The Legal @Animal and Twitter Account Names

(Author’s note: This post was drafted several days ago, but I was unable to post it because I needed to keep my SHRMChat post on the front/top page until today.  Last night I heard that @Animal had gotten his Twitter account name back and the issue was resolved. I am posting this anyway, because there is certainly a story – or future blog – in how and why Twitter finally relented, and this will be the backstory.)


One of the first things I learned in law school was IRAC.

Law school is about learning rules of law and their application to real situations through analysis. In order to do that properly, I was taught to use IRAC –  Issue, Rule(s), Analysis and Conclusion. Another student in one of my early classes added a F to make it FIRAC, because, as he correctly stated, you have to state the Facts somewhere.

So I’m turning the clock back 20+ years to pretend I am still in law school, and give you my legal take on the recent Twitter issue of who has the right to use the name @Animal.

FACTS –  Until June 19, almost 10,000 people followed a Toronto recruriter on Twitter who calls himself the Recruiting Animal (RA), and whose account name was @Animal.  He never reveals his real name on the Web, and the names Recruiting Animal and Animal are used by him for business purposes.

On June 19, something happened and RA tried to log into his Twitter account. Ultimately he determined that his Twitter account name (@Animal) had been taken, and his account had been changed to another name (@animaliaaa2). At first, the new @Animal seemed willing to return his name.


Ultimately, though, “Mikey”, as new @Animal came to call himself, dug in his heels and refused to give up the name. There is uncertainty as to whether he actually hacked and stole the name himself, or if there was some type of Twitter failure and he just happened upon it. Although RA sought help from Twitter, as of this writing  Twitter has refused to fix the problem, claiming that there is no violation of their Terms of Service. There is a huge amount of evidence that RA was using the Twitter account name @Animal prior to June 19, never willingly changed his account name, and would not have voluntarily abandoned it.

ISSUE – Who is rightfully and legally entitled to operate a Twitter account using the name @Animal? Who owns that account name – Twitter, RA, or Mikey?

RULE – An account name is clearly a “digital asset” under the law. Most digital assets are a mixed form asset – they have a licensing element and a property element. In a licensing agreement, the owner grants the user a license to use the asset under certain conditions, which are generally spelled out in the Terms of Service that the user agreed to when creating the account.

Under the law of conversion, one who takes and uses another person’s property (often because it has been lost or mislaid), is guilty even if the converting of the property is done without wrongful intent. For example, if you find your neighbor’s dog in your yard, and you keep it for yourself, you are guilty of conversion, even if you think you are helping the dog.

Under US law, intangible property (property that cannot be seen, touched, etc.) rights can be converted.  In Kremen v. Cohen, 325 F.3d 1035 (9th Cir. 2003), when the domain name was wrongfully transferred, a claim for conversion was held to be available against the domain name registrar.

ANALYSIS – To determine if the account name @Animal is a property right or used by license from Twitter, it is imperative to read Twitter’s Terms of Service. The TOS does not specifically state whether an account name is user-generated content or owned by Twitter, but it does say this:

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

In other words, the person who generates the content owns it (has a property right), and they grant Twitter a license to use it, according to Twitter.

Since Twitter account names are actually “submitted” by the user, as in the above description of Content, it follows that the account name is actually user generated content, owned as property by the person who created or generated it. That would make the account name property, with all legal property rights attaching to it. Twitter admits this property right by granting itself a license back to the property.

CONCLUSION – A Twitter account name is owned as property by the person who submitted it. If someone else converts that property for their own use – even if they didn’t have any fraudulent intent – they have committed a tortious or criminal act. If Twitter allows the person who has wrongfully converted the property to keep it, then Twitter is guilty of conversion as well. Mikey and Twitter have been shown ample evidence that (a) Recruiting Animal is the true owner of the account @Animal, (b) he  never abandoned the account name and desperately wants to retrieve it, as it is part of his occupation, and (c) legally, it is immaterial whether Mikey hacked and stole the account, or happened upon it innocently. Mikey and Twitter are both guilty of conversion.

Of course, despite any legal conclusion, Twitter’s feet dragging and refusal to fix this promptly constitutes a massive customer service fail.

Don’t agree? Prove me wrong in the comments. 😉




ILSHRM11 – A Twitter Success

Patty Grossert is the Human Resources Director at North American Medical Management in the Chicago, Illinois area. She currently has 155 contacts on Linkedin, about 3 times the national average of 60, so she is not an absolute stranger to social networking.

When Patty started a Twitter account in 2009, though, she did what many people do: she tweeted once, then abandoned the account.

That was Patty’s first, and until last week, only tweet.

Then Patty attended the Social Media Boot Camp at the Illinois State SHRM Conference. This pre-conference session, led by Jessica Miller-Merrill, was intended to help HR pros learn the tools necessary to make informed decisions about how and when to use social media platforms.Part of the session naturally covered Twitter. Here’s what happened to Patty:

As read from the bottom up, Patty started tweeting at that pre-confrence session, and she didn’t give up. The coaching and information kept coming, until Patty had become so enchanted with Twitter that she posted the day after the conference was over:

The freak flag reference is to Talent Anarchy,  first day keynote speakers. So not only is Patty tweeting after the end of the conference, but she is referring to something she learned there.

To me, there is no greater measurement of the success of the Illinois state conference than Patty Grossert. The conference planners saw a need for practical, how-to, hands on information in an area beneficial and important to HR practitioners, delivered that knowledge, and encouraged the attendees to use that information before they even left the building. I give all of the credit for this to John Jorgenson, chair of this conference. He saw what was needed, and did it without apology.

Can you say the same about the last conference you went to?



HR Should Quit Fiddling With Social Media

When I was recently asked by a local SHRM chapter (not my own)  if I would be interested in speaking about “what’s new” in HR management, I politely declined. First, in my opinion there is not much new in HR management, and, second, it’s not what I want to talk about to HR peeps right now.

I did offer to speak about social media in HR, titling my presentation “Old Problems, New Tools”. In response, I received the following:

Our group has had a social media presentation before, and for some reason, our members just see it as “one more thing to do”.

Oh, snap.

After I quit banging my head against the table, I was reminded of a great article I had recently read at Human Resource Executive Online, titled “HR Fiddles While Organizations Burn“. If you haven’t read it, do so. Right now.

In the article, author Margaret Morford argues that the biggest problem with the HR profession is that it is overly mired in compliance, compensation, and benefits, paying little or no attention to the strategic needs of talent management and succession planning.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because I have heard many similar complaints from HR practitioners in the social media world since I had the good fortune to become involved almost 3 years ago.

In that same time period, though, I have seen very little evidence that the online HR community is making an effort to fix that problem. Sure, we blog and tweet and write endless words about strategic issues and say great things. But do we impact those people who need it most? Hardly.

Before we try to use social media to teach HR pros how to do their jobs better, we need to convince HR practitioners to use social media. They need to be persuaded that they will earn more professional respect with the knowledge they gain through social media. We need to quit fiddling around, and make a real, concerted effort to convert  HR practitioners to its use. All of the blog posts in the world are not going to change the profession if we don’t change who’s reading.

Think of the impact on the profession that could be made if everyone on Unbridled Talent‘s list of Top 100 HR & Recruiting Industry Pros To Follow On Twitter actually mentored and taught at least one HR practitioner how to use social media to the same extent they do. I don’t mean standing up and giving a presentation to 100 people and hoping for the best. I want them (you?) to find an HR practitioner who thinks social media is an administrative chore, and teach them otherwise. They’ll pay it forward.

Instead of fiddling, let’s build an entire orchestra.


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Vetting Social Media Speakers

The Klout "fail" puppy is cuter than a fail whale.

If the term “human resources” is in your name, like Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it would be reasonable to expect that you know something about choosing qualified candidates for a job function. Right?

So if SHRM – or a SHRM-affiliate – is looking for a conference speaker to discuss Twitter and how it relates to employment law, it would also be reasonable to expect that the speaker is knowledgeable about, well . . . Twitter and employment law.

Am I missing something here?

I ask because SHRM, the national organization, and some SHRM affiliates, don’t seem to agree with me. They have an unusual habit of presenting employment lawyers to talk about the crossroads of law and social media, but who know nothing, or close to nothing, about social media.

I am not making this up.

I first came into personal contact with this questionable practice in March 2010, at the SHRM Legal-Legislative Conference. Better writers than I blogged about it. Since then, I have encountered the practice several times, most recently at the massive SHRM annual conference in Las Vegas. Check here and here for rants about that session. Sadly, my own state will be adding to this travesty this October, when they present a session on “Twitter and Terminations”, led by an employment lawyer who is not on Twitter, and whose entire social media presence consists of a LinkedIn profile.

This practice truly short-changes attendees. Attendees have every right to expect that a human resources organization has properly vetted their speakers and trainers, and that those people have a certain amount of expertise in the totality of their topic. This is especially true since it is so easy to search people using Google to see if they have any kind of social presence at all.

If SHRM and other organizations want to really delve into their evaluation of a speaker’s social media involvement, they can also use rating sites like Klout or PeerIndex to see how involved a speaking candidate is on social media. I am not advocating that a potential speaker has a particular rating or number, but they should at least have one.

Is that really too much to ask?

My Klout score has dropped lately, but I least I have a score!
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Whose Privacy Is It, Anyway?

My husband, Sy, hates, hates, HATES it when I mention him on Facebook. Sometimes he positively snarls a demand: “Don’t put that on Facebook!” Other times he just whines a little: “You’re not going to put that on Facebook, are you?”

Sy is a really private, very old fashioned guy who thinks that nothing he does is anyone else’s business – often not even mine. He can also be one of those cranky, irascible old men who say inadvertently hilarious things. In fact, when I first started following @shitmydadsays on Twitter, I showed it to my older daughter and her immediate comment was, “Why didn’t *I* think of that?”

I really wouldn’t mind doing as he demands asks, though, except for one little problem: me. I am a pretty transparent person all across my social media life, and I try to tweet, post, and update the real me, whatever that entails. I want to have real conversations and I want people to talk back. So sometimes discussing “me” also requires discussing my husband.

The most recent example of this happened just this past weekend, when my husband became suddenly ill and required emergency medical treatment (see my previous post for more information). I began putting out tidbits on Facebook and Twitter for two reasons: (1) I was due to leave for a professional conference and wanted my many connections to know why I wasn’t coming, and (2) I like telling people when real, stressful things are happening in my life, because I love and appreciate the honest and thoughtful wishes I always receive. In this particular instance, the thoughts, wishes, and prayers I received on Facebook and Twitter were instrumental in preventing me from falling into a depression over my lost conference opportunity.

Did I violate my husband’s privacy by posting what was happening? He certainly thinks so. But I can’t think of any other way to be transparent and real about my life without involving him (I did leave out some of the most embarrassing parts). Would I be the same person if I had not shared?

When Justin Halpern started tweeting shit his dad said, was he violating his dad’s privacy?


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Put Up Or Shut Up = Mommy or Yoda?

I‘ve been thinking a lot lately about the conflict between the two different schools of thought regarding goals and the effort it takes to meet them.  One is represented by the inspirational saying “Shoot for the moon – you may land among the stars.”  Remember your mother saying “I don’t care if you succeed – only that you try your best”?  These statements represent the idea that it is the effort that matters, and that a strong effort  IS the success, or at least brings some kind of success. I’ll call it the “Mommy” school.

The second school of thought is the Yoda school, illustrated by his statement: “Do or do not. There is no try.”  Remember  Gene Kranz in the movie Apollo 13?  “Failure is not an option.”  Either the Apollo 13 astronauts returned safely or they didn’t.  Advocates believe that it is failure, and/or the fear of it, that will keep you from achieving success, and that only completeness represents achievement.

So which one of those ideas should prevail if I am examining my 2010 Put Up Or Shut Up  goals, originally posted on Victorio Milian’s Creative Chaos blog?  Here is what I Put Up a year or so ago:

  • I will step up my efforts with SHRM, local and national, to improve the HR community and help increase collaboration among members.
  • I will do something every day that helps me develop professionally – attend a webinar or conference, write a blog, read or write a white paper, etc.
  • I will become a more active networker – phone calls, Skype, etc. This is the hardest part of all for me because I am kind of shy!

Here is what I did with each:

1.  I volunteered for my local SHRM communications committee, and became a regular contributor to their newsletter. I also started encouraging members to become aware of HR bloggers and I continue to publish a feature called “5 to Follow” in our local newsletter, suggesting blogs.  I have regularly contributed to the group on LinkedIn.  My efforts to get the local more involved in Twitter, though, have completely failed. I have offered to run free classes for members, and have offered suggestions for the chapter to use and get involved in Twitter.  All of those efforts have been rebuffed outright. Nationally, I went to the SHRM Legislative/Legal update in Washington, DC and made some new connections, but haven’t done much else at the national level.

2.  Okay, I admit to not actually doing something every day.  BUT – on some days I do several things.  I clearly do far more, overall, than I did before I made the pledge.   I have done enough to earn about 80% of my SPHR recert requirements in just one year.  I repeat, though, I don’t do something every day.

3.  I have developed my network greatly, and my network is about 3  times larger than it was a year ago.  It certainly could be better, and it could be more diverse, and it could have more local people.  I am still finding it hard to connect with people locally, even though I have made some special local efforts.

Do  you now see my conflict? Did I fail, because there isn’t one item that couldn’t have been achieved more completely?  The Yoda school seems to say I failed.  The Mommy school, on the other hand, might argue  that I had sufficient success because I tried quite hard.  I may not have reached the moon, but I probably reached the stars.

I’m repeating these goals for 2011, so maybe that’s the answer; if I hadn’t failed, my goals would be entirely new.  What do you think, though?  Which school of thought is more relevant? Or reasonable? Or sensible?  Did I fail or succeed?  Have you been faced with the same choice?  Use the comments to tell me!

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HRevolution – Rants and Raves

Mark Stelzner as Donald Trump - sort of

Back in March I did a post following a SHRM conference called Rants and Raves.  Since I have no desire to re-invent the wheel, and I find that the title is the hardest part of my blog to write,  I am going to take the easy way out and offer this  HRevolution version.  This time, though, the rants and raves are not mine – at least not until the end.  These are comments made directly to me by some of the attendees, and not based on anyone’s blog post or tweet.


NOT ENOUGH TIME BETWEEN SESSIONS FOR DISCUSSIONS/NETWORKING/CONVERSATIONS – This was by far the most prevalent and consistent comment I received.  People did not want to miss the sessions, but they wanted time to start and continue substantive conversations.  The tweet-ups, with a party-like atmosphere, were good for meeting and greeting, but they wanted quieter time for serious stuff, too.  When asked, people were willing to attend a 2-day session in order to rectify this.

NOT ENOUGH SPACE – Several people thought that Catalyst Ranch, while fun and funky, was not large enough for the attendees to find spots outside of the sessions to talk or even break out into a smaller group.  A related comment was that there were just too many people, making the sessions a little too large for comfortable discussion.

GENERAL SESSION/TRACK GRIPES – Some people wanted more topics lead by working HR practitioners and directly relevant to daily HR functions.  Some wanted fewer sponsor/consultant/non-practitioner speakers and facilitators. While many of the people I spoke with felt some uneasiness with the sessions, they did not articulate their feelings or dissatisfaction as well in this area (unlike the time and space rants).


EVENT PLANNING AND LOGISTICS – As a member of the planning committee, it is almost embarrassing to admit that this was the number one rave I received. People were quick to recognize the work involved and seemed happy with the food, tweetups, transportation, information, and cupcakes.

CHICAGO – Even though there are rumblings on Twitter about having a future HRevolution in Hawaii or Las Vegas, many attendees commented to me how perfect the Chicago location was for them from a transportation and travel standpoint.  They liked Chicago and the choices it afforded them.

CONNECTIONS MADE – Many people came specifically for the opportunity and ability to meet others and extend connections with online friends and acquaintances.  While some wished they had been able to do more, many were enthusiastic about the connections they did make.

Now that I have reported on the most frequent rants and raves made by attendees (to me), I am going to indulge myself  just a little and give you a personal rant and rave (just one each!) because I can only shut up for so long. 😉


There have been a lot of blog posts and tweets about HRevolution.  Some were positive, some were not. Fair enough.  I get the distinct impression, though, that many people made their feelings known only through a blog post or a tweet. No personal contact with, or email or phone call to, a planning committee member – even though contact information for every committee member was given to every participant. Was this you?  It makes me wonder if some people actually listened to some of the messages that were given about the value of connection and communication.  If you have something to say about HRevolution – good or bad – say it on your blog or on Twitter, but say it directly to the people who brought you HRevolution, too.  You can’t have influence and credibility in 140 characters,  so make a meaningful connection and help HRevolution – and yourself – move forward.


I was a very small part of a talented and dedicated group of people who helped bring HRevolution to life.  I learned much about effective collaboration and valuable teamwork from this experience, and I have to thank Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks, Crystal Peterson, Steve Boese, Mark Stelzner, and Jason Seiden for allowing me to be a part of this team. I am raving about all of them!


I chose not to personally comment on the rants and raves of the attendees, because I want to know what YOU think!  Were you there?  Do you agree with anything?  Nothing?  Do you have other experiences that could help make an event like this better for everyone?

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Carnival of HR – Special Employment Edition

Maybe I should have called it the “Special Unemployed” Edition, because the purpose of this special Carnival is to highlight HR professionals who are unemployed, and these people are all pretty special!

Last week President Obama signed a jobs bill called the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act.  This bill allows companies to avoid paying the employee‘s Social Security payroll tax for the rest of the year, AND allows the company to get a tax credit for next year if they keep that person working a year.  It’s a good deal, so tell your employers to hire one of these people!



Shauna is the ringmistress of the Carnival of HR, as well as the founder and co-host of the highly popular HR Happy Hour radio program.  She blogs as the HR Minion and can be found on Twitter using that name.  She is from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota.  You can read here, here,  and here why she is a valuable hire right now.


Ben hails from Cincinnatti, Ohio.  He has his MBA, and blogs at RethinkHR.  You can also find him on Twitter as @benjaminmcall.  If you want to see why he may be right for your organization, read his profile here.


Bob lives in Virginia, but he would like to relocate to the southwest (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico) or northern California. He was profiled in the blog Do The Work by Franny Oxford, and you can read about Bob here as well.


Kim is brand new to the blogosphere (here), but she certainly isn’t new to the HR profession.  With 20 years of experience, she is now seeking work in the greater NYC area.  She has been profiled by Tammy Colson‘s Junkyard HR here, and you can find additional credentials on LinkedIn here.


Jim blogs and writes as HRPufNStuf, and goes by the name @jmdcomedy on Twitter.  He is a talented recruiting manager who lives in Minnesota, but is completely open to relocation.  Don’t hesitate!  Read more about him here and here.


Shennee is from  the York, Pennsylvania area and needs to remain nearby.  She blogs at Deeply Rutted and is the co-host of Compassionate HR. Here’s her profile from her archives:

I come from a strong Recruiting/Staffing Industry background. I am passionate and compassionate about the “human” in the Human Resources. What I enjoy the most about human resources is that no day is ever the same, and the challenge of making it work.  Everyday, I strive to learn something new, network, and be inspired by others. Personal/Professional development is a priority to me. Making  a Difference in people’s livelihood is what get’s me going in the morning.  My Human Resources background includes large and small organizations.  I started a blog and I am connected through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  I really LOVE working , and really want to get back to it!

What I am looking for:

  • I am based in Manchester, PA South Central PA Area. I am looking for a local commute. Virtual employment would be fantastic. I am married to an IT pro.
  • Human Resources is my focus.  I enjoy Recruiting/Sourcing/Training/Social Media
  • I am looking to collaborate with others,continue to develop my blog, and step outside of my “comfort zone”.
  • I am available to discuss part-time or full-time employment opportunities.

If anyone wishes to discuss this with me. I am available at:

Looking forward to connecting with you soon. Ready to hit the ground running!


Fluent in French, and conversant in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, this talented woman needs a job in the greater New York City/New Jersey area.  She also blogs at Life Analyzed and can be followed as @ataratus on Twitter.  In her own words:

I am a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources with ten years of progressive experience as a human resource generalist, primarily in the field of legal HR.  I started my career working mostly on international recruiting, but over time I was promoted and given additional responsibilities in talent management, succession/workforce planning and policy development.  I am skilled at evaluating current processes and developing innovative solutions to on-going problems.  I am always looking for ways to be more efficient and effective in my work and encourage others to do the same.  As a leader, I believe that it is important to value my employees’ input and that I can motivate them by helping them to see why their efforts are important in the big picture.  I am looking for a manager or director of HR position in NJ/NYC for a mid to large size organization, focusing on talent management and strategic workforce planning.  My ideal company is one that is invested in their staff, offering training, career advancement and performance compensation, and having a commitment to work/life balance.  For more information about my background and to contact me, see my LinkedIn profile at  I also maintain a blog at


That’s me!  I’ll wrap this up by saying that I live in the Detroit area but I am open to relocation anywhere.  I have been profiled on Punk Rock HR (here) and Do the Work (here). Links to my LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profiles are on the right column of this page.

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SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference 2010 – Rants and Raves


The Legal Environment for Business Professionals – this “pre-conference” was my first stop on the first day.  The presenter, Richard Coffinberger, JD, is an Associate Professor at George Mason University.    He teaches a similar course to undergraduate students, and he asked the class if they knew what television show “Shirley Jones was famous for”.  Most of the people in the class knew about The Partridge Family because none of us were 18 years old.  He has obviously never heard about tailoring his presentation to his target audience.  Also, the case he was referring to (Calder v Jones, 465 US 783) was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1983, regarding a National Enquirer article that was published in 1979. It’s OLD, and it’s about in personam jurisdiction.  Why does an HR professional even CARE about in personam jurisdiction?  The man was personable and engaging, but suffered from a serious case of  “needs to update his notes and presentation.”  He also misspoke about the law on one occasion and was promptly chastised by one of the attendees (he called on her before me so I didn’t have the pleasure).

I’m also going to rant a little about SHRM and this same presentation.  It cost an extra $310, and attendees were promised a Certificate of Completion and extra HRCI credits.  There were no Certificates, and they furnished no program number for HRCI.  I submitted for credit without either, but if  HRCI denies my credit I am going to be seriously pissed off.

How to Lobby Your Member of Congress This program was presented by Lisa Horn,  who is from SHRM and works on health care, to explain the “ins and outs” of the scheduled Capitol Hill meetings with members of Congress.  I was fence sitting about going to these meetings, and went to this session to make a decision.  At one point an audience member asked about discussing something other than health care reform or Section 127 of the tax code (regarding extension of employer provided educational assistance), which were the two official topics of these meetings.  Ms. Horn made it very clear that SHRM arranged the Hill visits and attendees were there to promote the SHRM agenda.

Funny me.  I thought SHRM existed in some part to provide benefits and value to their members in exchange for dues and the fees from the conference. I didn’t realize that my conference fee was paying  them to promote their agenda. I got off the fence and didn’t go, because I am not a shill for SHRM.

Cocktails & Conversation – Networking Happy Hour – I always thought that networking meant that people came together and actually spoke to each other. That’s pretty hard to do when SHRM has people speaking from a podium.  In fact, Mary Ellen Slater, Mike VanDervort, Paul Smith and I were getting many dirty looks from others because we were actually talking during this billed-as-a-networking event.  We finally went outside.

Other rants? (1) The lack of diversity of opinion, particularly about social media.  See a great post about this from Mike VanDervort. I was there and he’s not exaggerating; (2) My inability to get breakfast at the Thursday morning session because I was 8 minutes late; (3) A total aversion to networking and conversation from the majority of the attendees. I’ve written about this before, and this conference was no different.  In fact, one presenter had no business cards, and offered no address or phone number of any kind; and (4) A program called To Tweet or Not To Tweet?  Is That the Right Question? given by a presenter who admitted to me that she doesn’t use Twitter.  When I told her that I would like to Tweet the program, she said, “You mean you are going to tell people what I SAY?”


Washington, DC in mid-March – The weather was stunningly beautiful, mild and sunny.  I had the opportunity to see many of the monuments and buildings lit during the evening- a beautiful sight.  As I asked a companion as we were walking toward the Library of Congress, “How can anyone come to DC and not be emotionally moved?”

VIP Reception and Tweet-Up – This event, sponsored by the employment law firm of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, was nothing less than stunning.  Held in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, it offered food, drink, photographers and an awesome view.  OK, there WERE speakers (again!), but the venue was so large that it was easy to ignore them and keep on talking and socializing networking. This was what a “networking event” should be.

Immigration Reform and the Employer – This was one of two different programs on immigration law compliance (a personal favorite topic), and it was easily the most superior (I attended both).  In fact, it was the best of all of the substantive sessions that I attended.  It was led by Stuart Brock, a lawyer out of Charlotte, NC who manages a consulting firm called HR Innovators.  Stuart used facts, not emotion, to make the audience understand the huge shift in immigration law enforcement prompted by the Obama administration.  He made it clear that some opinions could differ, and that some of his recommendations were based on the interests of his clients.  He gave us information and many resources, in an engaging and friendly manner, treating us like thinking adults and not children in need of discipline. At this conference, taught mostly by employment lawyers, that was in very short supply.

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Networking – Online or Off?

In a few short days, many HR and recruiting pros from the world of Twitter will be heading to an unconference called TruLondon.  I am truly heartbroken that circumstances, mostly financial, prevent me from attending this event.  Based on my experiences with some of the attendees, the sessions will be lively and the exchange of dialog and ideas will be electrifying.

What I will miss most, though, is the opportunity to network face-to-face (IRL is the dreaded acronym) with the people that I have come to know and love in the online community.  People whose opinions I seek and whose values I share.  People who have never hesitated to reach out and extend sympathy, laughter, or a helping hand. People who engage you because they want to – which is what social media is really all about.

Based on this experience I have come to the highly unpopular conclusion that most traditional forms of networking are pointless time-wasters. I am not talking about social or family functions, where you happen to mention to Cousin Bill or Friend Mary that you are looking for work.  I am speaking of those events that are billed as “networking opportunities”, where networking sometimes is the only reason the gathering exists at all.

3 recent examples:

1. Local SHRM chapter seminar.  I spoke with a total of 6 people from a crowd of about 120.  Most people came in groups or with co-workers and were happy to huddle with those people only.  Of the 6 people I spoke with 3 were, like me, in transition and moved on quickly.  One woman approached me because she recognized my avatar from LinkedIn. (So much for in-person!)  Cost was $10.  Time spent? 6 hours. Number of real (people you will continue to engage)connections? Zero.

2.  Michigan Chamber of Commerce seminar. I reached out to 5 people in a small group of about 25. At the beginning of the session, one facilitator asked the participants to discuss how their business was doing financially and whether they were hiring.  I approached one woman from an HR consulting firm who claimed to be hiring.  I gave her a business card and explained what I do.  She reacted to me, and that card, as if I was giving her a communicable disease.  I spoke with both of the facilitators, and sent them a LinkedIn contact request when I got home.  They both ignored that request, and I am certain I will never speak with them again.  Cost was $300. Time spent? 9 hours. Number of real connections made? Zero.

3.  Motor City Connect luncheon. MCC is a community created specifically for networking.  Lunch was at a local restaurant and everyone introduced themselves. Most of the attendees were entrepreneurs trying to drum up business.   Cost was $20. Time spent? 2 hours. Number of real connections made? One. I hired him to help me set up this blog and I keep in touch with him through Twitter and Facebook.

In short, I have found that many people at networking functions are there for their own purposes only.  If you don’t fit into that purpose – you are ignored or politely dismissed. Or people come with security blankets made up of other people – and then are afraid to put those blankets down. ROI (Return On Investment) can be pretty slim, if you measure your investment, as any economist would, in terms of time spent as well as dollars.

Online networking – where the people are generally as anxious as you are to connect and go to great lengths through tweets, status updates, blogs, and comments to achieve that connection – is a vastly superior investment of time and emotion, in my opinion and experience.  Still not convinced?  Let me ask you one question: When was the last time you went to a conference, or seminar, or similar event, and hugged almost everyone there?