The first scandal in the fact that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi paid consulting firms like IDMLOCO more than $175,000 to improve her online reputation is, of course, that such spending is an absurd waste of public money. The second scandal is that scrubbing the internet of negative stories isn’t something you can do. The third is that even if you could do it (and again, you can’t), you shouldn’t—at least when you’re a public official. The fourth is that once this kind of thing gets out, as it inevitably will, it’s bound to make everything incalculably worse. The fifth is that Katehi lied to the public and to UC President Janet Napolitano about the previous four.
And now we have a sixth.
The Sacramento Bee has released three of the memos that consulting firm IDMLOCO prepared for Katehi in the wake of the public disclosure of her financial ties to for-profit college company DeVry, and they’re … well, they’re really bad.
Not bad in the sense of evil, though they are that. Not bad in the sense of reflecting poorly on Katehi and on UC Davis, though they’re that too. Mostly they’re bad in the sense of being transparently shoddy. Junk. Snake oil. Grift.
The first of the three memos, written not long after the story of Chancellor Katehi’s financial ties to for-profit college company DeVry broke, says the DeVry story made a big splash on social media after it appeared in the press, that it subsided a bit the following day, and that as of the time the memo was written it hadn’t completely evaporated yet. There are charts and everything, in case the reader might be inclined toward skepticism. The word “notably” appears several times, though never in reference to anything notable.
A follow-up IDMLOCO memo from two days later is similarly banal, boasting meaningless hour-by-hour “analysis” of Twitter traffic, a color-coded map without a legend, and various lists of half-digested data. (Note: See update at end of post for more on the map.)
What leaps out most in this second memo, though, is how incompetently written it is. A caustic tweet mocking one of Katehi’s supporters is presented as an example of people “coming to her defense.” Statistics are misreported and misinterpreted. And then there’s this:
Number four on that list of “Influencers” is me, and if you look closely you can see that everything in the entry except for my follower count is wrong. My name is misspelled, my academic title is inaccurate, the self-description from my Twitter profile (which should read “historian and advocate of American student activism”) is rendered incoherent and ungrammatical. Best of all, my Twitter username—the most salient fact about me in this context—is given as that of an egg with nine followers who has tweeted exactly once.
As it turns out, all three memos are riddled with obvious mistakes. Spambots are cited as high-relevance Twitter accounts, anonymous cranks are given equal time with respected journalists, tweets and blogposts are treated as interchangeable. And there’s never even a half-serious attempt to contextualize any of the data—to draw conclusions from it, to compare trends against benchmarks, to analyze content on anything but the most rote level.
It’s all garbage, is what I’m saying. It’s malarkey. It’s the kind of “social media guru” crap that anyone who has even the most basic competency in dealing with social networks knows to shun and mock.
But somehow IDMLOCO received a hefty paycheck to spew this sewage, and somehow nobody in UC Davis administration noticed they were throwing their money away—news reports reveal that IDMLOCO has received at least three separate contracts for social media consulting from Davis in the last 22 months.
So let’s all take a moment to give IDMLOCO something to write about in their next internal memo. Share this post on social media, or write your own, so that the next time some college is on the verge of getting taken they’ll at least have a chance to find out the truth.
Update | A helpful friend on Twitter reveals that the reason the map in the second memo doesn’t have a legend is that it was sloppily cut and pasted from the website Nuvi.
Second Update | Barely two hours after this post went live, it now appears on the top page of Google, Bing, and Ask results for the search term “IDMLOCO.”
I am available for all your social media consulting needs at reasonable rates.