Stop Networking

Yesterday, Matthew Kobach tweeted:

His tweet resonates with me, and it echoes my learned experience.

When I was focused primarily on digital fundraising and political consulting, I did a lot of networking. I spoke on industry panels, went to industry events, and had a structured “follow up” routine. For the most part, it was exhausting and ineffective.

The most personally meaningful and professionally advantageous connections I have made are the result of my being genuinely friendly. No plan or strategy involved! Be kind to people; share your story, and ask them theirs.

You’re better off having twenty meaningful relationships than 200 loose connections. And what’s more? You’ll be happier, too.

Custom-Built vs. Customized

Just because you can build something doesn’t mean you should make it.

Roughly once per month, a prospective client will ask me to build a custom integration or web app to solve (what they believe are) their unique and essential needs. I nearly always try to talk them out of it.

Firstly, their needs are rarely as unique as they imagine them to be. By widening our perspective, we can usually find a pre-existing solution that, lightly customized, will meet their needs adequately. 

Secondly, custom-built integrations increase long-term costs. There are always edge cases or unforeseen issues that will need to be debugged later, and even well-built apps will break over time as the internet changes around them.

Before embarking on a custom development project, I advise clients to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Could their needs be solved with a low-fi approach? Could an existing feature or service be customized to achieve a similar result? If so, then do so.

The least complex viable approach is nearly always the best one.


Teach Others Not To Need You

Freelancers and consultants think that they should work to get clients on retainer to stabilize their revenue.

Full-time employees think that they must become “indispensable” — often by cultivating a unique skillset or by retaining institutional knowledge.

Agencies learn to keep their strategies, tactics, and often their results to themselves so that their clients learn to depend on them.

Throughout my career, I’ve found myself in each of these roles and employing each of these strategies. Each time, I was acting out of a profound fear that doing otherwise would leave me obsolete & unemployed.

I was wrong. So, so wrong.

Trying to force others to need you will always end badly. When they realize they don’t need you (it’ll happen), they’ll be justifiably upset. And you’ll be rightly fired.

The best projects of my career — the ones with the best results and the happiest clients — were the ones in which I made the active decision to teach others not to need me, where I empowered them to be the heroes of their own story, where I did my part and then got out of the way.

As much as people resent when you keep them in the dark, they respect when you bring them into the know. That respect will manifest in the forms of positive references, new opportunities, and increased responsibility. 

So tell your clients how to fix the webpage themselves. Bring your coworkers up to speed on the history of the project. Be open and honest about your strategies and tactics. Trust me — it’ll be okay.


Hawkfish

Back in December, CNBC published a sort of “gotcha” piece about how Mike Bloomberg is paying a digital agency that he owns — an agency called “Hawkfish” — to run all of his campaign’s online efforts. The article didn’t attract much notice because it was published a few days before Christmas, but I thought it was super interesting and want to circle back on it.

Hawkfish will be the “primary digital agency and technology services provider for the campaign,” Julie Wood, a Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman, told CNBC. She added that the firm “is now providing digital ad services, including content creation, ad placement and analytics” for their campaign. It will also help Democratic races across the country in future election cycles, she said.

While it is unusual for a presidential candidate to turn to a company he founded for assistance, ethics experts say Bloomberg’s move does not break Federal Election Commission laws.

“I would say nothing shows a red flag as far as a violation,” Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, told CNBC. “If he sincerely had not made up his mind to run when he made this company to help Democrats, it’s fine. Going forward, the campaign would have to pay fair market value to the company in goods that he’s receiving.”

The TL;DR version is that Bloomberg’s approach is novel, but not illegal, so long as he’s paying it fair market value. (If he paid it less than fair market value then the services he received would be an illegal in-kind contribution.)

This setup reminds me of Tom Hagan, the family attorney & consigliere in The Godfather, who says:

“I have a special practice. I handle one client.”

For my part, I think this is a smart move by Bloomberg. Practically speaking, it’s as if he in-housed the campaign’s digital operation. But because the infrastructure is housed in a third-party organization, it can endure and outlast Mike Bloomberg 2020.

For example, Hawkfish (and its expert team) could bring their accrued technology and trade secrets to bear as a future vendor to the Democratic National Committee, PAC, or a post-presidency nonprofit, supporting the Bloomberg administration from outside of his campaign infrastructure. 

So, far from gotcha news, CNBC picked up on a really savvy and innovative campaign strategy made possible in-part (but not exclusively) by Bloomberg’s self-funding infrastructure. Expect to see more of this sort of thing in future cycles.


Facebook Leans Into Its Looming Regulatory Battle

Yesterday, Facebook published a long blog post outlining how it believes it — and its competitors — ought to be regulated with regard to content moderation policy.

In a white paper titled, “Charting a Way Forward: Online Content Regulation,” the company poses a few big questions around what regulation looks like and proposes some guidelines for future regulations. For example:

[Question] Should regulation define which “harmful content” should be prohibited on the internet? Laws restricting speech are generally implemented by law enforcement officials and the courts. Internet content moderation is fundamentally different. Governments should create rules to address this complexity — that recognize user preferences and the variation among internet services, can be enforced at scale, and allow for flexibility across language, trends and context. 

[Suggested Guideline] Incentives. Ensuring accountability in companies’ content moderation systems and procedures will be the best way to create the incentives for companies to responsibly balance values like safety, privacy, and freedom of expression.

Facebook knows regulation is coming, and this seems to mark another, deeper step in its recent shift away from “we can handle this internally” towards “we need to be regulated… the way we think best.” 

For regulators, this is a tricky situation. You don’t want the proverbial fox to guard the henhouse, but there are serious questions as to whether federal regulators are sufficiently knowledgeable about the business of social media platforms to make effective regulations independently. 


Cory Booker’s New Branding

I first learned about Cory Booker during the early part of my career when he was the mayor of Newark, and I was working in Baltimore’s City Hall. His approach to government and leadership inspired me, particularly his unapologetic and unrelenting enthusiasm. It was clear that he loved Newark, and he seemed prepared to will it into the best version of itself if he had to.

Local government approaches tend to be less partisan or ideological and more arbitrary. Cory took a technocratic, startup-minded approach to government that resonated with me. It felt like the embodiment of David Brooks’ “thoroughly modern do-gooder” — a term that quickly wove its way into my identity. For those reasons, Mayor Cory Booker became one of the defining leaders of the early 2000s for me.

That said, Senator Cory Booker lost me. During the 2010s, I became more conservative while he more closely aligned himself with the Democratic Party’s base in the hopes of running for president. And during his recent campaign for president, I found it challenging to connect with his branding on any level. To me, it felt awkward and inauthentic—like it was trying a bit too hard.

Cory Booker 2020 Branding
Source: https://corybooker.com Cory 2020. License: All Rights Reserved. (via Fonts In Use)

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that “it felt awkward and inauthentic” is 100% my opinion, and I was not the target audience for Cory 2020’s branding. But as someone who’s followed his career for more than a decade, I could never escape the feeling that the campaign didn’t feel like him. It’s an instinct, for sure, but I am going to stand by it.

Recently, with Cory off the campaign trail and refocused on his role in the Senate, the veteran team at Wide Eye re-imagined his branding in a way that I find much more authentic and engaging. It’s iterative of the Cory 2020 branding, but excellently so.

Cory Booker’s New Senate Branding
Cory Booker for Senate branding circa February 2020 (Source: Yello)

Here, the colors are bolder, and the fonts are stronger. The cleanliness and minimalist approach of the brand echoes Cory’s longtime focus on effectiveness over showiness. Maybe that was what felt off about his presidential campaign’s branding: it felt showy. It was trying to be interesting. This refresh is clearly trying to be functional, but with personality.

Screenshot: Cory for Senate’s Homepage
Screenshot: Cory for Senate’s Homepage (Feb. 2020)

The homepage similarly reflects Cory’s technocratic bias, focusing only on what it needs to do. It also immediately conveys his boldness, his joy, and his focus on serving New Jersey. It’s a perfect example of how a great political website.

I believe that authenticity is perhaps the most important thing in politics. With this new approach to his branding, Cory Booker seems (to me) to have captured his authentic self. Much credit is due to the Wide Eye team for helping him find his way to that result. 


Making Some Front-End Decisions About Blog Post Formatting & Tagging

For the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the general structure of this weblog. I want to make sure I make smart front-end decisions before I get too far along because it’s very frustrating than having to audit and restructure the content of a website after the fact. 

Question #1: How Will I Format Blog Posts?

The last time I took online writing seriously, I published a link blog (in the style of Daring Fireball or 512 Pixels). So when I started writing again last year, that was the format to which I naturally gravitated. But, I don’t think it’s the right format for me anymore.

The link blog format reduces the barrier to publishing by lowering expectations for each post to just a few sentences. But it also creates a lot of “fluff” posts that don’t hold up over time. In most cases, link posts would work well as tweets. And the exceptions, where my commentary is more substantive, are worthy of a full-on blog post like this one.

The enduring benefit of the link post format is that it provides a structured way to cite the source material that inspired a post. A lot of the time, I write my posts in response to something I read or saw, and it’s important — on both a practical and ethical level — to link back to that source material to give additional context and credit where it’s due. But there are other ways to achieve that end that avoid the formatting inconsistencies and hollow writing to often associated with link blogs. 

So, my decision is this: no link posts. If I want to share something with just a few sentences of commentary (e.g., “This is neat. Check it out.”), I’ll toss it into Buffer to post to Facebook & Twitter. If I had more to add, I’ll share my thoughts as a blog post and include a small “source” link (to the original material) in the page’s byline. 

Question #2: How Will I Tag Blog Posts?

How to tag/categorize blog posts has long been a vexing topic for me. Historically, I haven’t used tags at all due to my inability to settle on a consistent approach to them. Better to do nothing than to do something poorly, I figured. But this time, I have a plan.

Rather than trying to come up with a concrete list of tags up-front, I’m going to follow a Kottke-esque approach and tag posts liberally and on-the-fly. My aim is for each tag to be usable in the sentence, “Read more about _______.” Every noun (e.g., person, place, object, idea, or topic) of significance mentioned in a blog post can and should become a tag. 

Over time, this approach to tagging will add up. For example, back in 2005, Jason Kottke counted that he had already accrued 1,376 unique tags on his blog. This approach to tagging is more descriptive than categorical. The question is not, “which bucket does this post fit into” so much as “what does this post talk about?” Eventually, the tags will come to represent a sort of 10,000-foot level description of what the blog is about. 

Each tag will be listed alphabetically on the Archives Page, and relevant tags will be listed at the bottom of each post. 

(Aside: It will be interesting to see whether NationBuilder’s {{ site.page_tags }} array has a limit to how many tags it will return. If so, I imagine that I’ll find out sooner than later.)

The Bottom Line

All of that is by way of saying that going forward, Hines Digital is going to use traditional blog post formatting (not link posts or other tumblelog formats) and a very liberal tagging system.

I hope you enjoy it.


My First NationBuilder Zap

Earlier this month, NationBuilder announced a new integration with the popular API connector Zapier, saying: 

Today, we're excited to launch our official Zapier integration! Zapier lets you automate day-to-day tasks across apps and workflows, with no coding required, so you can focus on leveling up your engagement efforts.

I just created my first NationBuilder Zap — automatically creating a new person (or updating an existing one) in my nation when someone schedules a call with me using Calendly. It was incredibly easy, and the zaps happen almost instantaneously.

If you haven’t tried this integration yet, I strongly recommend it. The possibilities are innumerable, especially when you consider the possibilities of multi-step zaps.


Michael Bloomberg’s Hiring Spree

Ryan Grim, reporting for The Intercept:

[Bloomberg] is hiring armies of staffers and canvassers in nearly every state in the country at eye-popping salaries, poaching talent from other campaigns and progressive organizations that are now struggling to fill jobs. In just three months, the Bloomberg campaign has hired thousands of people to staff more than 125 offices around the country, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Progressive groups, local campaigns, and presidential operations are either losing staff to the Bloomberg campaign, or are struggling to hire people because the former mayor has picked so many political operatives and canvassers up, according to interviews, emails, and messages from dozens of people involved in hiring.

Don’t underestimate the impact of this level of staff spending as we get deeper into the primary election calendar. Bloomberg is probably also moving aggressively to scoop up senior staff from competing campaigns as candidates withdraw. In the past, this sort of hiring doesn't typically happen until after a nominee has been chosen — and even then it’s more out of necessity (they’re the only job in town) rather than via competitive salary offerings. 

My question is what happens if Bloomberg doesn’t win the nomination, but keeps his pledge to maintain his campaign infrastructure through Election Day. How does the eventual nominee build a staff?


An American GDPR?

Makena Kelly, writing for The Verge:

On Thursday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released a proposal to overhaul the way the US government regulates privacy. Gillibrand’s Data Protection Act would found a new independent agency called the Data Protection Agency (DPA), tasked with protecting consumer data at large. Consumers would file complaints with the DPA that could trigger larger investigations into data malpractice, potentially implicating major platforms like Google and Facebook. If a company is found to have abused consumer data, the DPA could take action by inflicting civil penalties or seeking injunctive relief.

Momentum is clearly building towards an American equivalent to Europe’s General Data Privacy Regulation scheme. 

With Republicans in the majority, Senator Gillibrand’s bill is a non-starter — not necessarily due to its policy aims as the natural incentive to deny the minority party legislative victories in an election year. But I would expect to see this sort of data projection agenda as a top-tier issue in the next congress.

Go Deeper: “The U.S. Needs a Data Protection Agency” by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand