Establishing a Persuasive Digital Footprint for Competing in Today’s Job Market

"Footprints in the Sand", Image by Susanne Nilsson

“Footprints in the Sand”, Image by Susanne Nilsson

When you go to visit someone for either personal or business reasons, your host will, depending on the weather, politely ask and try to make sure that you do not track anything in from the outside. Yet in the case of a job search, this is exactly want you want to do but in the entirely virtual sense by focusing the attention of prospective employers upon your tracks across the web. Hence, your online digital footprint informs them that you fully understand how to create meaningful content and a genuine presence, and your facility with web technology.

I first became aware of this over twenty years ago. A friend told me a story about something that he did quite spontaneously during a job interview. This incident and its outcome were strikingly clever back then and its lesson still rings true today.

He had gone for an interview at an Internet startup. Despite his impeccable credentials and accomplishments, he sensed that he was getting nowhere with the interviewer. At the end of their discussion, he thought he had nothing to lose and offered to show the interviewer his own “fan web page” for The Rolling Stones. The interviewer was stunned that he even knew how to create a web page, something that unheard of at that time by anyone interviewing for this type of position. The interviewer immediately called in some of his colleagues to see this.

To borrow a line from Mick and Keith, you can’t always get what you want, but … my friend was offered the job on the spot. He had creatively and completely distinguished himself from all of the other highly qualified candidates by demonstrating that he understood and could apply the latest technology at the core of the company’s business. This was the first instance I was ever aware of where someone had successfully created and introduced his own unique online digital footprint into a job search. What was a novelty way back then has become nearly a necessity in many fields in today’s highly competitive job market.

We first visited this topic in the March 5, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?.

The latest report on this trend was an insightful and instructive post in the February 2, 2016 edition of Knowledge@Wharton entitled Job Hunting? Why You Need a Strong Online Footprint (no author is credited). I highly recommend reading this in its entirety. I will summarize, annotate, and posed some of my own questions on making job seekers more of a, well, shoe-in during their searches.

Digital Footprints and Reputations in Relevant Online Communities

The conventional wisdom for today’s typical job searcher is to have a well-crafted resume and cover letter, and to have nothing questionable appear when a prospective employer Googles you. This has evolved further to the point where “establishing a strong and compelling online presence” is often required to land a first interview.  Employers are looking for candidates who have developed a respectable online presence, particularly in their relevant “professional community”.

As discussed by some of the leading experts interviewed for this report:

  • Monica McGrath, formerly the Vice Dean of Education at Wharton, is currently at work on “renewing her consulting” business. She has been surprised along the way by the number of inquiries by potential clients concerning whether she has “built a presence on blogs”. Specifically, they have been interested in determining whether, beyond merely a LinkedIn profile, whether she has developed a unique and professional “voice” as an expert.
  • Samantha Wallace, a recruiter at Korn Ferry Futurestep, believes that if a candidate’s digital footprint is not evident in an online network of importance to a client, the candidate might be removed from consideration. Such exclusion might occur when it significantly matters that a candidate has established a digital presence relevant to the job opportunity.
  • Peter Capelli, the Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, find this a “remarkable shift” from prior times when executives were told to avoid the distractions of activities away from their jobs. While the same employer might still discourage this, they are nonetheless now expecting it in new candidates.

Supporting Data and Privacy Concerns

Conversely, ignoring or neglecting your online footprint could now be considered “taking a career risk”. According to a 2015 CareerBuilder-Harris Social Media Recruitment Survey of 2,000 US hiring managers:

  • More than one-third of prospective employers are disinclined to grant an interview for a candidate for whom no online data can be found.
  • Greater than 50% use social media to research candidates.
  • 56% checked for a relevant digital footprint.
  • 37% researched “what others were” posting about job seekers.
  • One-third of hiring managers found information online that resulted in extending a job offer.

Furthermore, some candidates are being asked for their user credentials for their social media accounts because employers believe this can lead them to “a deeper layer of comments” and other data. Privacy advocates are understandably concerned about this. As of 2015, nine states have passed legislation preventing such requests in order to “get or keep a job”.

This fundamental change in the recruiting process has forces employees and their prospective hires alike to examine their roles. Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard believes that issues of privacy concern “society in general”, not limited only to employers requesting access to someone’s Facebook account. Rather, companies like Google are aware of “almost everything about you”, and the breadth of anyone’s digital trail online is tremendous. She thinks that the “people analytics movement” attempts to gather and intuit the vast stores of information about individuals, thus presenting a privacy issue here that has yet to be addressed in the job market.

Tending to Your Own Digital Footprint

The popular news site Buzzfeed recently posted an opening for a Social Media Strategist. The online application asked for candidates’ resume and links to social media accounts or their blogs. (Click on the preceding link and this can be seen under “To Apply”.) Thus, all of the applicants’ digital footprints are essential to the job because, in turn “developing a digital footprint is the job”.

But should the same be true for other positions and businesses?

According to Jon Bische, the CEO of the recruiting platform firm  Entelo, there is some room here depending on the circumstances and nature of the job, but in many fields it is “reasonable to expect some digital presence”. For example, in searching for an engineer or designer, there are now professional networks that have become a “community of record” for a field, and other sites where their professional coding and designs can be assessed. He believes that doing so “gets close to someone’s abilities”.

We are likely still in the early stages of determining how to distinguish oneself online as an expert in their field. Ms. Wallace thinks defining this is still “ambiguous” since it is the individual himself or herself who is creating their own digital footprint and thus they will intentionally “find the connections to promote themselves” as experts.

Mr. Bischke offered the following suggestions for creating a viable digital footprint and control your personal brand including:

  • Google yourself to make certain the top links “are professional and up to date”. Take steps to make any corrections to insure their accuracy.
  • Establish profiles on sites and among networks within your field.
  • Make sure that your information is “presented consistently” across these online venues.

“Generational factors” also influence the nature and breadth of someone’s digital footprint. This is particularly so for Millennials, the global demographic group including people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. They are growing significantly in the population and work force, and will have digital footprints that present “a different sense of self than their elders”.

My Questions

  • Depending upon the particular profession, how will employers now and in the future, assign relative weighting in evaluating:
    • Candidate A who went to a top-level university and distinguished himself academically but who only has a small online footprint in comparison to
    • Candidate B who attended a more mid-level university but she has strategically built a very robust online presence and respectable reputation across peer sites and forums?
    • What are the possible offsets and equivalents between these two types of hypothetical applicants?
  • Might consideration of these factors also potentially create some unanticipated form(s) of employment discrimination?
  • What else can be done to enhance the persuasiveness and pervasiveness of a candidate’s digital footprint? What about these strategies:
    • Producing a web metrics summary about the numbers of visitors and volumes of hits on specific content?
    • Applying principles of content strategy and SEO ranking to boost traffic numbers?
    • Engaging a professional to do implement these strategies or might that be gaming the system a too much?
  • Will situations arise where employers who are impressed by someone’s digital footprint still try to recruit this person even though he or she is not currently looking for another job? (There was a very similar story in an August 24, 2015 post on TheHustle.com entitled Google Has a Secret Interview Process… And It Landed Me a Job, by Max Rosett, where the company recruited the author based on the subjects and contexts of his searches.)

Can Scientists Correlate the Language Used in Tweets with Twitter Users’ Incomes?

Tweet100515

In the centuries since William Shakespeare wrote one of Juliet’s most enduring lines in Romeo and Juliet that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, it has been almost always been interpreted as meaning that the mere names of people, by themselves, have no real effect upon who and what they are in this world.

This past week, the following trio of related articles was published that brought this to mind, specifically about the modern meanings, values and analytics of words as they appear online:

All of these are highly recommended and worth reading in their entirety for their informative and thought-provoking reports containing so many words about, well, so many words.

Then to reframe and update the original quote above to serve as a starting point here, I would like to ask whether a post by any other name in Twitter’s domain would smell as [s/t]weet? To try to answer this, I will focus on the first of these articles in order to summarize and annotate it, and then ask some of my own non-theatrical questions.

According to the Phys.org article, which nicely summarizes the study of a team of US and UK university scientists that was published on PLOS|ONE.org entitled Studying User Income through Language, Behaviour and Affect in Social Media by Daniel Preotiuc-Pietro, Svitlana Volkova, Vasileios Lampos, Yoram Bachrach and Nikolaos Aletras, a link exists between the language used in tweets and the authors’ income. (These additional ten Subway Fold posts covered other applications of demographic analyses of Twitter traffic.)

Methodology

Using only the actual tweets of Twitter users, that often contain “intimate details” despite the lack of privacy on this social media platform, the two researchers on the team from the University of Pennsylvania’s World Well-Being Project are actively investigating whether social media can be used as a “research tool” to replace more expensive surveys that can be “limited and potentially biased”.  (The work of the World Well-Being Project, among others, was first covered in a closely related Subway Fold post on March 20, 2015 entitled Studies Link Social Media Data with Personality and Health Indicators.)

The full research team began this study by examining “Twitter users’ self-described occupations”. Then they gathered a “representative sampling”  of 10 million tweets from 5,191 users spanning each of the nine distinct groups classified in the UK’s official Standard Occupational Classification guide and calculated the average income for each group. Using this data, they built an algorithm upon “words that people in each code use distinctly”.  That is, the algorithm parsed what words had the highest predictive value for determining which of the classification groups the users were in the sample were likely fall within.

Results

Some of the team’s results “validated what’s already known”, such as a user’s words can indicate “age and gender” which, in turn, are linked to income. The leader of the researchers, Daniel Preoţiuc-Pietro, also cited the following unexpected results:

  • Higher earners on Twitter tend to:
    • write with “more fear and anger”
    • more often discussed “politics, corporations and the nonprofit world”
    • use it to distribute news
    • use it more for professional than personal purposes, while
  • Lower earners on Twitter tend to:
    • be optimists
    • swear more in their tweets
    • use it more for personal communication

This study will be used as the basis for future efforts to evaluate the correlations between user incomes with other data from the real world. (Please see also these eight Subway Fold posts on the distinctions between correlation and causation.)

My Questions

  • Might the inverse of these findings, that certain language could draw users with certain income levels, be used by online marketers, advertisers and content specialists to attract their desired demographic group(s)?
  • How could anyone concerned with search engine optimization (SEO) policies and results make use if this study in their content creation and meta-tagging strategies?
  • Does this type of data on the particularly sensitive subject of income, risk segmenting users in some form of de facto discriminatory manner? If this possibility exists, how can researchers avoid this in the future?
  • Would a follow-up study perhaps find that certain words used in tweets by authors who aspire to move up from one income level to the next one? If so, how can this data be used by the same specialists mentioned in the first two questions above?

Eight Proven Factors to Help Make Your Web Content Go Viral

"M31. The Andromeda Galaxy", Image by Adam Evans

“M31. The Andromeda Galaxy”, Image by Adam Evans

On a daily basis, we see news, commentary, videos, photos, tweets, blog posts, podcasts, articles, rumors and memes go viral where they spread rapidly across the web like a propulsive digital wave. From YouTube postings of dogs and cats doing goofy things to in-the-moment hashtags and tweets about late-breaking current events, attention grabbing content now spreads at nearly the speed of light.

All content creators, strategists and distributors want to know how to infuse their offerings with this elusive clickable contagion. Providing eight very useful and scientifically proven elements to, at the very least, increase the probability of new content going viral, is a new article entitled The Science Behind What Content Goes Viral, by Sarah Snow, posted on SocialMediaToday.com on July 6, 2015. I will sum up, annotate, and pose some not entirely scientific questions of my own.

For further reading I also highly recommend clicking through and reading The Secret to Online Success: What Makes Content Go Viral, by Liz Rees-Jones, Katherine L. Milkman and Jonah Berger (the second and third of whom are professors at the University of Pennsylvania – – the “U of P”), posted on ScientificAmerican.com (“SciAm”) on April 14, 2015. Two fully detailed and fascinating reports by Milkman and Berger that underlie their SciAm article are available here and here. Ms. Snow’s article cites many of the findings in the SciAm piece. As well, I suggest checking out a May 22, 2015 blog post by Peter Gasca entitled The 4 Essentials of the Most Read Content posted on Entrepreneur.com for some additionally effective content strategies, not to mention a hilarious picture of a dog wearing glasses.

Ms. Snow organized her article into a series of eight individual hypotheses about online virality that she then proceeds to provide references to support them. I will put each of these in bold and quotes below as she stated them in her text. (My own highlights in orange are explained afterwards.)

  • Long, in-depth posts tend to go viral more than short ones.”: Drawing from the findings of Milkman’s and Berger’s studies that, among other things, examined the data from the feature on the home page of the NYTimes.com called Most Emailed, longer articles had a higher tendency to be shared. As also stated by Carson Ward of the search engine optimization (SEO) consulting firm called Moz, of all possible variables, word count most closely correlate with the breadth of online sharing. Further, he believes this is a directly causal relationship. (The distinctions between correlation and causation have been previously raised in other various contexts in these six Subway Fold posts.) See also, Mr. Ward’s practical and informative January 14, 2013 posting on Moz’s site entitled Why Content Goes Viral: the Theory and Proof.
  • Inspire anger, awe, or anxiety and your post will go viral.”: Evidence shows that “high energy emotions” such as awe and anger, as opposed to “law energy emotions”, are more likely to spur virality.  Among them, anger is the most effective, but it must be, well, tempered without insulting the audience. It is best for content authors to write about something that angers them, which, in return, require “some tolerance” by their readers. In terms of usage data, blog content which engages controversial topics generates twice as many comments in response. Alternatively, awe is a better emotion for those who wish to avoid controversy and instead focuses on the positive effects of brands and heroic acts.
  • Showing a little vulnerability or emotion helps content go viral.”: This is indeed true again according to the U of P studies. Readers respond to emotional content because they “want to feel things when they read”. The author Walter Kirn is quoted recommending that writers should begin with what they feel “most shameful about”. This is where conflict resides and writing about it makes you vulnerable to your readers. For other content creators, rather than shame, writers can start with some other genuine “human emotion”.
  • “Viral content is practically useful, surprising, and interesting.”: Clearly, engaging and practical content beats boring and dull any day of the week. Content that is useful generates the highest levels of online sharing. For example, posting pragmatic suggestions and solutions to “how-to” questions is going to draw many more clicks.
  • “Content written by known authors is more likely to go viral.”: Milkman’s and Berger’s reports further showed that being a known writer had a significant impact on the sharing of a news article. Name recognition translates into credibility and trust.
  • “Content written by women is more likely to go viral.”: The U of P professors also reported that on NYTimes.com, the gender of a writer had an effect insofar as the data showed that articles by female authors had a tendency to be shared more that stories by male authors. 
  • “Posts that spend a lot of time on the home page are more likely to go viral.”: Yes, insofar as the NYTimes.com goes. (The article does not mention whether other sites have been tested or are planning to be tested for this variable.)
  • “Content that is truly and broadly viral is almost always funny“: This quote about humor from Ward’s post (linked above in the first factor about blog post length), is helpful for content authors as it gives all of them an opportunity to be funny. This is particularly so in efforts to make online ads go viral.

I propose the following mnemonic to assist in remembering all of these variables tracking with the key words highlighted above in orange:

Writer + Emotion – – give- – Useful – – content – – Funny + Long + Inspiration + Gender + Homepage Time

That is, WE give U content FLIGHT!

My own questions are as follows:

  • Which of these factors will more likely endure, expand or disappear, especially now that a majority of users access the web on mobile devices? What new factors that have not yet emerged might soon affect the rate(s) of content virality?
  • Is going viral purely an objective and quantifiable matter of the numbers of clicks and visitors, or are there some more qualitative factors involved? For instance, might marketing specialists and content strategists be more interested in reaching a significant percentage of traffic among a particular demographic group or market segment and just attaining X clicks and Y visitors regardless of whether or not they involve identifiable cohorts?
  • Do the above eight factors lend themselves to be transposed into an algorithm? Assuming this is possible, how would it be applied to optimize viral content and, in turn, overall SEO strategic planning?
  • Beside the length of content discussed as the first factor above, how do the other seven factors lend themselves to being evaluated for degrees of correlation and causation of viral results?