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Monday, December 27, 2010

What Bloggers Really Hear

When bloggers hit submit on their first post, we all hope for comments about how thoughtful and introspective we are, how clever our animal husbandry and colonoscopy imagery is, and that the Huffington Post begs us to be their new featured writer. Actually, we really hope that we just meet some like minded folks who also think that colonoscopy jokes are hilarious and perhaps find a community. Instead what we usually get are messages like this:

Hello, This is Shiela from bestdogfoods dot org dot uk. We stumbled on your blog while searching for Best Dog Foods related information. We operate the largest Best Dog Foods website featuring more than 30,000+ blogs. Our site averages 200,000+ unique visitors per month. Based on your blog's popularity and other factors, we have featured your blog at bestdogfoods dot org dot uk dot bogus link. We would be grateful if you could add the following details to your blogs main page. Looking forward for your confirmation. Thanks Shiela bestdogfoods dot org dot uk P.S. If You Have More Quality Blog We Can Feature Those.
Contrary to Shiela's claim, my blog was not featured on that page. I also am completely convinced that Shiela repeatedly spelled her own first name wrong. However, Shiela did inspire me to provide insight into the blogging world by sharing the utter garbage that people email me. Since I have no other ideas for a post and really want to have 4 posts this month, I'll subject readers to a true blogger navel gazing post. There is nothing that bloggers like more than to write about the thoughts behind their thoughts. Like Lebron James, once you start uncensoring yourself, it's really hard to stop (I mean, Lebron, you really thought that your league contraction idea as a solution to oppressed super stars who have to play in Minnesota wouldn't make you look like even a bigger dick?).

Here are some of the really bad short-sighted ways that people interact with other bloggers (like me):

The disingenuous link offer:
One of the easiest things to do is ask someone to link to each other's blogs. You express some genuine interest, demonstrate that you read their blog, and offer to exchange links. Having a first name that seems real and spelled correctly is an added bonus. The part that turns a simple exchange into a really low stake scam is when the soliciting blogger never links the other blog. Hospital dot com is the biggest offender as they repeatedly offered me the link exchange but have no obvious place on their site for links.

The comment disguised as an excuse to link: Masters Dissertation dot co dot uk has left flattering comments under the name "Marketing dissertation" and "MBA dissertation" with links back to their website in the comment. My post was "informative" and they had "not found any proper resource for their research" until they read my post about how MBA guys should try to score at the Veterinarian Graduate Programs due to the favorable female:male ratio. I published the first comments as I was properly flattered but after the 4th or 5th time, I just felt like the girl at the bar who was hearing a bad pick up line.

Teeth Whitening is also guilty of this approach but even more guilty because they don't even try to use a name that remotely disguises their intent.

The urgency to link or write about comment: There's nothing like getting a request to link or provide some publicity that accuses you of ignoring their previous multiple attempts to get your attention. I supposed some might feel guilted into acting but I figured that if I ignored them and couldn't even remember ignoring them, it couldn't have been that important. The oddest part was that Team USA was using this approach during the last Winter Olympics to raise awareness for athletes. I guess that's what people mean about organizations that don't understand social media.

The crappy guest post offer: I've received a few emails from the writer of accredited college online dot com for guest post services. However, the sample articles that the writer sent included "100 tips on how to raise a brilliant bilingual baby" with a first tip of "Speak another language at home." I had visions of a guest post on "100 tips on raising a goat" with a first tip of "Find a male goat and a female goat and get them horny". Get it, the goats are horny? Horns and horny? Get it? Hmm, I think that I might have an idea for a guest post for that writer.

All of these short sighted techniques that bloggers use to get a little bit more traffic obscure actual legitimate interactions and community building. As a result, I was completely skeptical about the one email that I got where the person was truly interested in paying me to advertise. I was even more stunned when they proved to be legitimate and actually did pay me. Thus, I can claim that I actually have monetized my blog.

However, most of these attempts show that there are not a lot of smart people working on web advertising and the competition is never so intense when the stakes are so low. Now, I am going to try and complete my 100 tips for raising goats. What do goats eat anyway?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Predictions for the Health Care Industry in 2011

It's the holiday season which means it's time for holiday parties, left over money in the company budget is blown on work parties, lots of food, plenty of excuses to drink alcohol, and lots of nostalgia. For bloggers, this means guaranteed blog topics either in a form of 1) a review of the year that was or 2) predictions for the next year. I have a tradition of making conservative predictions. Last year there was a trend for bloggers to dismiss predictions as so last year and boldly proclaim that no one can predict the future. Really? Is that the best that you can do? Are you going to tell me that bears poop in the woods (and wipe their butts on the the rabbits) and "refudiate" isn't really a word?

With that introductions, my non-refudiable 2011 health industry predictions are:

1. Hospital Executives will be the next set of CEO's to be hauled in front of Congress: and struggle to take their inquisitors seriously. I mean it's probably tough not to laugh at the histrionics of some of the members of Congress, let alone not stare at Henry Waxman since he's so funny-looking. Or want to ask Dennis Kucinich if he wants to sit on your lap and tell you what he wants for Christmas.

However, hospital executives will have to practice refraining their giggles as recent articles have pointed out how some hospitals are so dominant that they can paid above market rates by insurance companies. Another article pointed out that California inpatients hospital costs have increased 150% (or 11% annually) since 2000. The best defense that hospital executives could muster in response to these articles was "the data must be flawed." That's not much better than a response of "So's your face." Hospital costs (and accompanying specialists) make up at least half the health care dollar and are growing too fast not to be identified as key driver of runaway health care costs. While the insurance companies have received the most public scrutiny this year, next year it will be on like Donkey Kong for hospitals.

2. Despite state budget woes, Medicaid will continue to grows: I wanted to pick a word that rhymed with woes and couldn't figure out how to use toes. Since 2007, the number of Medicaid recipients has grown 16% nation-wide to 50 million. In Oregon, it's grown 25% in the last year. This growth doesn't even include the projected 16 million new Medicaid enrollees in 2014. This isn't going to change in 2011 since the states are getting larger matching funds from the federal government. Every $1 the state spends brings $1.60 from the federal government. Medicaid is still one of the best ways to arouse, er no, stimulate a state economy.

3. Everyone gets more comfortable with Medicare Advantage: Despite becoming the ginger-headed step child of government programs, a lot of reform provisions are borrowed from Medicare Advantage. Risk adjustment based on health conditions in the Exchanges is from Medicare Advantage. Open Enrollment periods are being used for individual insurance for those under 19 years of age. Currently, seniors are in the middle of the November 15th-December 31st Annual Election Period for Medicare Advantage. One of the crankier bloggers who doesn't like health reform (or much of anything) sees open enrollments as good replacement for an individual mandate that will likely be challenged in the Supreme Court. The senior citizen model for health insurance is quickly becoming the market norm under health reform only with slightly better shoes and a mobile phone app.

4. Health Care Costs will actually decline: Earlier in the year, there was discussion of reduction in the Pentagon budget. What they really mean was not an actual budget cut but the budget just wouldn't increase as much as it typically did. Rather than an increase of 3% in the budget, the increase would only be 1%. Until Robert Gates took a dump in the punch bowl and announced that there would be an actual budget cut complete with negative numbers.

This situation was pretty similar to health care costs where the holy grail was an increase that merely matched inflation. This may be the year that we see an actual cut. The money that insurance companies are inhaling from businesses like a frat guy sucks on a bong is about to get bogarted. The canary in the West Virginia coal mine was the Connecticut's Insurance division rejection of Anthem's 20% rate increase for individual plans and a counter offer of 0%. The rejection of rate increases is likely to become more common. Providers are likely to get similar treatment if the "budget" or health insurance revenues are frozen like a Siberian winter.

For the record, Senator Lieberman expressed disappointment at the Connecticut Insurance Division's decision because he saw a great opportunity to be a dick wad.

5. There will be more consolidation in the health care industry. This prediction is to absolutely guarantee that I get one of these right. Predicting consolidation is as safe as predicting that your human resource department will do something aggravating. There has been annual consolidation in every industry from health insurance to Thai food carts since the 12 tribes of ancient Israel were consolidated in 10. Even ancient Hebrews understood economies of scale and market power.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Figuring out how to Write Objective Statements on Resumes

One of my annual blog posts is a review of the resume objective statements written by graduating class of Wharton Health Care Majors. Analyzing objective statements has been a hobby of mine for a while as I made fun of my classmates objective statements during our end of the year banquet. Some feel that I may need new hobbies and probably some new friends given one of my hobbies is to alienate my classmates/friends. However, a self-deprecating sense of humor goes a long way and it's my blog so I get to pretend that I'm funny.

First the disclaimer. The people for whom I am about to make fun of (Wharton Class of 2011) are orders of magnitude smarter than me. From looking at their pictures they are also really really really ridiculously good-looking. No one in my organization lets me even pick a lunch place, let alone make a hiring decision, so what I wrote should not be considered to be actual career advice.

Allow me to elaborate on the Wharton MBA Resume Objective statements:

So you're telling me that I have a chance: In previous years, students had grand visions of requesting "strategic opportunities" or "leadership opportunities". This year, everyone was more humble with requests for a simple "opportunity". One student trumped all as he was looking for a "strategic leadership opportunity." No one has raised the stakes like consumer goods companies raise the number of razor blades with a 3rd adjective prior to opportunity. Nor went for complete honesty by requesting an opportunity "that doesn't suck monkey balls."

Ask not what your company can do for you:
Actually, this year's students are telling their companies what they expect of them. Many students use their objective statements to tell companies that they are looking for "entrepreneurial" or "innovative" places to work. Luckily all the established highly bureaucratic Fortune 100 companies that mostly hire at Wharton don't seem to be too worried. Some want their teams to "high quality". One person wants their company to be both "entrepreneurial" and "pioneering". Upon checking this person's resume, I was disappointed that they did not work for the pioneering company that develop the educational game Oregon Trail. One person was just looking for a company that was "promising".

Does anyone remember how we originally used the word leverage?
The word that appeared most often in everyone's objective statement was "leverage." Everyone was looking to leverage something whether it be their scientific and business background, their leadership experience, or just leverage their levers. I can't argue with the whole idea of leverage. Whenever I go to the bathroom, I try to leverage my trip and do both number one and number two. I try to leverage my hand washing, too but my wife doesn't seem to appreciate it.

Some in this class actually figured out how to write an objective statement:
My biggest surprise was not how good-looking all the students were (seriously, did they air brush the picture or are people in their 20's really that much better looking than the general population?). The surprise was that a number of students wrote really good objective statements. They didn't fill the objective statements with unnecessary adjectives that really just say "doesn't suck monkey balls," or hedge every career opportunity. Some figured out how to write an objective statement that provided succinct and relevant information to a future employer. Most used the word "leverage" but there's definitely worse words to use (like "create value").

The best objective statements simply said "An opportunity to leverage my X background and Y background." It's elegant, simple, and relevant. It tells the employer their industry background that they're looking to build off. It shares who they are. After seeing this solution to an objective statement, I realized that they might just create strategic value in an impactful resume. Argh, must stop reading resumes. I am going to strategically go to the bathroom and try to leverage the 2 remaining squares of toilet paper.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Judging WikiLeaks: Amazon and PayPal's Glass Houses

It's safe to say that the story of WikiLeak's posting of diplomatic cables or what happens when diplomats stop being nice and start getting real is as ubiquitous as Leslie Nielsen quotes. WikiLeak's actions have triggered government investigations and lively debate about the role of news organizations and democracies. WikiLeaks creates extreme discomfort and operates in shades of gray as it forces us to deeply question the definition of freedom and role of government. Personally, I like my government like I like my negligees which is transparent. However, this debate is far from clear.

What I think is clear is Amazon and PayPal's role in the WikiLeaks story. PayPal dropped WikiLeaks as a customer which cut off their primary way of receiving revenue. Amazon kicked WikiLeak off their servers because Senator Joe Lieberman complained. Both companies judged WikiLeaks before any judicial body had made a decision and put their political and possibly ethical opinion above shareholders or the traditional role of a business.

The role of business in society is the subject of a few lectures in the required business school ethics class. One side will claim that shareholder value trumps all as business' prime purpose is profits not societal change. The other will claim the business needs to support its communities and there is a return in investing in society. Businesses have also become intertwined in politics in positive ways such as the boycotts of oppressive regimes and as corrupting forces by pumping money through PACS and lobbyists.

However, PayPal and Amazon's role is beyond a business decision to invest or even endorse a particular position. Their actions were similar to blockading a harbor or funding rebel troops. PayPal's blog claimed that cutting off WikiLeaks' account was prompted by a violation of the service provider's policy, "which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity." Comments on this PayPal blog post are closed. However, one can freely comment on the Pay Pal blog post "Tips for Safe Selling this Holiday Season".

I find it perplexing that PayPal seems to have decided that WikiLeak's engaged in illegal activity when no court has convicted WikiLeaks. Considering the scrutiny of financial institutions and new regulations, PayPal may find themselves convicted of committing illegal activity before WikiLeaks. I had a recent phone conversation with their outsourced India-based call center about fees that I was charged on a transaction that were not disclosed clearly. When I asked them who their regulatory agency was, they had no idea.

With regards to Amazon responding so quickly to Joe Lieberman's complaints, I have to say, seriously? Lieberman is an old east coast orthodox Jewish guy which means he complains 30 times a day by definition. Amazon's customer service is probably on a first name basis with him over complaints about how his last order, Big Dick Cheney, turned out not to be about the former vice-president.

In reality, both companies probably caved into political pressure faster than the Kardashian's update their twitter posts. I just hope that they at least got a good deal for selling their souls and advancing well beyond the normal role of business in politics. Because people in glass houses should change their clothes in the basement.
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