As Zirtual faces class action suit over mass layoffs, Jason Calacanis suggests he knew company’s monthly cash position

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Zirtual might have found a soft landing at Startups.co, but now come the legal repercussions of the company’s collapse.

Yesterday, former employee Felice Martin filed a class action complaint (embedded below) against Zirtual Inc claiming the company failed to give adequate notice to the approximately 400 employees it suddenly laid off.

The complaint claims that under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) act, the company was legally required to give 60 days notice ahead of mass layoffs. Martin is asking the court to certify the complaint as a class action suit.

The complaint is not entirely unexpected…

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SEO TO CDO: Why you need a Digital Marketer in a top position within your business

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It’s probably no surprise to anyone when I say that when decisions are made within a business it’s not always the people with the best ideas that have the most influence, instead the people who are on the highest salary or higher up in the pecking order are the ones that often have the final say.

You could argue that the reason for this is because they have more experience, but I’ve been involved in a meeting in the past when a company accountant was able to veto a great idea from a less senior member of staff simply because they had more authority. On that occasion I was brought into the meeting as a consultant and took the side of the person proposing the idea, but I was unable to change their minds as the person arguing against the idea had been engrained in the business for years and nobody dare challenge him.

The idea relied on piggybacking on current affairs (Newsjacking) as a way to increase brand awareness and attract high quality backlinks. Because the company was reluctant to take action, it resulted in another unrelated business capitalising on the same idea and they were able to generate a large amount of media attention as a result. This led to them gaining a large volume of links, which of course is one of the catalysts for good search engine rankings.

When I pointed how someone else managed to make the idea work, the marketing team were deeply disappointed that they missed out on a great opportunity.

We Are All Internet Marketers Now

A similar problem that I frequently witness when working with businesses, even companies with digital marketing teams, is that there are usually people within a business with no web marketing experience that are able to influence, change and sometimes even start tinkering around with things themselves.

This is often related to aesthetic aspects of a website, and with design being so subjective, it’s sometimes difficult to argue the point that having a Santa dancing across your website at Christmas time is a bad idea!

For some reason when it comes to digital marketing, a lot of people seem to have strong opinions on it even if they don’t have a great deal of experience. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to come to your house to fix a broken pipe then start telling him how he should go about resolving the issue.

I recently learned that the word to describe this type of behaviour is ‘ultracrepidarianism’ which means to give opinions and advice on matters that you know very little about which seems to be rife when it comes to digital marketing.

What Needs To Change

Any business that relies on generating revenue as a result of their web presence needs to seriously consider employing people with digital experience in very senior positions within the company who are able to understand, scrutinise and support digital marketing related activity.

To succeed in an ever-increasing digital world you have to be prepared to move fast. Someone needs to be able to make quick decisions to allow businesses to have a first mover advantage when opportunities present themselves. To do this you need someone who has a certain level of authority and is able to cut through all the red tape that often exists within businesses.

Thankfully we are already starting to see a change and many companies have created senior positions for experienced digital marketers. We are now seeing an increase in positions for Digital Marketing Directors and Chief Digital Officers. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but in my opinion, things aren’t moving quickly enough.

why you need a cdo

Who Should You Be Looking For?

When it comes to digital marketing, it is often difficult to recruit the right staff as there is definitely a skill-shortage.

Digital marketers develop a wide range of skills by working closely with clients to improve their business so a lot of them think they are better off making money as affiliates, starting their own agencies and others go off and use their skills to start businesses in other related areas such as ecommerce. However, there is definitely still a number of professionals in the industry who have no intention of going it alone and still want the security of being a part of a well-established company.

We know that the right person for a top digital-focused position within your business has to be quick-thinking and adaptable to the rapidly changing digital landscape. They need to have good all-round knowledge of everything digital while also having a good understanding of how their decisions could affect other areas of your business. I didn’t say it would be easy, but thankfully there are a group of people that tick a lot of these boxes.

Experienced search engine marketers, SEOs in particular, develop a lot of skills organically (no pun intended) many of which are transferable to other business areas.

Due to the nature of the job, and the ever-increasing range of signals that influence where your site will rank on the search engine result pages, they need to have a broad understanding of several areas of digital marketing. They need to understand design, development, UX, marketing, PR and even psychology. When Google starts to better understand the sentiments of online reviews they will also probably need to try to influence departments such as sales and customer service, as negative reviews could have a direct negative impact on the online presence of your business. Many search marketers also have experience in dealing with stakeholders within businesses and are used to taking responsibility for or explaining their actions.

As search engine optimisation is a relatively new discipline, a large percentage of the people that work in this area are self-starters. They need to have a thirst to learn and develop new skills on their own and make sure that they stay ahead of the game.

They are adaptable to change and are used to working to targets. Many have a good appreciation for focusing on and measuring ROI, and for that reason many SEOs have experience with interrogating large volumes of data and compiling it into meaningful reports, which obviously lends itself well to other areas of the business.

I have spent some time investigating the requirements of Digital Directors/CDO positions, but as it is a relatively new role, I believe the job description has yet to be clearly defined and will probably be shaped by the changing digital landscape.

Here are some of the skills I believe would help people that wish to pursue a CDO or similar position in future:

  • Good all-round experience of all digital marketing channels including SEO, PPC, mobile, display, email & social etc
  • Advanced digital analytics experience
  • Experience working with 3rd party web agencies
  • A good understanding of omnichannel retail
  • Experience managing sizeable digital marketing budgets
  • Ability to create, manage and implement large digital marketing strategies
  • A great understanding of all areas that affect digital marketing such as IT, marketing, development, editorial and operations
  • Excellent leadership skills

Finding the right candidates may not be easy..

I reached out to David Mains who runs a top digital marketing recruitment agency called Enigma People Solutions to find out his thoughts on the subject. He said:

“Businesses are starting to recognise the need to listen to those closer to their digital minded consumers and are incorporating this talent into their senior level teams. However, due to an increased demand for experienced digital professionals finding the correct candidate may prove difficult.”

I have to agree with what David says as I’ve found it increasingly difficult over recent years to find high-calibre digital professionals due to the increased demand.

The Caveat

Of course not all digital marketers have ambitions to move into positions that carry even more pressure than their current job, and as there is a definite shortage of good candidates, finding the right person with the right skills that is also the right fit for your business will probably prove difficult.

One thing is for sure though – if you have a company that relies on a good digital presence to generate revenue and you do not have someone with digital marketing experience that is in a position of authority, then your business is at risk of being left behind in an ever-changing digital world.

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Gordon is the Digital Marketing Manager for a large automotive retail business based in the UK. He gets involved in most areas of digital marketing but specialises in SEO, PPC and Remarketing.

State of Digital

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