Canadian Government to accomplished and educated immigrants: Keep Out!

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Instead of discouraging “Canadian Experience” discrimination, the federal Conservative government entrenches it.  (See my May 2013 update below.)

As part of the Federal Budget announced Friday  — a “politically crazy” budget as Toronto Sun columnist Warren Kinsella called it — Ottawa effectively wiped out a visa waiting list of more than 280,000 educated and qualified foreign workers and their families, and is returning $130 million they paid in processing fees.  Any professional fees these prospective new Canadians paid to lawyers or immigration consultants — often a substantial sum — will, of course, not be reimbursed.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney telegraphed this change three weeks ago, and followed through in the budget.  The government has placed the blame on the bureaucracy being unable to process the applications.  Never mind that most of this problem occurred under the Conservative Party’s watch as a minority government.  So, the obvious solution, at least to Mr. Kenney and his boss, was to take a leaf blower to the top of the application processing desk and start anew.  Sure, that’s what everybody does when they have too much work…  We all just throw this stuff in the garbage, right?  In the same budget, he cut funding for the Immigration department.  So, potential immigrants shouldn’t worry at all about the government’s next plan to process their applications in a timely manner, and that history won’t repeat.  Yeah.  Right.

According to the March 30 Toronto Star newspaper: “Hopeful immigrants who applied before Feb. 27, 2008 to come to Canada as skilled workers will have their fees returned and be told to apply again under new programs that put greater emphasis on their work skills.”  Many of these people have been waiting up to 8 years.  Now, it’s back to the end of the line with everybody else who hasn’t even applied yet.  Of course, Ottawa spun it to say Canada owes new applicants expedited service.  Maybe so, but by killing the dreams of  more than a quarter million people who have been patiently waiting for years is not exactly playing nice, nor “being Canadian” for that matter.  Instead of processing the existing backlog — even under new government admittance rules for whatever system it comes up with (which it hasn’t yet) — and giving applicants the opportunity to fit into that new mold by providing necessary relevant information, it is throwing every previous applicant under the bus.

From The Star: “lawyer Robin Seligman said the government should have first stopped the intake to clear the backlog. Prospective migrants might now think twice before applying to Canada, she added. ‘How can you trust this government?’

This action is a huge insult to immigrants, anti-business, self-defeating and an international black eye for Canada.

This does absolutely nothing about the real immigration issues in Canada, three of which are:

  • widespread professional discrimination by “old boy licensing networks” that often bars professionals from working in their profession for close to a decade following arrival (doctors, nurses, and engineers, for example).
  • the veiled ethnic discrimination “Canadian experience” excuse used by many Canadian businesses that keeps newly arrived immigrants unemployed or underemployed for many months or years; the current new-immigrant unemployment rate is over 14% compared to 3.5% for individuals born in Canada.  In fact, according to Ottawa on Friday, Canada is intending to put more emphasis on bringing in those with “Canadian work experience,” which will only serve to entrench this practice.
  • non-citizen “landed immigrants” (known as “resident aliens” in the US) continue to be allowed to petition for retired or uneducated parents and siblings who add nothing to the economy; in the US, only citizens can do this, but any permanent resident in Canada can petition for mom, dad and siblings, whatever their ages, as soon as he or she steps foot on Canadian soil.  In the US, only a spouse and children under 21 can accompany the immigrant until he or she becomes a citizen.

In fact, even US Republicans say they want to fix the illegal immigrant issue so that the US Immigration agency can concentrate more on legal immigration and even streamline entry for credentialed professionals, unlike what Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wishes to do, apparently.

The only message to successful and credentialed foreign professionals Ottawa is sending with this utter stupidity: Canada does not want educated and successful immigrants.

Apparently, family immigration for those who are uneducated and unqualified except for menial labour — and perhaps a drain on the economy — is just fine, because that was not addressed in the budget.

In February, I wrote the following response that appears on University of Ottawa economics prof Miles Corak’s article about the challenges immigrants face in Canada:

If I may put on my purely analytical and fiscally logical economic hat for a while, the situation in Canada on many fronts related to immigration would improve if politicians had the courage to implement the following systems (which may be pie in the sky thinking).

Changes needed in immigration policy:

  • allow in only those with the credentials (education, experience, income) likely to improve the economy and Canadians’ quality of life, and utilizing demand-side economics to determine which professions are most valuable. Australia’s points system springs to mind. The only exceptions: tightly regulated refugee and family immigration programs.
  • allow concurrent co-sponsorships for only these immigrants’ immediate families (spouses and minor children).
  • allow only citizens to sponsor parents and other immediate family over 21 on an immediate basis. Allow extended family applications, but only allow a limited quota annually. In other words, a landed immigrant would not be able sponsor extended family (including parents) until he or she achieved citizenship (similar to what occurs in the US). And require all prospective citizens be fluent in at least one of the official languages (the lack of which directly affects an immigrant’s chance for economic success).
  • all sponsors must have the financial support to petition any immigration application so that sponsored family members will not become a burden on society (at least for 5 years), and be legally required to reimburse the country if this occurs.
  • establish extremely stringent rules for determination if a refugee petition is valid, and a much more streamlined approach — in other words, months not many years.
  • landed immigrants who arrive as the spouse of a citizen must not have the same rights as occurs now, and do not obtain these rights until they go through an adjustment of status process (this will largely reduce marriage fraud, which often leaves the Canadian citizen on the hook financially — many citizens have seen their “loved one” disappear into the crowd within months, or even at the airport!). Even better, offer a fiancé/fiancée visa, similar to the US (in that country, only idiots, the foolhardy or the ill-informed marry a spouse overseas when this visa option is available).

Changes needed in Canadian society:

  • equal employment laws with teeth (including regulatory fines and private litigation) to ensure companies employ the most deserved regardless of where they lived or were educated (perhaps designed along the lines of the US EEOC, but with the requirement of companies tracking and reporting immigration, expatriate, and foreign education status).Immigrating to Canada
  • provide governmental financial incentives such as tax breaks for companies bringing credentialed foreign workers on board, or perhaps voluntarily meeting standards.
  • legally abolish “Canadian experience” discrimination.
  • eliminate the “old boy” networks that are today keeping otherwise credentialed doctors, nurses, engineers, and other licensed professionals, out of the workforce often for close to a decade. For example, incorporate the American Medical Association requirements for foreign doctors (English proficiency, 3 exams and a residency — typically taking 3-4 years for the entire process, while it’s 8-9 years for a doctor to start practicing in Canada).

If these changes were made, I dare say much of the populist bigotry against legal immigrants would greatly diminish, as well, along with making Canada less risk-averse, and more innovative and productive with all this “new blood” from world-class educated, successful and satisfied new immigrants.

Unfortunately, I fear no politician would have the intestinal fortitude to even whisper such a plan, in fear of losing votes from the immigrant community, even if these or similar changes are a dire need for Canada’s future success, as they likely are.

Great questions were asked on a LinkedIn immigration forum — questions that the government likely won’t touch with a 10-foot hockey stick:

  • If 80% of jobs are “hidden” and not advertised, and to find a job you must be networking while physically in Canada, how would most people outside Canada find a job while they are overseas?  Short answer:  they can’t.
  • If resumes are mostly scanned by software according to key words matching the 20% of jobs that are advertised, how would people actually find jobs before moving here?  See answer above.
  • If the target is 25 year olds who just graduated from university with a couple of years experience, how would they have “Canadian Experience” to get the job here while they’re in their native country?  They won’t.

Yes, that last bullet point is the targeted “new immigrant” according to Kenney; all of this makes me wonder if this is actually a stealth Conservative Party anti-immigration policy.

Instead of temporarily closing the door and working on the backlog while developing a new system (as the US has done from time to time for various immigration segments), Canada now simply throws those who were going through the red tape in good faith to the back of the line.  This will only force these highly educated and qualified people — who otherwise could add strength to the Canadian economy and society — to look elsewhere.  And, indeed, they probably should.

UPDATE May 6 2013:  Apparently, my crystal ball was extremely clear a year ago when I wrote that the current Canadian government might have a “stealth anti-immigration policy.”  See my follow-up column at Canadian Government’s stealth anti-immigration policy endangering country’s economic future.”


ReCaptcha: the absolute worst thing you can do to your website or blog

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Enough said.

Do you really think visitors to the website you slaved over can decipher this gobbledegook?  And this is one of the easier ones to read.  I guess it’s OK if you don’t want to have a 2-way conversation with visitors.

If you use WordPress for your blog, the Akismet plug-in is a seamless way for real people to interact with you while keeping the spammers at bay.

direct mail, direct marketing, Marketing, News

HubSpot misses the mark on calling direct mail “interruptive”

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Is it simply HubSpot preaching to its digital marketing choir?  Is it ignorance?  Or both?  Or, perhaps, it is simply a case of Hubspot tooting its own inbound marketing horn under the guise of an editorial.  Whatever the situation, it was extremely off base during its attack on the US Postal Service’s “Every Door Direct Mail” campaign to increase the use of direct mail via small businesses “micro-targeting” potential customers.

Brian Halligan, founder of HubSpot and MIT senior lecturer, wrote on his Inbound Internet Marketing Blog:

“Consumers are continuing to ignore these interruptive communications, and much of the junk mail people receive ends up in their trash bins. The fact is, traditional marketing strategies that businesses have long adopted — including direct mail — are less effective now that the Internet has changed the way people research and shop; it’s the other marketing tactics that adapt to these changing buyer behaviors that are gaining traction among marketers.” – Dear US Postal Service: Please Stop Encouraging Direct Mail, HubSpot, March 22, 2012

What is wrong with this statement?  Let me count the ways!

The Internet is Much More Interruptive

Direct mail is “interruptive communications?” What an amazing, inaccurate, and perhaps ignorant, statement.  Interruptive compared to what?  Internet pop up windows (or, more infuriating, those pop-unders)?  Ads getting in the way of my use of the Internet on almost any site I visit?   Email spam?   Twitter and LinkedIn spam?  Or those disruptive floating messages begging me to order a white paper, take a “survey” that is really a sales pitch, or subscribe before they let me read “free” articles?  And direct mail can’t adapt?  It has, and does.  Every day.  (Update: Marketing guru Denny Hatch published an excellent article about “ Is Chasing Me All Over the Internet!” on April 3.  An inbound marketer might find “remarketing” an excellent way to drum up sales, but I find it creepy, and yes, extremely interruptive and invasive — akin to trying on a pair of shoes at a store, and then having the salesman follow me around town for a week.)

I use ad blockers everywhere I can, but many of these interruptions still sneak through or force me to interact, wasting precious time.  Companies do not spend billions of dollars every year to block direct mail as they do spam.  You really can’t be spammed with direct mail, as it’s damned expensive for the marketer.  Spam is extremely cheap, and wastes millions of worker hours each year.  Personally, I have spent uncounted hours during my Internet existence cleaning out spam folders and setting up systems to keep it at bay.  These systems largely work OK for my personal or corporate email systems I control, but I still need to scan my spam folders in case something important got misclassified by the antispam software.  Yahoo Mail is another story all together — Spam City!

Then there are the email “opt out” systems I need to navigate; many of which do not work as legally required, or force me to remember some password I last used 5 years ago.  And there are companies that do not offer such a mechanism embedded in their emails; they wrongly think they have a legal existing relationship with me because I registered software in 2007 to get a rebate, or for some other ridiculous reason.  Sage Peachtree is the most recent offender in my personal experience (which I reported to the Federal Trade Commission after they ignored my repeated requests to opt out via email to their customer service department).  More wasted time.  Undoubtedly, this amounts to many, many hours collectively over the past decade.

Consumers Prefer Direct Mail and Trust It More

Direct mail is not “interruptive” — it takes 5 seconds to deposit unwanted postal mail into the recycle bin — the real 3D one in my house.  And it is very effective for small businesses to target and blanket their local neighborhoods, which is exactly what the USPS is promoting with this campaign; I’m guessing HubSpot missed that part.  “Inbound Internet” marketers like Mr. Halligan cannot say that his methods can be as effective in this regard.

In fact, 50% of consumers prefer direct mail to email according to a study conducted by marketing services firm Epsilon, and 25% found it more trustworthy:

“Of the 2,226 U.S. consumers surveyed for the third Consumer Channel Preference Study, 60% said they enjoy checking their physical mailboxes, highlighting what the study refers to as an ’emotional connection’ to postal mail.” DMNews, December 1, 2011

Attitudes toward postal mail and email

Trust Levels in online channels and mediumsSource: Consumer Channel Preference Study, Epsilon Targeting, 2011

Halligan may be an award-winning Internet entrepreneur, but apparently doesn’t think much of “marketing integration,” although he pays some lip service to it in his article.  News Flash!:  Some of the most successful campaigns utilize a mix that includes direct mail.  Everything does not have to be a new, shiny object to attract attention and generate revenue and sales, nor necessarily fit on an iPhone screen.

Spray and Pray Inhabits the Internet, too

Direct mail is still very powerful. What is going away (thankfully) are the “spray and pray” advertisers who thought direct mail was taking an ad and sticking a label on it, and perhaps buying lists that had no correlation to what they were selling.  And, yes, those same types of people now inhabit the web, email, mobile and social media worlds.

Real direct marketers who use marketing science, analytics, internal “house lists” and demographics always knew better, and are still extremely effective.  And they realize they can be more effective when using a measurable mix of every marketing channel available — including Uncle Sam’s post office.

By the way, I recently received a $50 AdWords certificate from Google in my “snail mail box.”  Maybe HubSpot should tell Google that direct mail doesn’t work before it “wastes” more money!  But, I doubt Google will take note, as any successful business knows it needs passive (inbound) and active (outbound) marketing to be successful, in a myriad of forms.

Marketing, News

Innovation often lacking in charities and nonprofits

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“There is a lack of innovation in the non-profit sector because:
(a) it is very easy to enter the sector (no barrier to entry) but very difficult to scale, and
(b) no one is willing to take sizeable risks that could significantly accelerate growth because 2 to 5 percent annual growth is safer and preferred.”
– Phillip Haid of Public Inc., “Charity Ratings Kill Innovation,” Huffington Post, March 8, 2012


Nonprofits and Nonprofitables

As someone who worked inside an international nonprofit with much of its footprint in the US, but with a presence in Canada and elsewhere, and took it from a position of years-long shrinking revenues to that of significant gain and cost savings in just one year using Business 101, I can accurately and authoritatively say there are nonprofits and “nonprofitables.”

Much of the nonprofit world at the senior ranks is populated by people who have never worked at a Fortune 100, or even 1000, but rather have lived in their nonprofit or charity bubble their entire careers.  And when they see something not working well, they usually bring in a consultant from within that same nonprofit bubble, rather than an accomplished marketer from the for-profit world who’s familiar with being under pressure every day to meet budget.  Bottom line:  Nonprofits often simply don’t know anything — or learn anything — different, even from the experts they bring in as hired guns.  Or they continue to make the same mistakes, or farm things out to outside vendors (somebody, please tell me the logic of outsourcing fundraising to a for-profit company that takes 40% or more off the top).

Make the board of directors work

Another prevalent issue to overcome is at the board level; volunteer boards often consist of people who have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing or have zero sense about how business works, even though may be quite accomplished in their “real” lives.  For example, the time I was asked by the English department head of a major university, when reviewing financial returns — her only utterance throughout the session — if I could “change this chart color to blue from red” next time.  Seriously.  That would never even be breathed in a corporate board room; we’d be drilling into the numbers.

Nonprofit is a business

These issues are often intertwined.  A strong business-oriented CEO is needed to both operate a nonprofit like a business (with the “profit” driver being how much more it can help), while also getting the board members on the right track and even responsible for generating funds themselves. Yes, not an easy task. But “doable.”

There are 2 consistent truths in for-profit business and charity / nonprofit:

1. It takes money to make money.

2. What you did 30 years ago — or even 2 years ago — may not work like it did then.

And, no, innovation is not starting a lottery like I noticed every other charity in Canada is doing, seemingly by default, or perhaps due to a void of good ideas.

Some metrics, courtesy Chip Grizzard, who runs an agency in Atlanta:

  • 85% of the top US 1,000 e-commerce retailers don’t have shopping cart abandonment retargeting campaigns. Most charities don’t even track this.
  • Only 1% of US retailers send a welcome series to engage new email subscribers.
  • 10% of supporters now visit charity websites on a mobile device; mobile device adoption increasing dramatically.
  • Charity websites with a branded donation page received 5x more donations and at higher avg. values than those with a generic donation page
  • In 2011, social giving made up 15% of all donations through, up from 10% in 2009 and virtually 0% prior to 2008
  • 70 to 1: the number to which brand email subscribers outnumber Facebook “likes”
  • Email remains a mainstream communications channel for 90% of US online adults.  So, don’t abandon that just to join the social media wave.

Yes, these statistics are US-based.  But charities in all countries must take note and act to survive.  Charities and nonprofits are not in a bubble.  Whether they like it or not, they are competing for donors’ money and their quickly-splintering attention.  Those that depended in the past on government or corporate handouts are much more at risk.  It is the grassroots $10 and $25 donations that will increasingly drive much of the future.

Remove the barriers to giving

If you run a charity and put donation barriers or speed bumps in place, you will lose. Guaranteed.  Some easy, quick fixes:

  • remove requirements for registration from your website
  • initiate quick and easy online donation, such as via PayPal and wireless phone SMS
  • “mobile-ize” your website
  • use landing pages for all campaigns
  • send Thank You and welcome messages.

And then there are the charities that are seemingly embarrassed to ask for money on their home page, so they put “Donate” in small text next to the “About Us” link.  Make sure it’s a prominent, but tasteful, banner that folks don’t need a magnifiying glass to see.  Yeah, I know that you want to tell the world about all the wonderful things you do.  But, really, many people just want to visit your site, give you money, and leave.  Making donors hunt for the way to do that is only going to keep the money in their wallets.  As my broadcasting teacher was fond of saying years ago: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

Of course, these are the Band-Aids and duct tape.  Much more has to be done at the fundamental level to compete and survive in the post-recession New Normal.


Branding: An advertising account exec wonders “Why can’t I get my clients to brand effectively?”

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A large metro newspaper advertising account executive on LinkedIn was asking for some guidance today: “One of the biggest limitations of effectively branding is the client themselves.  I have had a lot of pushback from clients stating that they do not want to push the envelope to get their message out.  How do you deal with it for ad campaigns?”

As I replied (to unanimous agreement in the forum), branding comes from the top, not just from the marketing department and never from an account representative of a marketing channel (although, a good one will be able to sell the “fit” of what he or she offers with the brand already that’s in place, especially if historical proof can be provided).  Branding is not just one advertising or integrated marketing campaign, or even a themed series of them that lasts for years.

Many “professional branders” or vendors think it’s something else altogether or concentrate on just one segment of what makes up “the brand,” but branding is everything from the lighting in a retail store, to the public actions of the CEO (good or bad), to customer service, to the return policy, to professionalism (or lack thereof), to ethics, to “on hold” wait times, to public perception, and many other things. Much more than the shouted “warm and fuzzy” advertising message, logo or slogan (which too many companies think is all the branding they need).

Marketing is not branding, and branding is not marketing, but they are intimately linked.  If customer experiences do not live up to the expectations of a company’s marketing and advertising, or a website, or immaculate public or media relations, then those undeliverable promises will actually hurt the brand.  Branding is top down.  Marketing and advertising cannot save the brand all by itself, which may be a surprise to some CEOs.  Robert Bean of Northstar Partners succinctly calls a brand a “promise delivered.”  If the CEO, COO, CMO (and possibly CFO) or owner of the company does not see the value in branding, the argument from a vendor — or even internal marketers — is lost before it has even begun.

Economy, News

Defaults on college & university student loans: The next US economic bubble to burst?

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 “Fears of a bubble in educational spending are not without merit.”

- Moody’s Analytics, July 2011


This article began as a discussion on LinkedIn among my fellow alumni from Western Governors University.

During the past few years, many people who lost their jobs, or those who were seeing their jobs disappearing, chose education as a means to an end, to either retrain, complete their undergrad that had been left behind, or get an advanced degree.  Simply, to be more employable.  There were others of typical university age that were graduating in the midst of the Great Contraction, and continue to do so.  Many recent undergrads returned to school for their masters, thinking that they will be well prepared once the economy improved.  And perhaps, improving themselves while hunkering down out of “Hurricane Downturn.”

Unfortunately for many recent graduates, those means have not borne fruit and their loans are coming due. If they still are unemployed, they can continue their education as a way to push the student loan forward, perhaps take on more debt for their MBA or PhD.  But, what then?  What if this horrible sideways economy continues until 2020?

This is the reason for several movements to have the US Government forgive or reduce student loans.  In the US, they become repayable after 6 months of graduation.  And, due to changes in bankruptcy laws in recent years, cannot be discharged.  To add insult to injury, Uncle Sam will confiscate salaries and survival funds, such as Social Security, if these loans are not paid.

One such petition reads: “Forgiving the student loan debt of all Americans will have an immediate stimulative effect on our economy. With the stroke of the President’s pen, millions of Americans would suddenly have hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of extra dollars in their pockets each and every month with which to spend on ailing sectors of the economy. As consumer spending increases, businesses will begin to hire, jobs will be created and a new era of innovation, entrepreneurship and prosperity will be ushered in for all.”  Wiping out all $1 Trillion of these debts may be foolhardy, since 85% are not in default using the most recent data, although the number of graduates defaulting has been ballooning since 2008.  Something definitely could be done for the 15+% that are defaulting because they can’t find work, or were “sold” expensive degrees by unscrupulous profiteering private universities, or didn’t complete studies.  Fixing those issues would be relatively easy compared to the real problem of ever-increasing tuition and fees.

Meanwhile, costs for university continue to skyrocket, sometimes upwards of 30% year to year.  And it’s a well-known fact that people need a university degree to make a living wage and have a much better chance of being employed.  In July, Moody’s speculated that “delinquency and failure rates will rise in coming years because many students will be unable to service their loans as income growth falls short of borrowers’ expectations.“  In other words: if you’re wearing a paper hat or living in your parents’ basement, as many recent graduates are today, good luck paying your bill.  The unemployment rate for university graduates is half that of those with only a high school diploma.  But now, with the high cost of tuition, it’s a complete gamble on the part of the student, especially since only half are getting gainfully employed soon after graduation.  It shouldn’t be this way.  Student loans are approved uniformly across all courses of study, not by income levels of graduates or projected financial ability to repay, and often with no regard to the quality of education or amount of successful students at a particular institution.

Unlike in many other countries, there really is no uniformity in US universities, and grade creep is rampant while it devalues degrees.  Nursing students get the same financial aid treatment as a low-paid social worker, even though the nursing student will have little problem getting a well-paying job right out of school (and be able to immediately pay down the loan), while the social worker will certainly not be that lucky, perhaps ever.  Also, some US universities are graduating people today who would have failed 30 years ago, or at other more brain-tasking institutions today.  For example, corporate-owned Ashworth College — not regionally accredited, by the way — actually promotes that every one of their courses has an “open book” course and final exam.  That makes me cringe.  All of my exams at WGU were proctored at registered testing centers, and I was lucky to have a pencil and piece of paper, and maybe a non-programmable calculator, in the room with me.  Private Wall Street-listed “commercial” universities have been pillaging the nation’s student loan coffers for a decade and providing poor education to students who would never pass a more standard rigorous course, and who often drop out.

With all this in mind, these petition movements may have some merit, especially if the entire higher education system can be somehow returned to what it was decades ago: effective and affordable.  Some people on my alumni forum said that it would be unfair to them if they have paid back their loans while others are given a pass; some say they did so under financial duress… and one risked being killed in combat!  Others said they felt the personal responsibility to pay back the loan as agreed.  One alumnus said he joined the Army and went on a tour in Afghanistan, dodging bullets, to pay off his debt.  Potentially losing his life under enemy fire obviously was his only recourse as he saw it.

During this Great Contraction, folks who hand their keys back to the bank for their cars and houses get penalized on their credit rating for a maximum of 10 years, whether it was greed or financial foolishness on their part, or they lost their jobs. But they don’t get penalized forever.  And the banks don’t take their Social Security away, like Uncle Sam does for people unable to pay back student loans.  Is that fair?

The US has the highest public university tuition and related costs in OECD countries by far.  That is grossly unfair, too.  When a Canadian can get arguably the same quality undergrad education (at world-class and highly-rated McGill University, for example) as taught at some of the best US Ivy League schools, and for around $4,500 per semester (half that of a typical state school), and many Europeans got their education for close to nothing (Luxembourg charges $280 per semester, for example), there is something deeply wrong with the US system.  US education was very affordable 30 years ago.  Not now.  Today, millions of US students leave university with a massive amount of debt, and now cannot find jobs.  2/3 of US undergrads have college debt, and their average debt was $24,000 in 2008… and that is quickly increasing as states reduce funding to colleges and universities, forcing tuitions to rise, sometimes dramatically.

Zac Bissonnette, a senior at the University of Massachusetts and author of the new book Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships or Mooching Off My Parents, agrees that there’s plenty of blame to go around:  “it takes a village to screw up that bad.  I support the personal responsibility argument, but if you’re 18 and the first person in your family to go to college, how can people absolve the college or the lender of responsibility?”

As Laura Rowly wrote in Is the College Debt Bubble Ready to Explode? (Yahoo Finance, December 2010):

While the housing collapse’s impact was wide-ranging — wreaking havoc on a multitude of industries and market participants — the primary losers in this debacle are the borrowers. Lenders can’t repossess a college degree, and changes to the bankruptcy law in 1984 and 2005 mean borrowers can’t charge off their obligations the way they can shed credit-card, mortgage or even gambling debt when they file for bankruptcy. Just 29 of the 72,000 borrowers in bankruptcy in 2008 were able to prove ‘undue hardship’ and have their student loans discharged. 

In Canada (and in many other countries), these debts can be eliminated in bankruptcy, and that has not damaged the country’s financial viability. 

But, that said, an undergraduate degree is the bare minimum needed for any kind of success in the New Normal, or you risk making 25% less in real money than your non-college-degreed parents did.  Tamara Draut of Demos spelled this out succinctly recently on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker:

As reported on Canadian national TV news this week, students in Canada are up in arms about the latest hike in tuition fees: Statistics Canada said the average annual tuition fee for undergraduate students is $5,366 for 2011-12, up 4.3% from last year.  Most students in the US would love that “increase.” Canadian undergrad tuition is already about 1/2 of what the average public US state school charges for an in-state resident. Many US tuitions have spiked upwards of 30% year to year (source: Public college tuitions spike 15%, even 30%: CNN). Of course, average US private universities’ tuitions are often much higher.

Most US student debt has not been acquired by mature professionally-employed business students who likely have more financial capability to pay it off, and which make up much of the WGU student body.  Most is held by young people who believed (and were told by Washington in the last decade) that the good life will go on forever and that they needed a university education to succeed in life.  Many students at WGU are pursuing a teaching degree (albeit at around $6,000 per year, a bargain in the US); those students will graduate:

  1. with the worst job prospects for teachers ever seen and,
  2. pursuing one of the lowest-paid professions in the US even during the best of times.

How many of these WGU-educated teachers (or teachers without jobs) have a lot of school debt, I wonder, or will have trouble paying it off on their meager salaries if and when they find a job? As one alumnus pointed out, there are some programs in place for all or some student debt forgiveness when they meet certain conditions, such as agreeing to spend several years teaching in a certain demographic.  But “teaching in a certain demographic” might require the purchase of a bulletproof vest.

Now, students that started attending university prior to the recession have graduated, are woefully underemployed, perhaps flipping burgers, with their bachelor or masters degrees (if they’re working at all), and this reality will continue for perhaps a decade (if you listen to economists, and not Washington).  The last recession never really ended.  This is like no other in US history.  With real estate in the toilet for the next decade (see: Japan), along with high employment expected for the long term, jolts are needed for the economy to even begin to attempt a recovery.

Higher education, like real estate and infrastructure, has been mismanaged in America for 2 decades or more. It’s nothing a Band-Aid will fix. It, like many things, needs to be completely gutted and started anew.

One alumnus mused:

“Why is it OK for my graduate federal student loans to be at a 6.8% when my car loan is at 2%? Sure, they can repossess the car, but isn’t my education and potential a guarantee I should be able to pay, therefore allowing me to get a decent rate? You would think so…”  Yes, you would. “All I am saying is that if corporations and the super rich are spared tax hikes because supposedly they boost the economy, all of us middle class idiots who took student loans at insane rates should be given a break, either through tax breaks or reduced interest rates. We are the ones supporting the economy, and not the rich. All that they do is get richer on our backs.”

The US economy needs a reset, and reducing or eliminating student loans for the middle class should arguably be part of that. High tuitions and the resulting student loans are dragging down the newly-educated or re-educated people who will drive the New Economy.  This same group of young people, and out-of-work professionals, are in a real Depression.  Not a downturn.  Not a recession.  One doesn’t need to look very far to find commentary on “depression-like” symptoms affecting formerly vibrant parts of the middle class, which are quickly joining the poverty ranks: “Depression-era levels of employment” affecting the young without a bachelor degree, and blue-collar workers losing their livelihoods.

This is a Depression, but not in the same sense as it was in the 1930s, just like this globally-interweaved economy is very different from it was during the Great Depression.  Economists will tell you this extended downturn is like no other in history, that what worked before to fix things won’t work now, and the poverty levels are increasing by former members of the middle class joining the ranks of impoverished.  I suspect we will see a series of economic recessions this decade followed by slight but non-sustaining upticks.  The US is in for a long, slow slog through a Sargasso Sea of an extended recessionary period of a decade or longer unless there is real structural change unseen in modern times… Change that Washington is unwilling or unable to make, partially due to the system of government.

The private sector is not creating jobs. US-based multinational corporations are holding onto their immense profits and spending only where there is potential growth; i.e. not America.  Small business is not spending.  Consumers are not consuming; in fact, they are deleveraging.  American companies will not bring jobs back here, period, unless there is renewed demand.  Publicly-traded companies don’t work for Americans. They work for shareholders.  So, they will go where demand is being generated.  There has been zero net job growth here in a decade.  Poverty is increasing, and alarmingly among children and young adults.

We are spending twice as much per student in public school than we did in the 70s (adjusted for inflation), but our students and workforce are dumber. There are fewer high school and university graduates. SAT scores continue to deteriorate.

That America of yesteryear is over. Unregulated capitalism killed it.  Stick a fork in it.

Fundamental changes in America need to be made, in education, in everything. Government gridlock is not helping. And there is no way for it to get things done in this emergency.  Unlike the British parliamentary system where one guy can effectively call the shots (or get booted out in the next election if he screws up), the US political system is really not suited for emergencies.  And, boy, have we got one.

The reset button needs to be pushed. America: Control-ALT-Delete.  Things need to be paid for: the new Medicare drug plan (a GOP idea brought in under George W. Bush) is not funded.  The global military presence is not funded.  The $8 billion per year TSA is not funded.  All take money from the general fund, and combined, add extensively to the deficit each year. So, why shouldn’t education be made affordable via federal support? It’s a pittance compared to those other unfunded programs.

What I find to be worrisome, and that others around the world roll their eyes skyward about, is that Americans want unsustainable low taxes and lots of benefits.  US taxes are effectively at their lowest in 60 years.  But, you get what you pay for: dramatically increasing university tuitions, quickly disintegrating infrastructure, deteriorating public education (and schools), competing countries building high-speed rail and better highways and ports that attract businesses, almost no state-industry R&D partnerships (as in Germany, which is today figuring out the next generations of technology, as they know the Chinese will be copying our current state of-the-art-stuff), and a myriad of others that only increased taxes can fund. Brazil is building the biggest port on the planet to trade with, yes, China.

State-provided education, or where it is at least been made affordable by state involvement, has proven to be a huge positive for the ongoing health of western societies where it is available… just like the collection of enough taxes to maintain and improve infrastructure keeps a country viable.  The US is nowhere near that today.  It will take $2 Trillion (with a T) to simply fix what we have today — stuff we should have been maintaining all along with higher taxes.

The first step is to eliminate debt for people the least able to afford it.  Perhaps not, as the petitioners want, to eliminate it all for everyone.  But reduce it to a manageable amount, or delay it — with no interest added — until affected people are back at work,  making a living wage and are able to pay.  Perhaps use the average in-state public university’s tuition as a baseline to financially help only those who elected to go to accredited universities.  Got suckered by an expensive for-profit university’s salesperson, went out-of-state or to a pricey Ivy League college with $200K of debt? Then the government will help you only up to that in-state benchmark and no more.  All this would be a first step in overhauling education to an affordable level.  If WGU can do it for $3,000 per semester, get Bill and Melinda Gates’ blessing and funding, and provide a rigorous learning environment, why can’t others make education affordable and effective, too?

Moody’s says that expensive colleges will burden American students for decades, while not attending at all will hurt US’ competitiveness.  The answer, to anyone who can operate a $5 calculator, is much cheaper and effective tuition that is currently not widely available anywhere in the country.

At the very least, the government must again make student debt dischargeable in bankruptcy and not confiscate Social Security, salaries and other benefits from those who can least afford it.  The government created much of this mess due to no or lax regulation.  The government must clean it up.

UPDATE November 29, 2012: The Economist writes in its December 1 article Not What It Used To Be: American universities represent declining value for money to their students:

There is growing anxiety in America about higher education. A degree has always been considered the key to a good job. But rising fees and increasing student debt, combined with shrinking financial and educational returns, are undermining at least the perception that university is a good investment.

The Economist article is certainly worth reading.

UPDATE May 18, 2013: The evidence that the $Trillion+ outstanding student loan bill is dragging the US economy down mounts. This from the May 12 NY Times: “Student Debt and the Crushing of the American Dream” 

The crisis that is about to break out involves student debt and how we finance higher education. Like the housing crisis that preceded it, this crisis is intimately connected to America’s soaring inequality, and how, as Americans on the bottom rungs of the ladder strive to climb up, they are inevitably pulled down — some to a point even lower than where they began.

UPDATE February 2, 2014: CNBC calls the accelerating $1.2 Trillion of outstanding debt a “Bubble Ready To Pop:”

With the $1.2 trillion student loan crisis accelerating, President Barack Obama gave a nod in his State of the Union speech to the millions of young Americans starting their adult lives in crushing debt but offered no new proposals for relief… Although the economy has been improving, the student loan situation keeps getting worse, exacerbated by skyrocketing tuition and still-high youth unemployment. Outstanding student loans have approached $1.2 trillion, according to a May 2013 estimate by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, up from about $1 trillion at the end of 2011.

We are obviously heading down a disastrous road that many in America’s capital identified years ago. If I, a marketing guy and part-time blog scribbler, saw the oncoming train light in tunnel almost two years ago, they did, too.  Just as they did prior to the Great Contraction, both Democrats and Republicans are sitting on their hands.


Why are expat Canucks thought of as “less than Canadian” when we return home, especially professionally?

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Michael Ignatieff wonders the same thing.


There are 2,800,000 Canadians living abroad — 9 percent of Canada’s population — and more of those live in the USA than in any other country.

Expatriate “global” Canucks like me are just as Canadian as the guy who lived in Moose Jaw all his life, and perhaps more so, as many proudly wear our Maple Leaf on our sleeves abroad, cheer on Team Canada from Atlanta, London or Tokyo, seek out Canada Day celebrations in New York or Moscow to simply be around other Canadians if only for a few hours (and say “eh!” without people looking at us strangely), and often are Canada’s unofficial ambassadors in foreign lands. We have also seen Canada — and Canadian business — from afar in a way someone living inside the borders may not be able to.

Expat Canadians are seven times more likely than those in Canada to have a professional or doctoral degree and more than twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree; I left Canada “glass ceilinged” in my career, with only a high school education and received both my B. Sc. in Marketing (a “Honours B. Comm” in Canadianese) and MBA in Management & Strategy south of the border. Just as with my profession where I received an excellent trial-by-fire on the job education from the intense competitive environment in the US, I had more formal educational opportunities in that much more populous country. However, my “Canadianism” has helped me immensely during that career — my typically conservative and socially responsible Canadian business upbringing coupled with my learned rough and tumble American capitalism capabilities bring an “added value” for my employers not available from a born and bred American who only knows that country, or a Canadian who stayed in the Great White North. Many expats are adaptive hybrids of the countries they’ve lived and worked in, so should be highly valued, whether in business or politics. Or, so you’d think.

Whether you like him and his politics or not, former national Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff makes an excellent point in his June 29 Globe & Mail column: Many Canadians who never left the country — and Canadian companies — wonder “Why would anyone come home, unless you were in it just for yourself?” For an expat, this is a puzzling and disquieting attitude. For readers not in Canada, Ignatieff was successfully painted by the opposition Conservatives of being someone coming home from a life outside Canada at Harvard and in the United Kingdom only to further his career. He was never able to overcome this stigma, deserved or not.

When we expats left, we simply were curious about life outside our borders, or were handed a professional opportunity that we could not refuse. Others may have had a wanderlust, or were just young and “bulletproof” and thought they’d like to see if they could conquer the world instead of comfortably staying close to home while getting a job at the Ford plant. Me? I won a green card in a US government visa lottery I entered on a whim and forgot about for 2 years until I got a letter in the mail from Uncle Sam. Even then, I threw the invitation in the drawer for about a year until a month before it expired, and when I realized that damned glass ceiling was going to keep hitting me in the head I decided to throw caution to the wind and headed south. Some of us, like I did in the USA, received a foreign citizenship to accompany our Canadian one, as it simply made life easier. Personally, I would never give up my Canadian passport; the thought of American citizenship never crossed my mind until I learned that Canada wouldn’t strip me of citizenship if I obtained citizenship in the US.

Expats who return to Canada after 10 or 15 years away mostly want just that: to go home after we experienced life beyond the country’s borders, or got an education and/or professional success not available to us in Canada.  As one very accomplished but frustrated, jobless expat, who spent successful years in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, recently wrote on her blog “all too often, these same people are met with ignorance and disinterest, or worse, suspicion and thinly disguised resentment, making it hard to re-integrate into Canadian society. A job candidate is now perceived as a threat or as someone ‘unable to commit’ instead of an asset. Such narrow-mindedness on the part of employers compounds the already difficult challenge of finding work.” She plans to head back to Europe as soon as her family obligations that brought her back to Canada are no longer an issue. And that’s a shame.

Too often, returning Canadian expats are stymied in their professional aspirations, almost like being immigrants in their own country. Many simply give up and leave forever after 6 months or a year of fruitless searching for a career position, disappointed and frustrated. Why are we thought of as something else, something not quite Canadian or an interloper of some sort, when we only wish to return home and bring our global experience with us to, perhaps, improve the country or our new company? As Ignatieff wrote in an email to me concerning this article: “It can hurt to come ‘home’ and be treated as if you were a stranger.”

On average, Canadian companies are known to be risk averse — many of them to a fault — which negatively affects the country’s productivity according to professional services firm Deloitte in a June 2011 report; it says Canada must expand beyond its resource base to ensure and enhance the level of prosperity enjoyed today, and the country has a very short window to take advantage before the US stabilizes — and it will. The majority of US companies, on the other hand, are known for the complete opposite, and have often come out on top due to that risk-taking mantra.

Canadian companies — dismally behind the US in risk-taking by 18% according to Deloitte, and achieving only 70% of that country’s productivity rate largely due to lower corporate investments in training, machinery and research and development — could arguably use at least a small injection of that “risk tolerance” skill set that a successful expat brings in spades. Canada’s complacency and obsession with less productive work without corporate-driven innovation is self-defeating, argues Queen’s University’s Don Drummond in Confessions of a Serial Productivity Researcher.” Drummond should know; he was Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist at TD Bank from 1978-2000. Back then, he blamed much of the country’s productivity failings on public policy and not industry but has recently dramatically changed his tune.

Ignatieff is spot-on when he writes: “Young Canadians know which way the world is going, and they want to be out there, at the heart of the action. They are thinking about what a good life looks like and they know a good life might take them beyond our borders. Some won’t come home again, but others will, because they realize being away made them more Canadian, not less.”  Expats like me — and my 2.8 million friends — were simply years ahead of the curve.

To Canadian employers: inject some new blood and global thinking into your company. Look closely at a returning Canadian with international experience who’s lived in the same markets you need to sell into. Your bottom line will thank you, especially since economists agree that Canada must venture globally — and certainly not only inwardly and south of the 49th Parallel — or risk future economic stagnation or disaster.

If nothing else, don’t punish us for our worldly travels and points of view. The vast majority of us are not “Canadians of convenience” who carry the passport solely for the socialized medical care.  We are, simply, Canadians.

Article chosen as a  KeatsConn  Best of the Web

Customer loyalty is not gained from your Facebook page or Tweets. Or surveys.

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I attended an American Marketing Association session on “Tribal Voices – Marketing To and Through our Most Loyal Customers” on May 12 in Toronto.

It was a good session, although social network marketing received much more attention that it possibly deserved for this topic (as seems to occur every time marketers gather nowadays).  It took up about 70% of the session.  It’s inevitable: if marketers are at lunch mulling over the menu, we suddenly start talking FaceBook and Twitter.  Perhaps, it’s just sexier than what has been working well for decades.  Or, perhaps, we’re not so sure about the whole thing, so it’s more of a brag and moan, or perhaps fishing, session than a solid marketing discussion.

I was hoping there would have been more discussion concerning, as the session title suggested, utilizing a company’s most loyal customers to sell to new customers, rather than just nurturing the relationship with them.  Marketers got together at 8:00 AM, and social media marketing again became the arguably undeserved centerpiece of conversation, when in fact most companies are stabbing in the dark with a dull stick when attempting social media marketing.  Douglas Karr of the Marketing Tech Blog wrote an excellent piece on why Social Media Marketing is Failing.

As Karr points out, companies must already be social before entering social network marketing, which was not emphasized at the session.  Inviting a conversation can do more harm than good if the company does not respond, hides, or tries to spin.  Relevant cases:

  • Microsoft with their new Mac Office 2011.  The company has an official forum, but no Microsoft company employee ever says anything. There are apparently freelancers that semi-moderate, but their technical knowledge is lacking.  Compared to what I heard from Microsoft about Xbox marketing at the session, there is obviously is a huge difference in underwhelming social marketing efforts for the Mac business crowd compared to Microsoft’s major investment in the XBox community.
  • Skype, prior to being gobbled up by Redmond, recently launched a new version for Mac, which is simply awful.  The company forums were full of disgruntled users, and it took the company forever to respond with anything concrete (as in restoring the old version download).  To this day, it has not been forthcoming with plans on how to placate Mac users, although it has posted some wonderful “corporatespeak” on the forum.

Too many tech companies have social forums (Skype, QNAP, Roxio, Apple, Microsoft, etc. in my recent experience), but have pretty much abandoned them to users and with no corporate input, or (ouch!) they just delete threads they don’t like.  Users even point this out, as in “does the company even read this stuff??” when a major problem or bug is discussed.

I heard a lot on May 12 about “we ask our customers if they’d recommend us.”  Frankly, that means next to nothing, as has been proven when a better mousetrap is invented and (to mix metaphors) customers jump ship to the surprise of company execs who thought these surveyed customers were “loyal.”  The real question, from my experience, is “would you recommend us and remain with us if something else came along that was very similar in price and benefits?”

Many marketers are guilty of thinking social networking is some sort of magic pill.  Email had the same cachet a few years ago.  No panelist at the Tribal Voices session said that social media and email are likely of value mostly in retention/loyalty, and much less so for acquisition, which is the reality.  In fact, social media marketing is failing more than succeeding, and is costing companies a lot of money and resources, mainly because most companies never embraced a 2-way conversation with customers to begin with.  Without doing that, the effort is likely doomed to fail.  Social media is an amplifier of your company culture and customer centricity (or lack of it), not a panacea.

Some of the biggest, best ways to get current customers to bring in dollars from new customers are boring, long in the tooth, and much less sexy than social media (and often much more measurable for ROI):

  • testimonials.
  • taking better care of the best 80/20 customers via special phone numbers, websites, etc., without dropping quality care of “typical customers.”
  • loyalty programs that the bean counters can’t control, diminish or change… And that customers value unlike many of the programs out there currently.
  • providing real value.
  • delivering excellence at every customer touch point.
  • old-fashioned ‘word-of-mouth’.

Unfortunately, these still-effective less-sexy traditional efforts really were not talked about much at the Verity Club that morning, and hardly ever are anymore.  Anywhere.  Even though these methods remain as the bread and butter of customer loyalty.


LinkedOut?? LinkedIn Starts Digging Its Own Grave

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Removal of functionality significantly reduces service’s value for majority of users.

Apparently, LinkedIn’s new slogan adopted yesterday is: “Your Business Anti-Social Network.”

Once upon a time, LinkedIn was all about business networking, whether or not you could afford its pricey premium service (which only recruiters or HR people seemed to buy).  It was perfect if you simply wished to use a social media service that was more business oriented than Facebook or where you could connect with folks formerly found in your Rolodex.  For me, my public face is LinkedIn, while my Facebook account is hidden under a rock, right next to my “me wearing lampshade at party” snapshots. Basic users still had to look at advertisements, just like Facebook.  It also developed communities, where volunteers or trade groups established virtual meeting places for like-minded professionals where they could exchange messages like business cards at an after-work networking gathering.  Or, someone could reach out to these communities and ask for advice, and then perhaps follow up directly with the member giving the advice by clicking “send a message” on his or her profile.  These communities (or “Groups”) also attracted many people to LinkedIn who would otherwise never consider joining.

The huge amount of Basic users made LinkedIn lots of money by it becoming one of the premier job posting sites, and made these users ideal targets for advertising.  Now, that reality, usefulness and capability is diminishing every day.  The company is now, seemingly, attempting to drive that important base of Basic users away by requiring them to pay for something they had received for free for years: messaging to Group members.  The cheapest Premium monthly membership is $25 and provides only 3 “InMails.”  According to an email I received from LinkedIn, the company only “allows you to take a group conversation and move it to a private one… but we did remove the link from the profile.”  Group memberships have helped a myriad of job hunters ask a question of the hiring manager, or someone close, or simply ask if he or she received the email, and not rely on the Black Hole of HR.  According to the email, we can only “reply privately” by “clicking under the member’s comment within a group discussion.”  So, there’s no more networking with people unless they say something. The only method of free messaging remaining is going through somebody who knows somebody, or might know somebody, and hoping Kevin Bacon forwards it.  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.  I think that worked twice for me in 5 years.

There has been quite a bit of talk about a forthcoming LinkedIn IPO (initial public offering).  Before that even gets out of the gate, LinkedIn has starting slicing at its nose to spite its face.  LinkedIn’s most recent profitable year was 2005, and is projecting another loss this year.  So, is that what is driving the latest moves?  Implementing the charging of users for any usable information or connecting with other members may not be too far off.  If you read BNET’s “Hey, LinkedIn: Where Did Those Profitable Years Go? January 28 story, you might be thinking the same things I am.  Only a bean counter would promote ideas that disenfranchise members, but that is exactly what LinkedIn is doing.

LinkedIn has been built by its members.  There is no LinkedIn content whatsoever; it’s all been written by members, and mostly Basic members.  That leads to another question: if it can’t make money without paying for content, then will it ever?

I’m wondering if potential investors will be as excited if they realized LinkedIn is removing functionality and is heading towards a completely paid model that will simply chase away the vast majority of users, as Ecademy did years ago.  Once Basic users abandon the site, the usefulness of the service to Premium members and value to advertisers will quickly erode. CEO Jeff Weiner may soon be looking for another job. He was EVP at Yahoo, and apparently helped drive that company into mediocrity.

As of yesterday, members of groups can no longer message other members without buying a premium membership.  Members cannot even contact the group owner for free! I often did that to report spammers; now, the spammers can take over.  Messaging to fellow Group members was present from Day One, and could be controlled by users if they didn’t want to receive such messages.  This ill-advised decision changes the usefulness for many, many members, including me.  Along with being an obvious attempt at a money grab, this is a huge blow to job seekers and small business people who use the site for business development. I, for one, have added many people to my network from introductions received (and a few sent) via groups. Now, these groups are close to meaningless.

Previously, I could send a message to almost everyone in any group I belonged to, except for the very few people who had that function turned off. The gold box for group members had previously read “send a message.”  Now, the only option is to ask the member to become part of your network.  Since people should think of their network as something that reflects on themselves (as goes the LinkedIn corporate gospel), becoming part of someone’s network is usually not that easy.  Personally, I am quite selective.  So, using that button is not the answer.

UPDATE December 6, 2012: LinkedIn apparently, and very quietly, restored this functionality at some point, but it is hidden. You must go to the group, then the list of group members. Off to the right side beside their names you’ll see “Connect” or “Send a Message.” Beats me why this is not on profile pages if both members share a group.

Also, a few weeks ago, the last names of people found in searches were truncated to just initials.  Another recent change: many groups converted to being “open,” which only resulted in many being havens for spam.  What’s next?

While researching this blog entry, I discovered that group managers have been barred from accessing their members’ email addresses, which is ridiculous.  Again, this suggests that LinkedIn will be forcing the paid model: if group managers don’t have access to this information, they will not be able to take their member list elsewhere. addresses that here: LinkedIn Groups and Shooting Yourself in the Foot.

You may also be interested in this result of a new poll now under way: 87% of LinkedIn users will stop using the service if forced to pay.  See the poll here: (accessible when logged into LinkedIn); a summary is below.

As one voter on the poll commented: “The value of Linked In is inextricably linked to the breadth of the user base. Surely creating a walled/paid for environment will ultimately limit the reach and, in turn, devalue their offering.”

Another extremely valid comment left by a voter: “Anyone going for the paid-subscription model for a social networking site has little common sense, and even less understanding of how fickle Internet users are… It would take Facebook a few weeks to come up with a valid alternative using their existing customer base and then hey presto, goodbye Linkedin.” Actually, I thought the same thing about Facebook while writing this article.  They’d love for LinkedIn to fall on its face so they could pick up the pieces.

LinkedIn may well be the next meaningless MySpace.

Let’s hope this isn’t true.  C’mon LinkedIn, open things up again to prove I’m reading my tea leaves wrong.

UPDATE March 3, 2011: Apparently, I’ve been reading the tea leaves just fine.  Users today are getting incensed that LinkedIn is now, as of March 2, barring any Basic user from seeing more than 10 or 15 of their last incoming or outgoing messages without getting out their credit cards.  LinkedIn is now pretty much useless, except as a database for recruiters.

UPDATE March 23, 2011: LinkedIn seems to have backed off its requirement that members pay to see older messages, perhaps due to an outcry.  The banner that blocked these messages has been removed.  Unfortunately, the other restrictions remain.


Web Marketing: How to chase away customers using your website

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Toronto is a big city with multiple telephone area codes.  Someone came up with a great idea that makes a 7-digit phone number work in all these area codes.  Wonderful idea, but it is amazing how some marketers can even screw up simplicity.  Apparently, this system only works from landline phones, not cellular, and not phones from outside the geographic area (such as someone using their US cell phone in Toronto, um, like me).  Oops.  I guess this would work… if this was 1985.  So, I got a little peckish last night and wanted to call to order a pizza from the closest pizza place.  This is what I encountered:

“From a land line”?? Are they serious?  You guessed right: calling using my Toronto cell phone didn’t work.  There’s no area code or alternate number to try to call via “regular” dialling with an area code prefix.  Their “contact us” page includes only the corporate 9-5 Monday to Friday phone number.

Apparently, this company doesn’t want to be bothered dealing with the generations and hundreds of thousands of consumers who are dumping landline phones as fast as people bailing water out of a leaky lifeboat.  There’s lots of pizza companies out there.  Please come to the kitchen prepared.

Oops Part 2:  The title of all their pages says “Order Pizza Online.”  Except you can’t order online.

I was finally able to locate the local pizzeria phone number on the “locations” page, but that was so graphically intense with maps, that it took much too long to load over a 6 MB/second DSL line.  Because some wannabe web designer thought it would be cool to load Google Maps for all 26 locations on the same page instead of quick-loading thumbnails tied to a Google Map popup.  And, if you leave the location page and then go back to it, get ready to wait another long time for the whole thing to load again.  I shudder at the page load time for folks using cheaper and slower Internet service.

This ain’t rocket science.  But, for some marketers, shooting oneself in the foot is just too easy.  Sigh.