I had a great time attending the first-ever 140 Characters Twitter conference here in New York last week. It’s been recapped comprehensively elsewhere, so rather than lending my voice to that crowded chorus, I thought I’d hone in on two sections of the agenda which are particularly relevant to the work we do here at the agency. This is the first of a two-part post.
First up, my favorite speaker of the conference: Mike Koehler (@mkokc). Mike is an unassuming guy from Oklahoma, former multi-media editor at the Oklahoman and now a social media consultant at a Tulsa-based PR firm. He spoke about using Twitter for public safety, something he’s quite well-versed in. Mike learned first-hand the power of Twitter to connect people and provide real-time help in times of community crisis earlier this year, when Oklahoma City was beset with not one but three major disasters. In a freakish sequence of events, Mother Nature walloped Mike’s community with ice storms, tornadoes, then wildfires. By creating tailored Twitter hashtags (#OKice, #OKstorms, #OKfires) and housing the conversation streams alongside raw video from reporters in the field, Mike and his colleagues transformed the newspaper site into a one-stop safety resource for the community. It became a virtual town hall where a non-stop exchange between journalists and citizens helped keep neighbors informed and safe.
It was only a 10 minute talk but it was profound. Mike spoke from the heart, allowing himself to be moved before a sleepy digerati audience (it was 8 am on Day #2 of the conference, after all) about the power of a digital tool to unleash the best in all of us. Listening to Mike, I felt a surge of new energy to help clients understand all Twitter is capable of. I have to think that even the ones who’ve laughed it off as a flash in the pan or scoffed at its validity as a news-gathering tool would be willing to give Twitter a second look after listening to a guy like Mike Koehler talk. I was also inspired, not for the first time, at the vital role Twitter can play in cause marketing campaigns. This has been discussed in lots of other places; Beth Kanter and Scott Henderson are just two of the many people doing great work at the intersection of cause and social media. Suffice it to say that Twitter can be a powerful accelerant when put in service to the goal most cause marketers share: rallying and empowering people to make a difference. As Mike says, Twitter is a part of the toolbox that makes our world smaller. It’s Mayberry. It lets us swap information “over the fence” – whether we’re in Tehran or Oklahoma City — and in doing so, express our care and concern for one another.
I suppose it’s an overstatement to say that a micro-sharing tool could help unlock our inner angels. Or is it? Not a single fatality was reported in any of the three disasters that hit Oklahoma City earlier this year. Mike is cautious not to attribute that to Twitter but really – don’t you kind of wonder?
See Mike’s talk in its entirety here.
The seventies: the popcorn was hot, the channels were few, and the network promos were things of wonder.
I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. I’ll be going about my day, dealing with some everyday object when WHOOSH, I get a sudden flash of recall of its ghostly late 20th century antecedent. With it comes a fierce rush of memories of people and places and experiences long gone. It happened today. I’m eating leftover microwave popcorn (a little squishy but it was sitting there, why not) and flashed back to the basement of our house on Maple Avenue in Hershey, PA, let’s say 1974. Finished basement — a rumpus room, if you will — concrete floor painted a muddy brown by my mom in an effort to suggest, er, hardwood flooring? Classic ’70s wood panelling made of cardboard and spit, dropped ceiling with those nasty foam tiles, a shag throw rug in some kind of orange-y tones to “make things cozy”…and the family gathered around the tube in eager anticipation of the CBS Saturday night line-up.
If you are of a certain age, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Long before NBC invented “must see TV” on Thursday nights, there were CBS Saturdays. It started at 8 PM with “All in the Family” and continued through the 10 o’clock hour with some of the greatest TV shows ever made: “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Bob Newhart Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” A few years earlier, but this promo brings it back:
Back to the microwave popcorn? Well, if you’re a child of the ’70s, you know that before there were microwaves and air poppers, there was the electric popcorn popper. And nothing — NOTHING — makes better popcorn. You’d pour oil and popcorn kernels (or “gourmet popping corn” if you were swank and could afford Orville Redenbacher) in a well, cover it with a bulbous plastic dome, slap some butter (“We call it maize…”) in the perforated well on top of the dome, plug it in, and watch the popcorn pop.
Snack prep as spectacle — the sound of the sizzling oil, the smell of the corn cooking, the sight of that big plastic dome filling with fluffy popcorn — and the anticipation of that butter as it melted and dripped down through the perforations to the popcorn below…once it was done, you just unplugged it, flipped the whole contraption over, and your dome/lid now served as a bowl — full of steaming hot, buttery popcorn. Nirvana. My mom would bring the whole set up — hot oil and all — down into the TV room because remember — no DVR pause buttons. We didn’t want to miss a second of all that great TV, so easier to just whip up the popcorn right on the spot.
Ours was a West Bend popper, and guess what — they still exist. They’re sleeker and more streamlined now, but the one I remember looked just like this, down to the golden see-through plastic dome and the bright yellow plastic lid that pushed down the butter on top.
TV watching is a splintered, silo’d, highly individual experience chez Smirnov. We are a household with nine screens, of every size and persuasion. Each one of us has an electronic appendage — the Russian and his iPhone, the kid and his DS, me and my blackberry. Very often we’re multi-taking as we keep one eye on whatever the channel surfing dredges up on the HDTV in the front of the room. Don’t get me wrong, we have our communal TV-watching moments, and the older our son gets, the more we can share our TV preferences with him to make for a true family viewing outing.
It’s not the same, of course. Down to the way the popcorn tastes. Who sits around watching popcorn pop, for god’s sake? Well, 30-some years ago we did, and I cherish those memories. There’s such a thing as Slow Food and Slow Parenting…maybe it’s time to trade in the microwave popcorn for a West Bend and try out some Slow Family TV Time.
(Logo montage via James White. Popcorn popper via ebay.com)
A quick follow-up to last week’s Lizard Queen post to calm the nerves of those co-workers who are now convinced that I’m a) in deep psychic pain or b) on a crazed blogger tear that will destroy my/our agency’s reputation or c) both.
Here’s what I would like you to know: lizards can be tamed. The beauty of giving your dark side a voice is that it eventually pipes down and lets you get back to the business of living your life — no matter what your gig. My mom used to tell me this great thing about what to do with negative thoughts — imagine that each one is a piece of tissue floating by, then choose either to grab it or not. The power in that image is that it separates the person from the thought.
Kind of like personifying one’s evil inner monologue as a bitchy lizard. People, please. If the Lizard Queen had taken up permanent residence in my brain, trust me — you’d know. Right now she looks like this:
Here’s the other thing I’d like you to know, especially those of you who are young women on the rise in your careers and wondering what to make of this whole “having it all” discussion. The last thing I want to do is discourage you from pursuing both your career and motherhood. As much as I rant, I can’t imagine my life without this job. It’s as much a part of my identity as being a mom. I would be a horrible, horrible stay at home mom. I have infinite depths of respect for the women I know who tackle that challenge every single day. But doing both is not easy and I will continue to speak out honestly about the choices and yes, the trade-offs, doing both requires.
Look, there are days I leave this office feeling like a goddess! A striding gigantrix of the PR industry! After we win new business, or kill with a client presentation, or say that one right thing to a client that helps them tackle a business challenge differently. I love, love, love those moments. There are also stretches when I don’t see my son for three days because I get home after bedtime and am up and commuting the next day before he wakes up. That stinks, why sugar-coat it? I read a beautiful comment at Jessica Gottlieb’s blog this morning that compared missing your kids to feeling phantom pain in a missing limb. I get it. And I know I’m not alone. The ties that bind us to our kids are visceral as well as emotional and sometimes it physically hurts not to be with them.
So there it is. The agony and the ecstasy of the working mom. The day the agony outweighs the ecstasy, time to reassess. But for now, the lizard and me — we’re good.
If you dropped by for insight on blogger relations, or the art and science of public relations, you might want to check back later. I’m in Personal Me mode at the moment and it’s not pretty. Before I tell you why, let me splash a big fat caveat across this post stating that I love my life, my job, my family and am grateful for all of it. I know I’m blessed, in a cerebral, enlightened kind of way. However. The reptilian part of my brain, the part no amount of pharmacology or Oprah can reach, feels differently. The Lizard Queen is cranky, hates everyone and everything, here’s why.
She hates that I had to leave my house at 9 am last Sunday to catch a plane for a cross-country business trip that may or may not have been worth the effort. She hates that the day prior I was short and snappish with my sweet son who just wanted me to help him build his new Lego Star Wars MagnaGuard Starfighter for crying out loud. She hates that I chose to put more energy into my stupid powerpoint presentation and what shoes to pack than being with my kid. She hates that I felt the need to assuage my maternal guilt by buying the kid off with ice cream at Dunkin’ Donuts, which would maybe have been okay except that I optimized the moment by diving head-first into a “31 Below” shake with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (kinda like a DQ Blizzard, pretty awesome and no, that wasn’t a paid endorsement.) She hates that I sat on the stupid tarmac at stupid Newark “At Liberty to Delay You” Airport for an hour for mysterious reasons handed down from on high by Air Traffic Control. Screw you, Newark Air Traffic Control. She hated the seatmate whose furiously self-important texting with her stubby french manicure digits made me want to throw my own Blackberry out the window and never use it again, and who informed me I needed to power down my iPod because the cabin door had closed which *phew* was fortunate because gee I’ve NEVER FLOWN BEFORE. She hates that I’m genetically unable to pace myself at work so that I’m not constantly facing last minute deadlines and insanity. She hates that my best writing can only get done after 5:30 PM which is great for my concentration (no pesky colleagues or phones) but sucky for the husband and kid waiting patiently at home. She hates that I don’t have time like the other moms in my town to get more involved in school activities and make it to daytime spinning and yoga classes every single day and while I’m on that topic, boy does she hate that I seem to be one of two moms in my town who hasn’t managed to LOSE THE BABY WEIGHT and yes, my “baby” is six years old. She hates that I pour more passion into my job than caring for my family my husband.
*sigh.* She obviously is me, which I guess makes this a kinda self-loathing post. This blog really isn’t THAT kind of blog – i.e. soul-baring, self-flagellating, warts-exposing. I mean, I’ve got bosses and clients and co-workers reading this stuff. But plenty of those people are working moms too and I guess I’m just in a mood – or at least, the Lizard Queen is in a mood – to pull back the curtain for a second on this whole “having it all” thing. Because the truth my truth is – you can’t have it all. What you CAN have are the choices you make – good, bad, smart, stupid, reptilian or enlightened. You make ‘em, and you live with ‘em. Powerpoint versus Legos. Fat versus skinny. Job versus husband.
I tweeted recently (ironically) about being a woman of many facets. Nice image. Suggests a sparkly diamond. I may have many facets, I just don’t like all of them at the moment. This too shall pass, of course. I’ll find my way back to “loving the flawed diamond that I am” or some other Oprah-y, Paxil-y hoo-ha. But for the moment, the Lizard Queen has control over the keyboard which may, now that I think about it, be the best way to deal with her. Give her air time, let her vent, and hope the bitch goes slithering back into her lair.
Could I be alone in this? What do you do when your reptilian brain starts getting feisty?
Last week I posted on the topic of proposed FTC guidelines on blogger endorsements and disclosure. Thanks to Twitter and some nice link love (thank you Debbie, Mark and Liz), the post attracted more attention than I’m used to, including a slew of terrific comments from a number of different mom bloggers. Today’s post was inspired by the exchange in the comment thread, some of which I’ll quote directly in a bit.
Wait, I’m being lazy. I said “mom bloggers.” That’s convenient shorthand for woman with offspring who maintains online personal journal filled with reflections, comments, and hyperlinks, shared chronologically. The reality is this group of women is no more homogeneous than any other group of mothers out there — which is to say, not at all.
Which brings me to #1 of the Five Things I Learned From Mom Bloggers last week. “Mom blogger” (or worse, “mommyblogger” – by the way, when did that happen, that run-on, lower-case thing, like Wal-Mart becoming Walmart?) is painting these women with too broad a brush. We need to rethink the nomenclature. I don’t have an alternative, all I know is there’s a difference between how Katja Presnal reviews product at Skimbaco Lifestyle and how Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson does it at Good Mom Bad Mom. To say the least. They’re both wonderful, and about as different as – I don’t know – lingonberry soda and tequila. The kind with the worm in it that makes you loco.
#2. Some bloggers currently maintain (or are thinking about creating) separate product review sites. While some integrate reviews and personal narrative within a single blog, others prefer to write without “commercial interruption” in their personal blogs. Victoria Pericon provides terrific product information at Savvy Mommy, and personal reflections on parenting and other stuff at Veep Veep. Liz Gumbinner writes a brilliant personal blog at Mom-101, and reviews products at Cool Mom Picks. Jessica Gottlieb’s eponymous blog is emphatically review-free, but she might do a giveaway or review products at other sites where she’s a contributor. And some bloggers only do product reviews and giveaways. (Jessica Smith of Jessica Knows makes an interesting case against writers with established blogs creating product review off-shoots, check it out here.)
#3. Some mom bloggers have no interest in ever reviewing products or forging brand partnerships. They might be moms and the Chief Purchasing Officer/Primary Decision Maker/Key Gatekeeper/etc of their household, but that doesn’t mean they want to hear from the likes of us PR/marketing types. They might be blogging to chronicle their kids’ lives as they grow older. Maybe they blog to document a difficult parenting challenge, like bullying or drug abuse, so others might benefit from their hard-earned experience. Some bloggers chronicle events so painful it knocks the wind right out of a reader, like the terminal illness of a child or a shattering divorce. Woe to the PR person who spams these bloggers with their press releases.
#4. Product giveaways are great. Well, for the PR and marketing people and the blogger’s readers for sure — but the blogger? Unless she’s getting paid a promotional fee, maybe not so much. I was speaking with a blogger last week in preparation for a panel discussion I’m moderating this week for a client; she walked me through exactly what she has to do to facilitate a giveaway at her site. It’s tedious work: notifying the winners, trying to extract their mailing addresses and real names (let’s assume the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t deliver mail to them as “BeerWench666” or “Crazee4Shooz”), packing up the product and shipping it out, etc. This is why we have fulfillment houses. They like doing this tedious stuff, and they get paid for it. As should bloggers.
#5. The world of mom bloggers is often called a community. I’m beginning to think it’s more like an ecosystem. Dynamic, evolving — a complex system of interdependent relationships way more intricate than the traditional media communities I’ve been dealing with lo these many years. When I first started doing beauty PR, it took me about a month of intensive lunching and drinks-ing with magazine editors to figure out what the pecking order was, who was BFF with whom, who had just been canned where and had managed to land a better gig at a better book, and so on. Easy when you’re dealing with a core group of about 20. But it’s not just the size of the group that was easier to manage. Try as you might to follow bloggers (RSS, FeedBurner, news alerts, Twitter, etc.), tracking every word they say in response to other bloggers’ posts is a whole other undertaking. Their opinions and influence can spread as quickly and in as many different directions as cracks in spring ice – so try and keep up, and don’t go in without a guide.
So back to the question of nomenclature. Like I said, I haven’t figured that out. At the very least, we can start by being more precise in our descriptions, acknowledging (as Liz Gumbinner pointed out in her comment here last week) the difference between parenting blogs and review blogs. Or being aware of the woman behind the mom, as Candace Lindemann of Mamanista suggests:
It is important to remember that before a lot of ‘mom bloggers’ were moms and bloggers, they wore other hats, too. They have expertise in marketing, journalism, education, medicine, law, science, etc… labels have the power to empower and build community. They can also limit and denigrate. I think it is difficult to change language (though not always impossible and sometimes necessary). What I prefer to concentrate on in this case is to get people to see each of us as individuals as well as a community.
I kinda know how Candace feels. There are plenty of PR people who would say the same: we hope to be seen as individuals, not a pack of silly flacks blanketing the ‘sphere with generic press releases. That we’re working overtime to better understand bloggers so don’t we don’t biff and fumble. It’s a tricky ecosystem, as I said. And we’re working towards our wilderness scout badges in real time. Please bear with us – we’re trying.