Dating Game for Wannabe Skilled Immigrants

When I read the recent headline in our national newspaper announcing that Canada was opening a website where prospective employers and skilled foreign workers could date each other, one side of me was heartened and the other side petrified.

I was heartened, because when I came to this country a quarter century ago under the category of “skilled worker,” lured by the first world, “Brand Canada” lifestyle that was on tap, there were no such dating sites. All the Canadian High Commission in my native homeland had to work from was an outdated, typed list of required skills, among them, Undertaker and Sales Representative. Well, as I have a slight problem working with dead bodies, I qualified as a sales representative. When I arrived here, I got a bit of a shock: there were sales reps coming out of all nooks and crannies, including the mass produced ones from those dreaded telemarketing sweat shops. Thankfully, I used my “selling skills” to land myself another job, not one on the High Commission’s list, thankfully.

I was petrified at this news headline, because I have seen that first world lifestyle erode over the years, where the skilled workers of my generation have been reduced to a nation of Walmart and Dollar store frequent flyers, where training and retraining for displaced workers have been cut, where the unemployed or underemployed are those now 50•60 year old once•skilled workers and their progeny, the 20•30 year•olds who received a university education and an attitude as a reward from their parents; a whole segment of the middle class relegated to the wings while a new crop of skilled immigrants replace them. The dating game will make it easier to say, “Screw the locals, they cost too much and have higher expectations, let’s bring in the lean, mean and hungry.”

I still believe in the immigrant dream. It’s a rich experience that grows the soul, if not the pocket book. But Canada’s status as an “immigrant country” does not absolve it of its obligations towards preserving that first world lifestyle – its key selling point to newcomers. And that includes growing and maintaining a healthy middle class. And there is no free ride in not having to pay for education and training within the country and merely plucking the best and brightest from overseas who have been educated at the cost of their national governments, capitalizing on a foreign tin•pot dictator or corrupt regime that do not see the value of their human resources.

And the caveat emptor for the wannabe skilled immigrant is, “Are you willing to get only about 20 years of benefit from this system (that is, if you arrive before the age of 30. If you come later, the reaping period is exponentially shorter) before you are put out to pasture or forced to use your entrepreneurial skills to start your own business?” Skills atrophy over time and today’s skilled worker is tomorrow’s re•trainee. If we cut the re•training, there is an even shorter shelf•life for the skilled worker. Re•training should also be comprehensive to recognize the aging worker; we cannot always be on an upward career trajectory: the careerist should be trained for jobs that go up the ladder and others that descend gracefully with age, maintaining dignity and respect for the individual at all times– another hallmark of the first world lifestyle.

Ah, but then all this could be too much to ask, when the temptation is there to slink back to that dating site and lure another skilled sucker to our shores.

Social Marketing = Viral Book Sales? Think again!

As my follower count in the social media universe rises by the ‘000’s, I am wondering what that does in terms of expanding the number of buyers for the products I have on tap – i.e. my books. There is no exact 1:1 correlation of followers to buyers. There is not even a 100:1 correlation. And if I am the only one facing this issue, then I must have a problem with my marketing message, or my books suck, or else others in my situation are keeping mum.
Here are some of my observations on book marketing in the social media universe (and I would welcome any thoughts to the contrary):

1) We have generated too much “noise” in the FB and Twitter universes. People are Twittered•out, or Facebook•whacked. The more followers you have, the more perishable your messages. If you don’t get a “like” or “re•tweet” within two minutes of your post, that post is history. Even keeping personal favourite lists ends up in clutter after awhile.
2) Expansion and Targeting is difficult. FB polices a closed loop network that says, “Thou shalt not annoy people by befriending everyone under the sun (including suggestions for friends that we send you).” How does one expand one’s universe without landing in FB jail? On the other hand, Twitter has no such limits but has a barrage of consultants who advocate that they can get you thousands of followers without you having to send out a single tweet. How targeted is that!
3) There is a widening gap between the known and the unknown. Buyers, overwhelmed by choice, veer towards the tried and true – hence bestseller become blockbusters and everyone else falls into the remaindered pile.
4) We have created millions of newspapers and journalists online who often regurgitate the same information multiple times over with minor alterations. They all compete for our eyeballs along with books. I have a hard time keeping up with “curated content” that is posted online by various newbie journalists – all interesting content, no doubt, but all leaving me with the sneaking suspicion that I have read this somewhere else before.

The power of the online sales message is felt only when endorsers (and the more powerful the endorser the better) tell others that they should absolutely drop everything they are doing and buy this book – NOW! They call it “going viral.” Sales do not happen when the poor writer himself keeps bleating his repeating groove, overtly or covertly: “Buy my book,” or “Please buy my book” or “Dammit, why aren’t you buying my book. Do you want it free?”

I am therefore not surprised that FB’s IPO bombed. It took me back to those heady days of the dot•com bubble when we invested in weak businesses with lousy value propositions just because it was the cool thing to do. The winner in this game will be the one who figures out how to turn “share of eyeballs” into “share of purchases.” I don’t think that nut has been cracked yet. Or perhaps there are only certain categories of products that lend themselves to social media•led purchasing, and books, unless they go viral through endorsement, are not one of them.

In summary, the best sales channels open to writers are still the tried and true ones: bookstores (online and traditional), good distribution, strong endorsers, favourable reviews, and opportunities where a writer engages with a reader (book launches, readings, literary festivals and other live events).Oh, yes – and you must have a good book that catches the zeitgeist!

The more things change, the more they also stay the same it appears.