What can cupcakes teach us about marketing?

I recently had the pleasure of attending Cupcake Camp LA at Los Angeles' Music Box Theater. This delicious event, devoted to celebrating the cupcake, brought together more than 50 of the city's bakeries and independent bakers to give the public a sample of their goods. Great way to spend an afternoon, right?

Upon entering the venue, I was taken away to a land of happiness! Balloons, pastel doilies, glitter, and everything frilly. Gorgeous cupcakes were everywhere, many labeled with cute names meant to entice people into tasting them: Root Beer Float, Marshmallow Hot Chocolate, Lemon Tart. Marketing at its best!

For your admission ticket, you were allowed five cupcakes. I wandered around, trying to decide on my five when I heard an announcement that there were more bakers located upstairs. So, upstairs I went.

On the very dark second floor there were about eight businesses represented. I squinted to see the cupcakes better, but the lighting was terrible (it was a theater, after all, and not an auditorium). At the last table, one without any decorations and a chicness rating of zero, I saw a messy looking cupcake. Something that looked so homemade that I thought it had to be good. I surrendered my ticket and took the cupcake.

To my delight, that homely little goodie was the best thing there! So amazingly chocolaty, moist, and flavorful, I heard myself moan a little. I went back to the booth to ask for a business card because this cupcake will undoubtedly be on the menu for my next soiree. (Yes, I throw soirees! Or at least I want to.)

The teenager at the booth handed me an old looking card that had creases in it. Looked like a GI had carried it in his pocket through the Gulf War. I asked her who did the baking and she told me her aunt did, but she had gone downstairs for a minute. She said they were from Compton (a gang-riddled community ranked the 15th most dangerous city in the U.S. by the FBI in 2008) and I got the impression the woman baked in her home.

As for the fancy cupcakes I selected from bakeries in elite cities such as Beverly Hills, Studio City, and Burbank, they were mediocre. Heck, two of the beautiful cupcakes from the main floor I didn't like at all (one was so dry, I simply opened my mouth and let the cake tumble out before it sucked all the moisture from my tongue!). The woman from Compton with the sad little table up in the dark got my vote for best cupcake! As a matter of fact, I went back and used my last ticket to get another one of her delicious delights! 

Now, some fancy pants baker downstairs with a table glamorous enough to be in Vegas won "Best Cupcake" at the event, as voted on by attendees. But I suspect many of those people didn't venture upstairs, into the dark, to the plain little table to taste a little bit of heaven. If they had, my favorite baker would have won; hands down. (I'd link to her in this post, but she doesn't even have a website.)

So, what does this teach us? I suspect this talented, but underrated, baker was simply sticking with what she knows: baking. Granted, she couldn't do anything about the theater's lighting, but the table presentation was within her control. Maybe not her area of expertise, but could she have brought in a friend with a keen eye to help her frilly up things and make everything more inviting? On the flip side, were some of the other bakers more about flash than substance? Their tables and cupcakes were beautiful, but the product itself was unimpressive.

So, I ask, is your product and your marketing in sync? Do they both represent your absolute best? Are you losing customers/clients because you're skimping on the quality of your product/service or the way you promote your business?

A more polished presentation could have drawn in more attendees for our Compton baker. And, for better or worse, appearance matters in this world. You can make the best cupcake on the planet, but what good is it if no one comes by to taste it, right?

* Thank you to the lovely Claudia Yuskoff of Mmm, Me Gusta - A Little Cooking Show and Babette Pepaj of Bakespace.com (the event host) for the tickets and the lovely day at Cupcake Camp LA! 

7 Twitter crimes that should be outlawed

I love Twitter. Yet, sadly, it is the most misused social media platform out there.

When I meet with clients, I almost always have to overcome their initial objections about how frivolous tweeting can be. Unfortunately, there are no shortage of people out there who do nothing but provide daily evidence to support the prejudice that exists. I'm sick of the noise. I've grown tired of the stupidity. Please, my friends, let's stop the insanity once and for all and show all those non-tweeters how valuable Twitter can be.

I beseech you to join with me to outlaw the following Twitter practices. Ok, so we can't really make them against the law, but let's stop doing them. And, let's stop supporting those who do!
Auto DMs
I can't believe self proclaimed social media "gurus" are still advocating this practice to their disciplines. And, yet others just think of this bright idea all on their own. STOP IT! It's not winning you any friends. No one is liking your Facebook page because you sent a link in your auto DM. No one is impressed with your ability to harness automation. It's a sleazy, ineffective, offensive practice and it only shows how little you really know about Twitter. 

Why are people automating their list making? And, it's not even like they're getting something great out of doing so! "Who My Friends are Talking To" is a lame list! "People Who Listed Me" is equally stupid! Lists generated through Formulists provide no value whatsoever. You get no points for putting together a worthless list (heck, you didn't even do it; a bot did!) and the recipient of your listing gets nothing out of being put on such a pointless list. STOP IT. It's a waste and only makes me think less of you.

Buying Followers
I still can't believe that people do this, but they do. I've seen it firsthand. This is not what Twitter is all about. It's about being real and developing real connections with real people. Do you think I can't see that all your listings are from other people who have bought followers? Do you not realize I can look at your followers and realize they're all garbage accounts? Maybe you're fooling yourself, but you're not fooling me. STOP IT and play fair like the rest of us.

Questionable Contests
We've all seen the tweet: "Leave a comment on my blog and win _____!". However, what I see way too much is people not delivering on those contests. People who say a winner will be announced on a certain day and/or time--and nothin'. No tweet, no post, no comment. Nothing. No winner announced.

I've even tweeted to ask about the winner; silence. I can only assume that the contest response wasn't what they had hoped and they chose to keep the prize for another time. Or maybe there wasn't a prize at all. If you announce a contest, give out the prize! Update your blog to say who won and congratulate the person. Contests aren't just for you to increase traffic to your site, they're for you to create goodwill with your readers. They are not a free ticket for you to mislead people. I know who you are and I'm disgusted. STOP IT.

When I try to get people on the Twitter bandwagon, the number one objection I have to overcome is "Don't people just tweet about what they're eating?" Interestingly, even people who really understand Twitter seem to be compelled to share their eating habits. "Yummm. Carrot cake." Who cares? And do you really need to tweet a link to the TwitPic of your cake? I know what cake looks like! And Foursquare check-ins have made it even worse. "Mmmm. Peach pie (@ Marie Callendars) http://4sq.com/29sktm47". Stop tweeting this nonsense and stop responding to it with "you're making me hungry" or "sounds good". It's noise. Noise at its absolute worst. STOP IT! (The one exception here is if you have a food blog, have published articles about food, or otherwise makes a living through the food industry.)

In an ironic twist of fate, those who use TrueTwit say they're trying to cut down on spam. I've got news for you, you are the ones creating the spam! Don't send me a DM and punish me for following you by making me prove I'm real. I won't jump through hoops for you. Click on the link to show you I'm a person? No, thanks. I just as soon unfollow you. You're offending people and are the butt of jokes. STOP IT.
Twitter Systems
It's not just the little guys who are offering high-priced systems to help teach you social media, it's also some of the fairly well-known people who are doing it. You don't need to pay $1,000 for some ebooks and videos. If you offer a system or have bought a program, STOP IT. Everything you need to know is out there for free! And there is no shortcut here, anyway. Listen, engage, provide value, be supportive, offer guidance. These are the tools to succeed on Twitter. See, I just saved you $1,000.
What have I missed? What else should be outlawed? Let's get it all out there once and for all and clean up the streets in Twitterland. There's a new sheriff in town and she's ready to start crackin' some knuckles...

Employees branded with scarlet bracelets!

Every once in a while I find an incredibly shocking story online that I just have to talk about. A few weeks ago it was the BirthOrNot website, today it's toilet codes in the workplace. Men, bear with me. As I get into this, it may seem like this is a female-only issue, but it's not.

As reported by the Associated Newspapers website in Europe, MailOnline, a study conducted by a workers' union came back with the finding that many businesses are concerned with decreased productivity due to excessive bathroom usage. The study went on to reveal that some businesses instituted keycards and sign-in sheets to monitor the frequency of employee trips to the restroom. However, the most shocking part is the red bracelet. You've heard of the Scarlet Letter? Well, this is just as horrifying.

Women at a business in Norway were told to wear a red bracelet when they started their periods. Therefore, explaining their excessive visits to the restroom. Can you imagine? As a woman, I'd find it horrifying to announce such an intimate part of my life to all my co-workers. If I were a man, I'd feel insanely uncomfortable in a staff meeting with many of my colleagues branded in red. Talk about awkward! Not to mention that no woman would be taken seriously during her red bracelet days. Her decisions being questioned or her actions being dismissed due to her "condition".

The bracelet matter is currently under review by the Norwegian government, but I find it incredible that this happened in the first place.

Today's free business tip: Don't demean your employees. That is what decreases productivity; not trips to the bathroom.

* Hat tip to Marion Swan as I saw this story in her Twitter stream.

5 great movies about journalism

As a longtime journalist, I love a good movie about the Fourth Estate. Over the years, there have been some fabulous films about news gathering. Below are some of my favorites about journalists who work in newspapers, book publishing, magazines, blogs, and TV. Hopefully, you'll find something here that you can enjoy during your next movie night!

"All the President's Men"
Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman
This film is a testament to the tenacity of newspaper reporters who tackle the stories that hold government and companies accountable like no other news outlets can. As the movie outlines the events surrounding the incredibly complex Watergate scandal, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein follow lead after lead to get to the real story behind the break-in at Democratic Headquarter in 1972. With anonymous sources, tapped phones, and covert operations that ultimately bring down a president, this movie has it all.

"The Hoax"
Starring Richard Gere
Writer Clifford Irving is the perpetrator of a great big lie. He's conning his publisher into thinking that he's co-writing Howard Hughes' autobiography. Since the famous billionaire is such a reclusive eccentric, Irving thinks he can prevent his boss from contacting Hughes. He then takes the millions in advance money meant for Hughes and puts it away for himself. However, he soon becomes delusional and paranoid as his world begins to fall apart.

"The Life of David Gale"
Starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet
A man sits on death row for a crime he says he did not commit. Magazine reporter Bitsey Bloom is called to the prison by the inmate where she pays for his final interview. Did he do it? Bitsey starts digging around, but the clock is ticking. The killer (who, ironically, is a well known advocate against the death penalty) only has three days left until his execution. Her interviews and reenactments seem to prove that he's innocent. But can she prove it in time to save him from the lethal injection?

"Julie & Julia"
Starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams
Admittedly, there's not any real competition in this category since Hollywood isn't clambering to make movies about bloggers (not yet anyway!). However, this film provides an interesting look at how Julie Powell started a 365 day challenge to blog her way through Julia Child's famous "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" cookbook. Her blog eventually gains momentum, a fierce following, and ultimately her foray into blogging turns into a book and movie deal!

Starring Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Peter Finch

This iconic film about TV news is a must-see. Longtime news anchor Howard Beale is being fired due to low ratings. In a fit of rage, he tells his viewers, live on the air, that he's going to commit suicide during the next broadcast. Later, Beale launches an on-air rant that has everyone in the country poking their heads out their windows to scream, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" Instead of killing himself, Beale ends up turning his angry man tirade into a TV show.

These films are just a few of my favorites that highlight the challenges of news gathering and story telling. What are your favorite movies about journalists?

Are "cutsies" ruining your customer service?

The other night I was in line at 7-Eleven to buy a Slurpee. I was sixth in line with one guy behind me. After standing there for about 10 seconds, the customer behind me marches to the front. "I have a tab," he says. "Can you just scan my stuff?" The cashier stops the line, scans the man's items, and makes the rest of us wait.

Aside from the fact I had no idea you can have a tab at 7-Eleven, my point here is really the lousy customer service that cashier offered. The customer's method of payment was irrelevant. It took just as long to conduct his business as it would have had he paid in real-time like the rest of us. Sure, one guy was happy, but the six people in line were mad. I'm not a math whiz, but I say the ratio of pleased customers to annoyed customers in this scenario favors the latter.

Ironically, the following day I was in line at the post office. As I was waved to the counter and started to conduct my business, a woman siddles up next to me and asks if she can buy a stamp. I can't remember the words the clerk used, but I do remember he sent the gal to wait in line. I promptly thanked him on behalf of everyone who had waited in the cue for their turn.

Now, if you're thinking, "What's the harm? It's one lousy stamp!" you may very well be part of the customer service problem. I've been in the "I need one stamp" boat, too. How have I solved that problem? Well, I've said loudly to the people in line, "Anyone have a stamp I can buy?". There has always been someone willing to sell me one. I have never thought my time was more valuable than any of the others waiting in line and tried to cut ahead. Never.

If you run a retail business, you should put a cutsies policy in your customer service guidelines. There is nothing wrong with a clerk telling an out of line customer (pun intended!), "I'd like to help you, but it wouldn't be fair to the others who have been waiting in line. I'll get through everyone just as quickly as I can. I promise." What rational person could argue with that?

In the case of the post office scenario, after I thanked the clerk for turning away the cutter, he told me that if they have enough cashiers, they'll call people out of line who have simple transactions (like purchasing stamps). They do that same thing at my bank. Sounds like a good policy to me. (Yeah, the irony that I'm using the U.S. government in an example of good customer service is not lost on me!)

Perhaps in some backwards world, the cashiers who allow cutsies think they're offering great customer service. You don't want to wait? Alright, let me take care of you right now! One delighted customer and a line of irate ones. Sounds like a winning proposition to me...

Social media failure is not an option

I know lots of people who are social media veterans and just as many who are newbies. I try to encourage the rookies when I see them getting frustrated because I know that all this social media stuff is worth it. Lots of people quit, though. Too many.

When I first started tweeting and blogging, I felt like I was on mute. Hello? Is this thing on? It's easy to get discouraged when you feel like you're putting in the effort, but no one cares. Here's where the words of wisdom kick in: you have to believe in yourself and the tools. They work. You just have to use them correctly.

When you first get started, you're probably right. No one cares about your blog post or about your carefully crafted tweet. If you start to engage with your online communities, though, people will begin to notice you. They will come to recognize your avatar in their Twitter streams, notice your profile picture on their Facebook News Feed, or grow familiar with your photo in a LinkedIn discussion group. That's where the relationship begins. But, it is up to YOU.

Don't wait for someone to say, "Hey, come join the cool kids' table. We've been waiting for you!" It's up to you to reach out first. Yeah, I know, not everyone is comfortable doing that. But, get over it. It's how social media works. Sure, there are some nice folks who send a tweet to welcome newbies or who will introduce you around. Unfortunately, not enough people do that. Again, the power rest in your hands. Make it happen!

Persistence is the key word here. Keep at it. Don't give up because you feel like you're an audience of one. You know the saying, winners never quit and quitters never win!

Keep blogging!
My early posts got very little traffic and it took me awhile to get my first comment, but this week I was excited to earn a spot on Sparkah.com's "LA's Top 100 Bloggers You Should Take to Lunch" list! No, I haven't hired a virtual assistance to handle all my lunch bookings yet, but it was neat to be recognized. Think that would have happened if I had thrown in the towel? Not a chance.

Keep tweeting!
Remember, Twitter is a TWO-WAY platform! If you talk at people you'll go nowhere fast. If you talk with people, Twitter will change your life! Listen to the discussions, chime in with your opinion, be encouraging, answer questions, provide guidance, lend support--become a contributing member of the community!

Keep connected!
Too many folks abandon their blogs for months, and even more people open a Twitter account and then forget about it after seven tweets. Don't do it, my friends. Stay active! Maybe you can't live and breathe this stuff like the social media addicts, but stay in touch with your online network. These aren't websites we're talking about; we're talking about people! Work to establish those connections, then feed and water them. They'll only grow if you give them the care they need.

Alright, that's the end of my rah-rah, cheerleader speech. But, trust me, these online communities are powerful. They can grow your brand, develop your professional network, and help create wonderful, new friendships. The only trick is you can't give up. Let me repeat, failure is not an option.

Have a social media success story to share or a challenge to overcome? I'm all ears...

I'm a celebrity and I'm better than you

This week, news circulated around the web about actor Josh Duhamel's brush with airport security. In a nutshell, Duhamel (known primarily for his work in the "Transformers" movies and his marriage to singing sensation, Fergie) was asked repeatedly by a flight attendant to turn off his Blackberry. He, and hundreds others, were en route from New York to Kentucky. According to other passengers, Duhamel refused to comply. Several said he was rude and indignant, thinking that the rules did not apply to him. To cut to the chase, the rules did apply to him and the plane was turned around on the tarmac and Duhamel was escorted from the plane by security.

Once upon a time, it seemed as though the general public was so enamored with celebrities that they could do no wrong. Now, however, there seems to be a groundswell of disgust for celebs who think they're better than the rest of us. This was very apparent in the reader comments that appeared on the Duhamel story posted on Yahoo!'s omg page (click the image to enlarge it if you need to see it better):

I don't care how annoying or frustrating traveling is nowadays. If you fly commercially, air travel is the great equalizer. The rules are the rules and travelers are nothing more than livestock, regardless of the amount on your W-2. Frankly, I think it's fan-freakin-tastic that Duhamel was escorted off the flight. And, shame on him for inconveniencing his fellow travelers because of his inflated sense of self and entitlement.

How about you? Do you think celebs should be given a reality check? Are they out of touch due to so much special treatment? Should more of them be escorted off the metaphoric airplane?

Good deeds are in, consumerism is out

With the U.S. economy still is chaos and millions out of work, many are living simpler lives these days. Even the fully-employed are embracing the concept of living simply. Extravagances are out; basics are in.

Now, that the holiday season has approached, the idea of wasteful spending is unappealing to many people. More people than ever want to do good and make a difference. Enter Mercy Corps.

With a mission of turning poverty, natural disasters, and conflict into opportunities for progress, Mercy Corps help people improve their lives. What does that mean to you? It means you can do a lot of good for less than the price of that latest gaming system or big screen TV you have your eyes on.

Want to learn more, visit Mercy Corps online.  Oh, and if you have design talent, why not enter the Good poster contest to promote alternative giving? The winner will be featured on the Good homepage and on the cover of the Good magazine. For submission details, click HERE

Now go forth and do good, my friends.

4 mistakes I've made as a blogger

When I started my blog, I didn't personally know anyone else who had one. I had no mentor and most everything I know today, I taught myself.

Now, I'm not talking about writing. That comes easy. I'm talking about the mechanics behind a blog.

So, today I share four mistakes I made as a beginning blogger (I'm sure there are lots more, but I'll cop to these for now). I hope you learn from my errors because if my boo boos can benefit anyone else in the blogosphere, that's a good thing!
  1. I didn't install Disqus on day one. Although I've always replied to readers' comments, it just isn't as clean and coherent if you don't use a program that threads commenting (for those not familiar with Disqus, it's a blog commenting system which you can learn more about HERE). When I did finally install Disqus, it didn't thread my old comments (there's no way it really could), so the comments on my older posts look different than my newer posts. As a stickler for uniformity, I hate that. However, I love Disqus and am so glad I finally started using it. 
  2. I didn't know the magic piece of code that makes links open in a new window. Fortunately, Anita Nelson (aka @anitanelson) shared the line of HTML that I now use regularly. Here's what you do, look for your link in the HTML, then put target="_blank" after the URL but before the item that you're hyperlinking. 
  3. I was too modest. When I added the tweet button, I had the option of adding "via @wordsdonewrite" in the text of the tweet. I thought it sounded too full of myself to add that, so I didn't. But what I quickly learned was that I didn't know who was tweeting my posts because I didn't see the mention in my Twitter stream. That's important to me because I like to tweet those people to say thanks. I've now added it and it allows me to better interact with those who visit my blog. (And, if you utilize the "reactions" option when you use Disqus, it will also let you know who is tweeting your post and what they're saying!)
  4. I moderated my comments. Comment moderation is a highly debated issue nowadays and I understand the rationale behind moderation. However, I also understand the benefits of throwing caution to the wind. I recently lifted the moderation on my comments and, although it was scary, I think it allows my blog to have life even in my absence. And, with Disqus, commenters can reply to one another and further the conversation even if I'm not online.
Is there anything about blogging you learned the hard way? Or anything you're curious about if you're a newbie? Don't be bashful. This is a safe place; I promise.

Do you subject your global online audience to your small town thinking?

Earlier this week I sent a tweet asking if it was worth writing a blog post the week of Thanksgiving. People are traveling, eating, shopping, and spending time with family. Who's reading a blog? Well, Sandra Christen responded to my tweet saying she'd read it. She's from Switzerland and there's no holiday there. Interesting.

As I reviewed the stats from my blog, it was no surprise that the vast majority of my traffic comes from the United States. However, I also get quite a bit from the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, India, the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia. All places that don't share American holidays such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Independence Day, etc. That got me thinking. Are those of us in the online space missing opportunities? I, for one, write for a worldwide audience. But, embarrassingly, I was thinking on a national level. Stuuuupid.

If you blog, tweet, manage a Facebook business page, or maintain any other social media presence, I offer up my ignorance as a lesson to the rest of you. Is the subject you discuss through your social media channels relevant to a global audience? And, if so, are you restricting your thinking to that of a citizen of your own country?

The internet makes the world a heck of a lot smaller and I'd venture to say that almost all of us have online connections in far away countries. Different holidays affecting people in different lands. Could a slow day in Canada be a good traffic day in China? When businesses are all closed in France are lots of people online in America?

I don't claim to know everything, so when I have an a-ha moment I try to put my ego aside and call myself out. Perhaps this is something the rest of you have already thought about, but if not, please feel free to learn from my oversight.

To those of you in my very small corner of the world, Happy Thanksgiving. To the rest of you on this very big planet, have a fantastic Thursday.

Has this blog gone too far?

Just a minute ago, I saw a tweet in my Twitter stream that got my attention. Lindsay Fultz sent a link* to a site called BirthOrNot.com and voiced her disgust. Of course, I had to see what she was so upset about.

Well, to cut to the chase, Pete and Alisha find themselves with child and are debating whether or not to keep the baby. Instead of making this very personal decision by themselves, or with the guidance of close friends and family, they've decided to start an online poll. Keep the baby? Or abort it?

Now, I don't care what your personal feelings are about abortion (and please don't share them with me), but regardless of how one feels about the issue, I think most of us would agree that launching a website with the sole purpose of deciding your child's fate is downright demented.

It appears Pete and Alisha have put some time into the site and they list several facts about themselves to help people decide how to cast their vote. Again, I'm not getting into the details. This is not a post about the pro-choice/pro-life debate, so please don't make it one. This is about taking the new world of blogging and "engagement" too far.

Obviously, abortion is a hot button issue and the couple says they've received hate mail. But they also go on to thank people for their support. Pete and Alisha liken their collection of votes in their poll to the process on American Idol, saying "voting is such an integral part of the American identity."

I know the online world provides us with great new freedoms and worldwide connections. I've always thought that's great. However, I think asking total strangers to vote on a life or death situation is just too much. It's taking the whole social media thing too far.

Deep in my heart, I hope this is some kind of psychology experiment conducted by a student at some college. I hope it's not really real. I hope Pete and Alisha will not really decide whether or not to have an abortion based on how the votes go. I hope I'm nothing more than a sucker who's bought into their prank. But, regardless, I think BirthOrNot.com sets a dangerous new precedent for the web. It makes me a little sick to my stomach, quite frankly.

Is it just me or aren't there still some discussions that should be private? Asking a sea of strangers to make one of the most personal decisions of your life? I think that's just too much. Too darn much.

*For the record, Lindsay's tweet was a retweet from Susan Cope (aka @susanlynncope).

Does fear trump customer service when it comes to the U.S. government?

Today I had some business to conduct with a government agency (insert groan here). Now, without boring you with the details, I had some questions I needed answered. I tried to handle my business in person, but was told that I had to call instead. I won't even go into how many days I tried to get through (four) or how long I was on hold once the system let me into the cue. What I'd like to concentrate on is the conversation I had with the person on the other end of the line.

So, after waiting for what seemed like days, I finally get connected to the government rep. Let's call her Patty Cake. I asked Patty my question and she gave me an answer. The answer, unfortunately, didn't provide the information I needed. Therefore, I rephrased my query and asked again. For the second time, Patty gave me an answer, but it still wasn't an answer that helped me. Ms. Cake then told me I wasn't paying attention.

I listened to her talking at me for another minute and then I repeated back to her what she said and I ended with, "Do I understand that correctly?" Her response, "No, you're not listening to me." Ah, gee, I suspect the issue is more important to me than it is to Patty, so I find it hard to believe I wasn't listening. Patty Cake continues talking, but I'm no wiser for it.

Now, I'm not stupid. I'm a good listener and I've handled communications for some large companies, so trust me when I say I know how to decipher information. Therefore, I try again. I take the latest details she's given me and repeat them back to her to verify that we're both on the same page. She snaps at me.

At this point, I want to call her a bad word (you know the one). Instead, however, I say, "Why are you being so mean to me?" She says she's not. Liar.

In any other circumstance I'd ask for her supervisor to express my dissatisfaction. However, the fact of the matter is, this rep has my social security number, my birth date, and my computer file open. She can delete something or add a note that would make my life a living nightmare. This woman has my entire existence in front of her and can turn my world upside down with the swipe of a key. I know that; she knows it, too.

As is the case with most government agencies, the customer service reps have the power to make things easy or tough for you. And, I'm sure I'm not alone in my fear that a rep might do something nasty just to spite an annoying caller. Yeah, yeah, don't tell me there are safeguards in place. I'm sure there are. But, despite health laws, an annoyed waiter still finds a way to spit in your food, right?   

So, that leads me to the question: Can customer service ever be superior in a government agency if people are afraid to complain about bad service? Or, am I the only paranoid Scaredy Cat?

Let's hear it! Be honest, but be kind. I'm still a little fragile from my Patty Cake experience.

Scott Stratten: Mayor of Awesome Town

There are lots of big names out there in the social media space, but very few who measure up to the hype. Scott Stratten, however, is all that and more. He's like a supersized, double fudge brownie with extra frosting and mini marshmallows on top. He's awesome on steriods.

This week, I had the pleasure of seeing Scott in person as he visited Orange County, California; stop 21 on a 30 city book tour. The event, sponsored by LinkedOC, brought together 300 people who understand (or want to understand) how to UNmarket. What's UNmarketing? Aside from being Scott's Twitter handle and the title of his new book, UnMarketing is the way we should all be engaging with customers in the marketplace. UnMarketing is the future.

I've followed Scott on Twitter for more than a year, I've watched his videos, and I've read his blog. It didn't take me long to realize Scott is a goofball who loves to play dress up (as evidenced by the hats, boas, and other get-ups he wears during his videos). But, Scott gets it. Big time. If your company is blowing it on the marketing or customer service fronts, they need to join the Church of UnMarketing. If there was ever a cult that you wouldn't mind being abducted by, this is it.   

Now, I have a pad full of great notes from the event and as much as I'd like to regurgitate everything he said, I don't want to ruin it for you if you ever get the chance to hear him in person. If you've ever seen your most favorite comedian perform, I can say with complete confidence that he or she is not funnier than Scott. With great lines like, "Every time you ask for ROI on social media, a kitten dies," you know that Scott isn't just your run of the mill guy.

As new media changes the landscape, traditional marketers must come to the realization that engagement is powerful. You must stop marketing to your customers and, instead, speak with them. Listen to them, learn from them, and build a relationship with them. That's what UnMarketing is all about.

Want to join the cult, er club, and be an UNmarketer? Buy the book, follow him, and change it up. Then oust the Chief Marketing Officer at your company with your awesomeness. Trust me, it's Amber-approved.

9 reasons you're a social media dirtbag

We all know the proper way to behave, whether we want to admit it or not.  Regardless of that fact, it seems like way too many people choose to be a lesser version of themselves. Especially in this age of social media. Why? Maybe because they can and there is no one who will tell them to shape up and cut the BS.

Today, however, I'm appointing myself as hall monitor for the social media corridor. My top 9 offenses are below (tickets with unreasonably high fines will be issued later):
  1. You post unflattering photos of people to Facebook, Flickr, or other social media sites.
  2. You've stopped tweeting with your friends so you can talk to more "important" people who will help increase your Klout score.
  3. You won't recommend a deserving colleague on LinkedIn because you're insecure enough to think it diminishes your own accomplishments.
  4. You've bought your Twitter followers.
  5. You offer webinars that promise to deliver free information, but instead you pitch an overpriced "system" which is nothing but common sense.
  6. You don't ever respond to people when they send you a tweet (or you DM your response to them because they're not important enough to be mentioned in your stream). 
  7. You use information from social media sites to get friends or colleagues into trouble.
  8. You refer to yourself as an expert or a guru.
  9. You only talk about yourself and never promote the good work of others.
We all know a list isn't complete unless it has at least ten points, so what would you add? Feel free to chime in below to let us know what the social media dirtbags are doing in your part of the interweb.

The power of social media networking

I am very excited to be speaking today at the University of Chicago's Career Networking Event in Long Beach, California. As part of the featured panel, I will be discussing the wonderful world of social media networking and will also lead a roundtable discussion later in the day. I'm not gonna lie. I'm as excited as a kid in a candy shop!

Anyone who talks to me for more than two minutes, knows how much I love social media and revel in the opportunities that it provides. Today, I'm hoping to share that passion and convey to the audience the amazing adventures that await them if they immerse themselves in social media.

While I was putting together my slides for the presentation, it was kind of like a trip down memory lane. It was an excellent reminder of how much social media has given me: an incredible group of professional dynamos who I learn from every day, amazing new friends, wonderful networking opportunities, business leads, lots of smiles, and more satisfaction than could ever be measured.

That said, I need your help to illustrate the power of the social web to the folks who are attending the conference (virtual hugs and cyber brownies to the folks who help me out on this one). Many of today's attendees will be new to the world of social media; they may not realize the full value of all these great platforms, or may just think there's no value to any of it.

Luckily, I know many of you reading this already live and breathe social media and I'm hoping that you'll chime in on the comments to share your thoughts with the newbies (I'll be directing the event attendees to this post). How has social media has helped you? Why would you recommend social media networking to those looking for employment, job leads, business opportunities, or career growth?

For those of you who will hear my speech today, why not use this opportunity to dive right in and see what the fuss is all about? Leave a comment here, send a tweet to someone who adds to our discussion, click on people's names so you can learn more about them (you might discover a cool website or blog, an interesting person to connect with on Twitter, a contact worth reaching out to on LinkedIn, your new best friend, or your next career opportunity!). I'm serious when I tell you these tools are a real game changer.
    It's a wonderful new world out there. Thanks to social media, opportunity is right at your fingertips. No one and nothing is further away than a keystroke. I think that's pretty spectacular, don't you?

    * Thank you to Derek Okada for inviting me to speak at the event and to the University of Chicago and its alumni chapter in Los Angeles for hosting such a valuable program for those who want to learn and grow.

    Am I nice guy or a chump?

    I'm a sucker for a good cause. I like to help people with their passions. I'm a giver. And, I do way too much pro bono work.

    Not too long ago I wrote a post about using your professional skills to benefit others. It was a well-received piece and I do believe in helping those who need it.

    In my case, I'm pretty confident in my writing abilities. What it might take others hours or days to do, I can write up fairly quickly. Given my background, I have written a variety of materials for friends, acquaintances, and small nonprofits. From press releases and bios to brochures and website content, I've pounded on the keyboard countless times for free just to help others. I have also provided way too many people with free social media training because I knew they could really use the help. Should I have charged? Well, a smart business person would have. Sometimes I think I'm not that smart.

    This week, someone who operates a great nonprofit group asked me to write something for her. I obliged. Per usual, when I send someone a draft, I tell them to let me know if they have any edits. I'm happy to tweak what I write if my facts are wrong or if I'm way off base. In this case, the person responded to my draft with the following comment, "I think you can do better". 

    Now, keep in mind, this person asked for my help. I said yes. I provided a well-written piece. My thanks? I can do better. I can do better?

    The person went on to give me additional direction that should have been provided before I even started to write. And, although it's annoying to have wasted my time and effort on the first draft, I could have lived with it. If, and I said if, the woman in question had been kinder in her request for a revision. How about "Could we concentrate more on XYZ than ABC?" Or maybe, "Would you mind playing up the blankety blank feature a little more?" Absolutely! Can do! Happy to give you what you need! But "I think you can do better"? Really? That just made me angry.

    I've been burned quite a few times while doing pro bono work. My mom says I'm a sap for continuing to offer people the benefit of my professional skills. What is that saying about people not valuing things that they get for free? Well, I have to admit--reluctantly--that there may be some truth to that.

    Will I continue to help people who desperately need some guidance? Yeah, sure. Will I still offer a hand to those who are trying to support a worthwhile cause? Of course. It's who I am. Am I schmuck for that? Maybe.

    I offer this story as a reminder to be considerate if you are ever the beneficiary of someone's good will. It takes so little to be kind. And, for the record, "you can do better" is anything but appreciative.

    Is your business a one trick pony?

    As I was shopping this week, I saw this display of Kraft Trick or Cheesy. It's the usual mac and cheese, except the pasta shapes are Halloween-themed pumpkins, ghosts, and bats. This is the first time the company has offered a Halloween pasta--and that got me thinking.

    Is there something you or I, as a business or a brand, can do to tweek our offerings? Is a new revenue source right at our finger tips if we slightly alter what we do or how we do it?

    Going back to our example of the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese product line, it's really just orange carbs. Pretty darn basic. But the brand continues to come up with new offerings that are modestly different than its staple product. Easy Mac (individual and microwaveable mac n' cheese), Macaroni and Cheese's TV and movie-themed pasta (e.g. Toy Story), Macaroni and Cheese Crackers (which I loved, but were discontinued), the new Cheddar Explosion with extra cheese sauce, and Homestyle Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese that launched this year in three new flavors. Now, this isn't a fluff piece for Kraft. I simply use these as examples to get us thinking. 

    So, again, I ask, "Is there something you can do to slightly change the product or service you're bringing to the marketplace?" Consider these questions:
    • Can you expand your core product?
    • Are you able to offer specialized services?
    • Can you attract a new audience or demographic?
    • Will a new color, new shape, new size, or other variation broaden your appeal?
    • What are the additional ways you can improve life for your customers or clients?
    • Can a different approach add new excitement to your standard offerings?
    • Do you or your company evolve with the ever changing marketplace?
    • Are you showing customers and clients that they can't live without you? 
    I know this is just a modest start to a long list of questions, but you can see where I'm going. Are you, or your company, truly seizing every opportunity to grow, succeed, and prosper? Can you bring more to the game, provide more value, and, in doing so, be better? Or, are you going light on the cheese sauce?

    Is Suri Cruise Baskin-Robbins' new poster child?

    While I was standing in line at CVS, I happened to see this issue of Star in the magazine rack.

    The cover features Katie Holmes with her daughter Suri. Now, I didn't intentionally look at it. It was more of a glance as my eyes were headed to the candy bars, but what I couldn't help being blindsided by was the Baskin-Robbins cup.

    Notice how the logo is front and center? See how Suri's little fingers do nothing to obscure the big "BR" logo? Now, maybe I'm a skeptic, but within two seconds I was wondering if this was flat out product placement.

    Sure, paparazzi do their fair share of photo taking, but in this day and age celebrities have been known to submit their own photos to magazines. As such, I couldn't help but to question whether the Cruise-Holmes family had sold the image to Star. And, if Baskin-Robbins had paid Mrs. Tom Cruise to plant the cup, perfectly mind you, in lil' Suri's clutches.

    Ok, I can accept the fact that this is starting to sound a little like a conspiracy theory (and I won't even talk about how Suri's top is pink and matches the Baskin-Robbins' color palate). However, don't underestimate the power of Corporate America, people. Product placement is an art. The goal of this multi-million dollar industry is to subtly make you want something you probably don't need.

    Surely, I'm not the only one who thinks that the Baskin-Robbins cup is featured just a little too prominently and a little too perfectly. Or, am I?

    Let me hear it, folks! Am I crazy? Or crazy smart? I'll defer to the majority on this one.*

    * I can be swayed one way or the other on this topic with a scoop of Baskin-Robbins Cotton Candy ice cream. No, I wasn't paid to say that. But, I suddenly have a craving for it. Weird.

    3 ways to add razzle dazzle to your #FollowFriday

    I like Fridays. On Twitter, Fridays mean people say nice things about you. And who doesn't like that?

    For the new kids in the class, Follow Friday was started by Micah Baldwin (aka @micah) as a way for users to recommend other people who are worth following. And, although most people's hearts are in the right place, the majority of folks just send a tweet that lists a bunch of Twitter handles which precede the hashtags #FF or #FollowFriday (e.g. @kevinminott @staceysoleil @janewmeade #FollowFriday #FF). If you see that tweet, unfortunately it gives you no insight into who those people are or why you might be interested in following them.

    Luckily for you, I'm happy to share three stellar examples of how to give your Follow Friday shoutouts a healthy dose of steroids:
    1) Kevin Minott's blog post, Twitter Follow Friday Leading Ladies, lists 20 women you might be interested in following.
    The visual presentation is spectacular (and, I imagine, a bit time consuming!). Kevin has listed each woman's Twitter bio and also pulled a tweet from each gal so you have an idea of the kind of content you'll see from her. By putting both bits of information in his blog post, people can make an educated decision and connect with those who most closely match their own personal interests.
    2) The blog post, This Week's Follow Friday Top 50, was written by Stacey Soleil.
    Stacey has compiled a list of 50, yes 50, people worth checking out. She's written a short sentence or two about each person and has linked to his or her blog or website so people can learn more. Again, another very time consuming task (I mean, just inserting the links alone must have taken forever!), but the end result is extremely useful. You can browse Stacey's list and easily pick out the folks who might be of interest to you.
    3)  Jane Meade wows me every Friday as she tweets Follow Friday recommendations with a lot of love. I call her approach, The Follow Friday Tweet with Heart.
    Jane has only 140 characters in which to convey her message, but she uses each word skillfully. When you see her Follow Friday stream kick into high-gear, you'll get a nugget of insight into each person she recommends. Because she takes the time to write a brief note about each person, I've been able to find some great, new people to follow. 

    So, let's get today's Follow Friday started on a good note. Who do you recommend on this fine day? Feel free to put your suggestions in the comments below if you got 'em!

    LinkedIn chips away at privacy controls

    This week, LinkedIn made more changes that make it harder to maintain your privacy. Much like earlier this year when Facebook abolished its setting that allowed users to be "invisible" to those outside their network, LinkedIn is following suit. 

    Up until a few days ago, you could click on "Who's Viewed My Profile?" on the homepage to see who has checked out your page. Every user has always had the option of customizing what another user saw when that link was clicked. There were three options: 1) A user could display his/her full name and LinkedIn headline, 2)  The user could show anonymous profile stats, such as industry and title (the most popular option), or 3) Users could be invisible so no one could track their activity. With the new changes, if you completely give up the right to see who's viewed your page, you can maintain the "anonymous" or  "invisible" option. What that means is you must choose option #1 of full disclosure if you want to continue to see who's checked out your profile.

    Now, lots of people look at my Twitter page. I don't know who they are. Many people visit my blog and, again, I don't have their exact names and job titles. Same thing with Facebook. So, LinkedIn is the first of these networking sites to mandate a looky loo setting.

    The site's argument is that if I can now see that John Johnson (who I don't know), director of PR at Gamble's Gizmos has looked at my profile, I can send John a note saying, "Hey, noticed you checked out my profile. What's up?" Talk about calling someone out! Personally, if I look at someone's LinkedIn page, I certainly don't want him or her to shoot me an email to ask why. I obviously have my reasons and if it's important, I'm going to contact the person regardless.

    I know the privacy line is continuing to shift in this age of social media. I know that if you utilize any of these sites, you are agreeing to make many aspects of your life public. However, the fact that LinkedIn (and previously Facebook) have offered settings to ensure privacy and then yanked them away bugs me. I mean, gosh, a stranger can't see my search history on the internet, so why is my search activity on LinkedIn now public?

    I admit, I have a stronger opinion about privacy than most of my social media peers. However, this is also about choice. If someone wants to maintain some aura of privacy, why can't they? Do we really have to know all the activities and habits of every Tom, Dick, and Harry? I mean, really, must everything be broadcast to the world?

    If someone looks at my LinkedIn profile, they have their reasons and if they choose to contact me, I welcome it. However, I have no intention of hassling that person to inquire why. Will you?

    Chris Brogan: Marketer, do-gooder, and stand up comedian

    Chris Brogan at Oakley Headquarters 
    This week, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Brogan speak at an event sponsored by my favorite networking group, LinkedOC. For those who don't know, Chris is the best-selling author of the New York Times bestseller Trust Agents and writes one of the most popular marketing blogs in the world, www.chrisbrogan.com. Now, lots of people will provide you with a solid recap of the event, so I'm not going down the path most traveled. What I will do, however, is give you with a look at the man behind the hype.

    I've followed Chris on Twitter for quite awhile and I read Trust Agents last year. It's obvious that Chris gets it and is putting the onus on all of us to humanize our businesses. His presentation to the group, however, was more human than I expected. Chris is a riot.

    A self proclaimed nerd with an affinity for comic books, his presentation was better than any stand-up routine I've seen in years. With references to Star Wars and the Matrix, a quote from Yoda, stories of stunt sandwiches and the value of nipples, Chris' talk was jam-packed with quotable quotes. Two of my favorites were, "Foursquare is the AOL of the future" and "I am a self-proclaimed bag whore" (as he talked about his addiction to buying travel and business cases). I had no idea this incredibly successful man was king of the one-liners. I laughed so hard I felt like I was in the audience of a Comic Relief show (a dated 80s reference, but I somehow think Chris would approve).

    I tell you this story for one reason. News alert, my friends, being human is the new black. Chris is hot stuff on the speakers' circuit these days and gets paid big bucks to speak with very important people. He could very easily maintain a seemingly friendly relationship with all us social media types who worship the ground he walks on, but keep up a wall that separates him from the little people. Not only is that wall non-existent, Chris seems to go out of his way to make people feel special.

    I watched him before the event started as he graciously took business cards from every person who thrust them upon him. I saw him take people's words of thanks and turn them back around to thank them for coming out. I looked on as he wrote lengthy notes in people's books, not just scribbling his name and a word or two as many authors do. And, I marveled as he remembered the people he met and called on them by name in the Q&A session. Color me impressed.

    The people who really understand the power of social media, know that it's all about the relationships you form. Helping one another succeed, supporting each other, and forming a community. From this point forward, I'm inclined to think of Chris as the Papa Smurf of Twitter. Encouraging all of us to do good, help one another, and make the world a better place.

    So get your human, on. It's the latest rage and it's here to stay. And, boy, do we all look good in it.

    12 reasons I won't follow you back on Twitter

    If you know me, you know my favorite social media platform is Twitter. Through Twitter, I have made friends across the globe and connected with new people in my own back yard. It has made my world a bit smaller and whole lot better.

    Now, I'm not one of those who's obsessed with numbers. I'm a firm believer in quality over quantity. My follower numbers could be much, much higher if I followed every single person back to retain their follow. However, I want to use Twitter to connect with people and form a really solid network. I want people in my stream who enrich me in some way, people who I can learn from or grow with, people who I can engage with and who are interested in engaging with me.

    That said, here's my top 12 reasons I won't follow you back on Twitter:

    1. Your stream has no @mentions (i.e. you're talking at people, not with people)
    2. Your tweets indicate you and I have no common ground (e.g. your stream is made up of only one topic which doesn't interest me or has no relevance in my life)
    3. You are following significantly more people than are following you (i.e. you're only following people to collect the followbacks and you have no interest in really connecting with me, per se)
    4. You have spammy tweets (no, I do not want to win a free Costco gift card or buy a program to get more followers)
    5. You've followed me in the past to boost your numbers and then unfollowed me after I followed back (Yes, Dave, I know your M.O.)
    6. You do nothing but sell
    7. You tweet so much it feels like an assault that has taken my Twitter stream prisoner (i.e. 10 tweets per minute is not acceptable)
    8. Your tweets are excessively frivolous and of no value (e.g. I just ate an egg, there are three steps on my porch, etc)
    9. You are an unknown singer who's trying to build your follower numbers, but I have no interest in that particular music genre
    10. You have a low tweet count or no tweets at all (i.e. all your effort is going into building your follower count, but you have yet to show us who you are or provide any value)
    11. You tweet primarily about religion, politics, or how wonderful your child is (there's a time and a place for this and that's not how I want to use Twitter)
    12. Your tweets are full of profanity

    Do you follow everyone back? If not, what is your criteria?

    Twitter conference focuses on humanity rather than technology

    The 140 Characters Conference on Twitter hosts events across the United States and in foreign countries. This week, the event came back to Los Angeles for its sophomore outing. Per usual, organizer Jeff Pulver put together an eclectic assortment of speakers and panels which spanned 18 hours over two days. From tech and celebrity to philanthropy and journalism, Jeff delivered yet another worthwhile event to the social media community.
    If you want to learn the basics of how to tweet, this isn't the place. If you want to hear the step-by-step tactics of how to execute a social media campaign, look elsewhere. However, if you want to hear interesting stories of how Twitter is changing lives, business, culture, and community, there is no shortage of fascinating tales or memorable speakers. The success stories are incredible.

    Last year, when I attended #140conf (my review can be found HERE), I wasn't sure what to expect. After two solid days of presentations, my head was whirling. Since that time, I have remained actively involved in Jeff's #140conf movement and have come to appreciate the nuances of what he's trying to do.

    Jeff is all about creating community. Moving online connections into real-world relationships. Motivating people to use the real-time web for social good, to stand up for important causes, to shed light on important issues (see my story on the #140conf autism panel HERE), and to prompt positive change in the world. Jeff's goal is to tap into the humanity that is behind the technology, and use online tools and platforms to make the world a more compassionate place. A place where we can learn, grow, and prosper together.

    If you want to be inspired by real-life stories of how Twitter is helping cancer patients, the homeless, parents, non-profits, and third-world countries, #140conf delivers. If you want to more fully appreciate how news organizations, small business owners, creative and artistic people, public figures, and real estate professionals are utilizing Twitter, there are a plethora of panels to keep your head spinning. If you want to connect with people who know the power of social media, and those who are just starting their journey, the networking opportunities are priceless.

    For those of you who are interested in fully embracing the real-time web, and the people who inhabit it, be sure to check out #140conf when it comes to a city near you. For those of you who have attended and reviewed one of Jeff's events, feel free to post a link to your story in the comments below so others may learn from your experience.

    Thank you, Jeff, for giving a big city like Los Angeles the soul of a small town for at least two days a year. Love live #140conf.

    How social media gave me autism

    I've enjoyed many benefits from social media. New friends, business leads, and great knowledge are some of the most tangible, but the thing I least expected to get is one of the most rewarding.

    Last year, I connected with Robert Moran on Twitter (a.k.a. @aspiejourno). I traded occasional tweets with him about journalism, grammar, and TV; he was funny, smart, and likable. Robert quickly became one of my favorite people on Twitter.

    One day, Robert and I had an awkward exchange and I visited his Twitter bio to refresh my memory on what this guy's background was. Turns out Robert has autism and Asperger Syndrome. I hadn't even realized it.

    In the months that followed, I read Robert's incredibly candid tweets about the challenges that autism brings. He sometimes had what he calls meltdowns, he was occasionally so blunt in his tweets that it made me gasp, he shared blog posts about his life and how autism affected his interactions with people. I read and I learned.

    Robert was so incredibly engaging and personable that I wanted to understand how to best interact with him. I soon learned that he's uncomfortable being touched, so I never hugged him hello when I saw him at tweet-ups. I came to understand that autistics frequently lack a self-editing button in their brains so they can sometimes be incredibly frank, which many people perceive as rude. I also learned that Robert forms bonds very quickly, which he says scares people away.

    Robert Moran speaks with moderator Stacey Soleil at #140conf
    I've known Robert for about 10 months now and today I was happy to share a very special day with him. He was one of the featured speakers at the 140 Characters Conference on Twitter (#140conf) that I attended at Los Angeles' Music Box Theater. Robert addressed hundreds of social media devotees and shared how Twitter has brought him out of his shell and into a community. He shed light on how Autistics think and act, and I learned yet another helpful bit of information. He has a hard time understanding sarcasm. Sarcasm is a major part of my DNA, so going forward I'll be sure to remember that when he and I speak or tweet.

    One of the best things about social media, in my opinion, is that you are exposed to new people, folks you may have never met were it not for the social web. New ideas, different lifestyles, unique personalities. It's all out there, if you want to see it. And, maybe, if you open your mind--and your heart--wide enough, you'll meet someone who changes you for the better. Robert is one of those people.

    Congratulations on your conference speaking debut, Robert. I'm proud to know you.

    Is nothing sacred in the world of corporate sponsorships?

    Today it was announced that the world-famous Tournament of Roses Parade, held on New Year's Day in Pasadena, California and broadcast across the globe, will change its name. Come January 1, the new name will be 122nd Rose Parade Presented by Honda. A new event logo is currently in the works, which will incorporate the Honda logo. Honda has also laid claim to the lead float in the parade.

    I'm a traditionalist in many ways. And, a 121-year-old parade has a lot of tradition. Sure, it has evolved over the years, but it's basically remained unchanged in the major ways. As for acquiring a sponsor, I understand the necessary evil. It's an expensive event and a little corporate money is no doubt going to ease the stress on the organizers. However, incorporating the Honda logo into the parade logo is too much (the new logo has not been unveiled yet, but I anticipate a train wreck).

    In addition, I have to question the change in the event title. Why not just leave it as the Tournament of Roses Parade (and then add "Presented by Honda)? The event headquarters in Pasadena is even called Tournament House. Or maybe it will seek a corporate sponsor and undergo a name change, too (El Pollo Loco House, perhaps?).

    The next issue probably isn't PC to say, but I'm going to say it anyway. The parade is a long-standing American tradition which is now being sponsored by a Japanese company. Is it just a matter of time until tourists in Washington D.C. will enjoy "The White House Tour, Sponsored by Toyota"?

    Please don't misconstrue that as a racist remark, it's not. It's just pro-American (and, yes, there is a difference). During this terrible recession, with so many people out of work and running low on self-esteem, Americans need to feel proud. The Tournament of Roses Parade is one event that unites us all on a day that represents hope and new beginnings. To have one of this country's most popular events sponsored by a company in another country, well, that's just sad.

    I understand how event sponsorships work and, generally, it boils down to an issue of money. How much is a company willing to pay to be associated with an event? How much does the event want, or need, the company's moola?

    I know I'm old-fashioned on the issue of sponsorships (really, I do know). Heck, I've lived in Los Angeles my whole life and grew up attending events at The Forum. When Great Western Bank secured naming rights on the facility in 1988, which lasted until 2003, I refused to call it The Great Western Forum. First off, tradition trumped sponsorship and it would always be The Forum to me. Secondly, Great Western wasn't compensating me to advertise for them, so I wasn't compelled to do so by using their name when I referenced the venue.

    So, am I the only one bothered by The Tournament of Roses' new name, new logo, and new sponsor? I need a reality check.

    Plancast: Your new social calendar

    The day of Filofaxes and email calendars has gone. Evites are passé and even Meetup invitations are becoming less common. Today is the day of Plancast.

    Plancast is a useful site that allows you to interact with your social network in a whole new way. Forget the formality of "inviting" people to an event or having to RSVP if you'd like to attend. When you sign up for Plancast, you are essentially announcing your plans to your social circle. It's an implied open invitation for your friends to join you.

    Get started by connecting with your friends who are on Plancast (or invite them to join), add your plans to your profile, see what your network is up to, and then hit the road and have some fun! You always have the option of tweeting your plans out to your Twitter followers or posting them to your Facebook wall. Plancast can also be synced with Facebook so your Facebook Events are displayed with the rest of your plans.

    Your EventBrite invitations can also be imported into Plancast (see the option under settings > external services) and you can also export plans to another calendar (e.g. Yahoo!, Google, Outlook, etc.) or get them via RSS feed.  Lastly, if you don't want the world to know where you are, you can lock down your account so your plans are only visible to people you approve.

    In addition to an easy user interface, Plancast is continuing to add new features. It updated its homepage this month and now you can see local events that are happening outside of your circle. This opens up a whole new world. With a feed that is targeted to your city, you can connect with new people and discover events that you and your friends may not know about. 

    I, for one, have become quite dependent on Plancast. It's easy to use, efficient, and a great social networking tool (and, no, I'm not being compensated to say so).

    Already on Plancast? Share what you think with the newbies out there. Not on Plancast yet, why not give it a whirl by creating your first plan today!

    FOX embraces citizen journalism

    Even the dimmest network executive knows that people blog, tweet, and text about the TV shows they enjoy. Who cares what the high-paid TV reviewers say anymore. Nowadays, it's all about what you and your social circle think. FOX gets this and has taken its marketing to a whole new level: empowerment.

    In conjunction with Klout (a website that measures your influence on Twitter), FOX launched two campaigns to get people talking about its new show Lone Star, which premieres tonight (to qualify, you had to be considered influential, as determined by your Klout score).

    1) FOX hosted an exclusive pre-screening of Lone Star for social media influencers at its Century City lot in Los Angeles. The party, of course, included fancy food, lots of drinks, and high-quality networking.

    2) If you were unable to attend the screening, you could have a party pack shipped to you (pictured above). The kit included a DVD of the premier episode of Lone Star* and everything you'd need to host a screening for you and your friends (e.g. wine glasses, beer mugs, ice bucket, popcorn, Beer Nuts, napkins, bottle opener, cooler, poster, t-shirt, and Godiva chocolatemy kit was missing the chocolate, nuts, and ice bucket, so a big, fat thumbs down to the guy who put my kit together!).
      By giving those who are active in the social media space a sneak peek at Lone Star, FOX got a jump on creating buzz around the show. The network didn't just wait for people to start talking, they empowered them to start talking. That is major.

      As marketers scramble to evolve in the new media space, and TV networks are suffering declines in viewership, I think FOX's Lone Star campaign is a great example of what's to come. Traditional media needn't be afraid of social media. Social media is the future and citizen journalism is powerful.

      So, welcome to the decade of the most influential people out there, Average Joe and Plain Jane. We're here to stay and we have opinions. Speaking of opinions, what are your thoughts? Sound off below (you know you want to).

      * My two-cent review: Lone Star is a solid drama that's different from anything you've seen on network TV. When the show hit the five minute mark, I could tell I was in for a ride. In the closing minute of the show, I realized that ride was a roller coaster. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!
      DISCLAIMER: As indicated above, I did receive a party pack from Klout/FOX. That in no way influenced what I've written in this post (especially since I didn't get the chocolate).
      PHOTO CREDIT: Shannon Smith (That is her party pack, not mine, as evidenced by the ice bucket. Really, I'm not bitter. I just had to hold the ice in my lap during the screening, but whatever...)

      Do you have #Hashtagitis?

      Out of all the social media platforms, Twitter is my most favorite (#TheLittleBlueBirdRules). Aside from meeting new people (#MixingAndMingling #OnlineCocktailParty), forming great relationships (#LifelongFriendsAndContacts #NoIDoNotMeanBootyCalls), and learning lots of good info (#InterestingArticlesMixedWithTimeWastingYouTubeVideos), the unexpected perk of tweeting is, wait for it (#BarneyStinsonRocksMyWorld), fun with hashtags!

      When I train clients on how to use Twitter (#WayTooMuchProBonoWork), I tell them how to use hashtags for events, trending topics, chats, and more. The lesser known benefit of hashtags is just downright silliness (#KnockKnockWhoIsThereSamAndJanetSamAndJanetWhoSamAndJanetEvening #SomeExchantedEvening #GetIt?).

      Fortunately for me, I've discovered some other tweeters (yes, @staceysoleil, #SpandexQueen, is one of them) who share my love of all that's flip and sarcastic (#SmartAleck). Expressing yourself in 140 characters can sometimes be a challenge (#Impossible), but incorporating hashtags into your tweets can be quite effective (#WorthlessButFun). As a matter of fact, they can be quite liberating (#YouCanUseIdiotAsAHashtag).

      A clever hashtag can be just as revealing and insightful as the content of the actual tweet itself (#SaidInMyMostTrustworthyProfessorVoice). They are also a way to show more of your personality (#DrJekyllOrMrHyde). The problem is that I now dream in hashtags (#MrSandmanSendMeATweet). I think in hashtags (#PleaseInsertACartoonBubbleAboveMyHead). I have to refrain from inserting hashtags into business emails (#MeetTheDeadlineOrDie). It's become a real problem (#PleaseSendMeMoneyForHashtagitisMeds).

      Am I suffering in this alone (#CanWeFormASupportGroup)? Do you know my pain (#DoNotBeAfraidToStepForwardAndAdmitYouAreAfflictedToo)? Do YOU have #hashtagitis (#CanIGetAnAmen)?

      Admitting your addiction is the first step on a long road of treatment (#FellowHashtagAddictsUnite). We can fight this together (#PowerInNumbers #HashtagRoyality). Sometimes I suspect I might be a lost cause (#GiveMeHashtagsOrGiveMeDeath), but I really think I can beat it (#NotAChanceInHEDoubleHockeySticks).

      Can you relate? Let's talk about it (#DrAmberIsInTheHouse). Hello. My name is Amber and I have #hashtagitis (#InsertWordsOfSupportInTheCommentsBelow).

      A bad case of tunnel vision

      I love a smart ad. I watched the video below and after I answered the first question correctly, I was feeling pretty cocky. When the second question came, I felt more dense than cheesecake made with double cream cheese.

      Let me know how you do...

      Can I put this person in spelling prison? Pretty please?

      Typos happen. We spend most of our days tapping out messages on qwerty keyboards or on small touch screen phones. Every once in a while our typing gets sloppy and looks like word vomit. We're not stupid; our fingers just get lazy.

      That said, when we print, there is no excuse for a misspelled word. If we spell it wrong, it's safe to say we just don't know how to spell it (and don't care enough to look it up). Some words are challenging. I'll be generous and consider that a given. However, the word below is NOT.

      I saw this sign as I was zipping around this weekend. It makes me sad and a little mad. Yard isn't even a word that requires you to sound it out. Heck, it's one stinkin' syllable! YarG? Really? Is this really what America has come to?

      Forget universal health care, can we just buy everyone in this country a freakin' dictionary?
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