This LinkedIn sayonara message says it all.

Over the past several years, it’s been painfully evident to me as well as many other people that LinkedIn has become a sort of Potemkin Village regarding its professional groups.

While many groups boast enviable membership levels, there’s been precious little going on with them.

It’s almost as if the vast majority of people who signed up for membership in these groups did so only to be “seen” as being active in them – without really caring at all about actually interacting with other members.

And if any more proof were needed, try advertising your product or brand on LinkedIn.

Crickets.

Today I received the following message from Alex Clarke, digital content manager and moderator of the B2B Marketing LinkedIn group. You know them:  publishers of B2B Marketing, one of the most well-respected media properties in the marketing field.

We’ll let the Alex Clarke memo speak for itself:

What ever happened to LinkedIn Groups? What was once a bustling metropolis, teeming with valuable discussion and like-minded peers sharing success and insight has now become a desolate, post-apocalyptic wasteland – home only to spammers and tumbleweed. 

We’re sad, because, like many other groups, our 70,000+ strong LinkedIn community has become a stagnant place, despite constant love and attention and our best efforts to breathe life into its lonely corridors. 

That’s why we’re moving to a new home … Facebook: bit.ly/B2BGroupFB. 

We’re aiming to build a similar – and ultimately, better – community on this platform, with an eye on providing B2B marketers with a place to seek advice, share success, and connect with like-minded professionals in a well-moderated environment. 

We’ll still drop in to keep an eye on the LinkedIn Group, continuing to moderate discussions and approve new members, but much of our effort will be invested in building a brand-new community on Facebook. Many of you will already know each other, but please feel free to say hello!  We’re really excited to see where this goes, thanks for coming along with us.

So, while B2B Marketing will maintain a default presence on LinkedIn, what’s clear is that it’s abandoning that social platform in favor of one where it feels it will find more success.

Who knows if Facebook will ultimately prove the better fit for professional interaction. On the face of it, LinkedIn would seem better-aligned for the professional world as compared to than the “friends / family / hobbies / virulent politics / cat videos” orientation of Facebook.

Time will tell, of course.

Either way, this is a huge indictment of LinkedIn and its failure to build a presence in the cyberworld that goes beyond being a shingle for newly minted “business consultants,” or a place for people to park their resumes until the time comes when they’re ready to seek a new job.

It’s quite a disappointment, actually.

The Connected Home

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the typical American home contains more than a few digital devices. But it might surprise some to learn just how many devices there actually are.

According to a recent survey of nearly 700 American adults who have children under the age of 15 living at home, the average household contains 7.3 “screens.”

The survey, which was conducted by technology research company ReportLinker in April 2017, found that TVs remain the #1 item … but the number of digital devices in the typical home is also significant.

Here’s what the ReportLinker findings show:

  • TV: ~93% of homes have at least one
  • Smartphone: ~79%
  • Laptop computer: ~78%
  • Tablet computer: ~68%
  • Desktop computer: ~63%
  • Tablet computer for children age 10 or younger: ~52%
  • Video game console: ~52%
  • e-Reader: ~16%

An interesting facet of the report focuses on how extensively children are interfacing with these devices. Perhaps surprisingly, TV remains the single most popular device used by kids under the age of 15 at home, compared to other devices that may seem to be more attuned to the younger generation’s predilections:

  • TV: ~62% used by children in their homes
  • Tablets: ~47%
  • Smartphones: ~39%
  • Video game consoles: ~38%

The ReportLinker survey also studied attitudes adults have about technology and whether it poses risks for their children. Parents who allow their children to use digital devices in their bedrooms report higher daily usage by their children compared to families who do not do so – around three hours of usage per day versus two.

On balance, parents have positive feelings about the impact technology is having on their children, with ~40% of the respondents believing that technology promotes school readiness and cognitive development, along with a higher level of technical savvy.

On the other hand, around 50% of the respondents feel that technology is hurting the “essence” of childhood, and causing kids to spend less time playing, spending time outdoors, or reading.

A smaller but still-significant ~30% feel that their children are more isolated, because they have fewer social interactions than they would have had without digital devices in their lives.

And lastly, seven in ten parents have activated some form of parental supervision software on the digital devices in their homes – a clear indication that, despite the benefits of the technology that nearly everyone can recognize, there’s a nagging sense that downsides of that technology are always lurking just around the corner …

For more findings from the ReportLinker survey, follow this link.

B-to-B content marketers: Not exactly a confident bunch.

In the world of business-to-business marketing, all that really matters is producing a constant flow of quality sales leads.  According to Clickback CEO Kyle Tkachuk, three-fourths of B-to-B marketers cite their most significant objective as lead generation.  Pretty much everything else pales in significance.

This is why content marketing is such an important aspect of commercial marketing campaigns.  Customers in the commercial world are always on the lookout for information and insights to help them solve the variety of challenges they face on the manufacturing line, in their product development, quality assurance, customer service and any number of other critical functions.

Suppliers and brands that offer a steady diet of valuable and actionable information are often the ones that end up on a customer’s “short-list” of suppliers when the need to make a purchase finally rolls around.

Thus, the role of content marketers continues to grow – along with the pressures on them to deliver high-quality, targeted leads to their sales forces.

The problem is … a large number of content marketers aren’t all that confident about the effectiveness of their campaigns.

It’s a key takeaway finding from a survey conducted for content marketing software provider SnapApp by research firm Demand Gen.  The survey was conducted during the summer and fall of 2016 and published recently in SnapApp’s Campaign Confidence Gap report.

The survey revealed that more than 80% of the content marketers queried reported being just “somewhat” or “not very” confident regarding the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Among the concerns voiced by these content marketers is that the B-to-B audience is becoming less enamored of white papers and other static, lead-gated PDF documents to generate leads.

And yet, those are precisely the vehicles that continue to be used most often used to deliver informational content.

According to the survey respondents, B-to-B customers not only expect to be given content that is relevant, they’re also less tolerant of resources that fail to speak to their specific areas of interest.

For this reason, one-third of the content managers surveyed reported that they are struggling to come up with effective calls-to-action that capture attention, interest and action instead of being just “noise.”

The inevitable conclusion is that traditional B-to-B marketing strategies and similar “seller-centric” tactics have become stale for buyers.

Some content marketers are attempting to move beyond these conventional approaches and embrace more “content-enabled” campaigns that can address interest points based on a customer’s specific need and facilitate engagement accordingly.

Where such tactics have been attempted, content marketers report somewhat improved results, including more open-rate activity and an in increase in clickthrough rates.

However, the degree of improvement doesn’t appear to be all that impressive. Only about half of the survey respondents reported experiencing improved open rates.  Also, two-thirds reported experiencing an increase in clickthrough rates – but only by 5% or less.

Those aren’t exactly eye-popping improvements.

But here’s the thing: Engagement levels with traditional “static” content marketing vehicles are likely to actually decline … so if content-enabled campaigns can arrest the drop-off and even notch improvements in audience engagement, that’s at least something.

Among the tactics content marketers consider for their creating more robust content-enabled campaigns are:

  • Video
  • Surveys
  • Interactive infographics
  • ROI calculators
  • Assessments/audits

The hope is that these and other tools will increase customer engagement, allow customers to “self-quality,” and generate better-quality leads that are a few steps closer to an actual sale.

If all goes well, these content-enabled campaigns will also collect data that helps sales personnel accelerate the entire process.

Thanks to IOT, search is morphing into “just-in-time knowledge.”

aeIn today’s world of marketing, it’s been obvious for some time that the pace of technological change is dramatically shortening the life cycle of marketing techniques.

Consider online search. Twenty-five years ago it was hardly a blip on the radar screen.  Picking up momentum, paid search soon began to rival traditional forms of advertising, as companies took advantage of promo programs offered by Google and others that aligned neatly with consumers when they were on the hunt for products, services and solutions..

Google has attracted billions upon billions of dollars in search advertising revenue, becoming one of the biggest corporations in the world, even as entire industries have grown up around optimizing companies’ website presence and relevance so as to rank highly in search query results.

And now, thanks to continuing technology evolution and the emergence of the Internet of Things, the next generation of search is now upon us – and it’s looking likely to make keyboards and touchscreens increasingly irrelevant within a few short years.

afhSearches without screens are possible thanks to technology like Google Assistant, Amazon Echo/Alexa, and software development kits from providers like Soundhound and Microsoft.

This past October, market forecasting firm Gartner came out with an interesting prediction: Within four years, it forecasts that ~30% of all searches will be carried out without a screen.

It’s happening already, actually. In web search, Amazon Echo answers voice queries, while the Bing knowledge and action graph allows Microsoft to provide answers to queries rather than a set of answer possibilities in the form of links as has been the case up to now.

Gartner envisions voice interactions overtaking typing in search queries because it is so much easier, faster and more intuitive for consumers. By eliminating the need for people to use eyes and hands for search and browsing, voice interactions improve the utility of web sessions even while multitasking takes on ever-increasing degrees of shared activity (walking, driving, socializing, exercising and the like).

Related to this, Gartner also predicts that one in five brands will have abandoned offering mobile apps by 2019. Already, many companies have found disappointing levels of adoption, engagement and ROI pertaining to the mobile apps they’ve introduced, and the prognosis is no better going forward; the online consumer is already moving on.

Gartner’s predictions go even further. It envisions ever-higher levels of what it calls “just-in-time knowledge” – essentially trading out searching for knowledge by simply getting answers to voice queries.

Speaking personally, this prediction concerns me a little. I think that some people may not fully grasp the implications of what Gartner is forecasting.

To me, “just-in-time knowledge” sounds uncomfortably close to being “ill-educated” (as opposed to “uneducated”).  Sometimes, knowing a little bit about something is more dangerous than knowing nothing at all. Bad decisions often come from possessing a bit of knowledge — but with precious little “context” surrounding it.

With “just-in-time knowledge,” think of how many people could now fall into that kind of trap.

Saving for college: Millennial parents seem to have figured it out better.

sfcRecently SLM Corp. (aka Sallie Mae) released the results of a survey of parents that asked about how they’re saving for their children’s college education. The survey, which was conducted for Sallie Mae by research firm Ipsos Public Affairs, uncovered some pretty interesting stats.

Here’s something that surprised me: When it comes to saving for kids’ college tuition, it turns out that Millennial parents – those age 35 and younger – have already saved significantly more than their GenX counterparts.

Millennial parents reported having saved more than $20,000 toward kids’ college, whereas GenX parents – those between the age of 36 and 51 – have saved only around $18,000.

What’s up with that?

The report lists several possible explanations. First, Millennials are more likely to have started saving earlier for their kids’ college education because of their expectation of having paying a higher share of college costs compared to older generations of people

Likely, their remembering their own (more recent) college experiences.

Here’s another contributing factor: Many GenX parents tended to be hit harder financially than Millennials during the recent recession.  They’re the ones who were more likely to have lost a job further into their careers, when it’s can be more difficult to bounce back quite as easily and at the same level of salary.

At the same time, it’s often the GenXers who have higher mortgage and other debts already racked up when compared to Millennials.

Under those circumstances, saving for children’s college is a commitment that’s much easier to place on hold until other, more pressing financial matters are dealt with.

On the other hand, for Millennials the recession caught them at the beginning of their careers when fewer financial commitments (other than student loans) were yet made, and their flexibility more fluid.

It’s easier to roll with the punches when you don’t have a pile of fixed financial obligations already hanging over your head.

Another factor the Sallie Mae/Ipsos report cites is that GenX parents are more likely to have become over-leveraged in their personal finances — a situation exacerbated by income stagnation, declining stock investment values and declining home values (even being underwater on home mortgages in some cases).

It seems that all of these factors have colored GenX attitudes about saving for kids’ college education in ways that go beyond what the raw numbers show. When asked how confident they feel about being able to meet the college financial obligations for their children, 32% of Millennials stated that they felt quite confident.

But among GenXers, it was just 17%.

Overall, this doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for GenX parents.  But it seems that the Millennial generation has figured out the “college cost recipe” a little more successfully.

For more “topline” statistical findings from the survey, click or tap here.

Another for-profit higher educational institution bites the dust …

it

Last week, ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit higher educational institution enrolling ~40,000 students on more than 130 campuses across the country, announced that it is shutting down, while also laying off the lion’s share of its more than 8,000 employees.

This development comes hard on the heels of the closure of Corinthian Colleges last year. Together, it raises the question as to whether such “glorified trade schools” are doing any kind of service to students who seek to better themselves but who don’t have the scholastic record – or the money – to attend traditional two-year or four-year colleges.

tlpThere’s no question of the pent-up demand for higher learning. Guidance counselors push continued schooling as the next logical step for high school students, and society in general promotes a college education as the ticket to the good life.

For-profit colleges have benefited greatly from an environment which prizes higher education as the next logical step for high school graduates, and during the Great Recession beginning eight years ago, these schools continued to promote their curricula heavily while churning out more students into what was a very weak job market.

Students graduating from not-for-profit institutions had a hard enough time landing employment in their chosen fields … and for graduates of ITT, Corinthian and other such schools it was even worse.

corinthian_colleges_logoThe U.S. Department of Education had had its eye on both ITT and Corinthian for a number of years. Becoming alarmed at the inability of graduates to pay off their federally funded student loans, the Department ultimately banned both schools from enrolling any new students who rely on federal financial aid – which was nearly all of them, of course.

An angry ITT Technical Institute pronounced the sanctions unwarranted, inappropriate and unconstitutional – amounting to a death sentence.

A news release from the school stated, “These unwarranted actions, taken without proving a single allegation, are a lawless execution.”

As is often the case in such situations, there’s more than meets the eye. At the same time, ITT Technical Institute is also facing fraud charges from the SEC plus a lawsuit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Not only that, the institution has been under investigation at the state level in 19 different jurisdictions.

Academic accreditation is also an issue, as the ACICS (Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools) determined that the school was not in compliance with ACICS’ accreditation criteria.  ACICS cited a whole range of questionable practices in admissions, recruitment standards, retention, job placement and institutional integrity.

The school itself, using aggressive and pervasive advertising while pushing its “power packed studies” in fields such as IT, electronics, CAD design and health services, also informed prospective enrollees that credits earned at ITT Technical Institute would be “unlikely to transfer.”

This sorry state of affairs at ITT-TI now makes it that much more difficult for ~40,000 students to pursue their career goals. It’s yet another example of how a laudatory mission can lead to negative consequences for the very people who need help in launching their working lives the most.

Ben Miller, who is a director for post-secondary education at the Center for American Progress, puts the blame nowhere but on the school:

“Years of mismanagement by ITT leadership put it in a position where the Education Department’s action was necessary.”

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see the degree to which other for-profit institutions with far-flung operations – Brightwood/Tesst, Capella, Strayer, the University of Phoenix and others – will fare under the klieg lights of heightened scrutiny.

Cutting Some Slack: The “College Bubble” Explained

huThere are several “inconvenient truths” contained among the details of a recently released synopsis of college education and work trends, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation. Let’s check them off one-by-one.

The Cost of College

This truth is likely known to nearly everyone  who has children: education at four-year educational institutions isn’t cheap.  Here are the average annual prices for higher education in the United States for the current school year (includes tuition, fees, housing and meals):

  • 4-year public universities (in-state students): ~$19,550
  • 4-year public universities (out-of-state students): ~$34,000
  • 4-year private colleges and universities: ~$43,900

These costs have been rising fairly steadily for years now, seemingly without regard to the overall economic climate. But the negative impact on students has been muted somewhat by the copious availability of student loans — at least in the short term until the schedule kicks in.

The other important mitigating factor is the increased availability of community college education covering the first two years of higher education at a fraction of the cost of four-year institutions.  Less attractive are “for-profit” institutions, some of which have come under intense scrutiny and negative publicity concerning the effectiveness of their programs and how well students do with the degrees they earn from them.

Time Devoted to Education Activities

What may be less understood is the degree to which “full-time college” is actually a part-time endeavor for many students.

According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over the past decade, the average full-time college student spends fewer than three hours per day on all education-related activities (just over one hour in class and a little over 1.5 hours devoted to homework and research).

It adds up to around 19 hours per week in total.

In essence, full-time college students are devoting 10 fewer hours per week on educational-related activities compared to what full-time high school students are doing.

Lest this discrepancy seem too shocking, this is this mitigating aspect:  When comparing high-schoolers and full-time college students, the difference between educationally oriented time spent is counterbalanced by the time spent working.

More to the point, for full-time college students, employment takes up ~16 hours per week whereas with full-time high school students, the average time working is only about 4 hours.

Full-Time Students vs. Full-Time Workers

Here’s where things get quite interesting and where the whole idea of the “college bubble” comes into broad relief. It turns out that full-time college students spend far less combined time on education and work compared to their counterparts who are full-time workers.

Here are the BLS stats:  Full-time employees work an average of 42 hours per week, whereas for full-time college students, the combined time spent on education and working adds up to fewer than 35 hours per week.

This graph from the Heritage Foundation report illustrates what’s happening:

CT

Interestingly, the graph insinuates that full-time college students have it easier than many others in society:

  • On average, 19-year-olds are spending significantly fewer hours in the week on education and work compared to 17-year-olds.
  • It isn’t until age 59+ that people are spending less time on education and work than the typical 19-year-old.

No doubt, some social scientists will take these data as the jumping off spot for a debate about whether a generation of “softies” is being created – people who will struggle in the rigors of the real world once they’re out of the college bubble.

Exacerbating the problem in the eyes of some, student loan default rates aren’t exactly low, and talk by some politicians about forgiving student loan debt is a bit of a lightning rod as well.  The Heritage Foundation goes so far as to claim that loan forgiveness programs are leaving taxpayers on the hook for “generous leisure hours,” since ~93% of all student loans are originated and managed by the federal government.

What do you think? The BLS stats don’t lie … but are the Heritage Foundation’s conclusions off-target?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.