Business leader showcase
In an effort to improve our own professional lives, we often look to business leaders for inspiration, as knowing how they tick can help us to understand what makes a great leader. Amy Vernon is the GM of Social Marketing at Internet Media Labs, and is a well known industry leader in the social media field. A former journalist, Vernon is known for her keen insight, her wit, and for unveiling problems most people never even see.
She has over 67,000 subscribers on Facebook and over 20,000 followers on her personal Twitter profile, but in the interview below, it is heartwarming to see how a real social media expert keeps her focus on her family.
Tell us about yourself and your work.
I’m general manager of social marketing for NYC tech startup Internet Media Labs. That means I deal with overall social marketing strategy for our company and our clients, as well as day-to-day operations on some accounts. I coordinate our blog and relationships with other companies that provide services and resources we don’t. I do hardcore QA on our own products, as well. I tend to work the tools I use very hard.
Walk us through a typical day in your life.
I wake up about 6 a.m., usually when one or more children is bouncing on me for “Operation Wake Up Mommy.” After herding two boys around to get ’em ready for school and they’re dropped off, my husband drops me off at the train and I head into Manhattan. In between, I’ve already begun checking my social accounts and the resources I use to find content I share – Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Triberr and Plugg.io. I start scheduling shares of some of that content, otherwise I’d barrage my followers with a dozen links all at once. I prefer to spread them out throughout the day.
Once I get into work in Chelsea, I’m basically going back and forth between my social accounts and client accounts all day, as well as writing or editing blog posts, meeting with current or potential clients, and putting our products through their paces. SeeS.aw, which is in public beta, visualizes your social feed and enables you to find the best content from it. oneQube, which is in closed beta, helps you find relevant people and conversations.
I’m a pretty hardcore product tester, so I tend to surface unexpected problems, as friends of mine can attest to. I once got an error message on a friend’s product that said merely, “Oh, crap.” The engineer knew exactly what it was, but said I wasn’t supposed to be able to get that particular message.
On days when I don’t have an evening event, I try to get out of Manhattan by 6 p.m. or so, so I can spend some time with my boys before bed. After bedtime, I have my laptop on and continue working while I watch TV with my husband. If I have a nighttime event — which can range from New York Tech Meetup’s monthly showcase to a social event with Girls in Tech or New York Tech Women — I may be in the city until 10 or 11 p.m., take a train home, stay up a bit longer working and then go to bed.
Where were you raised? Where all have you lived?
Born and raised on Long Island, went to school at Northwestern University in the Chicago suburbs, then lived in South Florida, outside of Phoenix, Az., and in Westchester County, NY. Now I live in Elizabeth, N.J.
How did you get into your current career?
I was laid off after 20 years in newspaper journalism. I’d gotten into Digg, StumbleUpon and other social media sites to help drive traffic to our newspaper’s blogs, and that set me up well for a post-journalism career. Basically, the day after I was laid off, I had my first contract for consulting.
What is something unique that you do to balance work and life?
That’s tough. I feel as if I don’t do a particularly good job at that. But if I had to point to something, it would probably be that every night that I’m home before the boys’ bedtime (I have two young sons), that time until bedtime is “family time.”
What keeps you up at night?
Oddly, I sleep pretty well. When I do have problems, it’s usually work-related. Something I forgot to do, or something I just thought of doing that I’m really excited about.
If you could spend one day in the life of another industry leader, who would it be?
At age 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A newspaper reporter.
What about you would most people not believe unless they knew you?
I was SUPER-shy as a child. Had major problems talking to people I didn’t know. Sometimes even people I did know.
What inspirational quote has stuck with you the longest?
I tend to dislike “inspirational” quotes. Most of the quotes on my FB profile, for example, are from Midnight Run or 24.
So, in lieu of that, here’s a quote I really liked when when my first child was a toddler: “Our job is to civilize them, to teach them to say please and thank you, don’t spit and scratch and don’t pee anywhere you want. These are the jobs you have with a toddler.” — Dr. Harvey Karp
The reason I like that quote is because it oversimplifies, but in a way that isn’t oversimplified. At its core, that IS the job one has with a child. Sure, it’s not as simple as that, but it is, also. And I think we tend to overcomplicate most things in life and should step back sometimes and figure out what we really need to get done and do that. And that applies to a lot of things in life.
What tools can you not live without?
Actual tools/gadgets – my smartphones. I have an iPhone and an Android. I like each for different things, though my actual Android is a horrible phone (Droid X2). Between the two, I’m able to do most things I need to while I’m mobile. In terms of platforms/software/apps – Twitter app, Google apps that enable me to email from 6 different addresses via one mailbox, Card Munch, which enables me to scan a business card and then connect with that person on LinkedIn, and GeniusScan, which eliminates the need for a scanner.
Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns
(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.
The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.
When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”
Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.
For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.
Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.
But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.
While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.
Google workers have formed company’s first labor union
(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.
On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.
The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.
“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.
AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.
In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.
So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.
Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.
“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.
Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines
(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.
Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.
Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.
“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.
“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”
The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”
To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”
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