HR to Applicants: We’re Looking at You Online

It’s not just political candidates who are being thoroughly researched these days.  At a conference a couple of weeks ago, I sat next to a senior executive at one of the few remaining, solvent investment houses and the conversation drifted to social media.

Somehow, we got on the topic of hiring.  She flat out stated: “When I get my list of final candidate when hiring, the FIRST thing I do is Google them. And then I look up their profiles on Facebook.”

And this is not at all unusual.

I have said for years that Google’s largest step was not their IPO, but when their company name went from a noun to a verb.  Like Xerox did a few years ago.  But Google has indeed become part of our lives, our work, and an important tool for HR people.

Think about the hiring process.  I was an executive in the employment industry (beginning in the pre-Internet days) before we could Google someone, but I can promise you that, especially in a down economy, the front-line person whose job it is to go through a bazillion resumes is to carry out a search for the negative. To get through the pile, you usually start by eliminating people you don’t want so you can get to the people you do want.

As an applicant, your exercise is to put your best foot forward and make yourself look like you walk on water.  It’s a bit of a dance, but the rise of search engines and social media tools have changed the employment dynamic.  As you are pressing your suit and combing your hair, that HR person is likely doing an extensive online search on you.  So it’s important to think about the following:

  1. What have I written out there (blogs, comments on other people’s sites) that I would not want someone to see?
  2. What, if anything has been written or posted (like um…photographs) that I would not want someone to see?  And speaking of pictures, is there a Flick account out there that needs some editing?
  3. Is my Facebook profile public?
  4. Is my Twitter account readily identifiable?
  5. What have I bookmarked on

I could go on an on with other social media tools, but you get the picture.  Most employers are, by nature, cautious.  It used to be that they would get a chance to find out about you by asking tough questions during the interview.  Now, if you do not have good answers to the above, they may well already have some of the answers.

I am by no means saying that people should not be active on social media sites.   Just remember that what you write, the pictures you pose in, and the seemingly flippant comments you might make on someone else’s site are already in your employment profile.



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AIG Hires Burson Marsteller…for….?

As reported in PR Week, the insurance (and shrinking) giant, AIG, has recently employed the services of one of the largest public relations agencies in the country.

According to the article, an AIG spokesperson,Peter Tulupman, responded:

“We have hired Burson-Marsteller to help us respond to the huge volume of requests for information we are receiving from customers, employees, and the media,” Tulupman said in an e-mail to PRWeek. “We have more than offset the cost by canceling advertising and sponsorships.”

I get the second part of the quote, that being in reference to the recent “scandal” that erupted a couple of weeks ago in which members on congress (small caps on purpose) responded with “outrage” that B/M had the stones to move forward with “…$440,000 on a posh California retreat for its executives, complete with spa treatments, banquets and golf outings.”

That’s sensationalistic crap.  If you dig below the surface, which few outlets have done during this nation’s financial crisis, you will discover that this was not just for executives, but was a pre-planned event that the top performers earned before the crisis. For any of you who know folks or have been in sales, you know that often, companies dangle a trip to Hawaii or something of the like as an incentive for performance.

My controversial ten cents?  The AIG top-performers should be left alone because they had already earned the reward.  Keep top performers motivated when company morale is likely at an all-time low is more important than ever.  What AIG could have done differently is gotten ahead of the story;  one would think that someone in public relations would have thought to get in front of this. Maybe they did, but got quashed.  Who knows.  But back to my main point.

AIG announcing that they have hired Burson Marsteller to handle “huge volume of requests for information we are receiving from customers, employees, and the media” is like saying that you have hired ten rabid German Shepherds to guard a lollipop that fell on the floor.  I competed against B/M for a long time, and I can tell you that their rep is for gloves-off, hand-to-hand combat for clients.  There will be the inevitable information that B/M is the agency of record for Philip Morris, USA, but that is irrelevant.  The point is that if you want someone to deal with the “huge volume of requests for information we are receiving from customers, employees, and the media,” hire a firm in India to answer the phones.

AIG suggesting that Burson is going to help them answer inquiries is disingenuous.  Hiring B/M to help them stem the flow of both negative publicity the the outflow of capital would be a more honest answer. I wonder who is calling the communications shots within the company.

Whoever it is should be smarter.


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When Good Things Happen to Awesome People

I was so happy to be contacted yesterday by my once competitor, once colleague, and always friend, Cheryl Contee.  Cheryl is one of the smartest people out there in the social media space, and had worked out of the San Francisco office of a former employer.

I was overjoyed to find out that Cheryl, along with her business partner, Rosalyn “Roz” Lemieux, have founded Fission Strategy, a San Francisco-based consulting business:

“..specializing in online advocacy, marketing, and communications. Fission partners, Roz Lemieux and Cheryl Contee, have launched dozens of online campaigns, websites, and blogs. We have been using social media to help nonprofit organizations (and for-profits focused on “social good”) communicate since 2003, so we share with you tested techniques that work.”

Good things do indeed happen to good people, but more often than not, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.   What makes me so happy is that Cheryl now has a place to literally call her own, in which she can apply her smarts, business acumen and wonderful personality.

I have told Cheryl in the past that we are parallel universe people for a variety of reasons, but I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, black, white or striped – Cheryl is one smart cookie and I am delighted that she has her own gig.

Cheryl and Roz – I would wish you luck, but something tells me that you won’t need it.


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The Economy and Public Relations

I have been waiting for a post like this to comment on, but in PR Squared’s “Cut the PR Agency? Are You *Sure* About That?” — Todd Defren points out his first client casualty due to the economic uncertainly of the bad economy.  Todd writes:

It happened today.  The economic angst whacked our agency upside the head.  We now have our first example of a client who’s asked to terminate our contract “strictly as a precaution driven by economic uncertainty.”

It seems Sequoia Capital’s “Mandatory All-Hands CEO Meeting” last week, with its gloomy slide deck, has tech CEOs skittering for cover.  But folks who rely solely on the VCs’ slideshow to make crucial decisions do their companies a disservice: it seems there was a lot of other valuable conversation happening throughout the Sequoia event.

It goes without saying that if you are chasing dollars in the relations world right now — either internal or external — now is the time to really “sing for your supper” and proactively and consistently ensure that your value is evident to those who control your dollars, yen or scheckels.

Now I am not a CFO, nor can I really even balance my own checkbook, it it often seems that company bean counters take a dim view of public relations in a economic downturn.  Besides cutting back on internal communications, this is about the dumbest thing that you can do.

Todd sums it up pretty well:

“It is well documented that brands that increase (marketing) during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times.”

This is a great, succinct argument, but as someone who worked on the agency side for many, many years (the first to be axed in a bad economy), one that often falls of deaf ears.

I’m curious to know others’ thoughts when it comes to the value of public relations in a economic downturn.  How do you establish and promote its value?


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The Final Word on Stupidity

I am really going to make this post short, because most of it is contained in an article that I wrote today for Media Bullseye.

For those of you who have followed my trek through self-absorption (the Internet revolves around ME), to realization to a public apology, you may enjoy the article.

It also includes four tips (self-taught), focused on thinking carefully about the consequences of putting something in cyberspace before one hits the “publish” button.


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