NEW YORK - Seth Godin has an interesting post today called "The needle in a haystack problem." Seth has been having trouble with the interface between Gmail and Apple mail, and he has been searching online for help from others.
According to Seth, "Forum posts have not been successful at troubleshooting this. I have no doubt that this blog post will find the person insightful, smart and kind enough to tell me what to do." But Seth asks the obvious question, "What if [I didn't] have a popular blog?"
When a problem like the one Seth has becomes "less interesting" for the techies who can solve it, they lose interest in surfing the forums and the listservs that would provide the best answer. In other words, the best answers, the best referrals, the best everything in online forums comes from the edges -- and those people like interacting with others on the edges. When the channel becomes less edgy, they leave. Next, the quality of the forum goes down -- and everyone heads for the door.
Seth Godin continues ...
Let's say, for example, I was an executive recruiter. Surely, I would benefit from interrupting every person on the planet to advertise a great new job. But I couldn't do it every day or every hour...
Part of the success of Facebook is that for your group of friends, you do get that ability (at least until they stop being your friends). But the laws of information make it clear that it doesn't scale. No, there isn't an obvious answer. But yes, it's a universal problem. Worth a think when you get a chance.
Here's my take as a card-carrying executive recruiter: You have to do things that are edgy and risky and counter-intuitive. For example, I have a job board called OnlineRetailJobs.com, and I advertise it very heavily both online and off. My wife thinks I'm nuts.
On the face of things, I am losing huge money on it. For example, I am handling searches now for two clients who have posted jobs on it -- and if the winning candidate is sourced directly through the job board, I lose a 20% commission.
So why do it? Because the labor market is dynamic and interconnected and my candidates and clients will find each other anyway. They do not operate in a vacuum.
It makes MUCH more sense to drive people to a job board that showcases my commitment to the ecommerce industry and links to my blog. In a sense, it "credible-izes" me to my market, and I think that these soft benefits outweigh any opportunity costs there might be.
TRUE STORY: I have become so credible among online retailers that TWICE last year I closed searches involving candidates who had applied directly to my clients and were rejected. It was only after I interviewed these candidates and explained specifically how each could grow the clients' online business that their candidacies were resurrected. Technically, the clients owed me nothing -- but most people are fair, and they wanted to pay me something for my expertise. It was a win/win/win: The only acceptable outcome in an efficient market.
I also have a Linked-In group which online retailers and passive job seekers can join. The group has nearly 500 members -- and it may be costing me money by taking searches out of the market. That's the bad news.
The good news is that my "click to join" button is on the Linked-In bios of 500 (mostly) A-players in my marketplace, and the icon has become a branding element for my job board. It has greatly improved my "signal to noise ratio" within my target market -- and I have become one of "the" go-to guys for ecommerce on Linked-In. I couldn't buy that kind of credibility and trust -- but I can accelerate it by disintermediating myself.
So it's about trade offs and about being known as a community facilitator -- rather than as a parasite who simply lives off the asymmetric information provided by the friction in the market. In a sense, I'm in the karma business. We all are.
After all, you get as good as you give.
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