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Are LinkedIn endorsements unethical for PR pros?

Earlier this week, I gave a presentation to a group of employees at a local client. The topic: Enhancing your reputation online in today’s digital age.

It’s not a topic I talk about a lot, but I was doing it as a favor to a friend–and, it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Of course, one part of the presentation talked about LinkedIn. And one employee asked question that got me thinking: “What do you think of endorsements on LinkedIn?”


The employee (an attorney) was asking because she doesn’t have any and was wondering if that would hurt her reputation.

My first question: Why don’t you have any endorsements?

Her response: My professional organization doesn’t allow it.

As in, the Texas Bar Association!

Wow–that’s pretty surprising, right?

That got me thinking: We all know these LinkedIn endorsements are kind of goofy. People who have never worked with us endorse us for skills of all kinds. In many ways, the endorsements mean nothing. I’m hardly the first person to make that statement.

But, worthless endorsements is one thing. UNETHICAL endorsements? That’s something different.

However, I think that’s what we may have in the PR industry as well.

I got to looking and we may have a similar issue on our hands in PR. Just look at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics (I was grilled on the code when I earned my APR years ago, so this came back to me fairly quickly).

In the section titled “Free Flow of Information”, it states:

Core Principle Protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.

Key terms: “Accurate and truthful information.”

It goes on to say:

A member shall:

  • Preserve the integrity of the process of communication.
  • Be honest and accurate in all communications.
  • Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the practitioner is responsible.
  • Preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent.

Key phrases: “Be honest and accurate in all communications” and “act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the practitioner is responsible.”

By reading those statements, you could reasonably come to the conclusion that many endorsements on LinkedIn are unethical.

Case in point: Many of the endorsements that I’ve received over the years come from people I’ve never worked with directly and probably don’t know all that well. So, if you think about it, those endorsements really aren’t any indication of my skill or ability (most, in my case, are probably largely based on writings on this blog). That said, many of the top “skills” I’m endorsed for really are my key strengths: Strategic communications, social media marketing, blogging, public relations are all in my top 10.

But, this may be a very real issue for us all (and PRSA, as it relates to the Code) to consider.

Are LinkedIn endorsements unethical when they don’t hit on your key skills, and/or when they’re given by someone you’ve never worked with before?

Definitely worth a discussion. What do you think?

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The most over-looked component of many social media campaigns

You know what’s perplexing about the way companies plan for today’s social media campaigns?

They don’t plan for BEST-CASE scenarios.

And, in this case, that means planning and staffing appropriately for community management.


Consider the following scenario:

You’ve been planning a social media campaign as part of a broader marketing effort to launch a new product. You’ve been at this planning for nine months. You have a big social media ad budget (read: tens of thousands of dollars), and you feel like your creative is fairly solid. You’re hoping for a successful launch.

The big day comes, and the launch goes extremely well. In fact, it goes so well, from a social perspective, that you crush your engagement goal. You have more likes, comments and shares than you know what to do with.

But, that’s the problem. You have so many customers and prospective customers commenting that you can’t keep up. You respond to a few, but you simply can’t keep up. Many, many comments go unresponded to. Some people even get upset you don’t respond. But, there’s not much you can do because you simply don’t have the people.

I don’t have any scientific data to back this up–but, I will say in the research I do for this blog, the Talking Points Podcast and the Talking Points e-newsletter, I see this scenario playing out on social fairly often.

Let’s look at a more specific example: John Deere.

Deere made the following post on Sept. 14.


Not really a post aimed at generating fan engagement, but they received a number of comments nonetheless, including a full-out question right away.


But what else do you see in the comment thread above? Ideal opportunities to engage and respond to positive comments, right? Easy opportunity to respond to Troy Samuels, who took the time to snap a pic of his John Deere and post it (heck, they didn’t even “like” any of these comments!).

Or, what about these comments?


Again, an easy opportunity to engage right at the top–and more importantly, from someone who wants to BUY A JOHN DEERE TRACTOR!

This is just one example–but I’ve seen many others just like it.

Why don’t more brands resource and staff community management appropriately? I just don’t get it.

You spend all that time and money planning a social campaign, which often includes engagement as one of THE key metrics, and you fail to staff the piece where you can actually take advantage of that engagement?

That makes no sense.

Many brands would LOVE if they had customers and prospective customers commenting liberally on their social channels?

Yet, we continue to see brands respond to customer comments semi-regularly at best.

For YEARS, we’ve been talking about the importance of connecting with your customers using social media channels.

Yet, brands get the opportunity to do just that and they fail to respond to every single comment in a thread?

I just don’t get it.

If you’re going to take social seriously as part of your marketing/PR team, you HAVE to take community management seriously, too.

Seems obvious, right?

Then why are we seeing so many companies failing to respond to so many comments?

A few theories:

Leads > community

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, but marketing teams are often far more focused on the lead components to a social campaign than they are the community piece. Leads are what drive budget–not community and customer service.

Brands can’t find good community managers

I think sometimes brands want to build and engage with their communities–they just can’t find the people to make that happen. At least not in an effective way. I think there are a lot of people out there who list “community management” on their resume and claim they have experience in that area. But, I also believe community management is an art form–and in many ways, it’s an innate skill. Sure, you can coach people up in this area. But, for the most part, the community manager either has “it”, or she doesn’t. That’s what I’ve seen at least. And, I think that’s an issue at play here, too.

Social is still a broadcast channel to many orgs

Let’s face it, many companies merely see social as an opportunity to blast their messages, offers and promotions across the internet air waves. They don’t care about responses. They don’t necessarily want comments. They just want to talk. Sadly, we see too much of this (still) in 2016.

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Talking Points Speaker Series: 3 takeaways from the social media skills gap discussion

On Wednesday, we held the first-ever Talking Points Speaker Series event on the University of Minnesota campus. Our topic? The social media skills gap. Our speakers? Alex Tan, director of digital and social at Golin and Matt Rozen, director of social at Adobe (see below–Alex at left, Matt at right).


We had a nearly sold-out audience and a great discussion around a topic that seems to be on many people’s minds lately.

Instead of rehashing the entire event (sorry–you should have signed up!), I thought I’d highlight the three key takeaways I walked away with and how I think they might impact you and your organization.

1: The social media unicorn DOES exist–and Matt Rozen is looking for them!

In our pre-event survey, we asked attendees what they wanted to learn at this event. More than one person was curious about the following: “What’s a realistic skill set to ask for when hiring a social media specialist or manager?” It’s not a surprising question. After all, just look at social media job descriptions. They really run the gamut. Many companies/agencies simply have little context on what is appropriate to ask for in a candidate. And, for years, there’s been the whole “social media unicorn” discussion. In essence: Can I find the person who provides all the skills I’m looking for (content, community, analytics, video, etc. all in one person). And, for years, I’ve thought that’s a pretty foolish way to go about it. But, when I asked Matt Rozen that question, he pushed back. According to Matt, the social/digital unicorn DOES exist–and he’s working hard to uncover them in the Bay Area. The lesson? Don’t listen to me! In all seriousness, if you want to find someone with, what you believe is, a pretty unique skill set, don’t let others tell you that you can’t do it. Go find your unicorn. She’s out there somewhere.

2: Develop a system for capturing and sharing best practices/tips


Staying on top of social media trends, best practices, case studies and platform changes is one of the most challenging parts of my job. I have a system for doing this, as this information helps inform me for posts to this blog, my podcast with Kevin Hunt, my weekly e-newsletter and interactions with clients. But, I’m just one person–it’s easier when you’re a shop of one. What about when you’re a team of 75, like Alex’s team at Golin. How do you keep all those people ahead of the curve? It was interesting to hear how Alex has set up a fairly structured system at Golin to capture this information, share it, and build a team of channel experts across Golin. The lesson? Give serious thought to devising a system for capturing this best practice/case study/platform-based content and distributing it your team.

3: PR job of the future: Experience planners!

When I asked Alex and Matt what skills they saw evolving over the next 1-3 years, they provided a few answers I expected: paid media specialists, for example, will continue to be in demand. But, they also both gave me one I wasn’t expecting: experience planners! These folks would be charged with developing and managing the more experiential side of the brand (think IKEA’s big sleepover in the UK a number of years ago). What I’m really interested in here is where these people will come from. What backgrounds will they have? How will companies find these people? All good questions. The lesson for brands now? Hire for today, but plan for, and always be thinking about, the skills you’ll need down the road.

If you missed this week’s event, look for more information about our NEXT Talking Points event on Nov. 9 soon.

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Does content marketing even have to link to your product anymore?

I’m sorry, but I have to call BS on this recent Contently post.

I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to Coca-Cola’s brand journalism initiative: Coke Journey, which launched back in 2012.

The big reason for my skepticism? Why would anyone visit the Coke web site for “news and information”–even if that “news and information” was related to Coke?


I get the brand journalism thing when you’re a company that’s built on thought leadership–GE and GE Reports comes to mind.

I get brand  journalism when you’re Microsoft and you’re using long-form employee stories as a vehicle to aid recruiting and brand.

I get brand journalism when you’re General Mills and you’re using stories as a way to drum up additional media coverage (as well as for the opportunity to tell your stories, your way).

I get all that–and those are fantastic case studies of brand journalism done well. And a decent amount of what Coke is doing with “Journey” does actually fall into those same categories. But, Coke as hub of news and information as outlined in this Contently piece? C’mon now.

So yeah, I’m skeptical.

Let’s take a look at a few key excerpts from the Contently post to find out why:

“For Journey Arabia, content inspiration comes largely from current events, since the target audience is looking for news. Journey Arabia uses social listening to stay in tune with public opinion on stories impacting the Arab world and connects them to product events and announcements.”

OK, I’m going to sound like the Ad Contrarian here for a few moments. “Content inspiration comes largely from currently events, since the target audience is looking for news.” This sounds a lot like: 1) A marketer who’s taking themselves way too seriously, or 2) A vendor who really thinks highly of themselves. Honestly, no one is looking to Coke for news. No one. People look to CNN, the New York Times and WaPo for news. People look to Coke when they want a cold soda. Pretty simple. Even if you make the argument that people want news and information about Coke, are people really seeking that information out? I just can’t believe that there are tens of thousands of people who are looking for Coke news and information each day.

“The bedrock stories are balanced by lighter fare, like a quick-hitter on how to take better Christmas photos, that performs well on social.”

This is exactly what I’m alluding to in the headline. What does “how to take a better Christmas photo” have to do with Coke? Nothing. So, why are they writing about it? Because it “performs well on social.” This is the part I don’t get. I understand those kinds of stories perform well on social. But, just because Coke gets 2.5M likes on a post that talks about how to take a great Christmas photo, does that mean more people are going to buy more Coke or think more highly of Coke? Color me skeptical.

“Moms and dads are the gatekeepers of the weekly shop. If we can give them more information that helps them make informed decisions, it will help them during their purchase.”

You gotta love this quote. Allow me to put my “Dad” hat on for a moment, because this speaks directly to me. I’m partly responsible for the health and well-being of my child. My wife and I buy the food that goes in our kids’ bodies. What information is Coke going to give me to help make a more “informed decision” on buying a product that has pretty much been proven to be poor to downright bad for your kids’ health? I mean, I enjoy a cold Coke every once in a while as much as the next person, but “make more informed decisions?” C’mon now. For proof on how Coke is addressing this, see the video below. Again, I actually like Coke (although we don’t offer it as an option in our home). And creating and publishing stories like this that talk about health and fitness are fantastic–just not if you’re a company that’s making a product that actually creates the opposite effect. Just seems very odd to me.

OK, your turn. Anyone else a skeptic of Coke Journey?

photo credit: coca cola soda cans via photopin (license)

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Where are companies turning for digital professional development?

Allison Kent-Smith, founder of Smith & Beta, a talent development firm, had an interesting quote in a post this week:

“Agencies continue to invest in acquiring talent versus developing talent. The surprising thing is that there’s not more investment in the people that walk in the doors every day.”

Kent-Smith was talking about ad agencies in this particular quote–but couldn’t you say the same for PR firms and PR functions within large organizations? Do we really work hard to develop our internal talent on a daily basis?

Digital Prof Deve

And, it really gets interesting when you start talking about DIGITAL or SOCIAL talent within those teams. Sure, companies are seeking top digital and social talent–but what are they doing to DEVELOP these folks?

Now, I don’t currently work for a large organization (although many large orgs are my clients). I don’t work for an agency. So, I’m not sure I’m qualified to have a strong opinion here. But, I have a hunch most organizations and agencies aren’t doing an optimal job in this area.

And, according to Smith & Beta’s “State of Advertising Talent Report”, I may be right.

According to the report, “agency employees frequently rely on sources other than their employers to learn how to do their jobs. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they learned helpful job skills on their own or from friends or peers. Another 23% relied on blogs, books or online resources. Only 9% said management imparted those skills, and another 9% relied on events or conferences.”

If that’s happening at ad agencies, my guess is it’s probably happening at PR agencies and large companies, too.

We’re neglecting our digital and social talent, folks. And, it’s time we start to change that.

This issue will be front-and-center when I sit down with Alex Tan, director of digital at Golin and Matt Rozen, director of social at Adobe on Sept. 14 at the University of Minnesota for the first-ever Talking Points Speaker Series event (register here–only 25 spots remain!).


Back to the issue at hand. The challenge is, historically, PR and comms folks turned to professional organizations like PRSA, IABC and AMA for professional development. And, over the years, those orgs have done a great job of providing learning opportunities around many areas within PR and communications.

However, I’m not sure that’s the case when it comes to social and digital.

That’s not an indictment on professional organizations–it’s just a observation that no professional org is really doing a good job of providing consistent training and learning opportunities around social and digital topics (outside of MIMA, locally here in Minneapolis).

So, folks are left to turn to friends, colleagues, blogs and their own devices.

That’s fine–social and digital are new and rapidly evolving disciplines. But, I feel like we’re about 10 years in now. It’s time for us to start taking this stuff a little more seriously. It’s time to start investing in our talent and developing people from the ground up.

So, what would I do if I were managing a social or digital team and I wanted to provide more structured professional development opportunities?

I’d start creating a program of my own–right in-house.

I’d bring in thought leaders from across different sub-disciplines within social and digital to talk about niche topics and evolving areas.

I’d create mini-mastermind groups around different topics, led by internal folks who have a particular expertise or passion in the subject matter. That way, our internal experts would create more internal experts by sharing the knowledge they’ve gleaned.

I’d create a weekly email where I’d aggregate the best posts and articles I read this past week for my team to review (sound familiar? Shameless plug: You can sign up for Talking Points HERE!) so they could stay on top of industry trends, new tools and case studies.

I’d bring in peers from other agencies or companies to talk about case studies from time to time and commiserate on best practices and what they’re seeing in the industry.

Doesn’t sound all that hard, right? But, it would require TIME and COMMITMENT. I hope we see more of both of those soon.

In the meantime, again, hope you’ll join us on Sept. 14 to talk more about this topic–and a whole lot more about the social media skills gap–on the University of Minnesota campus (again–register here).

photo credit: BLC07_ 051 via photopin (license)

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