For the last few months, I’ve been doing freelance and consulting work at my amazing, stupendous digital marketing agency, Gas Mark 8. It’s been an interesting time, and I’ve learned so much about managing a business. It’s been more than just web and programming, WordPress, design, video and more. I’m talking accounting, bookkeeping, expenses, and so on. It’s been a crash course, that honestly, was easier to do when it was just a side hustle.

Welcome to the inbox of my discontent

One of my institutions I’m working with at the moment is my old employer, where I was head of marketing. While I miss that role and the people terribly, there’s one thing I don’t miss. That’s the endless parade of cold calls, sales inquiry emails and, shockingly, the random drop-in at my office from a potential vendor. Not cool.

I’ve needed to get my old email address back as most people on campus had it saved in their email clients and I was missing emails. Since getting it back, I’m shocked at what comes into that mailbox.

There’s mail from lists I never signed up for. Mail from companies that don’t offer services relevant to higher education web and marketing. WordPress comment notifications.

What’s surprised me the most is the flood of cold-call emails from sales people. In the last week, I’ve seen all the classics, including:

  • I didn’t hear back from you a week ago and here’s another email?
  • You didn’t respond, so here’s an email trying to be funny or cute with a gif or emoji
  • You don’t know me, but can you talk for 10 minutes today?
  • License a magazine logo that gave your school a good ranking

I know most of these are automated, but if your mail system and/or sales CRM sees that I didn’t open an email from you for the last two years, wouldn’t you remove me from your list? Why would you continue to hammer my inbox for something I was never going to even see?

It’s not like sales people and the automated systems aren’t checking for new data. Every week, LinkedIn tells me I showed up dozens of searches a week. I initially thought (and wrote on Twitter) that was a ton of people looking to offer me jobs (spoilers: it wasn’t, sadly. Instead, I learned  sales people are using the site to scrape for info. Daniel Kraciun hit me up with some good info:

Given that info, you would think people would update their stale list and see that I last worked for that particular employer two years and as many jobs ago.

I guess at the end of day, these bad practices stun me. It’s never been easier to get current information about people, and yet people aren’t doing a good job of it.

What does this mean for Higher Ed?

Let me tie this into higher education marketing. Are we doing the similar things in our space?

I ask because I am going through the college search process with my son. He is getting dozens of emails a week from schools all over the country (and he should, he’s amazing.)

Screenshot from an emailWhat I’ve found interesting is that even after he demonstrates interest by attending an open house, or visiting campus, he’s still getting “search” emails from one of the several vendors we all outsource our search emails to.

Talk about mixed messages. He’s constantly asking me if he should respond to another “search” email asking him to confirm his interest. This is happening even after he’s emailed the admissions office, took a tour, and talked with a faculty member. Someone’s list is now stale. It’s clear the campus CRM and the vendor platforms aren’t communicating well, if at all.

That might not seem like a big deal, but it could be very detrimental.

It just takes a small bit of confusion and people, like us, will end up ignoring the emails or removing ourselves from that school’s list, and that’s that. With so many choices in terms of higher ed, it feels like it doesn’t take much to cross a school off the list. If I have to do a ton of work just to see if you want me (or my son) to attend, we’re gonna pass. Time is, after all, money.

Don’t let this happen to your institution!

We’re a few weeks into the world of WordPress 5 and Gutenberg, and the hysteria has quieted down a bit. Maybe it was the holidays, but now that the new year is here and folks are back to work and school, I’ve seen an uptick in reports of sites breaking when they are updated to WP 5.

Specifically, I’ve had a few client sites where the customer has updated WordPress to version 5 without telling me and lo and behold, their sites decided to break.

I’m sure many agencies haven’t had enough time to go through all their client sites to ensure everything is going to be OK, but every time my clients log into their site, they are seeing that “Update to WordPress 5” nag alert bar, and so they do it.

I don’t want them to. Not yet. So I asked on Twitter if there was a way to disable that notification, specifically.

Jay Hill jumped into the replies and developed a nice, small plugin that will hide that WordPress 5.0 upgrade nag.

You can find the plugin at Github. Thanks, Jay! This is a nice, quick thing to add to sites until we’re ready to update them. If you don’t want to add the plugin, you can probably just add the couple of lines to your functions.php file.

We should probably have a talk eventually about plugins and themes abusing the notification and alert system, but that’s a conversation for another time.

It’s a new year, and time for some resolutions. If you’re struggling with what changes to make, I think this is a good time to suggest using a strong passwords and a password manager. I blog about this every new year, and people continue to use weak and just plain bad passwords. With more and more news reports about hacks, bad security and new breaches every day, you need to protect yourself.

Every year, SplashData puts out a list of the top 100 worst passwords. Let’s have a quick look at the top 10 worst passwords used last year:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 123456789
  4. 12345678
  5. 12345
  6. 111111
  7. 1234567
  8. sunshine
  9. qwerty
  10. iloveyou

Those are really bad. According to SplashData, the over five million leaked passwords evaluated for the 2018 list were mostly held by users in North America and Western Europe. Passwords leaked from hacks of adult websites were not included in this report.

So what can you do?

Use Stronger Passwords

The best passwords use a combination of letters (both cases), numbers and special characters. I’d recommend using a tool to generate strong passwords. I use RandomKeyGen.com to generate passwords for sites as I use and as well as when I create user accounts. That site will generate all sorts of passwords and keys for you, ranging from shorter passwords that are strong and memorable all the way to crazy “fort knox” passwords, like this:

EI4NH|a!j'E?%gg-

That is a nice, strong password. Yes, it’s long, and hard to remember, but do you want an easy password that’s trivial for some bot network to crack? No, didn’t think so. Wolfram Alpha says that if you had a computer making 100,000 guesses a second, it would guess your password in 1.178×10^19 years. That’s a long time. Like age of the universe long.

Use a Password Manager

1Password

Screenshot of 1Password

I find the challenge is remembering long, complicated passwords. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast. To make life easier, I use an app, 1Password, that syncs my passwords across multiple machines and my phone.

If you asked me for my banking or Facebook password, I couldn’t tell you what it is. They’re both 30 character strings of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and special characters. 1Password will also generate passwords if you need. LastPass and KeePass are also apps in this space.

Some of these tools are free or very inexpensive. I think it’s worth it to keep your info just a little more secure than using a password like 123456.