make them so much money.
To quote Office Space “It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime; so where’s the motivation?”
Your top performers are leaving in droves because they can be making more money doing their own thing and they know it. Truthfully though these people shouldn’t have to be leaving. Big companies have the resources to make many the failed startup a success. The reason they’re leaving though is there’s no upside to being innovative. You’re already punishing them if they fail, and on top of it all, there’s currently 0 financial upside to fighting through the organizational issues to try and make it work anyways. So what happens? They leave and start a company, or freelance, or whatever. You lose top tier talent and then years later your company, or your competitor, ends up spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire the company they built. Why? The reason is you wouldn’t give them 20% of their time to work on their idea and wouldn’t profit share with them.
I realize this comes off as a rant. I realize I’m likely missing tons of nuance as people read this shaking their heads going “Yeah but you don’t get it man”. Which is fair. Life isn’t fair though.
These issues are very real and are pushing out the best resource your company has and is making you less competitive at a time when the world continues to get smaller and smaller and your industry is getting more and more competitive.
If I had a dollar for every meeting I’ve sat through where a team member felt that a product could best be served by the initiation of a pricing war with a competitor, I probably wouldn’t still be working in client services.
The truth is that private branding makes a sort of sense that’s hard for many client-side teams to ignore. When you can offer an adjacent line extension that can cash in on the benefit of the brand equity your team has worked hard to build, it can seem as though you’d be foolish to ignore the easy profits.
I think one of the best examples of this sort of reckless line extension might be the ease with which the major production studios began to adopt “direct-to-DVD” in the early 2000s.
When you can readily offer a product to a baked in audience, it’s hard to pay attention to downside you may not have to face for a few years.
If you walked into my shop and asked for a coupon campaign, the truth is, I’d probably laugh before I said anything useful. That’s why we agency types have to take some of the responsibility for the current state of a competitive landscape where it really feels like people care more about getting a “good deal,” than supporting “quality products.”
The reason for this is, that when you offer someone a discount you’re doing more than giving them a time-sensitive opportunity to “buy now!,” you’re communicating that the value of your product or service is fungible.
You can read textbook studies about department stores that learned the powerful consequences of demand shifting all too late. You might think your product is different, but you may then be surprised to discover the varied opinions surrounding a service like Groupon.
Discounting is a powerful tool, but much like private branding the source of the power is, in large part, the impact such positioning has on the perception of the consumer. In recent years you can observe a trend towards branding private labels. It is little doubt that such efforts stem in part from a desire to repair a perceived value issue.
From time to time, startups disregard powerful lessons like these because they come from the history of marketing. It doesn’t seem like running a sale on an in-app purchase can have any real impact beyond driving up sales one week.
The trouble with this is that it also tends to drive down sales the next week.
Before too long, a team is planning another sale. You have to do this to keep up, because your customers have come to learn that they shouldn’t take your first few prices seriously. They’ll get a better deal by waiting.
Before too long, you’re trapped in a pretty vicious feedback loop.
It’s hard to break out of. To tell you the truth, I can only think of a handful of people who have ever managed to pull it off.
I’ve found myself repeating the same few words over and over again.
That’s usually one of the first signs I look to when I need to know that something should be written down. When you find yourself hung up on a problem, it’s a good sign it might be worth solving.
One thing I’ve noticed an increasing amount of advertisers complaining about is the difficulty they have navigating the world of display inventory.
There are a number of very good reasons for this.
I don’t think that all of them have answers yet, either.
It isn’t always easy to keep up with the changes in the communications landscape. On some teams, this can create a pressure to keep up. When you feel like you don’t understand something, it’s natural to reach out to others who do for help.
This is a great thing, and there are many fine networks who do a great job of delivering a consistent experience to prospective advertisers.
In some circumstances, you may end up working with a network who is less than transparent about what media properties make up the basket you’re buying. This isn’t always malicious, sometimes ad networks can use a similar practice to shore up inventory or guarantee a certain type or volume of impression. Even when it’s well intentioned, it can on occasion mean not knowing where your content is being served.
On other (often larger) networks, ads follow users with a varying degree of deference given to avoiding “blacklisted” properties.
There’s one trick I’ve always found very useful for changing the way you think about online communities.
I think that there is a very real temptation to lose a sense of perspective when you begin to evaluate the way a large number of communities work.
It’s very natural to know the rules of the communities that you regularly operate in. It’s also quite likely for you to understand the relationships that govern the “unwritten” rules of that community — if for no other reason than the tremendous amount of time you’ve undoubtedly spent encountering just how powerful shared expectation can be.
This might be one of the reasons why not everyone who has used a social network in the past can directly translate that experience to using a social network “professionally” right away. This isn’t to say that people can’t make such a shift, rather that making such a shift requires a new way of looking at something you already feel familiar with.
Over the years, many people have come to derive tremendous value from a wide variety of online communities. When you’re a part of one of those communities, you can miss the changes that gradually take place over time.
When that happens, you aren’t in a good position to appreciate the subtleties and the nuances that are important to understand if you want to produce the kind of work that resonates with the people you are trying to communicate with.
The only way to recapture the magic, is to force yourself to look for it.
You have to take the time to understand exactly what goes on in around and near the lives of people who visit a web property you advertise on.
You have to take the time to make sure that you understand the complicated relationships between people who share, create and consume content. You need to understand what experiences, goals or values brought the people you’re to reach together in the first place.
You have to know what it is you’re trying to share well enough to understand if what you’re trying to accomplish is a good fit for the place where you’re trying to accomplish it.
That isn’t something that you can learn from a spreadsheet, though many fine audience research platforms can help point you in the right direction.
To truly understand a community, you have to learn to listen.
One of the best ways to do this is to take a page out of advertising history and actually enter the communities you’re about to work with.
This isn’t a new trick. It’s long been used by savvy media planners to make sure that ad buys inserted into magazines and trade journals fit into the genre they’re running against.
You might not know every site you should look at in the first place. One great way to get started is to begin by exploring the traffic patterns you can see in your user data. After a little while, you should be able to identify networks that responsible for driving your traffic. From there you can begin to explore wherelse that traffic goes.
You can also spend some time looking at the web habits of individual users you find online who match your target segment.
You might find the idea of spending some time on a forum you wouldn’t ever visit strange. I don’t think having this reaction is a bad thing.
Things that are unfamiliar can often feel uncomfortable. As we come to understand more about them, they become more comfortable.
Something like this is true of studying online communities as well.
You should ask yourself about the technical specifications of the network. You should take the time to familiarize yourself with platform documentation. These will always be unique to the platform you are working on.
You should find that while you work, you develop a series of habits that help you get into the head of your community. I have found that every marketer I know who uses a similar approach has a slightly different list of questions that they report to more or less use when identifying a new display opportunity online.
You should take the time to develop your own list. Still, here are six of the points I frequently find myself asking. It’s my hope they’ll help you start to think about your own list.
Why are these people here, now?
Each year, the variety of types of media a person could be consuming increases. There are more articles, posts and images created in a single moment than could be consumed in a month. There just isn’t any way to keep up — we’re past that part.
The way people chose to spend their time tells you a lot about what they value. When a large number of people share an interest, it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on around them.
What do these people have in common?
Part of picking apart why people are where they are when they are is going to be taking the time to ask yourself what the people you’re trying to understand have in common with each other. There’s some reason why they came together, and if you can understand the things they share, you’ll be one step closer to understanding.
Where else could these people go?
There’s a good chance more than one community serves the interest you’re trying to explore.
This can happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes, personality clashes lead to splintering. Other times, the bulk of a community may move from one network to another. Understanding these milestone events can help to shape a more accurate picture of what future obstacles the community you are observing is likely to face.
This insight can be particularly valuable if you’re trying to figure out how your team can give back to the people who rely on your product or service.
What do these people like about each other?
Once you’ve explored all the different places people who share a similar range of interests could be spending time, you’re in a really good position to start exploring what keeps people at some properties over others.
It might be tempting to try and answer this question at the same time you answer the next one.
What do these people dislike about one another?
Users who leave communities often have a pretty good reason for doing so.
A select few will break off to form a new community.
Some may join an alternative.
Others may leave entirely.
There’s likely a wealth of motivations and possibilities between each one of these paths. That’s why I’ve always found that either this question or the one immediately preceding is very easy to answer. In those situations, trying to examine the less obvious has often proven rewarding.
What types of reactions do these people have to the things they share amongst themselves?
In many online communities, it’s common to see a sort of common language develop.
You shouldn’t expect yourself to master it — you won’t be able to pick up everything.
If you can find a pattern, you’ll be able to very quickly sort out which reactions are “advertiser friendly” and which are “completely inappropriate.”
If you don’t find that 90% are “completely inappropriate” for use by advertisers, you probably aren’t looking closely enough at the values of the communities. While adblockers are still rare, they are much more common amongst highly engaged segments of internet users.
While these questions won’t be enough to make you an expert on any given community, they should be enough to kick start your efforts the next time you have to approach a part of the world you haven’t encountered before. Before too long, you’ll come to understand why many advertisers (myself included) consider this the best part of the job.
I still think back fondly on some of my the early days of my career spent putting words on paper. I remember being annoyed that it didn’t ever seem like there was enough time to read all of the things that needed to be read and to write all the things that needed to be written.
When I thought about it, I figured that if I could just learn to write faster, I could spend all the extra time I wanted reading.
To my great surprise, I could type over 100 wpm on my bluetooth keyboard.
I thought about how the average article was really only 500–800 words. That meant that if you were really working at it, if you knew what you were doing and could just write great sentences off the top of your head, you could have your draft finished in about 5–8 minutes.
That’s a pretty aggressive clip, and I doubt anyone could keep that much in their head at once…but if you could keep it up?
You could knock out 7–8+articles an hour!
Thinking about it this way, you can quickly see why breaking apart your tasks into their parts can have dramatic impacts on productivity.
The very first time I had to split up a project amongst a bunch of people I knew I could count on to perform the work, I think I discovered something.
I think most people have a hard time figuring out how long it actually takes to accomplish a task.
Your business is probably blogging seriously if it posts twice a week. At the time, I’d gotten so used to doing things myself, that I didn’t have a very good idea of how long each part of a task might take. Before too long, it was taking on average 11 hours to produce a blog post.
That is entirely too long.
I didn’t sit with this problem for very long, because it really bothered me.
When I stopped to look at where the time was going, I realized that actually writing the blog was the smallest part of the task of writing a blog.
The truth is, there are lots of parts to a good post. Those parts ARE important.
They’re the difference between creating noise and authoring something that really ads value to someone’s life.
But those tasks benefit from this sort of planning, too.
The very first step in creating a good post, is a good idea for a post. That means generating an outline.
You often don’t need to perform very much research at all to put together an outline of an article. In fact, doing so can make researching the things you still have questions about much more efficient.
I won’t go through each step in the process, because the truth is there’s too much variability to write a one-size-fits-all post.
But for the sake of argument, here’s just one more example.
Many people find it much easier to write opening and closing paragraphs after they’ve finished figuring out what they want to say. For some people that means they may not know what the opening and closing of their article should be until they’ve pretty much written the rest of it.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, if it works better for you — do it on purpose!
When you beat yourself up about the way you know how to do something because the results aren’t what you expect, you end up wasting more time than it takes to just do the thing and find a work around for your problem later on. Sometimes that worry can become so powerful it stops us from doing what we need to do.
I think that’s why sometimes writing can expand to take the amount of time you give it.
From accessing data to crafting image pulls and even writing the copy itself, there’s bound to be one or two areas where a better process can improve your output rate.
You don’t have to sacrifice your integrity to get that done, you just have to start being realistic about how long it takes.
Before finding my way into the world of Advertising, I dabbled in a handful of different worlds. What I’ve found is that while it’s tempting to fall for the allure of the old idea that everything could better somewhere else, the truth is each industry has its own ups and downs.
One of the most curious I’ve started to notice is that it seems as though many times the qualities that make something “good,” when carried to their extremes can also make something “bad.”
I want to talk about one of those “downs,” in particular.
To be more specific, I want to talk about the idea of striving to always learn something new.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the goal of learning more. I also don’t think it’s particularly dangerous to want to get better at your chosen craft.
When I wasn’t feeling confident in the way I managed multi-stage projects, I started obsessing about it. I read everything I could about people who had experienced the same sort of challenges. I studied different ways of organizing work. I experimented with different schemas. I found one that worked for me and I went to work trying to make it perfect.
I think many times, people start trying to get better at something with the best of intentions. But sometimes, the rush of that quest for perfection can lead to negative consequences.
If you’re reading this article and happen to have a familiarity with the flora and fauna of the Southwestern United States, you may have noticed I started this blog off with a graphic including a drawing of a familiar variety of cactus. (Cylindropuntia for the curious,) and the truth is it isn’t an accident.
You’ll quickly understand why some varieties are known for their jump, if you spread a stack of pennies across a solid wood surface like a desk. Tap your finger underneath the pennies.
It might take a few tries, but you’ll notice they come towards the source of the vibration.
Alternatively, you can give this video a look. Try to avoid watching with sound if you’re sensitive to language. (I spent fifteen minutes trying to find an alternative, consider it a testament to the pain.)
The arrow-headed shape of the barbs on some varieties contribute to the pain.
Some varieties even leave a salt behind.
Sometimes when I think I about working in advertising, I’m reminded of walking through a garden of cacti.
I know that on more than one occasion, I’ve been guilty of saying something pointed that added at best a nominal amount of value to tense situations. But I also know that I’m not the only one to have been on both sides of the phenomena.
Some of my favorite copywriters and designers have life stories that are impossible to hear without feeling a sense of awe. I think part of the reason this experience stands out so strongly in the advertising industry in particular, is that many of us come to this space after experiencing intense rejections.
I think that beyond that, nearly every client has had an unsatisfactory advertising experience. Sometimes it’s malicious, sometimes it’s an indicator of a deeper problem, sometimes it’s just how it goes. But how often do we let those experiences color the way we look at what happens next?
When you have an unfortunate encounter with a cactus, you pick the barbs out.
What happens when those barbs are pointed ‘critiques,’ that weren’t ever meant to add value?
I think we carry them around with us, and I’m not sure if that’s the most healthy thing we could be doing.
Growth requires us to learn from our shortcomings, but if we aren’t honest about the environment in which they occur, we aren’t ever going to be able to sort out the pieces and make the changes that have to be made to improve things.
The truth is, it’s a lot easier to point out where a problem is than it is to come up with an idea to do something about it. It’s even easier to fall into the trap of expecting that we can venture closer to an edge without occasionally running the risk of encountering a barb or two.
What matters isn’t the barb. It’s what happens next.
You can learn a lot more from your strong negative reactions than you can from your strong positives.
If you’re really committed to building the kind of culture where everyone’s working towards the goal of getting better, you’re not going to see the progress you’re hoping for until the way you think about problems changes.
That’s what I try to remember whenever “growth,” doesn’t feel as easy as it should. Sometimes, the right answer just jumps out at you.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with client deals structured around metrics like cost per click. It’s probably a little out of character, but as these alternative arrangements gain popularity, it feels worth pointing out that we may still have a few things left to work out.
Metric based pricing is one of the more promising precursors to performance based pricing. Structuring a deal around a metric (in theory) makes for better alignment between in-house teams and out-of-house talent. When everyone can agree who is responsible for what (the argument goes) it’s easier to hold individual players accountable for their performance.
The appeal of results-driven evaluation is kind of hard for a perfectionist to learn to ignore. As such, we’ve used variations of performance based pricing over the past few years to varying degrees of success.
I want to love this pricing model. It makes so much more sense. It spares my production team from having to explain the rules of one genre or another to an uninterested client. It spares my accounts team from hours spent churning out reports no one will ever read (we check.) It spares my clients from the ambiguity that comes when picking between poorly differentiated service providers. It has so much potential.
The truth is, in its current form, click based pricing can’t work.
For the sake of example, I’d like to paint an exceedingly simple picture.
Let’s say you’ve been managing a Facebook page that has 1,000 likes. Organic posts are seen by about 100 people. Each post generates 1–2 clicks.
Those are actually pretty decent numbers. A 10% organic reach is a feat, and 1–2 clicks for 100 reach would be 1–2% CTR. Could always be better, but you’d be right to be satisfied.
Let’s say for the sake of example that you aren’t and you draw up a post promotion ad. You target 100,000 people near your business who are interested in one of your larger competitors.
Your promoted post reaches 5,000 additional people and generates 50 clicks.
How do you feel?
If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably angry you didn’t get the number of clicks you were expecting.
If you’re an advertiser you’re probably excited that your ad scaled perfectly.
The trouble with a click-based pricing model is that in this situation, neither the advertiser nor the client are having the wrong reaction.
The perspective of the advertiser is easiest to speak to. When you’re promoting a post, you have a little bit of a leg up. Because you know how the post has performed historically, the only trick is figuring out the extent to which that performance is a function of the page’s audience. If you can correctly identify the larger subset of the population the post needs to be shown to, you just need to make sure that the metrics are in keeping with the reference value. As you do this, you’re able to grow the reach of an ad without compromising the performance.
The perspective of the business owner is slightly more challenging to unpack, but I think at its simplest it’s important to remember that very few people elect to work with a specialist who creates more problems than they solve.
When you’re working with someone to promote your business, it’s hard to hear that the reason your ad didn’t get the number of clicks you were hoping for is that your website isn’t loading fast enough or you need to try a different graphic, but the truth is these aren’t “opinion” statements anymore, any agency that was willing to sign a performance or metric based agreement likely has the data that’s pointing clearly towards whatever problem you’ve got.
Off-hand I can think of six or seven factors that might influence the performance of a clicks campaign. The ask in the ad, the message, the creative, the targeting, the load time on the landing page, and even the popularity of the page promoting the post can all influence performance.
The truth is a complete list would easily push this post into unreadable territory. But I think it’s enough of a list to highlight a problem.
You can’t evaluate someone’s impact on a metric unless they’re empowered to influence the factors that contribute to that metric.
In-house we have the capability to address each of those elements, but accommodating scope creep in performance based agreements is a new kind of problem.
And for that matter, one I’m not sure I’ve seen a good solution for.
Over the past few years the number of job functions related to marketing online have grown dramatically. Roles haven’t always kept up and some shops always seem to have a slightly different way of doing things.
I first noticed this trouble when we began working through rounds of contract and part-time talent. Breaking apart who was responsible for what on a team is a chore. Some people play minor parts and are quick to take credit for all the work. Others had a very specific task that may not have been the right task for the situation. Divorcing the experience from the lesson it taught is part of the challenge of hiring. It isn’t new and it isn’t going anywhere.
But in many fields, job titles are fairly standardized. If someone tells you they worked as a third grade teacher, for example, you know exactly what they did. They taught third grade.
But when someone tells you that they’ve worked with Facebook Ads for three years, you really don’t have a great way of picking apart what that experience meant.
Many small businesses post a daily post on two social channels. Facebook and Instagram are in many cases a popular setup. Working out the math, you might be making as many as 10 original pieces of content that way. In reality, you may make slightly fewer and use a mix of OPC (other people’s content) and recycled assets. You may also spend a few minutes hitting “boost post” and an incalculable amount of time monitoring, engaging and responding to a (hopefully) growing community.
The trouble is, the ads platform is a lot more powerful than many people realize. Posts don’t just show up in your newsfeed (or the feeds of your audience) via magic.
If you’ve read through Facebook’s Marketing API documentation before, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll be familiar with each of the different types of edges, fields and nodes in the Facebook graph. You’ll know how to split out Clicks and Link Clicks, and you’ll probably have a series of custom views you use to highlight the reporting metrics you care about.
If this is your experience, and you’ve got three years of it, you have proven that you can pretty much do anything you want in the world of ad targeting. You may need to learn the quirks of a new platform, or the nuances of a differences between auction styles, but you’re well on your way to developing a valuable hard skill.
The trouble is that at the end of the day, your job title won’t look that much different from your colleagues who are walking a less arduous path.
I haven’t found a great way to reliably differentiate between these two types of candidates, but we do have a work around I’ve grown to be rather fond of.
We’ll create an ad account that conforms to conditions you might find at a typical business. We’ll include some historic campaigns, we’ll spin up some post engagement ads. We’ll position everything from the audience on down to recreate a situation with an obvious problem and a handful of potential solutions.
Then we see what they find and what they do about it.
A technical test provides a framework for the following information to leak out:
How do they handle feedback, both positive and negative?
How fast do they pick up on new concepts?
How much have they been exposed to the concept of elegant code?
What do they do when they don’t know something?
What are they fast at? What are they slow at? What are they sloppy at?
Where are the gaps in their knowledge? How far does their knowledge extend? How aware are they of this?
If given an opportunity to, do they cheat by going outside of the rules of the test? Do they admit it when challenged?
How do they justify the decisions they made in their code? How defensive are they?
What are their values when it comes to development? How flexible are they with those values?
If you’re doing it right, it should be possible for your candidate to completely “flunk” the test, but for you still to hire them because you see the value they’ll bring over the next year.
I think there’s something to this.
If you (or your prospective team member) can accurately gauge strengths and weaknesses, there’s a good chance that individual will also be effective at implementing plans to improve on those strengths and mitigate the impact of any weaknesses. That’s a recipe for success.
So it doesn’t fix the problem of uneven candidate credentialing. It also doesn’t make it any easier for a well-qualified-but-poorly-packaged candidate to stand out, but what a project based approach can do is highlight the way your prospective new player will fit into the team. It should give you a clear picture of what learning projects you need to make sure your new employee undertakes. If you’re looking at this from the perspective of looking for a job, I suspect that this is the reason that folks doing hiring generally pay more attention to applications that are the product of a novel approach to problem solving.
While you may not be ready to change the way you do everything today, over the next few years we’re likely to see the popularity of these sorts of assessments grow. It might be a good idea to start thinking about.