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Posted by Sonne Taylor on

The Difference Between Love And Obsession

What I Think “Five Years’ Experience” Really Means And Why You Should Ignore It

Before I get too far ahead of myself here, I want to take a moment to say that if you’ve stumbled into this post because you’re encountering one of life’s most mysterious of frustrations you may find better answers on the resume game in Dr. John Sullivan’s delightful “Why You Can’t Get A Job … Recruiting Explained By The Numbers,” it’s one of the best explanations I’ve seen of how applicant tracking systems have changed the way we recruit talent.

But there’s one particular nuance that I’m not sure I’ve seen receive as much attention.

By some accounts, 2004’s introduction of “flyers” was the first iteration of Facebook advertising. I remember when I first started playing with the Facebook Ads platform, but that wouldn’t launch for years after the fact. In 2008 businesses started creating pages, and by 2012 the ad platform had matured enough to include conversion event targeting and user modeling.

Which is why it was so curious to start seeing job descriptions for “Facebook Marketers” as early that year (2008) that asked for 5 years of experience with the advertising platform.

The trouble is, it wouldn’t have been possible to have five years’ experience on the platform at that point.

The platform just hadn’t been around that long.

At the time, I wasn’t really in a position to do anything about it, so I kind of just forgot about it.

This afternoon, however, I was speaking with my sister who is just starting to explore the job market for the first time as an adult. It reminded me how baffling these sorts of requirements can be.

Yeh-Nah-Yeh Isn’t Wrong.

There’s a few different school of thought as to what the phrase actually means.

  1. It’s an attempt to encourage applicants to self-select out.
  2. It’s an attempt to find an applicant with a measure of real world — not just academic experience.
  3. It’s an attempt to find someone familiar enough with a role to be able to hit the ground running.
  4. It’s the product of a hastily thrown together spec by a less-than-clear-headed hiring manager.

This isn’t to say that these categories are the be all and end all. You don’t have to look too far however, to find several discussions where the topic is explored at length.

But, I think, really I’m of a similar mind on these as Raghav Haran (here.)

There’s 40 hours in the normal work week, and roughly 52 weeks a year. But people don’t really work 52 weeks, right?

From The Fine Folks At BLS

We could take the time to figure out the exact average number of days one might accrue over those five years, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s just assume that the average US employee gets 29 days off a year. 29/5=5.8 weeks off.

52 weeks in a year – 5.8 weeks off a year = 46.2 work weeks.

At 40 hours a week, that means one year of work is the equivalent of 1,848 hours of labor.

Now, for the sake of the exercise take that 1,848 hours and multiply it by the number of years’ experience (5) required. You’ll come up with 9,240 hours.

And then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll wonder about the impact my leniency with vacation days had on the number of hours.

In the time since the 10,000 hours metric was popularized, there’s been a growing bit of dissent.

Some, like Herbet Lui feel 10,000 hours just isn’t enough to become a master. Others, like David Kadavy, have highlighted just which variables you ought to be paying attention to.

Drake Baer notes what I think is one rather important bit of detail those who parrot the hourly figure often miss: the significance of the quality of the work.

It’s not as though you can just run out the clock and end up where you want to be. In fact, if you revisit the literature I think there’s one part worth considering.

“The distinction between work and training (deliberate practice) is generally recognized. Individuals given a new job are often given some period of apprenticeship or supervised activity during which they are supposed to acquire an acceptable level of reliable performance. Thereafter individuals are expected to give their best performance in work activities and hence individuals rely on previously well-entrenched methods rather than exploring alternative methods with unknown reliability. The costs of mistakes or failures to meet deadlines are generally great, which discourages learning and acquisition of new and possibly better methods during the time of work. For example, highly experienced users of computer software applications are found to use a small set of commands, thus avoiding the learning of a larger set of more efficient commands (see Ashworth, 1992, for a review). Although work activities offer some opportunities for learning, they are far from optimal. In contrast, deliberate practice would allow for repeated experiences in which the individual can attend to the critical aspects of the situation and incrementally improve her or his performance in response to knowledge of results, feedback, or both from a teacher. Let us briefly illustrate the differences between work and deliberate practice. During a 3-hr baseball game, a batter may get only 5–15 pitches (perhaps one or two relevant to a particular weakness), whereas during optimal practice of the same duration, a batter working with a dedicated pitcher has several hundred batting opportunities, where this weakness can be systematically explored (T. Williams, 1988).”

I don’t know that it’d be right to suggest that each hiring team put this level of thought into planning out their process, but I think in a way this makes a bit of sense.

For example, I know that I tend to try to have as many people working on production-quality work at one time as I can — but not everyone in my position manages their resources in the same way. What I might expect as standard performance from a Jr. Designer, for example, might better map up to another organization’s Associate Art Director role. If these two jobs have exactly the same title, someone somewhere is going to have to figure out how to unpack the experience and compare the candidates.

True too, is that the constraints of the environment don’t always allow for picking up the context necessary to really understand how any one given aptitude, experience, or talent fits into the bigger picture. Such perspective can really only be acquired with….well, perspective.

There’s something to be said about the value of being humbled by a lack of experience, but thus far I have found struggling to accurately catalog strengths and weaknesses (and then identifying the steps to leverage those strengths to mitigate said weakness) has proven far more rewarding.

The Difference Between Love And Obsession was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

What I Learned The First Time I Was Managing More Than Ten Ad Accounts

We don’t always talk about the things that don’t go well. I think that’s because things that don’t go well can fall into a few broad categories. At some level, it’s easy to obsess about the things that haven’t gotten better yet.

When you do that, it’s entirely too easy to ignore the things that are going right. When you do that, you can’t be sure that you’re spending your time on the right activities. You can’t prioritize properly with an obsession like that nagging at you.

That’s why, in hindsight, I’ve always remembered the times where “good,” couldn’t be the standard, fondly.

I’m really not sure how we had ended up in a situation where I actively had my hands on that many projects. I try really hard to limit the number of things I do at any one point in time, but earlier on, I had a habit of making decisions based on the exact number of hours a task would take.

If we agreed to run an ad that would reach 10,000 people, I would figure out how long it would take to reach that number of people given the constraints of the account.

Some clients we work with are looking for help launching a product. That means devoting a lot of resources upfront and then doing work to keep the campaign operational for some period of time. It’s hard to do anything else when you’re working on a project like that.

Some clients we work with are looking for a little bit of help over a long period of time. They might need help with a weekly blog or someone to monitor traffic over time.

My system worked great for working with these two types of teams. I figured out how to balance both perfectly. I’d spend some time each hour checking up on accounts that needed slow managing. I’d schedule blocks of time to work out coordinated pushes.

You know what happened?

Something I wasn’t expecting.

At the time, my thinking went something like this.

Because we had figured out how to work with about 6–7 teams at once, I figured that we could work at a slightly more aggressive pace while we started experimenting with backfilling additional capacity.

It wasn’t a horrible plan, but one of the things that changes when you start to grow your customer base is that the types of clients you work with changes. That can mean that you quickly need to learn new ways to solve old problems.

I didn’t expect to be managing 11 accounts that spring so long ago, but I was, and I needed to figure out how to do it quickly.

I knew that breaking the task up into smaller parts helped with the pieces that were well understood.

This is always one of my first steps.

When I made it, I started to notice the tremendous amount of time we were spending on “ideas.”

The hours I’ve spent with user numbers on a whiteboard, the long nights I’ve spent pouring over maps of neighborhoods and purchasing data, those have been some of my favorite experiences. But what I noticed was that if I sat a limit for the amount of time I allocated to such activities, it almost always got hit — as long as it was realistic. You wouldn’t take 5 hours to plan a new email, and you certainly shouldn’t take 100 to plan a logo.

I try to avoid time based measurements with our team because I think they make it too easy to abandon “finishing” work.

I had an editor years and years ago who told me a really smart thing. Said, “karl, the average reader can read 124 words per minute. type real well, and you can type ’em just about as fast.”

I don’t think that holds true in every case, but the spirit behind the ethos is something I’ve always held with me.

See when I was working through eleven accounts, I had to learn how to identify the difference between something we were doing and something we might like to do. I had to make sure that we spent more time doing than we did thinking about doing.

It’s easy to fall into a routine. A stable campaign needs W number of hours a week. A blog needs X number of articles. We need Y new images for Z new posts.

The trouble with that is, when you fall into that routine you forget what you’re doing in the first place. So you start to ask yourself if there’s a better way.

You start looking for a short cut to get around what you’re doing. You start looking for a better process. It’s only normal.

After a while though, if you stop to look you’ll find you’ve spent more time thinking about work than you’ve spent actually working.

It’s true for writing, and it’s true for ad ops. When you’re serious about doing work, you’ve got to take time seriously, but the only way you get there is to think about what you’re really doing and let yourself get right down to the task at hand.

What I Learned The First Time I Was Managing More Than Ten Ad Accounts.

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

How Long Does It Take To Make An Email Template Anyway?

I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few weeks trying to feel “caught up.” In part, it’s the consequent of a holiday weekend that ended with a cold. In part, it’s the result of a shifting workload. In part, well hey, it is winter.

With that being said, I’ve had a few minutes to think about the way some tasks seem to quickly balloon to take up much more time than they ought to, and the way others seem to fly by.

I thought about this in particular when I was working earlier this week to build out an email template for a project we’re working on.

There was nothing particularly challenging about the project.

All of the assets that were going to get used in the finished product had already been made. Handful of article links, handful of pictures — very standard stuff.

At this point, I have a pretty robust collection of templates. It means that projects like this really can be plug and play. On occasion I might have to fire up a code editor and make a few superficial tweaks, but when it comes to our email flow, that’s pretty rare.

All things considered, I was looking at a two hour project.

A far cry from the six it ultimately took.

I was really surprised by that. It gave me a minute to think about some of the different reasons things fall off schedule.

The truth is, many of those reasons are perfectly legitimate. Getting distracted by something you don’t want to be doing doesn’t seem like one of those reasons — and really, when I stop to think about it, that really is what I was doing.

I’d break up the task into smaller more manageable chunks. Each time I’d finish a chunk I’d take a few minutes to regroup. I was disciplined about the balance, but the chunks kept getting smaller and smaller.

It’s just too easy to fall into the trap of wasting time when you’re working.

A few years ago, I had stumbled into a situation where I really had to push myself to do something I didn’t want to do. It wasn’t easy, but after what felt like weeks of banging my head against the wall, I found a shortcut.

It was a similar situation. I was behind and I needed to catch up. It felt like one of those situations where the only way out was through.

I found that if I could find one thing I liked about the task at hand, everything got a little easier.

Some of the work that goes into maintaining your team’s media presence is mind numbing. Lots of well meaning people will try and tell you to avoid it, but you just can’t. Comments need to be read by someone. Somebody’s got to decide what’s worth including in a read-out report. You’ve got to find a way to make the time for moving pixels around until they fit. The consequences of not doing that stuff is readily apparent.

But to get through it? You’ve got to take a step back and remind yourself of why you started in the first place. If you can capture that enthusiasm, it’s a lot easier to avoid wasting time like I did with those email templates.

How Long Does It Take To Make An Email Template Anyway? was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

What To Do When Your Marketing Is Broken (And You Don’t Know Why)

One of the more curious problems in digital media is that there really isn’t a great way to match up the numbers you get from an audience targeting tool to the real world people you count on reaching. Relying on the wrong numbers can mean that you very quickly end up looking at skewed landscape.

We were working on a project a few weeks ago where our team was trying to spread awareness about a topic that would have only appealed to a very select group of people. It wasn’t that the topic wasn’t interesting. We were helping to spread the word about an initiative that had the potential to make a real impact. While many people express tacit interest in “doing good,” there isn’t a great way to break through the noise in a category so broad. The trouble was, to really appreciate the aims of this particular project, you were likely to be in a fairly select group of people.

This is a common problem.

We meet with a whole host of teams who have been relying on one or two clever targeting gimmicks. When we meet with them, they express some form of “my marketing broke.”

The reasons are always varied.

Sometimes, growing your traffic can feel like a trap.

Maybe they’ve been using a pop-under to collect email addresses, and then using those email addresses to drive the targeting schema they use to promote their posts. Maybe they’ve been focusing on developing relationships with a list of people who have publicly engaged with their content. Maybe they’ve been relying on transactional techniques like retargeting ads and wonder if they can every break out of the traffic trap.

It doesn’t really matter how you got here.

We’ve found that in every one of these situations, the process for getting out is the same.

Take Some Time To Identify Where You Really Are

Digital marketers are horrible about tunnel vision.

It’s only natural. After you’ve spent hours crafting a message and researching an audience. After you’ve obsessed about the placement of each pixel and finessed your insertion order as well as you can, there’s an all too real temptation to become a little bit obsessed with execution.

You won’t be able solve a problem you can’t understand.

If your ad costs are going up, start by isolating each data point you’re targeting.

Are you hitting too narrow an area? Try an ad without those limitations and see what happens. Is the response rate low? Try a different piece of creative.

This is a lot like the advertising version of unplugging your modem. These are just examples.

The truth is, you’ve got to find a way to work through each part. While this isn’t fun, it’s the only way you can develop an accurate understanding of where your work is falling short.

Understand Why You Failed To Reach Your Goal

It’s not easy to embrace failure — many of us are conditioned to avoid it at all costs. When it comes to developing a program on the basis of small consistent wins delivered over time, however, it’s important to recognize opportunities to do better.

Perhaps you’ll find that you neglected one or two elements of platform specific best practice that you can easily change to get your ads back up to spec.

You might find that you’ve been reaching the wrong customer segment. With a few tweaks you could be well on your way to finding a new more profitable niche than you’d ever addressed before.

Bad news isn’t bad news forever. It’s important to learn to think about bad news as the signal that you’ve stumbled into a genuine problem.

When You Find A Real Problem, Fix It

Easier said than done, I’m sure.

One of the advantages of isolating each part of your marketing funnel, is that you can quickly identify which levers impact which results. If you’re only getting 1 click for every 100 people who see your content and you know you need 100 clicks, you also know that you can either increase the number of clicks you get per 100 people or increase the number of people who see your content.

You won’t ever be able to rely on this approach to find anything but “ideal” solutions. That doesn’t mean that these steps won’t help you — on the contrary, they should prove quite illuminating. You won’t know what you find in your marketing data until you take a step back and look. We’ve always found this approach to work well for us, and we’re betting it’ll work for your team, too.

What To Do When Your Marketing Is Broken (And You Don’t Know Why) was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

The Accursed Thing.

I probably owe bhorowitz most of a sandwich, and if you give me a few minutes, I’ll explain why.

See, I got into tech on a lark. I had nearly sworn the stuff off when back in the 90s, I remember it was early, but my dad brought a DCMA letter into my room.

“Son,” he said, dropping his tone.

“When they come for you,” he paused “and they will come for you,” I’m not going to say a word.”

That was enough to keep me away…almost.

A few years later, I found myself in the midst of it. It didn’t happen all at once, and for the sake of authorial transparency, even though I should probably spend a few paragraphs sharing a story with you, I wouldn’t know where to start.

That’s what I want to talk about.

I still pick the fastest route sometimes, and I’ve got to be honest with you, when I stumbled into a need of a copy of Hard Thing About Hard Things at 12:30 at night in the middle of an Iowan midsummer, a few hours before I needed a justification for an argument I needed to make in the morning, I didn’t really bother with the formalities, I just got a copy of the audiobook.

The trouble is, the copy that’s been circulating around the parts of the internet where such things dwell* is only like 3/4ths of the book. I was one of those english majors that had strong feelings about getting through texts efficently anyhow.

I got what I needed, but because of it, I may have a bit of skew on the parts that stuck — forgive me, it’s oft missing context.

But that isn’t actually what I wanted to talk about.

See, I can sort my friends into three categories.

  1. the ones who are wondering when they’ll get welcomed into the world with roadmap and circumstance.
  2. the ones who wonder where everyone went.
  3. the ones who resist broad categorization in overly wrought linguistic thought exercises.

I had a chance a little while ago to spend some time thinking about the first group.

I think a handful of more eloquent folks have said better things than I could about how there really isn’t anyone standing over your shoulder waiting to approve the plans you might have for doing something, or going somewhere or for that matter making something new show up out of thin air like it’s been there all along and how could we ever live without it?

there’s a real sense of calm that comes when you realize that, and I think after you’re supposed to recognize that that’s one of those insights that comes with an obligation.

what would be the good of knowing what was going to happen next, if you couldn’t do anything to influence it? it wouldn’t be any good at all. it’d be a torment, really.

can you imagine?

that’s why I think that it’s so important people recognize the power of engaging with what’s going on right in front of you. it isn’t always easy, and it’s a roller coaster of feelings — but aren’t the things that really matter in life supposed to be? don’t you measure the shine of a good day by the somberness of a bad one?

so, even though I should probably dust off my shelf copy and find some quotations from the chapter that starts around page 85, I think I’m going to point you to the relevant blog article, here.

if a CEO hears that engagement for her application increased an incremental 25% beyond the normal growth rate one month, she will be off to the races hiring more engineers to keep up with the impending tidal wave of demand. On the other hand, if engagement decreases 25%, she will be equally intense and urgent in explaining it away: “The site was slow that month, there were 4 holidays, we made a UI change that caused all the problems. For gosh sakes, let’s not panic!”

Both leading indicators may have been wrong, or both may have been right, but our hypothetical CEO — like almost every other CEO — only took action on the positive indicator and only looked for alternative explanations on the negative leading indicator.

So if you read this and it all sounds too familiar and you find yourself wondering why your honest employees are lying to you, the answer is they are not. They are lying to themselves.

he’s right.

the stories we tell ourselves are powerful.

they’re almost as powerful as the stories the people we surround ourselves with tell us. (I think some people call this mentor whiplash?)

but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years I’ve spent working to make sense of our media landscape, I think there’s one more powerful influence we aren’t talking about.

people have spent a lot of time trying to sort out what a story is. the contemporary excitement, though at times irksome, is all together understandable. but struggling to describing a thing that isn’t easily understood? people have been doing that for a long time.

it’s not always exciting, and it doesn’t always make sense.

but it’s what we’ve got, and it can work alright if you let it.

  • *I have recently become an Audible Customer**
  • **I have even more recently paused my membership.

The Accursed Thing. was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

Posted by Karl Taylor on

Blank Screen Problems.

I should really get into a more regular flow of blogging. I have the same trouble with writing for myself these days though; it’s felt a lot like just one more thing.

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to have the tremendous responsibility of having a very pragmatic view of how long it takes to have a good idea. I also get to estimate the amount of time it actually takes to put something together, which means I’ve got to be really disciplined when it comes to metering out production. There’s really only so much you can do to fiddle with the ‘quality’ lever, and even though I spent a lot of time raging against it, I’ve found that time alotted really is the easiest way to get something done.

I’m sure this infuriates anyone whose taken a moment to ask me for perspective on a resume or a glance at a presentation…”oh, that’s just a forty-five minute fix, what are you doing right now? let’s do it now!…” that sort of thing.

But I understand the tyranny of the blinking cursor, and I’ve come to appreciate just how quickly trying to do something that requires you to stop and think for a few minutes can feel like it’s just a little too much.

I think one of the things that compounds that feeling is just how uncomfortable it can be to take a moment to think outside of yourself. That isn’t easy to do under the best of conditions and when you’re trying to represent something as important to your identity as the thing you spend nearly a third of your life doing, it’s easy to lose sight of the priorities.

I got into advertising because I liked incomplete data and interacting with large groups of people. What I didn’t I realize until I got into it for myself, was that it’s also about a lot of other things, too.

For the past few years, I’ve been obsessed by some troubling data I ran into. I noticed a real discrepancy between the people who were engaging with a team’s content organically and those who were engaging with the pieces we were promoting.

The two weren’t in alignment — even within networks where a tremendous amount of effort had been performed to ensure the same people were being reached in both swaths.

At the time, I wasn’t sure how this could be possible because frankly, for reasons that will drag us off topic, it shouldn’t have been. We were running a really disciplined cadence, and I was tracking who had seen what and when — and we were marching towards a 3 or 4x frequency.

But when I started looking at the actual people we were talking to, I remembered something I had read once about how hard it is to explain large numbers to students.

And while I don’t want to really get into the numbers, I think there’s a useful lesson to be learned there about scale.

These days, I’m the kind of person who only eats at restaurants who have menus online. It’s not because I’m taking a hard stand on website development deals, it’s just that I like to have my mind made up before I walk in the door.

The other night, I was debating ordering a meal from Uber. I had the app open for an hour and a half before I had made up my mind about getting anything.

Once you get into the flow of tapping boxes, you really get caught up in it. And it’s not just Uber, it’s happened with Postmates, with Favor. It’s probably driving a user analytics person insane somewhere, but I want to talk about one thing I noticed in particular.

See, one of the nice things about apps like these is that they allow you to query their database by item. It’s slow going to build up these asset libraries and a lot of really great people make a lot of heroic sacrifices to work out deals between agencies, restaurants and all the other stakeholders in between.

I’ve developed an affinity for bison burgers. The way I see it, I’d have to have several years worth before I was responsible for offing one of these noble creatures, and when you consider the (IMO) superior nutrient profile and flavor, I’m in.

One thing I’ve really been curious about is how the industry has grown by forging partnerships with local restaurants.

So, with a few searches I quickly got together a list of every restaurant that had a bison burger on the menu. Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to spot the patterns and work backwards to map up distributors and take a look at what those businesses are doing. If you wanted to, you could even figure out which of the employees were actively using a network like LinkedIn (last I saw, it’s generally 1/3rd of employees…staggering but valuable…and a dated stat) and figure out what those people did online.

“Imagine 33 6-year-olds around an ice cream truck,” Platte River Power Authority spokesman Pete Hoelscher said.

You might notice that for whatever reason, Bison people are really into cake.

And maybe, you’d take a step back and think up all the great ideas you have for content about cake. (Since you’ve already gone through the trouble of figuring out exactly who you need to reach with your message, it won’t be hard to get it in front of the right people.)

You know what got me?

It didn’t matter, I still had to order something.

I’m not even close to being the first person to make this comparison, but I think it’s one of those things that should get talked about a little more than it does. Because when you’re trying to put something together, at the end of the day doing the thing is a lot more important than the process that goes into getting it together.

Process matters, and I rave about it enough that this probably sounds like a horrible contradiction, but I think somewhere there’s a happy medium. Trains still have to go out on time.

So, the next time you’re staring at a screen try and take a step back and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place.

Blank Screen Problems. was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.