How to alienate 99% of the people you want to like you online

By Neil Patrick

I have never written a knee-jerk post about anything. Ever.

But this post is going to break that mould. No research. No references. No editing. So forgive me if this isn't the most elegantly written post from me you have ever read.

But critically, you can read it without any interference or demands from me at all.

That's good I think.

This is a very simple message. For anyone who has a website:

Don't push people away who are trying to help you.

Duh. Sure you know that right?

But if you stick with me, I am going to explain why more and more websites are devaluing their brands and alienating almost everyone they want to influence.

I am a big user of social media. I tweet everyday. And I like to share content which I think is good and may be useful to others.

But I don't share just anything, regardless of who posts it. I may like it myself, but that's not enough. I exercise some discretion and try to decide if it will also be useful or interesting to my connections and followers.

So I actually read posts before I decide if I will share them or not.

Just now I saw a tweet with a website post link which I thought looked interesting. I thought to myself, "this will interest others and if I like it, I will share it online". The deal was almost done before I even read the content. The title alone had seen to that. Good work!

I clicked the link to read the post.

I arrived at the website.

Then bang!

Up popped a 'Subscribe now!' message.

I closed the box and started to read through the post.

BANG! Up popped another message, this time more insistent and covering up all the content I was trying to read.

Can I find the close tab? Um...hang on. No. Keep looking. Ah! There it is (cunningly disguised away from the box). Click.

The box closed and invitation to talk to an advisor appeared. The scroll also locked. Damn.

No I don't want to subscribe or talk to an advisor.

I just want to share this post. And since I have quite a lot more followers than you on Twitter, that's helpful yeah? No charge. Just a little bit of help for you.

But now I won't because I don't want anyone who follows me on Twitter to put up with this BS.

So goodbye.

I know. We've all had this experience. It's almost routine.

I know that content costs. That websites have to make money. But this sort of nonsense just makes me hate you.

The origins of this insanity and desperate marketing is a redundant marketing concept which came into being in the early days of the internet. This was a time when businesses thought the internet worked the same as every other piece of old media.

So businesses decided they should use online content as bait for lead generation. Basically the creation of lists of people they would then send junk mail to. Either electronically or sometimes if they were rich AND dumb, envelopes onto doormats.

The problem with this is that for every post view, perhaps just 1 or 2 percent of readers (if you are lucky) will think, "I love this so much I really do want more of it coming everyday into my mailbox"

Which leaves the other 98 or 99% who visited and just like me, got really hacked off...

If marketing is about making people love us, this is worse than bad, it's brand destroying.

What this misses is that the internet in the era of social media is two way communication. It doesn't work when you try to bludgeon us into submission by forcing us to do what you want. It works when you help us to do what we want.

Basically when you make it easy for us. When you treat us nicely, with some care and respect.

Especially when all we want to do is help you out a bit.

But now I won't. Not today. And probably not ever.


Even more cut and paste catastrophes

By Neil Patrick

My impression of the people responsible for this job ad.

I never cease to be amazed at the idiotic job descriptions for professional roles which are posted online for supposedly reputable employers by supposedly professional recruiters.

Okay I am being deliberately inflammatory. I know that most employers are good at what they do. And most recruiters are good at what they do. If they weren’t, they’d be out of business.

But amidst all the daily pressures, some things just don’t get done properly. And it’s always easier to fix little problems than big ones. Job descriptions and adverts are little things that are worth doing well, because there’s a really handsome pay-off.

Better job descriptions, means better job applicants, means better people, means a better business.

For once, it really is that simple.

Which is why from time to time, I feature job ads and descriptions on this blog. I call them 'cut and paste catastrophes'. I don't have to search very hard. This one was the just the second or third I found after a few clicks. That's hardly scientific research, but it's reasonable I think to conclude that if terrible work is so easy to find, it must be very prevalent.

So I beg anyone reading this who is in HR or recruitment to take this post in the constructive spirit it is intended. I am not just being mean-spirited – as usual this job ad is anonymous, and I have provided a commentary in italics (admittedly frequently tongue-in-cheek) to show where I think there’s erm, let's call it, 'room for improvement'.

So let’s get stuck in!

Today’s job ad catastrophe plumbs new depths of sloppiness. Not only is it full of management speak nonsense (these days though, that’s no longer enough to get you featured here); it showcases hilariously bad grammar and punctuation and is frequently self-contradictory.

But worst of all, it is unquestionably in breach of UK discrimination law.

So here it is in all its catastrophic glory:

Digital Manager - London

Salary: £60,000 per annum + car / car allowance

Are you a digital native with a real passion for what you do? Do you have gravitas and authority and the ability to guide and collaborate with those who are not digitally savvy? If so then please read on?

NO! Stop right now. This is age discrimination. And yes, that’s illegal in this country:

Put another way; you could find yourself in court very quickly with careless behaviour like this.

Exhibit 1: The term “digital native” is defined thus:

This job advert essentially excludes anyone who was born or grew up before digital technology existed. Whilst this date is not precise, the internet first became accessible for public and commercial use in mid-1989 with the connection of MCI Mail and CompuServe's email capabilities to the (then) 500,000 (!) users of the internet. Anyone born before that date (i.e. older than about 30-35) is patently not eligible to apply.

Apart from being illegal, this requirement makes the assumption that if you were born much before the mid 1980’s, you cannot possibly be competent to do this job. In this case, being the ‘wrong’ age is a definite exclusion to being hired for this post. 

But apart from being young, the employer also wants you to have ‘gravitas’. Let’s just remind ourselves how this is defined:

I might be a bit biased, but these character traits are more readily found in older not younger people. You can see now why this job description contradicts itself. Let’s face it, whilst there are exceptions of course, those who grew up taking an iPhone to school are not widely recognised for their dignity, solemnity or sobriety.

Oh and please tell me, why does the invitation to “please read on” end in a question mark?

You will be working in an FMCG business with a large global travel retail team who look after everything from Russia to Spain. You will have line management responsibility of one and be the digital guru for the business. You will know how to communicate and coach those who are keen to learn more about digital. You will also be responsible for ensuring all digital capabilities are disseminated and driven through the business, both locally and globally.

I suspect that Vladimir Putin and Mariano Rajoy Brey will be upset to hear that this job involves the jobholder’s team taking over responsibility for ‘looking after everything’ from Russia to Spain. In fact since France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Poland and the whole of eastern Europe lie between Russia and Spain, I really hope these nations have at least been consulted. Have they agreed to this? We should be told I think.

What is line management responsibility of one? One what? One person? One team? I am guessing it’s just one country. Shame, I had hoped for more, like say the whole of the EU or something.

Apparently it is a requirement to ‘know how to communicate’. No adverbs here. Such as being able to communicate clearly or persuasively. Nope. It’s just to communicate. Last time I checked, this meant being able to listen, talk, read and write. To make a phone call, write a letter or email. But this is all about digital so I guess we should assume it also means writing online content,  social media posts, compiling and disseminating online analytics, and perhaps writing a bit of HTML coding. If you cannot communicate, for example if you are profoundly deaf, dumb or illiterate and have no idea what a PC, tablet or smart phone does, how are you expected to be reading this advert or considering this job? So why is such an almost universal human skill in the 21st century mentioned without the essential adverbs?

You will always strive for digital excellence and be able to communicate with all levels to ensure the business is on board and believes in it as much as you do. You will deliver cross regional campaigns, whilst managing the KPI's for digital activations. You will provide digital training and capabilities to the wider business and work with the brand and customer teams to ensure synergy across all departments.

This is about as much as most people understand about creating synergy.

Ah synergy. Now that’s a can of worms. This is one of those wonderful management speak buzzwords which gets bandied about by those who have no idea how it is actually created, delivered or measured. Of course it’s an easy enough concept to explain; it’s the idea that 1+1 = 3. In other words, if we put A and B together, the outcome is more than A+B were worth separately. But if I were given the task of creating interdepartmental synergy in any organisation, without the essential authority to drive it through, I’d chuck it right back. Not because I have no staying power or competency, simply because for a mid-level manager, it’s like herding cats while being expected to turn them all into unicorns.

“Managing the KPI’s (sic) for digital activations.” Haha! My that sounds impressive doesn’t it? This is management speak for what normal people call hitting targets. Translation: if you can produce lots of nice graphs going ever upwards, you’ll be fine. If they don’t, you’re in trouble.

You'll be star if you can do this...

You will establish a roster of digital agencies and delivery digital asset management platforms to ensure efficiencies in delivering digital as a relevant channel. You will need to be personable, approachable and have gravitas. You will adore all things digital and this will show in your approach to everything you do.

I would adore to explain on my resume how I am passionate about “delivery digital asset management platforms”. Yes I have extensive experience of them all. From Royal Mail to Federal Express. Yup, I’m your man when it comes to delivery digital asset management platforms. And yes I really do simply ADORE all things digital especially digital delivery – analogue delivery is just like so totally ewww.

This is a 9 month maternity cover contract where you will be able to make an impact in a very short period of time.

Sorry but I don’t know how you can be so confident that I will make an impact in a short period of time. I mean, I haven’t even sent you my resume yet. I have to assume you have psychic superpowers. I admit I am impressed by that. And flattered too. Thank you.

Now for the serious bit. I will stop messing about I promise.

The point is this. Recruitment is a serious business. Every business wants and needs to get the best talent they can. But the best candidates are judging potential employers from the get go. And if you are not a big and well known business, a job ad might be the very first piece of information a prospective candidate sees. Which means the very least an employer should do is take some care to specify the job as clearly and professionally as they can. If you don’t, like here, the best candidates are going to at best ignore you and at worst put you down as a bunch of fools – which is a tragedy, because I honestly believe that's a totally avoidable own goal.

My guess is that this was written by someone in a recruitment firm and then emailed to the client for approval. Recruiters are busy people. Finely crafting words isn’t particularly high on their priorities. I get that and I understand it. Mind you, if this recruiter were recruiting staff for me, I’d definitely be on their case, because this sloppy piece of work has the potential to land us in court.

And whoever signed this off would be regretting their slackness too.

How and why you should want to get hired by a start-up

By Neil Patrick

Warning: This post is an announcement (but doesn't contain nuts)

Not all start-ups look like this. Fortunately. Photo credit: Erin Siegal

Start-up activity in the US has been slowing since the explosion of the 80s and 90s which ultimately prepared the way for Google. Amazon, Uber, Facebook and many more of today’s biggest employers. But these giants of tech are by no means the only types of businesses which are creating jobs. Across all sectors, start-ups are springing up everywhere.

Meanwhile Twitter, Intel and Microsoft are shedding jobs – looking more like the disrupted than the disruptors.

But not all start-ups are tech companies, and not all tech companies are start-ups.

So the news about start-ups can be very confusing and off-putting for job-seekers. Yet I contend that it shouldn’t be so.

Start-ups don’t need to be successful for people to acquire hugely valuable skills and earn money.

I haven’t written a huge amount about start-ups. Which on reflection is odd, since I have been a founder of three so far, including the biggest ever venture capital funded start-up in the UK.

So I’m delighted to announce my new column about this topic which is being hosted by the very wonderful is probably the most comprehensive online information resource for job-seekers available today. It was founded in 1998 by career expert Susan Joyce, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management

My friend Patricia Frame (also a contributor to introduced me to Susan Joyce at several weeks ago and we soon got talking about the subject of jobs at start-ups. Not only have I not written much about it, neither has anyone else it seems!

Which is doubly odd, because no business columnist can seem to stop writing about entrepreneurs, disruption and digital businesses. But the mainstream media are obsessed with the entrepreneur hero archetype, whereas I'm  more interested in the people that work in start-ups rather than just the people that start and lead them.

Anyway, the outcome was that I accepted Susan’s invitation to write a column at about the reality of working for a start-up. What it’s like. How to get hired by one and how to excel in this unique and exciting work environment.

And critically, how to tell the next superstars from the lemons.

Start-ups are not just for boys with beards, they are for everyone.

I honestly think there are way too many myths, assumptions and prejudices about start-ups which are hurting both job-seekers and employers.

It’s time to re-evaluate things and I hope this new column will assist people who are more interested in working for the disruptors than the disrupted.

If you want to know why, and how you can turn the risks to your advantage, head over to my new column at here, and find out.

See you there.

P.S. My weekly ramblings will continue as usual here.

The trouble with business awards

By Neil Patrick

Right now we are in the grip of the annual business awards season. Everywhere we turn, someone is announcing they have won this award or that award. If you are one, I congratulate you. Sincerely.

There is no better feeling than seeing our work recognized and appreciated by others.

I’ve picked up a few awards in my time. And been a judge too. So this post isn’t sour grapes from someone who feels hard done by. It’s just that I have some niggling worries about the true motives, purpose and value of awards.

A spate of award announcements on social media made me think about whether these things really matter very much and even why they exist at all.

  1. Awards are a clever business model
The real raison d’etre of most awards isn’t to encourage excellence and recognise success, although all awards can claim with impunity that this is their purpose. The sad truth is that awards exist primarily to increase the profile and coffers of the organisers (any benefits to winners are secondary to this goal). Awards have become a business in their own right.

In the UK alone today there are over 3,000 business award events every year. This is a booming industry. And with categories increasing at each award event, it's getting ever easier to win one of them.

If we assume an average of just 20 awards per event, that's at least 60,000 awards being made each year.

Business isn’t generally very glamorous. And awards exploit this reality by providing a bit of glitter and razzmatazz for people whose daily work experience is often rather grey and routine.

It’s a really clever way too to extract money from businesses year after year. Here’s the menu and ticket prices for an award I chose at random this morning:

A VIP (sic) table for 12 costs £519 a head. If you’re a cheapskate and you are taking just four guests, it’s £695 each. Small beer to a big business. A no-go zone for a small one. Mind you, that price includes half a bottle of wine per person, (which they are going to need to get through the three hour round of envelope opening, applauding, handshaking and grinning at photographers).

Granted this event is being held at a top London hotel. It’s not a cheap venue. But I could host 12 of my friends at the same hotel for a private dinner function for just £95 each, according to the hotel’s own website.

Now for the clever bit; if I invite you to a business dinner at these prices, the chances are you’ll decline. If I invite you to a business dinner AND I tell you you have been nominated for an award, the chances are much higher you’ll accept. I will sell a LOT more seats and make a LOT more money in the process.

And no doubt, you’ll want to bring some of your friends/clients/colleagues to share your moment of glory.

  1. Awards encourage complacency
Awards themselves cost almost nothing to produce. Yet who wouldn’t like to win such a glittering prize? It makes us feel great. That’s human nature. But it can also blind us. It can become self-vindicating. And by extension, an inducement to keep on doing the same thing. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent. It potentially acts as a blockage to critical judgements about our future.

  1. Awards are usually relative not absolute
As the awards circuit has grown and grown, so it becomes more and more niche. We end up with ever more awards for ever more ‘specialized’ areas. First we take a geographic region, like a country or state. Then we apply a sector filter. By these means, in every category, the competition is diminished to a handful of candidates, especially if you demand that entrants provide an exhaustive submission describing why they deserve to win.

If the candidates list is still a bit long, we can always overlay another category like small, medium and large. Through this process, we narrow the contenders down to such a small field that most people have a more or less evens chance of winning something. So the majority of people go home feeling great, with a glittery trophy/plaque/certificate, eager to tell the world next morning on social media about this great news. And by having runners up, we can even encourage those who didn’t win to enter again next year.

  1. And the winner is…
Then we have the selection process. These can vary a lot. Sometimes there’s an ‘expert’ panel of judges. Sometimes, it’s judged on some superficial business data. Whatever the process though, we have the same situation. The judges’ decision is final. It’s not transparent (even if the judging criteria are made public) or democratic. 

Rarely is there any sort of benchmark or quality bar applied. If it was, there would be years in which no-one made the grade and no-one won an award. Except that never ever happens. Someone HAS to win each category.

  1. Awards don’t really change anything
Awards are great. We can put a cool logo on our website. Frame the certificate on the office wall. Post pictures of us grinning on stage, trophy in hand. It’s all a ruse though.

In reality it means nothing at all. It’s just ego massage.

An award doesn’t make us better. In fact it risks deluding us that we are better than we actually are.

If you want proof, and you have won an award recently, just answer this question honestly. “What did you do differently as a result?” Because if you didn’t do anything apart from brag about it, the experience did nothing to improve your business. In fact it probably risked making you a little more complacent.

And if you want even more proof, please tell me about an award you know of which satisfies these criteria:

  1. It has no gala dinner.
  2. Its judges’ assessments are transparent and/or made public
  3. It has just a handful of categories which are not tiny niches.

That’s the rub. Awards are no more than a way to spend our money to make us feel good. They don’t make our business any worse. But they probably don’t make it any better either.

There's really no contest when everyone's a winner.