Your data is being watched – the Snowden lesson

Some call him a traitor, others call him a whistleblower, but what Edward Snowden has truly done is wake Americans from a dormant sleep of indifference. Snowden’s announcements have been a wake-up call for many Americans that feel safe placing confidential information online. It is a lesson that all individuals should learn; in the era of big data everything you do is being tracked, recorded, and saved for future use.

Many Facebook users, myself included, participate in a “Facebook stalk” – sitting around visiting the pages of your friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and random people you met once at a party. Facebook is tracking exactly what you are searching, what you click on, what your mouse cursor moves over, and the photos you view.  Without a doubt, Facebook understands which advertisements work best on you, your sexual preference and individuals you’re interested in, the restaurants you visited and with whom, the movies you watch, the conversations you have, and the places you have visited.

When the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred, I’m sure that someone called up Mark Zuckerberg to ask whether Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev had Facebook accounts. Is there a doubt in my mind that Zuckerberg doesn’t back up data from everything conducted on Facebook? No.

While “deleting your creeper Facebook Search history” may make you feel more secure from the prying eyes of friends and family, it’s just as unreliable as deleting files off of a computer or deleting your Google Search history. Someone has that data. Think about how the computers of sex offenders or other individuals are confiscated and searched for data. Your information is being stored.

Every tweet you send, note you make, trolling you do on online forums, and email you draft may be watched. Think about the downfall of General Petraeus and the email trick that he used, a trick that is used by terrorists and those looking to hide their search history. He left draft emails that he figured would never be discovered. And we all know how that story ended up.

What can you do? Know that what you search, whether at work, home, or even through Google Incognito has the chance of being recorded. Sure, it may not be a secret that the NSA or CIA may be monitoring for, but what you do is never safe. We are all guilty. Don’t trust the Internet because you have a secure password, instead, research techniques that lesson your likelihood of a problem, while also bearing in mind that what you say is being recorded (also, don’t research things that may be compromising). There are more dangerous things in the world than Trojan Viruses infecting your computer.


6 Tips to Avoid the After Graduation Blues

I sat there nervously applying for positions I had no chance of receiving and unsure of where my future was taking me. The only jobs available were for completely unrelated fields with experience requirements that I could only dream of fulfilling. College had just ended and I was feeling down on my degree and upset that my résumé was devoid of relevant Public Relations or Social Media experience.  Living at home with my parents was the new normal and I was pushing myself into a corner that there was no way out of.

For months, I sat moping in the corner as my existence became unemployment. The expected job at the end of the tunnel was a mirage that soon faded as yet another interview came to a dead-end. I mistakenly convinced myself that it was a numbers game and that I would eventually get there. Then one day it clicked… you needed to create your own luck.

My first months out of school gave me the opportunity to learn that I wasn’t entitled to a position simply because I forked over money to an institution and helped me learn the following:

1. “Wake up” early because the early bird gets the worm

Whether you’re commuting for two hours into the city or taking a ten minute bike-ride to work, wake up early. I don’t mean literally the act of waking up (heck, most of us are barely awake as we make our commute to work), but focus on waking up your brain.

It may be tempting to check your email as you first roll over in the morning but don’t. Your productivity may be crushed as you weed through emails and overwhelm yourself before beginning the day. Instead, I run through news headlines and listen to books on tape before walking into the office.

2. An internship isn’t the end of the world (if it’s in your field)

I understand that there is a debate going on on whether interns should be paid (that will probably be a later post), but internships still provide you with something very serious – experience in your field. As someone that has had completely unrelated internships and jobs  before moving into my career field, having that 6 months – 1 year of experience makes a difference. While being an excellent interviewer is important, if you don’t have basic qualifications for a position you’ll never receive a call.

3. Treat your body and mind well

Working out releases endorphins, which limits the depression of the daily monotony of work and life. During the week get sleep and exercise and watch it increase your likelihood of success. Next, eat well. Sure, picking up a Lean Cuisine is easy and looks delicious with those incredible photos adorning the frozen-meal box, but don’t be strayed! Lean Cuisine is neither good for you or advisable if you’re hoping to treat your body well. They may be cheap, but splurge a little and enjoy something fresh or heat up some homemade leftovers. For my next step, I think I’ll take a page from some successful CEOs and pick up yoga.

4. Get uncomfortable and enjoy it

I’m a firm believer that the best things in life make you a little uncomfortable. You don’t simply ask someone out on a date that you feel comfortable dating, that leads to failure. Instead, you take a chance. The same goes for business or the workplace. If you’re not willing to take a chance and make yourself sweat a little, others will notice…negatively. People are rarely attracted to safe. Instead, they return to safe when they fall short of achieving their uncomfortable goal – and that’s totally cool! But if you don’t take the chance, you’ll never know what could have been.

I really enjoyed this piece on becoming charismatic from Business Insider, naturally, getting uncomfortable is part of it.

5. Network your socks off

What’s the best way to get extremely uncomfortable? Treat every opportunity as a chance to network, or as I like to think of it, relationship building. Whether at a networking event or your local gym, treat it as a chance to meet someone new. I often fall into the “I’m too cool to meet someone” mentality, particularly when I’m at the gym. What’s a great way around it? Take off the headphones and say hi.

Nervous about meeting people? Everyone is… but the people that get uncomfortable prevail.

6. Always carry business cards, even you tech savvy Gen Y’er

For unexpected networking situations,  always have business cards available for distribution and note taking. Naysayers believe that business cards don’t work anymore (they still do) as US society is moving away from paper to electronic, but I ask how can you communicate with those that believe in the strength of business cards? “I don’t believe in business cards” is the wrong answer. Adjust your style. Whether you’re a physicist, PR professional, or small business owner, do what you can to meet new people.

So what should you take from this? Learn, get uncomfortable, take risks, and get yourself out there to meet the people that matter. Stop sitting around and make moves, because if you don’t someone else will.

The bright spot for the U.S. solar market in 2013: home roof tops

Great, but don’t solar panels only absorb something like 13% of actual solar energy and reflect the rest back?


This article originally appeared on GigaOM Pro, GigaOM’s premium research service.

The U.S. market is forecast to install 4.4 GW of solar panels this year, a 33 percent increase from 2012, thanks in part by an expected surge in residential installations, according to a report released Tuesday.

The country added 723 MW of solar panels in the first quarter of 2013, up 33 percent from the first quarter of 2012, said the report by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. The anticipated growth in 2013 would be slower that what took place in 2012, when the amount of new solar generation jumped 76 percent.

solar panelThe growing popularity of solar leases, falling prices for solar panels and efforts to reduce the costs of marketing, sales and permitting, have steadily boosted the growth of the solar market in recent years. The pace of installation has quickened, in particular, in…

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Get social for a job

Occasionally, I find an intuitive post on hiring that really blows my mind. With a PR client that’s in the hiring space, I find myself consistently reading and tweeting with those that write on recruitment for new grads and seasoned veterans.

Yesterday, I read a piece on BostInno “Congratulations Graduate! Also, 9 Reasons Why I Will Never Hire You” by Mark O’Toole and it actually caused me to do a double-take. The piece outlines thinks that I wish I was told as an aspiring PR guy and that I will now tell my future interns.

What left the largest impression was not the dress to impress regardless idea, rather, it was “you don’t get social media (but think you do).” And this can be a big problem for anyone now coming out of school. We think that because we grew up on Myspace and Facebook that we’re naturally experts in social media. A 30 second dissection of someone’s social network profiles would unearth the lack of actual social-ness behind their networks. If you’re not ruling Twitter or connected on LinkedIn with your friend, his/her parents, and your entire graduating class, you’re starting at a major disadvantage.

Sadly, to be truly good at social media, you need to understand that you’re not any good at social media. By the time you truly become an advanced user, another network has come out or your head becomes too big and you begin neglecting what actually got you there. Maybe you learn the best way to market using Instagram, but in the time you spent mastering that skill, a new update came out, or worse, an even better social network has taken it’s place.

Customer Service Part 2 – Contact with Valvoline and Winning Me Back

I was worried as I opened up an unfamiliar email from a Valvoline employee in response to my recent blog post on my subpar customer service experience at Valvoline. While I was pleasantly surprised to have a customer service representative contact me by email asking for a phone call to discuss my experience, in the back of my mind I told myself, this is why social media is so powerful.

A little background – my experience at Valvoline had left me with a sour taste in my mouth that led me to consider taking my business elsewhere.

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous when the rep, Patty, sent me an email asking for my feedback. It felt like I was being called out by my older brother for “telling mom” about something he was guilty of. I wasn’t sure how Patty would respond… would she be confrontational or understanding?

Well, after less than 30 seconds on the phone, I understood that Patty wasn’t there to reprimand me, but to win back my business and through that the influence I might have on others.

She hit on four things

    1. Reimbursed me the $4 that wasn’t given to me by the oil change
  • Understood that the owner should have given me the discount
  • Explained that the General Manager was notified
  • Offered me a free future oil change

Sure, I was embarrassed when she brought up the blog post I had written, but why should anyone be afraid to mention their dissatisfaction online? Social media is to the masses what editorial contributions used to be in newspapers. I don’t need to be a man of prominence to have my voice heard. And Valvoline understands that.

This situation with Valvoline was not a vendetta to receive a free oil change, heck, I didn’t want to be called out at all, but it was an opportunity to show how great social media is. Valvoline Instant Oil Change understands that their customers need to be taken seriously whether in person or online.

Maybe this is just a drop in the ocean towards fixing customer service at large businesses, but it contributes to building that sea up. As a young, connected person with many oil changes ahead, Valvoline made an excellent choice to reach out.

How important is customer service? My experience at Valvoline

Excellent customer service, whether online or in person, makes or breaks a business. We’re not in a Seinfeld-esque world where people will tolerate “Soup-Nazi” style service, instead, we’re living in a time where EVERYONE can have a voice. Businesses that focus on providing kick-ass service online and offline will make it through and flourish.

Too many people misunderstand the importance of what social media is and what it’s capable of achieving. Many of my friends perceive my infatuation with social networks as worthless and assume that it’s a fetish comparable to being an adamant sports fan. Understanding social media is further convoluted by those that staunchly believe that they have never and will never buy anything on Facebook, from Pinterest, or as a result of someone’s tweet on Twitter. At least once over the next year, I guarantee that you’ll make a purchase (or not make one) that was influenced by social media.

Last Monday, in recognition of my favorite president, Grover Cleveland, I celebrated Presidents’ Day by purchasing an oil change. A few days prior, I had received a coupon in the mail for a discount off of my next oil change, and, as a person fixated on getting the most bang for my buck, I brought along the $10 discount coupon for my premium oil change. I’ve been getting my oil change at Valvoline and expected the traditional “upselling” and subpar service that often accompanies a trip to a car mechanic.

I wasn’t disappointed as I received both terrible service and an inquiry on the condition of my car. I didn’t mind the “upsell” as the gentleman was very nice while asking about my sparkplugs. What did bother me, and what will keep me from going to a Valvoline again, was a combination of bad customer service throughout my stay.

Before proceeding, let me clear up one thing. I rarely write reviews as I often empathize with customer service workers dealing with disgruntled customers.

My day at Valvoline starts …

  1. I drove to the Valvoline Instant Oil Change, walked inside, and was told to move my car up to the garage door and park it next in line.
  2.  Once I walked back inside, no one is at the counter.
  3. The line behind me gets longer. Seven minutes pass and no service.
  4. The clerk takes my keys after I tell her i’m looking for a high mileage – premium change. She doesn’t thank me but moves on to those next in line looking for an oil change by asking “who else needs a change?”.
  5. After my oil change, the clerk calls “Honda Accord”. That’s not my name.
  6. She starts to ring me out, but calls me by my first name, Andrew. Somehow she actually knew my name.
  7. She rings me up after I give her my $10 off coupon. She puts it in as $6 off. I nicely point out the error and she explains that the $10 off is for a tire rotation. I mention that i’m from out of state and that the coupon does say $10 off a premium change.
  8. She goes out and speaks to her manager to ask if this is okay She comes back in, attempts to input the $10 off, it fails. She goes back to her manager and he comes in as well. They explain to me that because my discount is out of state, they won’t honor it, but will give me the $6 discount.
  9. They don’t place the oil sticker on my car, rather, they hand it to me.

There are many reasons why my experience could have been so sub-par. Perhaps the clerk felt under the weather or was having a bad day. Maybe they were completely understaffed and trying to do the best job possible. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Whatever the reason, people that go to the Internet and social media to write about their bad experience are impacting future sales for the business. If I raved about Valvoline, I might tell all my friends. If I had an awful experience, I might swear off of Valvoline Instant Oil Change forever. And, worst of all…

I could go on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp etc. and explain my situation while pushing it to my six-thousand+ contacts. In this situation, unless Valvoline Instant Oil Change is watching social media, they won’t realize my dissatisfaction with their service or what I would be saying about this brand.

Why does this matter? Let’s say I convince three current Valvoline customers to never go there again because of a bad customer service experience and they can identify with me, that $4 compounds into much more. Considering people like to frequent the same mechanics and auto body shops, this adds up. Now, maybe each of these three people convince another three…

Sure, a large business, such as Valvoline, won’t be greatly impacted. But what if this was a small restaurant or business?

And what can Valvoline do to change? The easiest fix is to monitor social media channels, take me offline, and remedy the problem. Perhaps then I will give them an excellent online customer service review for their handling of the situation. Obviously, they could also change their store customer service, but having a brand notice the problem is enough to hopefully start making a change.

That’s great, but won’t people just abuse this? They haven’t yet, why would they try? It can be embarrassing for someone to spout off about a business, have the business remedy the problem, and continue doing it. This is why people mock others behind their backs but won’t say anything face-to-face.

Is social media powerful? Absolutely. Can your small, mid-sized, or large business afford to avoid what’s being said about them online? Do you ever share your less than positive customer service experiences on your social channels?

Focusing on a healthier me

I hate being sick. Scratch that, I loathe being sick. And while I often reserve feelings of loathing for things such as a burnt cup of coffee, I think the act of being sick makes my list. That feeling of vulnerability which takes over when you can’t control your body is awfully humanizing. For the last few years i’ve been struggling to improve my health, but I’m definitely on the way there.

I reflect back to my study abroad adventure in Morocco – an experience that had me “under the weather” more often than feeling healthy. Before my trip, and in a last ditch effort to prepare, I picked up two $2.99 bottles of multivitamins. My reasoning? Well, i’d be eating preservative-free and nutritionally sound food in Morocco and I didn’t want to spend money on buying anything extra, plus all multi-vitamins are the same! Fast forward one month and I’m doubled over in the Sahara Desert.

I was a burden on my friends as I maintained my sickness for the next 2+ months, but I was also doing myself a major disservice. By putting nutrient-less multi-vitamins into my body, I was opening myself up to further sickness.

Regaining a semblance of health was refreshing, but, of course, I could never count on staying healthy for too long. Considering I often run my body down with little sleep/rest, I became more susceptible to illness and simply blamed it on a shoddy immune system. Illnesses that would take friends a day or two to kick off took me a week. Still, I used large discount bottles of vitamins purchased at my local CVS or Costco to keep costs low.

Every other aspect of my life appeared very normal. I spent at least 30 minutes on most days exercising at the gym, biking to work, or going for runs. To the inconvenience of my friends and family, I focused much of my attention on my nutritional choices hoping that healthy food would make me feel better, and sometimes it did. I was becoming a health freak.

Finally, in October, I was plagued with a four day bug. Instead of spending a wonderful weekend with friends, I spent it on a Futon trying to regain my strength to stomach a sandwich. That was it – it was time to make a health change. I was sick of being sick.

But then again, I thought everyone must feel this way.

Seeking to replicate the decisions made by the healthier people in my life, I made my decision to switch from lower-quality Nature Made vitamins to Shaklee vitamins. And the way I have felt since the switch blows my mind – I have more energy than ever before.

Nothing will ever stop all illnesses, but with many diseases being highly preventable by health choices made in life, I’m taking my best stab at remaining healthy.  And yes, I do still get sick, but I bounce back faster as well.

While I still loathe the feeling of being hit by a bug that slows me down and makes me feel vulnerable, i’m glad that i’m moving my life in the right direction. By focusing on my health, i’m able to do more than I thought I would be able to do with more energy. I’m taking control of my life. Are you in the same boat?