Sometimes you are just too “F***ing Great” for your own good.

Early last week an irreverent and entertaining YouTube video for Dollar Shave Club (affiliate link), a Santa Monica, California start-up that ships razors directly to customers who subscribe to the company’s monthly delivery service, virally spread across the Internet faster than blood streaks down your chin when you cut yourself shaving.

The promise made by Dollar Shave Club Co-Founder & CEO Michael Dubin in the video (below): their blades are not good, they are  “F***ing Great!”

Social medianew media, and mainstream media were all abuzz with articles about the video and the company’s charismatic CEO. It went viral and the company went from unknown to unstoppable almost overnight.

The video — which cost $4,500 to produce — was uploaded on Monday, March 5, 2012 and, just 11 days later by Friday, March 16 (as of the time when this blog post was published) had 3,456,727 views  — an average of 314,247 per day!

Did views equate to conversion? Yes. According to a Huffington Post article posted on March 8, Dollar Shave Club had already generated 5,000 sign-ups. Imagine how many more signed up in the eight days since then; the video was so popular it caused Dollar Shave Club’s website to crash!

The company’s subscription based razor blade service offers three options:

  • The Humble Twin: Two blades and five cartridge refills — for a monthly cost of $1, plus $2 shipping.
  • 4X: A four-blade razor with four cartridges refills — which costs $6 per month with shipping included.
  • The Executive:Six-blades and three cartridge refills — for a monthly cost of $9 with shipping included.

They also offer affiliate arrangement and provides a unique URL (e.g., https://www.dollarshaveclub.com/ref/l14/13za2y7) with which members can refer others. The deal is simple: for every new account your link refers, you get one month of free service.

Founded in April 2011 by Dubin and his partner Mark Levine, Dollar Shave Club officially launched with the upload of the YouTube video. Despite it’s kitschy video, Dollar Shave Club is well funded, having announced almost $1 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Forerunner Ventures. Other funding sources include Andreessen Horowitz, Shasta Ventures and Felicis Ventures. It also received $100,000 in angel funding from Science, Inc. (which was founded by former Myspace CEO Mike Jones).

How does the business offer such competitive prices? Two words (rather, two countries): China and Korea. The razors the company sells are private-labeled products shipped directly to each subscriber from manufacturers in both countries — “cutting” out the middleman. But therein might lie the problem.

On Friday, March 16 at 3:38 p.m (Pacific) the company sent a letter to new subscribers who opted for the 4x razor with the following message:

In the e-mail Dubin earnestly explains the situation as follows:

Last week the Internet came to visit, and as a result, we’re unable to fulfill your 4X order right now. 

Yes, we think this sucks too. But we’re giving you options.

Here they are:

  • If you’d like to hold your place in line, do nothing, and you will receive your first shipment on May 15th.
  • If you’d like your $6 refund, no problem. Please Click this link. Log in, and click the refund button. We’ll handle the rest.

Please accept our sincere apologies for not being able to meet initial demand. We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Humbly,

Michael Dubin
Co-Founder & CEO
Dollar Shave Club

It is unclear if the delayed delivery affects all three razor options or if it is limited to the 4X razor. The supply delay could be more easily remedied if it is the latter and not the former — perhaps people could just switch their subscription? But, then again, the e-mail does not provide that option — so it is as yet unknown how significant this problem might actually be.

Update as of March 18, 2012: A colleague informed me he subscribed to the “Humble Twin” and also received an e-mail informing him of a delivery delay, but in his case it was only for one month, not two. He elected to wait and see.

Regardless, a two month delay — even a one month delay — is not a good way to begin a business relationship with new customers. Delaying consumer gratification is one of the worst sins a retailer (or in this case a wholesaler) can commit — once you lose that leverage most customers lose interest and go elsewhere.

As Tim Daloisio (whose screen shot of the e-mail he received is posted above) offered in a tweet: “Easier to win a customer the first time than to win them back — better luck next time @dollarshaveclub #fail.

Perhaps this was all too good to be true? Sales data was not made available so it is hard to know how many people were affected.

But, if you assume that, since they signed up 5,000 people in the first three days (1,667 new accounts per day), in eleven days there could be as many as 18,337 new subscribers.

If you further assume customers subscribed to each of the three options in equal numbers (also not likely, but for the sake of easy arithmetic, let’s keep things simple), there might be 6,112 sadly stubbled 4X subscribers. For shave! I mean, for shame!

At $6 per subscription there could be at total of $36,672 in revenue that was generated but for which no products were delivered. Not a king’s ransom by any means, but certainly not an insignificant amount.

But, more importantly, the company’s inability to meet the demand beg’s the question: had they already ordered inventory or were they waiting to see what the demand actually was?

Perhaps this was the case. From a business standpoint, why sink thousands of dollars into products if you are unsure they will be sold? And, in fairness, projecting and meeting demand is one of the more challenging tasks with which a business must contend.

But the fact remains that, despite their impressive funding and savvy marketing, the delay calls into question Dollar Shave Club’s operational abilities.

To their credit, they have provided an option to cancel and get a refund or to stay put and wait until the razors can ship on May 15th.

However, it could have been an added measure of good faith had Dollar Shave Club offered one month of free service for each month of delay.

Additionally, the company fairly clearly outlines their terms of cancellation in their Terms of Service (which we can also assume nobody has read).

However, as noted in an article titled How to Quickly Read a Terms of Service [Law], “Dollar Shave Club does a good job of explaining how to stop the membership, but requires a vague “reasonable amount of time” to cancel. You might be on the hook for another month.” Food for thought.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Dollar Shave Club needs to make sure it does not violate the “30-Day Rule” established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The relevant portion of this law is explained below:

The Rule requires that when you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you make no shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. That is why direct marketers sometimes call this the “30-day Rule.”

If, after taking the customer’s order, you learn that you cannot ship within the time you stated or within 30 days, you must seek the customer’s consent to the delayed shipment. If you cannot obtain the customer’s consent to the delay — either because it is not a situation in which you are permitted to treat the customer’s silence as consent and the customer has not expressly consented to the delay, or because the customer has expressly refused to consent — you must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise.

So, despite having initially been lathered with success, let’s hope that Dollar Shave Club doesn’t cut it too close and improves its operations. Maybe they can even shave a few weeks of that two month delay?

Update: I finally received my order of 4X blades on Saturday, May 26, 2012!

Ahoy, matey, Fail Whale off the starboard bow!

twitter-fail-whaleAccording to a March 31, 2009 article on CNN.com, Twitter is growing so fast that the system can’t seem to keep up with the increasing demand.

The result: more sightings of the “Fail Whale” — a whimsical drawing of a white whale being lifted up by small orange birds by artist Yiying Lu — that appears whenever Twitter is over capacity.

According to Nielsen NetView Twitter’s growth has been nothing short of astonishing: Unique visitor traffic jumped 1,374% between February 2008 and February 2009 — an exponential leap to 7 million users from 475,000.

Compare that with Facebook’s 228% increase to 65.7 million users during the same period of time.

The Fail Whale itself is a cultural phenomenon. The Fail Whale’s Twitter account currently has more than 2,772 followers. In addition, the CNN article adds that a Facebook group dedicated to the whale has more than 4,400 members.

Like Twitter, which has spawned the development of dozens of third party applications, the Fail Whale has also created a cottage industry of merchandise.

In addition, an absolutely hysterical Current TV parody of Twitter and the Fail Whale — recast as an evil and hungry creature bent on eating people on Twitter — has made it’s way around the Internet:

As much as twitterers (or is it tweeters?) dislike not being able to use the service, there is something strangely reassuring about the Fail Whale. Dare I say sometimes people even secretly hope to experience a sighting?

I recently taught a buying behavior class for UC Santa Barbara Extension and one of the two books I had my students read was “Buyology” by Martin Lindstrom (the other was “The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly” by David Meerman Scott).

This unique book reports the results of the world’s largest neuromarketing study ever conducted and this presentation highlights the main points discussed in the book — it’s both fascinating and disturbing.

Please review the PowerPoint presentation below (available via SlideShare). I trust you will find the information presented in the book to be quite compelling.

Holy Kaw!

640px-guy_kawasaki_at_wikimania_2015_-_2
By VGrigas (WMF) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42237626

World-renowned evangelist, author, and speaker Guy Kawasaki was a guest on the radio show “Coast to Coast AM” during the December 20 to December 21, 2008 broadcast. He was promoting his book “Reality Check” and to discuss idea creation.

During the segment Guy shared a multitude of insights and anecdotes with host Ian Punnett, including a humorous obsession with the Mayan prediction of the 2012 opening of the Stargate! It was certainly one of the more entertaining broadcasts I’ve heard. Some of his comments that connected with me include the following:

  • “The better product doesn’t necessarily win.”
  • “Great ideas happen when people ask a very simple question: ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if?'”
  • “Many people ask the question ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if?’ but not that many try it.”
  • “My lesson on life is you ask this question ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if?’ and then, if you have the courage to quit your job, drop out, do whatever it is, try it — that’s what it takes.”
  • “At the beginning of my career I used to think that the idea is the key, and once you get a good idea, implementation is easy. Now, I’m at the end of my career and I believe the exactly the opposite: I think good ideas are easy and implementation is hard.”
  • “In my career I’ve noticed [for] the people who are successful as venture capitalists and successful as entrepreneurs one of the greatest correlating factors is luck.”
  •  “At some point little slips of fate help you.”
  • “I’d like to believe that [you can make your own luck], but some people are [just] lucky.”
  • “The majority of companies that were successful started off with a completely different market, a completely different model.”
  • “Entrepreneurship is all about thrashing: you just thrash , thrash and thrash — and sometimes you hit it.”
  • “If someone calls themselves a visionary, they’re probably a clown.”
  • “I can’t invent the future. Most people in Silicon Valley are delusional that way: they think they can invent the future.”
  • “The future happens by accident, by the law of big numbers, by an infinite number of monkeys pounding on keyboards and one of them is going to hit Beethoven’s Fifth.”
  • “The [dot-com boom] was a big biological explosion of all different forms of life: some forms of life (like Webvan) died, some forms of life (like Amazon) survived and thrived. It’s only looking backwards that you can say Amazon was smart, Webvan was stupid.”
  • “The way venture capital works: you make 20 bets, one or two are successful [and] you say ‘Oh, I knew that team was good. I knew that technology was good. I knew that market was good. I knew that business model was good. That’s why I invested in that company.’ If somebody asks you about the other 18 bets that you made that all were losers you say ‘I didn’t vote for those deals, my partners voted for those deals.'”
  • “Wall Street and the press always like a good story, and a good story always is extreme. Either you’re kicking butt, or you’re dying. There’s nothing in the middle, because being in the middle: that’s not news.”

While listening to Guy being interviewed I was following his real-time updates and interactions with followers on Twitter. He then invited his Twitter followers to suggest silly things for him to say on air; I dared him to say “cheeky monkey”:

And he did!

I have often wondered why some ideas catch fire and others don’t — especially when a superior idea fails commercially.  I was especially intrigued by his comments about luck.

  • “You could be lucky and still screw up. You have to be lucky and then work hard. There’s ways to increase your luck. One way is just to work so damn hard. It’s all about implementation.”
  • “At the moment you are lucky you don’t really know it.”
  • “I’d rather be lucky than smart.

Specifically, the quote below about successful individuals not accounting for luck as a component to their success struck a chord.

  • “If you are an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist and you are lucky, and you make this enormous success, retroactively you never attribute it to luck. You say you were smart, you worked hard, you had a brilliant insight, you were a visionary. Nobody stands up and says ‘I am successful because of luck.'”

It was that comment that inspired an epiphany about further exploring the idea through research that would result in a book. I shared my idea on Twitter:

I immediately received positive feedback about my idea from @NEENZ, @robynmcintyre, and @Bytemarks.

Although the idea was still crystallizing in my mind,  I joked the book could be called the “Guy Luck Club” (as spoof of the “Joy Luck Club” book). I considered creating a blog specifically about this topic; my idea was to use it as a conduit through which I could communicate and refine my raw thoughts while giving the book marketing exposure.

Incidentally, David Meerman Scott did just that when writing his book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.” I actually received a direct message from Mr. Scott on Twitter (@dmscott) in which he encouraged me to write the book first as a blog (without any pretense for organization) and approach publishers in a year.  Great advice — especially since it was the path he took to get his book published!

I imagine it could be most effective to test Guy’s theory, by first identifying ten CEO’s of a startup (that is not a spin off of an established company). I would take a standardized inventory of each CEO, paying particular attention to their thoughts about luck. I will reconnect with them at regular intervals: 1, 3, and 5 years (enough time for the business to have succeeded or failed). I will re-asses their thoughts on luck and see if their views have changed when asked the same question over time.

In thinking about the past 14 hours since this experience began, I couldn’t have scripted a better example of the power of social media; I am energized about writing this book! Thank you to everyone who shared their enthusiasm and encouragement. Maybe I can convince Guy Kawasaki to write the forward for my book? Holy Kaw!

Until then, I will sign off saying “Go Luck Yourself!”

Happy “Twitterversary!” Yesterday, December 19, marked the end of my first month using Twitter (my username is @doctorious). I am no longer a newbie!

For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a micro-blogging website that provides you with a simple (and free) means of answering the question “what are you doing?” — to a potentially unlimited network of friends and followers. You can make updates with your computer, mobile phone and via several other related methods.

Here is a very straightforward (and creative) video explaining what Twitter is and how it works:

I can’t recall exactly why I decided to sign up, but I was definitely influenced by discussions I had with my students about the ways by which Barack Obama leveraged the Internet in his successful presidential campaign. Notably, Obama used Twitter to publicize campaign events and to announce Joe Biden as his running mate.

Aside from my minimal knowledge about Obama’s use of Twitter, I really did not have much awareness about it until I signed up. Now, in one short month, I am a Twitaholic. The first step is admitting I have a problem, right?!

Although I haven’t used Twitter to announce anything as globally important as my Vice President, the service has quickly catapaulted to the top of my list of communication tools. By the time of my “twitterversary,” I accumulated roughly 250 “followers” and was “following” approximately the same number.  During my first month I posted roughly 900 “tweets” (updates) as well.

I have connected with an array of “tweeple” with an impressive degree of insight and intelligence. You might be surprised who you find on Twitter and the inordinate amount of information that is freely shared on the site. I recall how pivotal the service was during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. Foregoing official reports, many people closely followed the unscripted updates from people who were in the midst of that shocking event.

With regard to the chances of your making a viable connection, to paraphrase  Rodney Rumford, social media services like Twitter have cut the “six degrees” concept in half to “three degrees.” I can attest to this as, for some reason, I am only separated from actor Kevin Bacon by “three degrees” on my LinkedIn profile and not the six for which the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is best known!

In particular I have really enjoyed getting to know the following individuals and encourage you to learn more about them — you might already know or have heard about some of these interesting people:

@adonyawong
@ariherzog
@autismfamily
@bakomom
@barb_g
@bertdecker
@beverlymacy
@caseywright
@chrisabraham
@chrisbrogan
@danicar
@donttrythis (Adam Savage of Mythbusters — see a transcript of a brief exchange I shared with Adam)
@drgilpin
@frankkenny
@guykawasaki (Guy Kawasaki of Garage Technology Ventures — see a transcript of a brief exchange I shared with Guy)
@jimconnolly
@jpapakalos
@kimdeanart
@mchammer (MC Hammer — see a transcript of a brief exchange I shared with MC Hammer)
@mollermarketing
@nlbelardes
@nwjerseyliz
@prprof_mv
@rumford
@scottmonty
@shawnwelch
@shelisrael
@totspot

So, stop on by Twitter and give it a try — you just might find yourself addicted like me!

After twice trying to find a doctoral program that satisfied my intellectual curiosity while giving me the tools and credentials I need to become a university-level researcher and teacher, I’ve decided that the time is now for me to finally make it happen.

pic_phd_degreeTo anchor this desire to a tangible goal, I will give myself until Tuesday, December 1, 2009 to prepare and submit all of my applications to doctoral programs.

From this point forward I will refer to this date is my “PhD-Day.”

Why this date?

Simple: of all the doctoral programs that interest me, December 1, 2009 is the first application deadline for fall 2010 enrollment. This is the date on which I will finally take that “one giant leap” into my long awaited career in academia.

Although circumstances beyond my control were partially the reason behind my pulling away from my doctoral pursuits, I know now that I was also not clear enough about my goals. I just wanted a doctorate and did not give any meaningful consideration to the discipline in which it was anchored and how that would impact my future career options.

Previously I thought having a PhD qualified you to teach any subject, but I now realize that, with rare exceptions, the discipline in which you earn you PhD is the discipline in which you will concentrate your research and teaching.

Knowing the purpose of a PhD is to, as one of my colleagues comically suggests, know more about less, I must start with a question of “what” first, then determine “how.” I have therefore stopped first looking for a program (the “how”) that I will then try to make work with my interests (the “what”).

Instead I will take the opposite approach and first determine the topics I want to research and teach (the “what”) and then find a program that offered opportunities to study it (the “how”).

After evaluating what most interests me, I realized it had been staring me in the face the entire time: social media. I have previously mentioned my interest in this burgeoning topic in previous posts and in my list of research interests, so this is not breaking news by any means.

However, I have finally embraced the idea of studying it academically so I can understand it as a researcher and not just as a user.  Specifically, my research interest is to investigate the impact of social media on the creation and distribution of information.

What is social media?

I define social media as follows:

Social media includes information generated with and shared by individuals using various web-based tools including blogs, message boards, video sharing sites, wikis, chat, IM and similar technology.

I also feel it is related to concepts such as crowdsourcing and collective individualism.  Social media also touches on the idea of distributed computing, though in the case of social media the “nodes” are human and not computers.

In a more abstract interpretation, social media could also cross into the realm of artificial intelligence — especially as the tools we use to connect socially online continue to become more intuitive and personalized to each user.

The main use of social media is knowledge sharing among individuals for the greater good. However, it can also be leveraged (or exploited, depending on how you look at it) for commercial gain. Of course, marketing in this medium is not without its challenges and it certainly can’t be done in a traditional way (e.g. forced and artificial vs. the natural, organic feel of true social media).

Beyond products, people who participate in social media often market ideas or even products by the information they share (consider the metoric rise of Barack Obama who, despite your political persuasion, was impressively effective at using social media in his presidential campaign).

Social media can also be used as a training and development tool.  As a father to a child diagnosed with autism, I also wonder how social media might help my son learn social skills and share information in a virtual environment. As a parent, I have already been impressed by the power of social media to connect me with important information and individuals focused on autism.

I am also fascinated by the thought of using social media to enable many individuals to complete parts of a larger task (what first piqued my interest in this was when Steve Fossett went missing and there was an attempt to find him using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, even though that effort was not successful in finding him).

Clearly, social media can be both a communication tool and a marketing channel. I am interested in social media in both of its forms. It intrigues me that technology can so intensely enhance our human experience.

How will I study social media?

My investigation into current doctoral programs that include social media revealed it is relevant to several disciplines. Information Technology/Computer Science and Communication are the two I have most frequently found. Social media is also relevant to the disciplines of Psychology, Marketing and Sociology. Given the impact social media has had on the workplaces, Management is also a reasonable discipline in which to study it.

It makes sense that social media crosses into several disciplines — it is quite pervasive, but can also be investigated from many different angles. Perhaps what angles I want to study, or maybe how I want to study social media, will ultimately dictate the discipline within which I will investigate it further.

At the moment my assumption is that I will most likely be studying social media either within a Communication or Marketing program.

Where will I study social media?

Given my practitioner mindset and entrepreneurial orientation I would like to be able to teach in a business school. To do that I will need a PhD from an AACSB-accredited program.

However, given my background in communications and journalism I wonder if Communications would be a more suitable environment (especially since I am not as interested in traditional business subjects like finance and economics)?

I am still evaluating my options, but right now my top choices include the following (in alphabetical order):

  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Information Systems (Interfield)
  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Organizational Behavior (Interfield)
  • UCLA: PhD in Marketing (Anderson School of Management)
  • UCSB: PhD in Communication (Technology and Society Emphasis)
  • USC: PhD in Marketing (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Management (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Communication (Annenberg School for Communication)

Aside from the obvious criteria of being accepted into a program is the issue of funding. Having already borrowed my way through an MBA program, my goal with the PhD is to get the cost of the program covered while also earning additional income through fellowships and other related methods.

Why do I want to earn a PhD?

I have always wanted to understand why and how certain things work (or don’t work). Whether I am contrarian by nature or unquenchably inquisitive, I was never satisfied with a surface level answer about anything. My problem was, and remains, not having the proper “tools” with which to conduct proper inquiry.

I also fundamentally enjoy creating and sharing knowledge. Looking back to my years in journalism, I think the desire to craft a story and share it with readers is related to the same idea. Notably, I recently learned the first academic paper I wrote and presented was referenced in a book called “MBA in a Day” and an article I wrote about non-profit fundraising five years ago in Marketing News (the bi-weekly trade paper of the American Marketing Association) was cited in a recent academic paper.

I was energized knowing that something I wrote helped someone else create something of their own. I want to be an active part of this process. On a related note, my experiences at academic conferences were unquestionably positive and motivating. I relished those opportunities to exchange ideas and information with difference people, creating knowledge in the process. This is why I am so endeared to the concept of “generative learning,” which Peter Senge defines as learning that “enhances our capacity to create.”

My long term purpose in embarking on this undertaking is to secure a position at a university where I can engage in active research while still teaching. I have been adjuncting online and in person for roughly 18 months now and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It has been a very liberating and affirming time for me, especially when I continue to get positive reviews and comments from students. But I also want to be adding to the academic dialogue, not just guiding students to a basic understanding of what has already been produced.

Also, although I have no pressing desire to go back to the corporate world, I am open to partnering with industry on research and also potentially consulting on the side. I just really don’t want to have to worry about red staplers and TPS reports! Even when I was in industry I tended to approach things in a more intellectual way than most. I even had two managers with whom I had good relationships tell me I was definitely “an academic” and would do well in that world.

I am a thinker and a tinkerer, but not a hard-core corporate type. I enjoy discussing and debating a topic sometimes more than “doing” whatever that topic is related to. For example, I enjoy the concept of branding and understanding how people develop allegiance to a brand, but don’t necessarily want to go launch a branding campaign.

How will I stay focused on my goal?

Staying focused on achieving my goal of earning a PhD will be challenging, given the various personal and professional obstacles I will need to overcome to see it through. At the same time, I find myself thinking about a PhD with increasing frequency: it is something I must do, not just something I want to do.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of distractions. Ironically, during the past eight months, I have repeatedly encountered one kind of distraction while driving to and from my adjunct teaching job: a delivery truck with graffiti on the roll top door that reads “PhD.” I am sure this is some tagger’s initials, but for me it represents and reminds me of my dream: a PhD.

What makes it more significant to me is that I have seen it numerous times — driving north or south, in the morning or afternoon. Usually I encounter it on or near the Grapevine portion of Interstate 5. I am unsure where it is driving to or coming from, all I know is I have seen it numerous times — at least a half dozen.

Perhaps this truck is my albatross — or maybe its just coincidence? Maybe it was sent by the “PhDMV” to keep me on track?

Below are two photos I took of the truck on March 25, 2008 while heading home from DeVry (southbound on Interstate 5). Following the photos is a short video clip I filmed the morning of October 6, 2008 while heading north between the base of the Grapevine and the split between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 North (near Lebec, CA):

What are my next steps?

Now that I have defined and committed to this ambitious goal, how do I intend to achieve it? My next steps include the following:

  • Thoroughly research the PhD programs at the aforementioned schools.
  • Read “The Craft of Research” and write a specific research statement.
  • Begin reviewing the academic theories relevant to social media.
  • Speak with colleagues and mentors to understand my options.
  • Start writing my statement of purpose.
  • Explore grants and scholarships.

See you in a year on PhD-Day!

A short article titled “Dear Students With Unprofessional E-Mail Handles: Your Professors Notice,” in the Wired Campus section of the Chronicle of Higher Education website calls attention to the importance of e-mail: not just what you say, but the account from which you send your message.

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The article highlights an entertaining thread in the Chronicle of Higher Education Forum in which professors share both the often inappropriate and error-filled content of the messages and the peculiar address from which the messages are sent — one post elaborates on receiving an e-mail from an address titled “Shortysexy!”

This article caught my eye because I’ve experienced my share of odd e-mails from students. Mostly they are harmless oversights, but I have also  received some more “interesting” messages.

Once a student invited me to read his/her blog  (gender obscured to protect the innocent), telling me I would think it was funny. However, when I got there, I found several expletive-filled rants berating this person’s significant other for repeatedly cheating on him/her with someone my student proclaimed was a drug addict.

The posts were full of obscenities, uncomfortable personal details and description, on the injuries my student had and intended to inflict on his/her significant other. I was shocked and have since felt very awkward around this student.

Generally, I get what I call “ghost mail,” which is mail with no clear identification of who sent it, what school the sender attends or the class about which they are inquiring. Usually a “ghost mail” will include a message that reads something like “Mr. G : How come I didn’t get credit for that assignment from the other week?” — which of course does nothing to help that student receive points where they might be due.

Aside from forgetting some basic rules of written communication, I don’t think the senders of these “ghost messages” fully realize that, as an individual earning my income entirely as an adjunct instructor, I could potentially be teaching several classes in addition to theirs. Usually I am simultaneously juggling anywhere from four to eight on-line courses and two to four traditional classroom-based courses — so things can get a little confusing!

To minimize the occurrence of these misguided missives, I stress to my students the importance of not overlooking the obvious when sending an e-mail or even leaving a voicemail for someone. I tell them to always include their name and contact information while making sure to identify the school they attend and the course in which they are enrolled. Usually that helps, but I still get an errant e-mail now and then.

I also encourage students to think about what their e-mail address says about who they are — and to realize that on some level it communicates their “personal brand.” With e-mail commanding such a vital role in how we communicate with each other, having an immature or otherwise inappropriate e-mail can sometimes cause a problem — while a student is in school or, worse, when they are making the transition to a job in the “real world.”

I remember that e-mail was just starting to become more widely used during my undergraduate days at UC Santa Barbara (1992 to 1996). Back then the school automatically assigned e-mail address to students — with undergraduate accounts starting with a “u” and graduate accounts starting with a “g.”

Eventually the naming convention was standardized with some amalgamation of a student’s first and last name, but early-on you could request a specific name (though the “u” and the “g” were still used).

A friend of mine who has a sarcastic sense of humor requested the name “suck” so that his account was “usuck@…” Of course, this sounded funny when he gave his e-mail address to friends, but when a professor asked him for his e-mail address and he had to say what sounded like “you suck,” suddenly the joke was on him.

Likewise, during my tenure in human resources recruiting, I’ve seen some questionable e-mail addresses. I remember one address in particular: the applicant’s last name was “Kaul,” which by itself is just a typical-sounding surname.

However, this candidate wanted to be clever and, leveraging the phonetics of his/her last name used the e-mail address “kaul girl@…” – which is humorous when used with family and friends, but not as agreeable in a professional setting (well, aside from the “oldest profession” I suppose!).

So, what is the moral of this story? Simple: when it comes to e-mail, watch what you say and the address from which you say it!

The good people at Bakersfield.com — the online equivalent of the Bakersfield Californian newspaper — caught wind of my recent post, “The Long and Winding (and Occasionally Snowed In) Road of Adjunct Teaching,” and made note of it in today’s “Bakosphere” column which details blogs about Bakersfield.  I guess somebody other than me actually reads this — I better start using spell check!