If only privacy was still around Kenny Soto

Fake News, Filter Bubbles, & Data: If Only Privacy Was Still Around

“We are free only insofar as we exercise control over what people know about us, and what circumstances they come to know it.” Timothy Snyder

Thinking about privacy while staring at a screen

Lately, I have seen that online conversations that are supposed to be between two people sometimes get published as screenshots within people’s social media. The context is usually around someone being courted in an ineffective manner through Instagram (it’s commonplace amongst my generation for people to bash on those who “slide into the DMs” and fail miserably). So when I see these screenshots, it makes me wonder: is anything communicated through the internet genuinely private. I could hope that there is something I have online that is only seen and known by a select group of individuals that I choose but, that is a forlorn hope at this point. When I publish anything, whether it’s within a private chat with a family member or on an Instagram account for all the world to see — it’s pretty much guaranteed that other third parties can access that data.

We are growing up in a world where having a tablet at the age of five years old is the norm; the consequences of such consumer behavior yet to be seen. One said result might be that future generations grow up without a sense or a desire to have a private life – privacy may be redefined if not eradicated altogether.

Privacy’s importance is currently dwindling at a pace parallel to the accelerating technological advancements that are occurring every day. And I believe part of that stems from how little we understand what data is. More importantly, the internet is still brand new, and there isn’t a sense of a digital etiquette that’s become embedded within our culture. We are still attempting to figure that out.

When is it appropriate to document a moment?

Let’s start off at the individual level. Any moment that you record and send to a peer could be become harvested and research without your consent nor your knowledge. As we’ve seen with leaked emails of specific political candidates, all systems that house information and data can be penetrated. Everything on the internet has a backdoor — all forms of encryption can eventually be unlocked. Even in the instance that you are sharing messages with someone via Snapchat, as an example, the safety net of getting a notification that the other person took a screenshot is meaningless. Some people simply take pictures of a screen from a separate phone to get around this feature and although rudimentary, it still gets the job done.

Today, one just has to navigate the internet under the assumption that anything sent to another person can be seen by an unknown third party. Because the internet is so new, we have a responsibility to make sure we consider how our actions today build habits for future generations tomorrow. For example, the way in which we tend to normalize certain activities such as, recording a moment and not asking permission to have someone in the video.

To what context do we allow ourselves to be on camera? Should we share live videos of funerals? The birth of a child? Take photos of a child’s life and share them online with friends, family, and strangers to see as they grow up? At what age can they decide not to consent to such documentation—will they even know that their privacy is being replaced for content creation. To what extent do we begin to set boundaries on what we share and don’t share? What are the intimate moments of our lives that we keep outside of the digital world?

We have become our own paparazzi, documenting every meal, special occasion, and amusing facial expression we could think of. And sometimes we include others in these posts, often without even asking them.

Another concern I have is the way data we generate online is extracted and used to manipulate our views of the world. This issue of itself is still new and a lot of us still don’t have a robust understanding of how this manipulation happens to us on a daily basis. An example of how our eroding privacy not only is changing our cultural norms but, also changing how we view the world.

Related: Your Children Will Google You, You’re A Living Time Capsule

The tools for manipulation: social media advertising & filter bubbles

Filter Bubbles And Ad Targeting

Every action we take to navigate a screen is harvested and seen by an unknown party—that’s data. Additionally, we provide all of the data points necessary for marketers and researchers to manipulate our minds. They use cookies and pixels to follow our actions online and harvest as much nuanced information about us as humanly possible. Because of their business models, social media platforms, in particular, need to continue the advancement of their marketing technologies so that marketers keep using them. The more information they can gather on their target audience (that audience being you), the easier it will be to design and get the responses they are seeking.

The desired outcome that all marketers strive for is called a conversion: the desired action of the user used to gather information, some form of monetary value, or both. A conversion could be having you merely fill out a form for a newsletter subscription or filling out a personality quiz to see which Harry Potter school you relate with the most. Due to there being a variety of desired actions being asked of you, from a whole slew of varying publishers and advertisers, social media platforms use a bidding system to determine which advertising units you will see, when, and why.

Aside from how much money one needs to spend to target you, the success of an ad is mainly determined by how much the advertiser can learn from the experiments they are conducting on you. This could simply be figuring out which button color for “click here to learn more” works best for a specific zip code. The ad targeting specs within Facebook, in particular, allow marketers and researchers to learn about any persona’s character traits that can lead to the potential success of any given goal. What’s more concerning isn’t that these targeting options are available to anyone, but that the sophistication of these targeting systems is continuously developed over time and at an accelerating pace.

We all know how Facebook was utilized by the Russians during the 2016 presidential election. I believe this is just a precursor to how future elections will be played out. Those who are aware of how these ad targeting systems work will be able to turn the tides within the political battlefield with more ease than those who rely on methods (however useful they may still be) that were used in the pre-social media days. Those that understand how to leverage the new raw material that is data will be much more equipped for the world we are coming to see over time — a world without any sense of privacy and where all our information is used to manipulate our collective and individual perspectives. Outside of granular targeting and ad testing that marketers can leverage to change public opinion, we also have the issue with filter bubbles to discuss.

[Filter bubbles] are something we can only opt out of, not something we consent to.” Shane Parrish of Farnam Street Blog wrote a piece on how our opinions of the world are often skewed because of how our news feeds cater solely to our interests. On social media, taking Facebook as the prime example, any content we receive from a media outlet has been carefully selected to keep you on the platform for as long as possible. If we lean on the conservative end of the political spectrum, it is highly unlikely that we will see news articles and videos from publications that have dissenting opinions on hot-button topics. The platforms we use to feed us content that is agreeable, ensuring that we have the best experience possible while using them. With the development of such bubbles comes the spread of fake news, often targeted, to further manipulate us. And this content’s effectiveness is maximized because of how much data is being harvested from our use of these platforms.

In a recent interview between Ezra Klien of Vox and Mark Zuckerberg, Mark breaks down how fake news has proliferated through Facebook and his plans to stop it. In its most basic form, fake new is simply propaganda. Author Octavio Paz perfectly encapsulates the definition of propaganda in his book The Labyrinth of Solitude, when he states, “Propaganda spreads incomplete truths, in series and as separate units. absolute truths for the masses.” There are three categories of fake news according to Zuckerberg: spammers, who try to pump their content on the platform with the sole goal of monetization; state actors, such as the Russians who try to influence political thought and election outcomes; media outlets, who disseminate information with varying degrees of trustworthiness. The first two categories seem to be less of an issue with new developments to Facebooks artificial intelligence and security infrastructures. It’s the third category that stirs up much controversy, mainly due to the issue of free speech. According to Mark, “Folks are saying stuff that may be wrong, but they mean it, they think they’re speaking their truth, and do you really wanna shut them down for doing that?” Even if the information isn’t shared with harmful intent, the perpetrator that spreads inaccurate information still has a right to share it amongst their networks. That’s false information you could have consumed yourself in the past twenty-four hours.

We all have a voice on these platforms but, who determines the validity and trustworthiness of what we say? What is the rubric they are using and are they willing to disclose that comprehensively to the public? How do we know the governing bodies on social media are qualified to determine what’s trustworthy? To what degree are we held accountable to do our research on a particular topic, to see all the nuances? Some of us don’t have the time and only read the headlines, leading to the core issue at hand: filter bubbles and fake news may be here to stay because we have yet taken the time to develop the mental tools to combat them. Even with all the technological advancements that Facebook and other organizations are making to protect us, as a populous, we don’t have the education set in place to combat these issues.

In addition to the Russian involvement, it was extremely easy for companies such as Cambridge Analytica to manipulate the masses using Facebook, and I don’t believe they will be the last organization to skew votes during an election. Facebook is now at such a massive scale – with over 2 billion users which does not include owned properties such as Instagram – that their goal of creating a global community is closer to reality than one might think. Another issue Zuckerberg is facing is dealing with is determining what the policies should be for people all around the world. How does one organization protect the privacy and the manipulation of an individual’s data across borders? What can the individual in question do to defend themselves?

Related: There Are No Longer Six Degrees of Separation

Global developments we need to consider

Global Considerations

The most historical moment in Mark Zuckerberg’s career to date has been his recent Senate hearing that occurred in April 2018. It showed just how little our government knows about how social media works. Putting aside their lack of knowledge and Zuckerberg’s performance throughout the hearing, one can see that another thought to consider moving forward isn’t how to protect our privacy but more so, how to prepare ourselves to live in a world without one.

Shoshana Zuboff, a retired Harvard Business School professor, adds insightful commentary on the Senate’s recent hearing of during an Open Source podcast interview. According to Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism was discovered and invented at Google and remains the driving force of Silicon Valley’s growth. Surveillance capitalism is a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance, in this specific case data obtained on social media. “Data is used to research every minutia about you and provide predictive insights into your future actions both online and offline.” We don’t know how this data is being used and we don’t know to what extent the insights that are collected are leveraged to influence our daily decisions. We also cannot predict how this influence into our daily lives will continue to grow shortly once artificial intelligence is integrated into these predictive data crunching systems. The general public does not know what’s really at stake; we are figuring this out as we go along.

Data is a new raw material, in which we are still learning to what extent it is lucrative and to what extent extracting data from people can both benefit our lives and cause damages to them. In response to recent events both in regards to Facebook and other prominent Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Europe, in particular, has taken steps to combat the issues in the tech world with legislation.

There has been a new law passed called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The law requires all internet based companies who handle the data of E.U citizens in particular to, “…be explicit in their efforts to seek consent from consumers before collecting their personal information. Companies also have to give consumers easy access to their own data, and to delete that data if the customer requests it (source: The Washington Post).” Companies are also required to, “…notify users quickly of data breaches when they occur — under the new rules, they have 72 hours to inform the public after a breach is discovered.”

The GDPR provides two changes to a previous law set in place during the 1990s called the 1995 Data Protection Directive. The two changes are as follows, “The first, ostensibly, is universality: a common set of rules and practices that apply across the continent and, it is hoped, the world. The second is enforcement: the capacity for regulators to fine any company in breach of the G.D.P.R. as much as four per cent of its total worldwide sales (source: The New Yorker).” Again, this is largely a response to the global influences that large tech companies such as “the American gafa—the French coinage for Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple,” have on our economies and political landscape.

To what extent this will, in turn, affect the digital lives of Non-European citizens is yet to be seen, there haven’t been many changes to how American companies continue to extract data on US citizens for the means of marketing and research. However, there is hope that other countries will begin to follow suit, “Brazil, Japan and South Korea are set to follow Europe’s lead, with some having already passed similar data protection laws. European officials are encouraging copycats by tying data protection to some trade deals and arguing that a unified global approach is the only way to crimp Silicon Valley’s power (source: The New York Times).” There are signs of change that may occur within the United States as well. According to NYTimes European tech correspondent Adam Satariano, “[A] group of Democratic senators announced a resolution to match G.D.P.R., a sign of how United States policy may change if control of Congress shifts in November.” So for now, one can only hope that legislation can affect (however minimal it may seem) on companies that supply our data to those who wish to harvest it, without telling us what they plan to do with it and why.

So far, what most companies have done in response to this law is merely have more extended privacy policies. Others have decided to block their sites within EU countries. According to Washington Post policy reporter Brian Fung, “Some companies have chosen to go blank in Europe instead of having to comply with the expansive privacy regulations.” The adverse effect this has on general consumers is that we are caught in the middle of a war between those who wish to extract the precious raw material we produce and those who want to protect the very last vestiges our privacy. And if a certain side of the battle wins, a very dystopian future isn’t that far out of reach. In fact, there is already a nation that shows what a world without privacy would look like.

China: A perfect example of the end result

China Privacy

If we don’t begin to take the matter of our digital privacy and education of the digital world seriously, we may end up having our digital landscape influenced to the point that it resembles that of China’s. I use the example of China not only because I’m currently experiencing their digital regulations myself, but also due to how much their influence is growing throughout the globe (seemingly right under the USA’s nose). I first discovered the differences in China’s digital world before I decided to live there, when I read an article from Wired maize titled, “Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens.”

I have been somewhat familiar with the term Big Data for a little over a year now, understanding that it’s the emergence of large pools of information that can teach us things about people at a massive and unprecedented scale. What I didn’t know until relatively recently, is how big data can be used for the governance of a nation. China’s political and social landscape has its differences from the Western world due to the sheer size of its population, among other historical developments (i.e., The Great Leap Forward, The Cultural Revolution, and it’s relations to foreign powers such as England and Japan). Like all nations, China’s unique governance structure is needed because of the unique issues it has to face. How does a government help keep 1.3 billion people in order? How does it ensure the people’s happiness and harmony? Harmony being the operative word in question, China’s answer to this begins with the use of creating a social credit system that rates its citizens on their overall trustworthiness. This system can be seen as akin to the rubric Facebook is implementing to grade the integrity of media outlets on its platform.

China can implement such a futuristicdystopian system for a variety of reasons. One of the primary ones being that people can adapt rather quickly — being spied upon continuously doesn’t have negative connotations once it’s normalized. The Chinese government has allowed eight privately owned organizations to contribute to a pilot scheme utilizing their systems and algorithms, which will be used for testing before mass implementation in 2020. Two of the eight companies are China Rapid Finance, who helped develop the social networking app WeChat (an image of the platform can be seen above) which has 850 million active users and Sesame Credit, ran by Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), an affiliate company of Alibaba and is the developer of Alipay. Both companies are big-data behemoths, with the ability to process large amounts of information at blazing speeds – which is precisely what a government would need to monitor its constituents. These apps are used to pay for almost anything, from car loans to electricity bills and all of that data is stored and parsed on a consistent basis. Nothing is left to chance, all of your actions, if you are a citizen or even a resident within China, can be and is being tracked.

The primary use of the system isn’t only to monitor China’s citizens. The primary function of the system is to slowly influence China’s citizens into conducting themselves as the ideal citizen, an ideal that is determined by the government. “So the system not only investigates behavior – it shapes it. It ‘nudges’ citizens away from purchases and behaviors the government does not like.” In addition, your friend’s and family’s scores affect your own and vice versa, so there is social pressure easily embedded into the system, “…instead of trying to enforce stability or conformity with a big stick and a good dose of top-down fear, the government is attempting to make obedience feel like gaming…your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.”

With the gamification of such a system, it will ultimately lead to its normalization. China’s citizens are already used to having no sense of privacy, so being rated on their every digital action will not cause as much uproar as one may hope. Within the credit system, citizens are rated on the following: their credit history, their ability to fulfill contract obligations, the ability to have verifiable information, their online behavior, and their social circle. The products one buys, the people they spend time with, and how often they pay their bills on time all affect their overall score. With the utilization of big data, this isn’t only possible in China – other developing countries that may feel inclined to follow in China’s footsteps may create similar systems. One could make the argument that the Chinese government understands Surveillance Capitalism even more so than Silicon Valley and the Europe Union. Perhaps that is why the EU is taking preemptive measures to make sure the spread of similar surveillance systems doesn’t proliferate outside of China. The reason why I’ve mentioned Facebook so much in this article is that the company has also taken measures to establish relationships with China.

In a recent New York Times article written by Michael LaForgia and Gabriel J.X. Dance, there has been a recent discovery that, “Facebook in recent years has quietly sought to re-establish itself [within China]. The company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has tried to cultivate a relationship with China’s president, Xi Jinping, and put in an appearance at one of the country’s top universities.” And all of this has been occurring since the social platform was banned in 2009. Both the leaders of China and Facebook could benefit greatly from working and learning together. Facebook in itself could be considered a digital sovereign nation with the number of people it needs to monitor on a daily basis. Certainly, other nations such as Russia and Turkey may see a system such as this to benefit their regimes. I wouldn’t put it past China to find a way to “package” the system and sell it to the highest bidders. Could one speculate that part of governance in the modern era is the ability to efficiently monitor? I only ask these questions to put into debate our current lack of education when it comes to how data is being used on a daily basis.

Part of the issue isn’t only those who use our data; we are also part of the problem. The public needs to be exposed to the issues of data manipulation and digital privacy. We must seek knowledge of how data is used. Without this knowledge, we won’t become privy to how our data is used to move markets and minds.

Questions to think about

How can we set systems in place to educate the generations who use the internet the most? How can we prepare them to think about data as an extension of themselves and not something far removed from their lives? What is proper online etiquette and how do we form thoughtful discussions about it? To what end do we sacrifice our privacy for the sake of optimized user experience?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves now, to better ensure a future in which the individual and the state continue to have proper boundaries. A future in which people still have a semblance of freedom of privacy and where we aren’t being censored on a daily basis, whether in an obvious manner or covertly. And the protection of this ideal future begins with the education about the digital world and how our data is being collected and used.

Subscribe to my newsletter for more articles like this one: eepurl.com/by4v59

Works Cited

  1. Snyder, Timothy “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century.” Page 88, Tim Duggan Books, Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.
  2. Paz, Octavio “The Labyrinth of Solitude” Page 68, Grove Press, Inc, 1985.
  3. How Filter Bubbles Distort Reality: Everything You Need to Know
  4. Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s hardest year, and what comes next
  5. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’
  6. G.D.P.R., a New Privacy Law, Makes Europe World’s Leading Tech Watchdog
  7. The G.D.P.R., Europe’s New Privacy Law, and the Future of the Global Data Economy
  8. Why you’re getting flooded with privacy notifications in your email
  9. Facebook & the Reign of Surveillance Capitalism
  10. Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens
  11. Facebook Gave Data Access to Chinese Firm Flagged by U.S. Intelligence
  12. China’s trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade
  13. Does China’s Digital Police State Have Echoes in the West?
  14. The Great Firewall of China: Background
Surviving As A College Grad Isnt Impossible Kenny Soto

Surviving As A College Grad Isn’t Impossible, Right?

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” — Jerzy Gregorek

 

What I wish I knew before graduating college

It happens once every year. Parents full of tears and hope for their children; professors, college administrators, faculty, and staff watch as young and hopeful students ascend from their 4-5 year journey from academia into the professional world.

With a promise of new opportunities and fulfilling their dreams and aspirations, graduates look forward to their future adult lives. However, as they are thrusted into the market and entrusted to be responsible young adults – some look to the future with unease. An anxiety creeps in as a realization occurs, “I am no longer a student. I’m an adult now.”

I never self-identified with the term millennial until I graduated college. Being placed into a category that’s often looked down upon didn’t jibe well with me. Now that it has been two years since I’ve graduated, I’ve had more time to think about why so many people my age are suffering from huge amounts of stress and angst.

Having taken the time to discuss the issue of life after college with recent grads, I’ve found that the general sentiment the majority of us feel is, none of us really know what we’re doing when we are starting our careers.

This realization is reassuring only in the fact that we are all going through this struggle together, regardless of the varying degrees of internal strife we may feel. Some get past this hurdle faster than others, some hide their angst better than others, and others try to espouse a nonchalant approach towards their future considering how much time we have to “figure it out.”

I’ve been pursuing some reasonable approach that I could use to tackle the issues at hand, with little luck. I find that trying to create a solid identity, one that really encompasses my passions and allows me to truly have an impact on society, to be utterly difficult to accomplish.

“Advice taken from the past doesn’t always relate to the new and unique challenges that our generation is facing today.”

For seventeen years of my life I have identified as a student. Now that this is no longer the case, I like many of my peers alongside me have to figure out what to is my identity. Moreover, we find ourselves in a position in which, for the most part, we’ve never experienced before.

We have new responsibilities, with no manuals available to help us navigate the new world we are entering. Advice made taken the past doesn’t always relate to the new and unique challenges that our generation is facing today. Both the domestic and global job marketplace is constantly changing. Job security is a thing of the past and yet, for the most part, we have been taught in a way that helps us navigate the markets of the 20th century.

No one will make your schedule for us, there are no handouts, and we all have to assume our own responsibilities. It’s more than just identifying with a profession.

Understanding fully well that a career isn’t built in a day, there still seems to be this unspoken pressure from so many places. Perhaps this pressure I personally feel could be coming from the fact that I’m a first generation American. I’m certain that I’m not the only one who has a unique “chip on their shoulder.” Whether it’s from your parents, social circle, society – the pressure won’t go away. However, the pressure that should take priority is the pressure we give ourselves to succeed and find happiness in a way that we define.

 

Related: 5 Tips To Use When Surviving Life After College

 

Finding a dream job vs. your place in life

It’s easy to settle for the first comfortable job that comes your way during your first six months after graduating. Your parents stress the fact that you need to start contributing to the household. Or if you live on your own, you need to keep maintaining the lifestyle you’re building for yourself. There’s also the added pressure of competing with your friends who have also graduated. “Peter has a new gig as a (insert generic entry level position) at (some prestigious firm)! His prospects are very promising.”

Both the social pressure of trying to seem like you have everything figured out and the balancing act of trying to simply survive and pay off any college debt you may have add to the hasty decision-making for getting the first job that comes your way. That’s what happened to me.

I thought that if I took a job at a startup, I’d at least have something to show for myself. I believed that it was a good starting point as any other and if it didn’t work out I could just move to another company. So that’s what I did.

I moved up the corporate ladder until I got into my dream job, but something didn’t sit well with me. Even with all of the hard work I put into keeping up with appearances and advancing my career I still felt unfulfilled.

I fell into the trap of listening to other people’s expectations they had for me and not designing the expectations I had for myself.

There is no perfect path. There is no reason for you to decide that what you studied in college is what you need to actually do. And going immediately back to school to get a master’s degree or a higher one doesn’t boost the prospect of you getting your “dream job.” It will most certainly guarantee an increase of your debt.

I believe one of the shifts in thinking all us need to adopt is that just because we have college degrees doesn’t mean we are special. What will truly differentiate us in the market is the accumulation of life experiences and the purposeful adoption of struggles and discomfort we make over time. These things aren’t obtained through a college education – that’s why we shouldn’t rush into things.

Sure, with all practicality in mind, we do need to pay our bills. At the same time, need to be very calculated with the opportunities we say no to because it’s the no’s that will create the foundation of our careers.

Our time is the most valuable tool we have right now.

”How can I help people and enjoy my time doing it?” This is the question we should be asking ourselves. It all begins with doing a self-audit of our desires and interests, and it’s not too late to do that even if you’ve already begun working in that lovely cubicle or desk you’ve vied for since leaving the academic world.

A fulfilling career isn’t obtained in a day, it takes a tremendous amount of time.

 

 

Do not confuse cognitive ability with maturity

Keeping the challenge of obtaining our dream jobs, realizing our identity outside of school, and surviving our first decade as adults in mind, there is another shift in our thinking we need to make.

We must not confuse our cognitive ability with maturity. They aren’t the same.

Our educational system coddles us in a way. We expect our time to be managed for us. For things to be clear cut, which doesn’t work with reality. If we can’t break away from the patterns that were predefined for us, how can we create our own in the future?

Maturity is accepting responsibility and choosing our struggles before they are thrusted upon us. However, it is difficult to accept our own responsibilities when we are comparing ourselves to our peers.

Comparing yourself with others can lead to a dead end. If you find yourself jealous or stuck ia n rut because you’re not checking off the boxes – you’re not alone, but you need to stay grounded in reality. It’s impossible to know all the nuances that led to someone else’s success. Envy can be used as a tool to help you succeed, but only if you stay grounded on what success means for you. Just because you received good grades throughout your academic career doesn’t mean you can manage a home on your own. It doesn’t equate to any skills that could be used to help a team grow, it doesn’t ensure that you can be an asset.

Focus on the small things first. Can you create a budget? Do you have the ability to set your own schedule, to say no to the events and opportunities that have nothing to do with your daily goals? Can you set a plan and stick to it? Are you auditing your friends and social circle to make sure you’re being celebrated and supported, instead of being tolerated and doubted?

All of these questions have to be asked frequently if we want to make sure we are staying on track. “Adulting” only occurs when we first define what type of adult we want to be and work our way backwards to where we are today.

 

Related: Creating Your Own Curriculum For Self-Education After College

 

We all go through the growing pains of “adulting”

“Adulting” isn’t impossible. It sure is difficult and arduous, but with enough time spent thinking about our lives – we can tackle our issues with full force. We can achieve our goals, no matter the time it takes to do so. However, it all begins with a realistic view of our futures.

The world is constantly changing. Our education cannot cope nor can it adapt to the changes from technology. It’s up to us to assume responsibility.

We have to create and venture into our paths of self-education. This isn’t the same as getting a higher degree. A master’s degree or PhD won’t solve issues regarding our character.

Travel the world. Volunteer and work for free – see if you actually enjoy working in the field you studied before you invest decades into it. Leverage the internet to not only consume content, use it to help you learn.

You will make mistakes and that’s okay. We all have our own paces when it comes to learning; we all have our unique struggles. What we have to do is assume responsibility for these struggles because it is through them that we will grow up.

Remember, there is no easy path. There is no manual.

 

This blog post was inspired by a podcast episode with Professor Jordan Peterson, when he was interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience. If you’re a fan of audiobooks or podcasts in general, I highly recommend listening Dr. Peterson’s interview with Joe as accompanying content to this article. In this podcast episode, Dr. Peterson discusses the challenges that young people are currently facing (among other topics). The point of inspiration I gained from the episode comes mainly from his claim that in order to justify your suffering that comes from living in this world, you have to assume responsibility over your life. I wouldn’t do any justice to what he says by paraphrasing him any further, this article is mainly pointed towards the reflections I have made while struggling with life after college.

If you have any tidbits of advice or personal stories you’d like to share, please leave a comment below and let’s chat! How you are “Adulting” right now? How do you define the term?

 

Related: A College Grad’s Biggest “Adulting” Challenge: Managing Money

 

A special thanks to Alejandra Barraza, Rachelle Campos, Kenneth Reed, Matthew Jacquet, Rene Jimenez, Kenny Moreno, and Devin Rajaram for discussing these issues with me and for helping me write this article.

 

Subscribe to my newsletter for more articles like this one: eepurl.com/by4v59

Failure is your friend Kenny Soto

Failure Is Your Friend & You’re Going To Fail A Lot

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill

Have you ever experienced an awkward moment when you made a mistake in front of someone? The shame that’s felt when caught making an avoidable mistake, making you feel miserable? Predicting the wrong outcome and suffering the consequences that came from overconfidence and poor planning? Failure is a fact of life. We periodically learn more from the avoidance of repeated failures than we do from chasing continued success.

Below is a recent reflection I wrote about failure. I wrote this as a resource for myself and my hope is that from reading this, some part will resonate with you as well and provide you with a new approach to positively reacting and reflecting on your own failures.

Failure is always a possibility

When I think about the word failure, I get a mixed reaction of disdain and of acceptance. Disdain towards the memories of past failures I have made and acceptance of the fact that failure will always be a constant factor in anything I try to do. Mistakes, pain, rejection — all of these are prerequisites for success.

Failure is as much a prerequisite for success as it is the opposite of success, for we cannot succeed without failing first. One could challenge this claim by stating that they have succeeded in accomplishing tasks and feats at the first attempt. However, that rebuttal tends to beg the question, “Can you understand how you achieved that initial success?” See, even if you succeed at something within the first attempt, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can replicate that same outcome unless you have a fundamental understanding of how it came to be. Failure is what teaches us how to achieve success that can be done more than once. Failure provides us the understanding needed for repeated success when it matters most.

Related: The Art Of Being A Polymath: Not Being Married To Your Ideas

It’s nothing personal

It should be mentioned that I personally have difficulty remembering this paradigm shift whenever I experience a failure in real-time. I, like many others, tend to be awash with that feeling of disdain I mentioned above. “Why is this happening to me?” “What did I do wrong?” “Life isn’t fair.” However, thinking about failure with respect to it being a part of what success is, it has in a way helped in my reflections on past mistakes and mishaps I’ve had in the past. I don’t often times think about this during the incident but, it does allow for me to cope and move on more effectively.

Consider for example the world of sales. Success in selling anything, whether it be a product or service isn’t determined by the number of yes’s you get, rather by the number of no’s! It’s a necessary step in learning from every moment and to see your failures as building blocks, not roadblocks.

“As we try to create favorable outcomes from the decisions we make, we can also try to create desirable failures.”

Don’t make your failures personal. As Les Brown once famously said“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” His words align with the notion that the failures in our lives can bring us both valuable lessons and even happiness as a consequence of letting the past be used as a tool for growth and learning. It is when we see the past failures we made as grandiose incidents rather than what they really are, we get in our own way.

Ryan Holiday, author of the book Ego Is The Enemyprovides insight into the dangers of letting failure (and success) get to our heads. Just as it is important to accept the failures in our lives and move on, it is just as important to constantly and objectively evaluate who are. In this evaluation, you have to consider your ability in the moment in which you tackled the situations in when you failed and review why you may have been the only cause of said failure.

For a moment, reflect on this passage from Ego Is The Enemy:

“One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way. It is certainly more pleasurable to focus on our talents and strengths, but where does that get us? Arrogance and self-absorption inhibit growth. So does fantasy and ‘vision’ (page 21).”

Your approach to failure has to be grounded in reality. When I think about the commonalities between all of the failures I’ve had in the past (and the ones that will definitely happen in the future) the common thread is that I reacted poorly in the moment because I was too focused on myself. With this new approach to thinking about failures as building blocks moving forward, I’m going to shift the common thread of my failures to be, “a moment in time in which I learned something new and had fun while learning it.”

Related: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect vs Practice Makes Perfect

Gamify your daily challenges

Games and game theory can be used to further think about the topic of failure as a tool, as a positive fact of life. Consider this: one of the best ways to approach the daily challenges we face is by thinking of them as games. If we to take this into consideration as we go throughout life, we could come to not only accept the inevitability of failure but, also begin to appreciate our reactions towards it. In games, if you play enough times you’re bound to lose.

With this in mind, if we can predict our failures in advance, perhaps we can even help skew the results of the decisions we make in our favor. As we try to create favorable outcomes from the decisions we make, we can also try to create desirable failures. We can skew even the most unfortunate of events into integral components for our growth. By considering what are the desirable outcomes of any scenario (both in success and in failure) we can not only plan to succeed but, also prepare to learn from our future mistakes.

Depending on the nature of your work, there are certain mistakes that are permissible (especially if you are just at the start of your job). Think about the acceptable loses your team is willing to endure on your behalf. In addition, consider what are acceptable loses you permit yourself to make. Have you thought of any? Failures are bound to happen and the inability to forgive oneself doesn’t allow for growth and progress.

In games, my general approach is to learn how to have fun first, which in turn relieves some of the pressure and stress that comes from competition and loss. When the focus is shifted from winning to just learning the mechanics of the game itself and making the experience enjoyable — there is no way that failure can distract or deter one from moving forward. And as we fail, we will begin to gain insights that will help us to not repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Related: 6 Lessons For My Career That I’ve Learned From Being A Gamer

Accepting failure as a part of growth

Tying back to seeing acceptable failures as a part of your list of desired outcomes, you can also leverage practical pessimism when reflecting on your failures. Practical pessimism is a mode of thinking, in which the focus is to catalyze effective productivity even if failure is imminent. It is a way of stoically approaching the world, although you may fail — the pain of said failure isn’t as bad as you may believe.

Taking into account whatever your failures may be, if you go face your challenges with the primed reaction of, “I accept that this is just a small moment of my life, one that I will learn from,” you can always gain something from any failure that may occur.

Subscribe to my newsletter for more articles like this one:eepurl.com/by4v59

What Will You Do To "Flip" Your Time Kenny Soto

What Will You Do To “Flip” Your Time?

The Formula

Your time equals = Building relationships + Supporting good habits + Ongoing education + Vision + Fun

 

We all have only 168 hours every week. Excluding the time we allocate for sleeping, eating, and preparing for the day, we don’t have enough time to work on our goals. The majority of time is spent at work or school (depending on your age). Are we maximizing every day we get? How are we ensuring that is actually true? Below is an update to an article I previously wrote on time management for millennials. You can read that article here.

Building for your future self

At the start of our careers, we can often lose track on how we are positioning ourselves for success. Seeking accolades and approval from the people we work with tends to be the main focus for recent college graduates and young professionals and although those are necessary requirements for upward mobility, they aren’t the only aspects of our careers that matter. Another part of setting ourselves up for success revolves around continuous education, adopting healthy habits, and skills acquisition.

Setting up “learning goals” on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis is a great way for tracking your professional progress over time. To make your system of tracking success even more refined, create a log of the mistakes you make alongside your learning goals. Being able to objectively track your results over time (good and bad) will help you see what areas of your work need more attention. The best way to implement any changes you see fit is to consider how you would like to “build” upon your future-self. Are you asking yourself the right questions before seeking new knowledge? This a foundational question to ask yourself as you begin to create your own curriculum after college and beyond.

Related: What Questions Are We Asking Ourselves?

Auditing your habits: Calendars, Mentors, and Peers

Another way to track your progress is by using your calendar. It may seem like a simple tool when trying to improve upon who you are as a person but, I’ve found my calendar to be invaluable.

My calendar is where I can visually see the following:

  • My current learning goals
  • Mistakes I’ve logged
  • Daily appointments and meetings segmented by color/priority

Having a visual representation for what you need to accomplish can help hold yourself accountable.

In addition to using your calendar, having a mentor can also help in being held accountable to what you add to your calendar—if the guilt of not following it isn’t enough to spur the enthusiasm needed for you to get stuff done. A mentor can help you design the fastest way to learn. When you have access to a mentor, you learn from mistakes that you don’t need to make yourself.

An alternative to finding a mentor who can help teach you and objectively track your progress can be having weekly calls with a peer. During these weekly calls both of you can discuss the following:

  • Goals you have for the following week
  • Things you’ve accomplished
  • Mistakes you’ve made
  • What you’ve learned from them
  • Ideas for improvement

When I have these calls with a friend of mine from college, they usually last 10-15 minutes. It helps as an investment in yourself and your network, depending on how many of these calls you would like to have. In the event you don’t feel like you have anything to talk about during the call or if you quickly go over your agenda, here’s another prompt for conversation: “What questions did you ask today?” Asking this will always lead fruitful introspective thought for both parties.

If you don’t a mentor you can reach out to right now, you can always find them in books. One book in particular that I recommend is, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Jim Collins. He defines a simple system for considering which essential habits are needed for your success and improving your progress over time. All of the suggestions mentioned in this book are practical and can be immediately implemented (the main challenge will be staying consistent in following what he recommends).

“A mentor can help you design the fastest way to learn.” — Kenny Soto #TweetThis

Related: What Could You Do If You Had A Second Brain?

Every notification is a request for your time

Do you get a return on investment for every minute you spend looking at a screen? Are all notifications created equal? How is your phone aiding you? Are you using it to help control your agenda?

Another distraction that deters us from concentrating on our everyday tasks and learning goals is the need to view and respond to every push notification that comes our way. Learning how to say “no” to the online communities we are a part of is key to making sure we are focused and not looking at our screens. The notifications will stay in your app; you don’t need them intruding on what you need to get done in the moment. Managing your time means managing your content consumption. The content you want to see and people you want attention from aren’t going anywhere.

Try turning off the notifications for all of your social media applications and setting aside time in your schedule to check up on what’s going on. No one will notice that you aren’t responding or posting, especially if you aren’t building a brand online and you’re just using it to stay connected with family and friends. 

 

The most important thing to remember is that none of these recommendations work unless you put them into action, and you must always be honest with yourself. Books may not help, a calendar may not be completely effective, nor will a mentor/partner that holds you accountable. But you need to try them to see what works in the context of your own reality. And also, know that if you’re able to manage your time for work, you’ll have time set aside for fun. “Flipping” your time means finding ways to use it more effectively. What will do to make sure that is happening every day?

Subscribe to my newsletter for more articles like this one: eepurl.com/by4v59

6 Lessons For My Career That I've Learned From Being A Gamer Kenny Soto

6 Lessons For My Career That I’ve Learned From Being A Gamer

This article was written with contributions from Malik Christopher.

Video games are more than entertainment

It’s been over six months since I’ve found the time to play video games. I used to be obsessed, sometimes playing until 2:00 AM on weekdays. I find it hard to believe that I’ve entered a stage in my life where games are slowly leaving my schedule. As I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned from playing them, perhaps one of these will resonate with you too.

No matter what you do to level up, books are your best friend

Taking a page (pun intended) out of The Elder Scrolls: SKYRIM, one of the most important lessons I’ve gained was learning how to level up faster by using books found throughout the world. In the game, there are various skills that you level up to create a fully customized character. An easy way to level up a skill tree is by finding the hidden books across the land. When you acquire a book, your character automatically goes to the next level of that related skill.

The importance of this is that even in video games, education is stressed. Learning how you learn and setting up a way to control your education so that you can level up your skills will always be relevant.

Related: Creating Your Own Curriculum For Self-Education After College

When you accept too many side-missions, you can get off track

Among other challenges, time management in games is critical to your success. Now, gamers define success differently when it comes to specific games. Not all games have an end point, one can play an open world/sandbox game such as Grand Theft Auto and never progress through the main narrative. Time management in video games is important because it determines how fast you beat the game, what achievements or trophies you want to acquire, and how much can you brag to your other friends who play the game. Also, there’s the conundrum of having to decide how to split your time up if you want to play online or not.

The challenge of time management and the lessons I started to gather myself, became readily apparent when I encountered the particular issue of having to play games that have endless side quests & missions. Open world (or sandbox) games are distinct in that they allow the player to step outside of the main story and interact with the world freely. As players, we have the control to do whatever we want for hours on end. The benefit of doing side-missions is that the player gets rewarded with bonus content, prizes, and they most likely help to create a richer gaming experience.

What I took away from playing side missions specifically from Grand Theft Auto is that there are both pros and cons. The negative aspect of side missions is that they can pile on if you’re not too careful and if you’re like me, you get frustrated because one of your main goals is to complete the game. This observation has prompted me to think about the number of projects I take on in real life and how I decide which ones are worth my time. Sure, there could be some list of benefits for taking on new projects, but one must ask themselves, “Does this take away from my primary objectives?” In addition to time management, video games certainly help with creating better decision-making skills if you’re consciously auditing what you do while playing.

Don’t chase money, chase skills

There are video games designed to let the player win if there is certain amount cash to acquire as the main objective. However, most of the games I’ve played require you to focus on your character’s base attributes or if you’re playing online — you need to incorporate talent and skills to be the best. There tends to be a currency system in most role-playing games as an example, but the goal isn’t only to acquire virtual wealth.

Putting a focus on actually developing your character so that they strike terror in the face of the enemy is usually your best bet. This maps on well to life in general. Often, we think about gathering short term gains. Even if it’s relatively short in real life, there is still a considerable amount of time that one has to commit to growing your character’s skills. The skills are what make the game easier, even if you have the best “gear” or items Having a character with a skillset that allows you to adapt to any scenario is what actually matters. It’s the same with who you are in your life. Skills acquisition will always be more important than money.

Related: Accelerating Your Professional Growth By Working For Free

There are no cheat codes in life

If there is one thing that I’ve noticed for both video games and my personal life is that: I’m usually heading in the right direction if things start getting harder. Especially if I start getting more haters/enemies over time. There’s a natural progression in video games, as your character grows in power and skill, so do the enemies you encounter. Life is the same, and if you try to circumvent that by thinking you can game the system, you’re sadly mistaken. Using “cheat codes” in videos games makes them boring over time. When you do it in real life, it can damage your reputation and hurt you in the long term (even if there are short-term benefits).

An example of a cheat code in real life is lying on your resume. Sure it’s a faster way for you to get your foot in the door but, you will be found out eventually. No one ever got bragging rights by using cheat codes to beat a hard game. You only get the right to be proud of yourself when you tackle your challenges head on and when you’re patient with your growth.

There will always be someone better than you

Lastly, the most important lesson I’ve ever gained from video games (specifically playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3), is that there will always be someone better than you. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t consistently try to be the best at what you do, more so that you should be aware that surrounding yourself with people that are more knowledgeable and skilled than you is more than ok — it’s essential to your personal and professional growth.

There is no way you can grow to your fullest potential in whatever you decide to do in life if you don’t have other people to put your current skillset into perspective. I personally want to be a great blogger, so I’m constantly comparing myself to others at the top (like Seth Godin). Not out of envy, but out of admiration and for study. I’m a big believer that imitation is one easy way to test new things and see what’s successful.

Being beaten by people better than you is how you learn how to play the game. It’s how you get better, especially if the competition is significantly past you in years of experience. And most importantly, it keeps things enjoyable. Because who wants to have a boring experience playing video games let alone in life? Competition breeds growth and constant challenges.

Playing with a team is the “name of the game”

In competitive games such as League of Legends or Overwatch, each member of your team is assigned a certain role that has specific objectives that they need to be accomplished during every match. When a mistake is made in one of these roles, whether big or small, it becomes detrimental to the entire team with the potential losing the match. It isn’t as costly if one plays on their own (casual gamers do this), but in the professional atmosphere (eSports) such as the Championship Series for League of Legends, a prize pool of millions of in-game dollars have easily been taken out of a team’s reach because of one mistake.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, rings true in situations like these. If one person falls behind, you’ll easily be outclassed by a team that’s more on top of things. What usually follows is frustration, blame, and a decrease in skill overall. The ability to help those you work with by providing constructive criticism is crucial. A concern for their weaknesses, should be tackled with the appropriate feedback. Slowly, you’ll notice not only improvement in them, but also in yourself as a leader and team player. And in the professional world, we all work in teams.

Click here to subscribe to my newsletter to get more articles like this one: SUBSCRIBE

entry level of success kenny soto

The Cost Of Entry For Any Level Of Success (2 Min. Read)

It Takes Time To Build Your Reputation

No matter what list of accomplishments you have, no one will care when you’re starting something new. When you are used to having a reputation, it can be very jarring when you enter a new team or new endeavor and the attention you once had, has evaporated completely.

This can be especially irritating for anyone who has high expectations of themselves. You want to make an impact immediately but, you will quickly realize that unless you can prove that you can be useful, no one will bother to give you the responsibility and recognition that you crave. Being useful to people you’ve worked with in the past has little meaning to those you’re currently working with. That reputation and list of accomplishments can only get your foot in the door, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Being confident in your skills is good, but it is also important to understand that each new person that meets you can’t possibly know the value of those skills right away. Even if they have some prior knowledge of your past work, it still won’t be 100% clear how you provide value — until you’ve actually proven it through your actions.

These things take time and commitment. Sometimes more time than you might immediately expect.

“Freshman Angst” Never Ends

The analogy I’ve used to be able to keep moving forward with this realization in my own professional career is by understanding that no matter what the circumstance, you will always be a freshman.

In each stage of your career, there will always be new challenges to face, new people you will meet, and new environments where you will have to prove yourself on a consistent basis. Having the understanding that this is ok and that these phases are a part of the process, is vital to staying humble and allowing for the opportunities you want to present themselves—when well deserved.

It is better to be in a room where no one knows what you can do, and you have to prove yourself, than to not be in that room at all.

Sometimes the best recognition comes from just taking the time for self-reflection on the work you’ve done. Only you will know how many things you’ve done and learned to get to where you are today. And that is ok. Give people time to discover who you are and what makes you unique. Would you want to be expected to know all of the things that makes someone else special when you first start working with them?

Click here to subscribe to my newsletter to get more articles like this one: SUBSCRIBE

Marketing Yourself

Marketing Yourself to Your Coworkers On LinkedIn

One of the best ways to leverage LinkedIn

I have been asked by my friends numerous times, “What’s the point of using LinkedIn?” Most of my contemporaries have just recently graduated from college or are now seniors.  And we haven’t been taught how to leverage LinkedIn effectively. When we are introduced to the social network at career development seminars, most of the time we are given surface-level advice:

  1. Add the information on your resume to your profile.
  2. Connect with people you know.
  3. Have a professional headshot.

The issue with this advice is that it doesn’t help you to understand how LinkedIn can be used to propel your career forward. Over the past year, I’ve certainly seen the benefits of using LinkedIn. However, I’ve noticed the only reason I’m starting to see the benefits is that I’m actively contributing content on a consistent basis.

 

The main reason I use the platform is that, through the act of distributing my content, I’m not only promoting myself to future employers — I’m also building my reputation as a useful asset to my team.

 

Having a focus on promoting yourself to the right people

As someone who has officially gained employment through LinkedIn, I can say that this platform is very instrumental in my daily life. But the power of the platform doesn’t only reside in helping one land a job. It can also help when trying to propose new initiatives to your team; this is immediately apparent if you’re a new employee. Generally it would take months to get your at bat, but with this strategy, it took me weeks.

I’ve discovered that the quickest way to establish your unique value as a team member is to showcase your talents to your team both in and out of the office. That’s why LinkedIn is so useful.

The origin of this idea came from a book I read called Experiences: 7th Era of Marketing by, Robert Rose & Carla Johnson. The authors discuss the importance of creating an internal content marketing strategy. The purpose of the strategy is to build a narrative out of the company’s mission so that employees stay connected with the brand. I found that another way of interpreting this is to leverage this strategy to create a narrative of, “Maybe this new kid knows what he’s talking about.” Creating a narrative out of your mission to help the company succeed (and how you can do it).

 

Ways to begin your self-promotion

The content you create should not be focused on what makes you special. If you have to tell your teammates that they should pay attention to you — they won’t take you seriously nor, will they take your ideas into consideration. What you have to do is put a focus on the ideas you want to propose. At the very least, you can highlight the things you are currently learning within your industry.

You can do this by creating written articles via LinkedIn Pulse, or you can create a video/audio content and host it on your personal website. Regardless of what format you use, keep in mind that you also don’t need it to be long form. Most the articles I write tend to be around 400-600 words. Ideally, if you’re creating content in video or audio formats, they should range from 2-5 minutes. The goal is to make the content you’re promoting to your team to be digestible. This works across all fields and industries under the condition that your coworkers are on LinkedIn. If they aren’t, then you can always use the alternative method of creating content and deploying paid advertising through Facebook (but, that may be more intrusive since the platform isn’t used by your team for business purposes).

 

The added benefits of having your team consume your content

The end goal in all of this is to create a conversation. Through consistent distribution of your ideas, your mission should be to have your team become curious about what you bring to the table. Although there is no I in team, finding ways to promote yourself in an altruistic way can help further your career in a faster way. And quite frankly, I find this method to be more palatable than having to compete for attention in person.

This process shows its effects over time. It took me three months to start getting noticed by my team members (as of writing this article) but, the reason I continued despite not seeing any immediate effects is that content strategies always take time to work. At the very least, when you share your original content on LinkedIn, you not only are promoting yourself to your team — you’re also sharing that content with other members of your network. This can lead to conversations that can provide new additional insights into what’s going on in your field. I have seen for myself that when new people see my content, the conversations created help me to find new topics to write about (and it helps me find new ideas I can share with my team).

LinkedIn is not only a platform for showcasing your resume. It’s one of the best tools to help you showcase your ideas to the people who can help propel you forward in your career. Start thinking of ways to express what you know and what you’re currently learning. If you can create new conversations with your team, you’ll be in a much better position to start new initiatives and grow faster in your career.

 

I’m always looking to learn more about how others are using LinkedIn to grow in their professional lives. How are you leveraging the network? Do you think this strategy applies in all scenarios? Leave a comment below so that we can start a conversation. And feel free to share this with a friend!

Click here to subscribe to my newsletter to get more articles like this one: SUBSCRIBE

Kenny Soto When Is It Okay To Post A Comment?

When Is It Okay To Post A Comment On A Social Post?

Interruption marketing still happens — here’s how to avoid it!

This is an Instagram post I made for the #DubChallenge (one of the many challenges that have gone viral in the past year), with a comment by a brand at the bottom of the conversation who intrudes and doesn’t build a relationship beforehand. The perfect example of bad marketing.

How often does this scenario happen: you post a meme, inspirational quote, amusing family video, etc. and some random brand likes the post? Does that annoy you? For some of us, it doesn’t. How about when that profile follows you? I personally pay no mind to it. But, what does bother me is when a brand comments on a post without taking the context of both the post and our relationship into account.

The challenge marketers have today, in regards to marketing on social media, is figuring out when is the right time to start or join a conversation with a lead. If you’re in B2B or B2C marketing, it still stands, if you can’t provide a meaningful way to connect online — don’t engage with the user. Commenting is all about timing.

How to build a relationship, the right way.

The issue that has to be discussed is, “when is it ok to post a comment?” The timing is specific to your audience. Aiming to be as granular as possible is ideal, but not always feasible. If you don’t have a team of people helping you promote your products and services online, you can’t necessarily track all of the interactions you have with your potential customers and current ones. There are many tools out there, such as CrowdFire & Buffer, that can help with this but — you always risk being inauthentic when using one of these automation tools.

One example of how tools can cause a risk for your brand not really connecting with your audience when you schedule your social media posts. Not all posts are created equally, and not all of them should be scheduled without getting a feel for what’s currently circulating on social feeds for the specific day you plan to schedule your post. Taking the time to consider what is relevant to your audience at any given moment pays dividends over time, as far as attention and engagement go. That same consideration should be taken into account when commenting on any posts your leads and customers are creating and sharing.

Push notifications are a double-edged sword.

The ability to have one-to-one relationships with our leads and customers is both a blessing and a curse. We take for granted our audience’s ability to ignore us if we try to communicate with them in a way that clearly shows you didn’t put too much thought into the conversation. What’s even worse is if they block your account or share your mishaps with their friends (ruining your reputation with other potential customers). The easiest way for a brand to leverage the use of comments is to first consider the timing of it, “is it an appropriate time for the user to get a push notification right now?”

Not all users have notifications turned on for all the comments they get, but for those who do, making sure you have conversations that are both timely and interesting is what should be the core focus of your social media marketing strategy. The example shown earlier in this article is one of many instances in which I have been rudely interrupted by a brand I knew nothing about. Instead of taking the time to look at all of my posts and finding some point of relevance to start a conversation (before even selling me something), they decided to give a quick one-line pitch, with the hopes of me visiting their site. That isn’t how you get my attention.

That comment shows that they didn’t take me into consideration, they are playing a numbers game. The number of comments you deploy to engage with your audience isn’t what matters, it is the quality. It sounds cliche, but it’s the truth.

Questions to think about before starting or joining conversations.

Think about how you approach sharing content with your friends and family and how you take into account what to comment on. That same approach should be used when you are engaging with your audience through your brand. Below are some questions to consider before engaging with your audience:

  • What time of day is my audience most active and is it appropriate to comment on their posts at that time?
  • What are the parts of my audience’s daily routines that my brand actually has relevance to?
  • Am I selling them my services/products with the comment or should I be selling content first in order to engage them?
  • How long have I been following this audience member (and vice versa)?
  • What action do I want to take after this conversation? Is one conversation enough to have them take that action?

If you have fallen victim to brands commenting on your posts with nothing of value or substance I’d love for you to share your story in the comments section below. Also, if you feel like there should be other questions that need to be taken into consideration, please share them with me.

Recommended articles:

  1. Clicks vs. Comments: An Easier Way For Lead Generation on LinkedIn (4 min. read)
  2. Emoji Marketing: Why you should take it seriously
  3. The Internet Is High School: Personal Branding & Influencer Marketing

If you found this article useful, click here to subscribe to my newsletter: SUBSCRIBE

doing spec work kenny soto

Getting a Job After College, Spec Work is The Best Method

What is Spec Work?

I’d like to preface this article with where this idea came from—Gary Vaynerchuk. I have been following Gary for exactly over a year now, and one of the very first doubts about him came when he talked about doing spec work (free services) for people. This work is supposed to be for the purpose of business development and expanding your network.

Spec work is any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees. Under these conditions, designers will often be asked to submit work in the guise of a contest or an entry exam on existing jobs as a “test” of their skill.”

I decided that instead of just taking what he said and accepting it, that I would test it for myself (which in retrospect, is what he wanted his viewers to do when he talked about the subject in the 1st place). The story below is how it all happened and how it can help you if you’re still in college or just graduated, and you’re looking to grow in your industry.

Finding a need and getting the client.

Now, this article focuses on the context of my particular skills—skills in digital marketing (SEO, web development, and Social Media Marketing) that I used to get spec work. Although this may not apply to all industries, if your skills map to working on being creative and providing services for a client that don’t require a license or specific certifications, this can work for you. The first step I had in this process was to find a customer that needed my help. I knew from the start that I’d be doing this work for an exchange outside of financial compensation, perhaps a referral to a job after college or something else.

While I was at my college’s local bar, Grill On The Hill, I felt the need to have more of my college friends become more aware of what the bar offered. It was an excellent place that was just starting out, and whenever I went, there were a lot of locals but, not enough college students. One evening, while hanging out with my fraternity brothers, I saw one of the bar’s owners outside. I walked to him, introduced myself and what I do, and told him that I would market his bar online—for free.
Obviously, there was a catch. I was still figuring out what that would be myself—when I was pitching to the owner. Several days later I was hired as the bars digital marketing consultant with a small monthly budget to do Facebook marketing and to create their website with the help of one of the bartenders there. It was my second time creating a website and creating any paid media on Facebook.

What did I get in return from the experience?

Besides gaining valuable experience in doing Facebook ads (the bar was my second client at my time), I was able to learn more about my craft holistically. I began to understand that marketing doesn’t work without tying your campaign goals to actual business goals that drive revenue—it’s not enough to promote a bar’s event to everyone then, making sure you promote it to the ideal customers (people who spend money and drive revenue). In return, besides getting experience, the bar gave me a free beer (and occasionally a free meal) once to twice a week for eight months. This showed me that even if you aren’t making an income for the work you do for someone, there can always be an exchange of equal value for said work. That’s the main message I want to drive home, especially for college students, doing work someone doesn’t necessarily need to equate to you making money.

The hidden value in working for free

It is often taught that the work we do has to produce an income, but it doesn’t. Work can help you build your network. Work can help you expose yourself to new ideas and possibilities. Instead of focusing on monetary gain, focus your job for skills-based learning. It’s because of my experience working at Grill on the Hill that, it gave me the opportunity to see what marketing services I could pitch to my college and try my hand at making them my first paid client (you can find out more about that story here).

I’d love to know your thoughts on this article. Do you think work should only be done for monetary gain/income? Have you done similar work in exchange for services, experience, etc.? Let’s chat in the comments section down below!

If you found this article useful, click here to subscribe to my newsletter: SUBSCRIBE

Recommended articles:

  1. 6 Reasons An Unpaid Internship Is Absolutely Worth Your Time
  2. How I Got Employed After Two Weeks Of Graduating College.
  3. How can college students leverage social media to get interviews at startups?
How Landed My First Paid Account as a Consultant at 22 Kenny Soto

My 1st Client as a Digital Marketing Consultant at 22

Believe it or not, I was able to convince my college to hire me. I’m not talking about work study, being a bookstore stockboy, or being a research assistant for a professor. I’m talking about closing a deal for thousands of dollars. In this post, I’ll provide some back story as to how I was able to have the opportunity to even come up with the pitch, the pitch itself, and the lessons learned from the work. As a small disclaimer, as a student I respect my university tremendously—as a consultant, I learned from them what it means when people say large organizations are “slow.”

It all starts with finding a need.

How did I come up with the idea of even pursuing this pitch? It all started with accessing the problem my college had—we had severe budget cuts during the fiscal year. The only reason I was privy to this information was due to my role as student body president. During the first few meetings with school administration during my last academic year in college, I learned that our college, along with other CUNYs, hadn’t met their goal that the Board of Trustees set for getting more students.

The lack of increase in tuition was one of four factors that contributed to the millions in budget cuts that we’re going to occur. After sitting down and actually contemplating on why this particular problem was occurring, it dawned on me that I should check out the college’s social media & paid search marketing efforts. Low and behold, they weren’t launching any paid ads or producing content of any value to potential students or the parents of those students. This was my in, the opportunity I was looking for.

Devising the pitch.

Coming up with something of real worth to present to school administration wasn’t easy. It took me two weeks just to have the stones even to share this idea with my Fraternity brothers for feedback. After carefully thinking about what I learned from both my internship and doing pro bono digital marketing for a bar near campus (I still got something out of it, free food and free beer which wasn’t a bad deal if I do say so myself) I came up with a 43-slide deck for my presentation.

The reason why this deck was so long, and by all means I don’t recommend doing something this long for any presentation, was because I knew I wouldn’t have been taken seriously (at the end of the day, I’m too young to be taken seriously for anything right now). If I didn’t make sure I showed both school admin and the marketing department that not only I knew what I was talking about—but, that I also put it into the context of their specific needs, none of this would have worked. Also, I had already assembled a small team of two other student government members that would help me in my efforts; this increased their confidence in my ability to not only create a sound project but, also execute on it.

Negotiating the price.

The two most important lessons I gained from the overall experience was:

  1. Always write the service contract yourself.
  2. Bid high for a high price.

If it weren’t for a close friend of mine, I would have left a considerable amount of money on the table. I believe the main reason why the college administration agreed to pay my team and me as much as they did, was because the labor was relatively cheap in terms of industry standards and we wrote the whole contract ourselves. It also helps that they didn’t go through the hassle of signing it but, that’s beside the point. If a client is willing to pay you without signing a contract for whatever reason you still want them to do so, it puts both of you in a position where each party is fully committed to each other’s success. I believe this was the first sign that there was only going to be so much we could have done for them.

The challenge I’m glad I faced early on.

The biggest challenge with working for any big client as a digital markeitng consultant is this—the internal communications process is slow as hell, meaning that you’re going to have to plan at least two weeks ahead to get anything approved for launch. I lacked experience in this one aspect of doing digital marketing consulting; I didn’t anticipate that the one deterrent to my success would be not preparing for slow communication in between tasks. Although, I wasn’t successful in fully executing on the marketing plan I was at the very least, able to show the importance of why their efforts should be focused primarily on social and search advertising and not on subway or television ads.

Other lessons I learned were:

Your client, regardless of their size, will want all reports on a consistent basis. It’s important to let them know early on that marketing is a marathon and not a sprint. Metrics don’t improve overnight. You want to at least report on new ideas you’re working on so they can add their insight into the mix.
Have a dedicated team member to set up phone calls for Q & A whenever needed. If you’re this person, you have the hardest job. Client retention is key to recurring income. My biggest regret is not giving enough attention to thinking about building a long term relationship with my college so I could have had them as a client after I graduated.* Your team’s size should reflect the size of the account.

This is something I’ve debated with my colleagues for quite some time now. I still believe that we could have done a better job if we had at least three to four more students on our team. A team of three college students wasn’t enough to solve the problems a big institution like my college had.

Moving forward.

In the end, although I wasn’t successful in the execution of my first account, I at least learned how to get one. That experience has proved invaluable as I continue getting new clients and building my team at digiquation.com, the startup I work at now. Whether it’s in digital marketing or any other consulting practice, it never hurts to start early. Regardless of your age, there is something that you know; that is intrinsic in the experiences you’ve had that can be of value to a client. You just have to figure out how to successfully communicate that—and then have the team and knowledge to execute the plan you’re being paid to do.

*The experience gained from this one part of my collegiate career was the most valuable by far, and I am forever indebted to the City College of New York for giving me a chance to help them. If you check their Facebook page now, you can see the ads they are launching to get more attention. A special thanks to Tammie and Safiyyah, without your help, none of this would have been accomplished.


If you found this article useful or interesting, click here to subscribe to my newsletter: SUBSCRIBE

Recommended articles:

    1. How I Got Employed After Two Weeks Of Graduating College.
    2. Emoji As a Professional Language
    3. A Digital Marketer’s Most Important Asset: Their Curiosity
Page 1 of 212