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Happy Social Media Day!

June 30, 2012

It’s not about a conflict of interest. It’s about a concurrence of interests.

While it may not change the way you go about your business today (unless you are planning on joining a flash mob) Social Media Day is a great reminder that the world of marketing communications and public relations has changed dramatically and irrevocably from the days of yore (say, 10 years ago…)

Just yesterday, however, I was reminded that some people in the marcomm profession still don’t get it. Since leaving Microsoft a couple of years back I’ve been consulting for local startups on their marketing communications strategies. These young and scrappy (i.e., cash strapped) companies inherently understand the new world of social media. Having scratched my itch to experience the start-up culture first hand, I have lately begun looking into returning to the world of big business, where, apparently some of the old world thinking still survives.

I recently applied for a Director of Marketing Communications position at a local Seattle institution. Two weeks later I received this standard reply, “After a careful review of the applications submitted for this position, your application has not been selected for further consideration.” I was intrigued. Motivated by Groucho’s Corollary, any organization that doesn’t want me must be a great place to be; I decided I couldn’t let this rest. Finding the hiring manager on LinkedIn, I sent him an invitation to join my network. What was not surprising was that he declined, only his reason for doing so, “As you can imagine, in my position, I get these sorts of requests on a regular basis. Unfortunately I have made a conscious decision to not accept requests from potential candidates to avoid any perceived biases for future positions.”

Do you see the humor in this? This guy is hiring a marcomm director and has absolutely no clue about social media! LinkedIn is all about common interests, not conflict of interest. If you are afraid of adding anyone to your network that might have professional interests in common with yours (or whose other contacts may have such connections) then you really ought to delete your LinkedIn account altogether. Finding unforeseen connections is the whole purpose of using social media for professional/career purposes.

I’ll admit that my invite may have come out of the blue and that I did have ulterior motives. For one thing, I am tantalizingly close to attaining that mythical 500th connection, after which LinkedIn stops displaying the exact number of people in your network and profile viewers can only wonder at the untold minions under your sway. And, of course, I wanted to open up a dialogue with the hiring manager about that Director of Marketing Communications position. But his stated reason for turning me down was jaw dropping. To avoid any perceived conflict of interest! In my opinion the only good reasons for not adding someone to your LinkedIn network are 1) you don’t know them well (which applied to this situation) or 2) you know them but really don’t like or respect them (even then, I’d argue they might be worth a shot).

There is no time to sit on the sidelines while the marcomm profession grapples with the implications, repercussions and “messiness” of social media. You have to participate – now! It’s not about conflict of interest; it’s about a concurrence of interests. Wake up and smell the coffee, it’s 2012. And oh yes, Happy Social Media Day!


The follow-up to this story is equally cringe worthy. I wrote a polite note back to the hiring manager including many of the above thoughts. In his reply he said upon reconsideration he would accept my LinkedIn invite, not because we’re in the same profession, but because I had mentioned that we had spent some time working together at another Seattle institution. This rather puts in doubt just how careful his “careful review of the applications submitted for this position” was since that information was rather prominent on my resume. All this should come as little surprise to job-seekers in the current environment; being passed over for an interview opportunity by someone who has not read your resume and has no clue what the advertised position entails is pretty much par for the course. Maybe Groucho was wrong, maybe I don’t want to belong to a club that would not consider me as a member. At least not this one.

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