It all started with a tweet from @umassvdc Umass Boston's Venture Development Center.
@umassvdc "Dear Boston, you are creating way too many tech jobs. Please slow down while your universities catch up preparing workers. Thanks."
We should have fewer jobs? Given Boston's unemployment rate is still 6.9% and a recent survey reported in the Boston Globe indicated that job growth was not as good in 2011 as first reported, I think a State Institution like Umass Boston's Venture Development Center should be helping to promote jobs in the region by fostering innovation, not discouraging job growth.
At first I thought I was being overly sensitive, but I asked the folks at VDC were they kidding, apparently not from their reply.
@UmassVDC "3,772 tech jobs open in Boston Metro Area, +10% over last year. Shocking failure to prepare workers for innovation economy jobs."
If you look at the main flow of tweets on @UmassVDC the original tweet no longer appears. However, it was retweeted by someone else and the tweet was in my conversation with the VDC Twitter account. So I'm not sure but it may have been deleted but the tweet is still available on the web anyway.
Given the rest of the dialogue, and this retweet:
"@umassvdc @universalhub Boston should bring back happy hour. A lot of tech workers (like me) moved west b/c CA is more fun"
The person who runs the account appears to think job growth, attracting entrepreneurs to MA, and the state of the economy in Boston is one big joke. While that might be okay for the average start-up founder, tweeting this from a State organization like the University of Massachusetts seems to indicate the person wasn't really thinking about who they are representing.
More Opinion On Discouraging Job Growth In Boston
Adam at UniversalHub covers the discussion.
And on Twitter stated, "And to be honest, I'm shocked somebody's complaining Boston is creating *too many* jobs." I liked Adam's question, should Boston be sending jobs to California?
I asked my State Senator, Will Brownsberger, about the the issue:
"There is a lot of recognition of the importance of the innovation sector in Boston's economy. Tech job creation benefits the region with a lot of spinoff activity."
George Nikanorov, a marketing blogger, told me the following:
"I think this guy wants to get fired... If anything they should be using this to attract people to come live, work and enjoy Boston, as well as...perhaps start businesses in their VDC? I sense a Personal Branding Flop blog entry coming soon."
Doug Haslam from Voce Communications:
"Wow, that's irresponsible. Even if they were joking. Talk about straying off message (the way a car strays into the wrong lane and off a cliff). It would be easier to shame educational institutions for not preparing students for a glaring need."
Ted Demopoulos from Demopoulos Associates and Author:
I believe what the folks at Umass Boston's Venture Development Center were trying to get across was that there are a lot of open positions, and not enough skilled workers available to fill them. This point about a skills gap was highlighted in several Globe articles including an article about manufacturing in the Bay state.
However, I think what irked me about the tweet exchange between myself and who ever runs the Twitter account at @UmassVDC was after I asked the folks at the Twitter account: Surely you don't mean that you want fewer job openings in Boston? And besides isn't the healthy number of job openings a sign of the Boston economy's strength, there's always going to be certain number of open jobs no matter what state's the economy is in.
Instead of laughing off the original tweet, the person running the Twitter account didn't appear to think their tweet was a joke.
Here was a follow up tweet: @UmassVDC "3,772 tech jobs open in Boston Metro Area, +10% over last year. Shocking failure to prepare workers for innovation economy jobs."
So I tried to connect with them via Twitter, telephone and email. And then I called the UMass Boston PR office. I was told to contact the development center because it wasn't their job to run that particular Twitter account.
Now you may ask: John, why did you try to contact them? Well before putting on my Curmudgeon hat I thought I'd try and talk through these issues with someone at the center to explain why I thought their original tweet was such a failure of communications.
I started the exchange with the @UmassVDC Twitter account on Thursday, and today, Friday, Willam Brah, Director of the Center called me. We chatted, after initially saying the first tweet was a joke, he told me he regreted the center's initial tweet, and he would welcome the chance to explain more about his concerns related to open tech jobs in Boston, and the lack of skills from the candidates. I told him, he was welcome to send me an email, but as of this posting, I have not received anything.
Communications Lessons Learned:
1. This is a tweet, it is short, it doesn't matter. The past few years is littered with examples of insensitive tweets from organizations and celebrities. For a state sponsored organization to suggest we should have fewer jobs in the Boston area strikes me as poor humor, even if it's written in 140 characters.
2. Social conversation. Twitter is a social media technology, there's an opportunity for a conversation. If people disagree, try to jump to more immediately accessible forms of communications. What amazed me about my SNCR.org case study with Frank Eliason formerly of @comcastcares a few years ago was that Frank told me that when ever he connected with detractors he tried to chat with them over the phone as soon as possible. He was able to clear up any misunderstandings much more quickly. It took a day or so, but William Brah did reach out to me, so he and his team get plus marks for being willing to chat about the incident.
3. Cover ups. "If you post something on line it stays there for ever? That's wrong isn't it, I can always delete stuff, right?" Well, I'm not sure but it looks as if the original tweet was deleted from the VDC's Twitter stream. However, I believe you can still see it because it was retweeted and was part of the conversation between myself and the Twitter account. Etiquette in blogging and social media communities is that if you mess up, you don't delete the evidence, especially selectively, that indicates you knew you did something wrong, and are trying to cover it up. And if you delete and don't explain why, an even bigger communications fail.
4. A tempest in a teacup. If you let things linger that teacup may turn into a media storm. I seriously thought the center was making a communications error with this conversation. But there's a wider issue, if the folks at the venture center talk about issues related to jobs and Boston like this, what else are they going to say in the future? I really thought someone without media training was running the Twitter account, and reached out to them to have a back channel discussion. Listen and communicate to detractors even if they don't have a sense of humor.. :-) Otherwise things sometimes escalate beyond your control.
5. Employee Guidelines. Whether its Twitter, blogging or Pinterest we all need some guidance from time to time, whether we are new to corporate social media, a long time blogger, or a grey haired executive with years of media training. Guidelines give us a reminder about what's important in protecting an organization's brand and the individual who uses social media. Seek out help and consult with your community when developing your social media guidelines.