November 28, 2011
Israel On Destination Branding: Giving a Place its Human DNA & Voice
Ido Aharoni of New York's Israel Consulate (aka @israelconsulate) spoke on the BrandsConf stage in late October about a project they did to "humanize" Israel.
They conducted something they refer to as the "House Party" study where they had survey participants create images of what they saw in the "house" of various countries around the world, including Israel.
For example, in the Brazil house, there were images of parties and dancing, in France, symbols which represented romance, Las Vegas, images which represented sin. In the Israel house, there were no images of women and children, but of guns and military.
People were not describing normal every day life in Israel, a clear indication that they had a global perception issue, one which could be rectified with clear communication and engagement to educate people on what Israel was as a "destination brand."
He asked us, if Tel Aviv were a person, would it be a male or female, skinny or fat, fun or serious? "It's important first to learn how your customers perceive you, what they see as your strengths, your weaknesses and your core values," says Aharoni.
Every place has a personality and a DNA and how you determine what it is versus what you want it to be is generated through multiple sources of research, not just one.
For them, they wanted to create a "celebration of core values" for Israel, such as hoping, connecting, family and creating. As a result of the survey and "House Party" study, thjey identified six core areas that were relevant all over the world within the realm of humanizing through broader niche conversations:
1. Hi-Tech and Science
2. Lifestyle and Leisure
3. People and Heritage (diversity). How many people know that there are so many cultures living in Israel -- from Somalia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Egypt among countless others?
5. International Aid
6. Culture and Arts
He says that they believe in the future of micromarketing, i.e., narrative over argument, engagement over dictation....humanization through targeted exposure events.
Finishing his talk, he emphasized the importance of identifying how you're perceived as a destination brand so you understand where it fits globally vis a vis others. "It's competitive out there," he notes and place branding is not just one country versus another, but it's also perception of a place between counties, cities and regions."
And adds, micromarketing will be key to engaging with your influencers in a world of social media, emphasizing what your core beliefs are, which translate into your brand voice, in their case, a destination "brand" voice.
November 25, 2011
Apple Still Leads The Tablet Wars
According to technology research firm Gartner, Apple, with its wonder tablet and iOS combo, will continue to dominate the market for the next few years with Android-based tablets playing a very close second.
According to Gartner's figures, Apple will have over 50% of the pie until 2015 where it's projected to have a 47.1 market share.
Overall sales of iDevices will also have a big boost from 17,610,000 sold in 2010 to 294,093,000 in four years' time with Apple leading the pack.
As for Google, Apple's closest competitor, things are looking very promising, too. From 2010's share of 14.2, it will be having 38.6% of the market by 2015. Sure it's still a long way off Apple's but it's already looking pretty impressive knowing that you have a big chunk of the other half of the market.
Meanwhile, competing brands like WebOs, MeeGo and QNX, will battle it out for the remaining 10% share until 2015.
Bottom line is, these are all projections based on current trends. A lot of factors and things can still happen a few years from now and what's written in the above chart may not be neccessarily so when 2015 arrives. Still, it's looking deliciously sweet for Apple, and yes, Google, and looking bitterly cold for the rest of the other competitors.
One thing is certain, the tablet wars are starting to heat up!
Branding: Unique Voices & Humanization of the Web
Brands are trying to figure it out and get their "head around" community. Yet, community managers don't necessarily communicate with corporate marketing or PR. Someone said on a panel at BrandsConf in New York City in late October that customer service doesn't belong in PR.
I thought, are you kidding? If PR doesn't care about the customer, then companies are hiring the wrong PR people. If PR doesn't live and breathe to make the customer happy because it's something that makes their hearts sing, then they're not in the right job. PR should be instrumental in shaping that "human voice" on the web.
How do brands arrive at their human voice on the web? Dan Neely (@dneely40) CEO at Networked Insights, IBM's Ed Abrahams (@ibm), Oglivy's SVP of Digital Influence Gemma Craven (@gemsie), Jeff Simmermon (@jeffTWC), Director of Digital Communication, Time Warner Cable and Rachel Tipograph (@racheltipograph), Director, Global Digital and Social Media at the Gap discussed highlights, lowlights and provided some of their own tips and lessons learned.
Says Jeff, "The data is just about how stories get told. There's a story that your customers are trying to tell you and when you listen, then you deserve to tell a story back. If effective, you can either be a hero or a loser."
Says Ed, "Your marketplace will tell you what your value is. Secondly, stay true to your beliefs and third, do not be defensive, but rather use that feedback as leverage."
Says Dan, "Make sure your goals are wrapped up in business metrics, not social media metrics. Be real and listen for what your customers want, integrating that into your plan."
Says Rachel, "Define your shared interest in your community and listen to what they want, then deliver that to them."
November 23, 2011
Startups Pitch & Strutt Their Stuff at MUSIC Techpitch 4.5 in London
Recently, The Next Web reported 8 startups had been selected for MUSIC techpitch 4.5 in London. After a series of 3-minute pitches and Q&A sessions, Webdoc, an easy and creative way to share rich-media all in one place, emerged as the winner.
It took place at EMI’s HQ in Kensington, startups had an opportunity to get the word out about their ideas to investors, one of which was an opportunity to participate in an investment meeting arranged by Par Equity, which is one of the largest investment networks in Scotland.
While 3 minutes isn't long (less than half the time of the on-stage DEMO pitches), it is in fact longer than 140 characters. Trust me, I'm a fan of in-depth pieces and features articles; I still have a hard time cranking out short blog posts, yet I'm also prolific on Twitter...tweeting is a great exercise even if you're not a Twittaholic because it forces you to say more with less and trains you to write better headlines.
Enuf said. 3 minutes is enough time for an elevator pitch and most companies don't have them nailed even when they know an investor is listening. Also check out Dave McClure’s 10 tips for the perfect investment pitch.
Other startups which got call outs included Dizzyjam, an online service for independent music artists to create and sell their own merchandise and Hitlantis who presented a unique way of visualizing and discovering new music.
November 17, 2011
Associated Press & Twitter at the Altar? Hardly Hardly...
Just when you think the two shall meet at the altar or even three might meet at the altar, there's a glitch aka one of those social media hiccups that more established companies have a hard time handling.
In the news this week, there's more clashing between social media aka Twitter in this case and traditional media. In other words, the two still don't meet, don't understand each other and the rules are yet to be defined.
According to the Washington Post, Twitter has gone after the Associated Press for upbraiding its staffers for tweeting during Tuesday’s predawn Occupy Wall Street raid, during which AP reporters and many others were arrested. As written up in New York Magazine, the wire service sent its employees this e-mail:
In relation to AP staff being taken into custody at the Occupy Wall Street story, we’ve had a breakdown in staff sticking to policies around social media and everyone needs to get with their folks now to tell them to knock it off. We have had staff tweet — BEFORE THE MATERIAL WAS ON THE WIRE — that staff were arrested.
Crikey. Tweets came pouring out in response. The below was taken from the personal Twitter account of Mandy Jenkins, social media guru for the Huffington Post:
AP staffers scolded for tweeting ahead of the wires from #OWS. http://bit.ly/smSmj8 i.e. The AP tries its damndest to be irrelevant.
Lou Ferrara, who is the AP’s managing editor for sports, entertainment, lifestyles and interactive piped in to comment:
Reason No. 1 why AP staffers should not tweet out news that hasn’t yet been produced on an AP platform, Ferrara said, is that “we put news on our products first. That’s what our customers expect.”
Reason No. 2 is a strong imperative: “As a news organization, our first priority is the safety and well being of our people, and we shouldn’t be putting anything out till we have a clear understanding” of exactly what is going on. That’s standard AP policy for situations in which reporters are taken into custody, Ferrara emphasized, both in the United States and abroad.
Frankly, having formal "control" around this isn't so much the answer as much as it is setting guidelines and letting employees know why random tweeting without knowing the "facts" can be harmful.
I'm astounded still how often Twitter is used at times where it isn't the best platform. I use Twitter extensively and yet sometimes email or text messaging may be a better way to "find out information", clarify it and then send out a tweet...or not.
If you don't understand what's going on, and you're dying to tweet because its so easy to hit that button, perhaps use the 3 minute rule, the one that can save you a lot of hassle later on. Hmm, perhaps I could get a second opinion before I send out a random tweet. Secondly, think twice about what your tweet, which lives on the net forever could meet for your reputation and who you're tweeting about. Third, a direct message, text message or email clarifying the details and getting a better understanding before you tweet is just smart and thorough "reporting." If Twitter isn't reporting when its now breaking news, I don't know what is. Sure, it's a marketing machine, sure it's an engagement tool, sure it's a way to interact with customers and friends, but it's also a short form news reporting tool. (and a great one when you're on the ground, particularly in a crisis situation).
Clearly, I drink the Twitter coolaid and love the tool, but I do think we should encourage people to use the 3 minute rule before they tweet more often, particularly around more sensitive situations, the result of which could just "up" the quality and callibre of the tweets that get sent out.
Quotes and references on the "news" were taken from the Washington Post article who covered this story at length. For the rest of the read, click here.
November 04, 2011
Technorati's Shani Higgins on the State of the Blogosphere
Technorati CEO Shani Higgins presented the annual State-of-the-Blogosphere at BlogWorldExpo this morning. Below are some of the more interesting stats Higgins released in a shotgun array of slides after slides with stats after stats.
When Mitch Joel, who has been blogging for about as long as I have, asked "what defines a blog today? Is Huffington Post a blog? Is an economist who presents an opinion on a site that looks like a blog a blog? Says Higgins, "the independent web is what blogs are...." In other words, not necessarily controlled by a brand or a publisher.
Of bloggers today, 61% are hobbyists. Professional part-timers make up 13%, corporate bloggers make up 8% and entrepreneurs, which is a new category this year is roughly around 13%.
Of bloggers geographically, 50% of bloggers still comes from the US, which apparently hasn't changed much from last year. 65% are aged between 18-44 years old and 59% are male, which is down by 5%, meaning more women are blogging than last year this time.
An oustanding stat is that on average, bloggers have 3 blogs, 50% have been blogging 4+ years, 80% have been blogging 2 or more years, 44% blog 2-3 times per week or more, with pro segments blogging daily. One third of bloggers work in the mainstream media as a writer, reporter, producer or on-air personality.
Reasons Why People Are Blogging:
- To share their expertise and experiences with others – 70%
- To become more involved with their passion areas – 58%
- To meet and connect with like-minded people – 50%
- To gain professional recognition – 42%
Success Metrics - how bloggers measure their success in order of importance:
- Personal satisfaction
- Number of unique visitors
- Number of comments
- Backlinks from other bloggers
Social Media Use:
- Google+ = 66% of probloggers (58% of all bloggers are on Google+)
- Facebook – 92% of probloggers
- Twitter is used to promote their blogs: 71% of all bloggers agree, and 90% of all probloggers agree.
- Facebook – 50% of all bloggers have a separate account for their blogs, 75% of all probloggers. Of this group, bloggers are primarily using Facebook to promote their blogs. 37% of all bloggers say they link their Twitter & Facebook accounts.
- Google+ users, 10% of all bloggers have a separate account for their blog, 27% for probloggers. Bloggers who primarily use Google+ to promote their blogs is 27% of all bloggers, 45% of probloggers. Only 13% of this group syndicate their content.
LinkedIn comes in after Facebook, Google+ and Twitter and Digg fell below Tumblr and Foursquare.
Social Media Drivers - in order of driving traffic:
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Stumble Upon, Google+, Tumbler, Flickr, Yelp, Vimeo, Plaxo, Picasa, Orkut, MySpace, Friendsster, Foursquare, and Delicious, with Digg coming in last.
The number one influence for bloggers is other bloggers. In other words, 68% of bloggers look to other bloggers which determine things more than anything else aka "the influencers influence the influencers" says Higgins.
Brand behavior is important, but just how important is the perception of the brand to a blogger? And, what is a blogger prepared to accept on their blog? Compared to last year, bloggers have increased their criteria for the kind of brand they're willing to accept on their blog. Whether bloggers are influenced by a brand or company’s behavior:
- 25% encouraged other bloggers to discourage other bloggers from using a brand.
- Bloggers still boycott products and write about the fact that they boycott products and companies.
The biggest complaint is that 60% of bloggers feel they are treated less professionally by brand representatives than traditional media, down from 64% in 2010, which isn’t significant.
- 15% of bloggers characterize their interactions with brands as very favorable.
- 34% of bloggers characterize their interactions with brands as favorable.
- 51% want to work with brands directly
- 49% want to work through an intermediary.
There are mixed reviews on brand interactions: less than 25% say brands provide value, or are knowledgeable about their blogs. In describing the communications bloggers receive from brands, bloggers felt that brands are not very knowledgeable about their blog, their content and blogging style, nor are they genuinely interested in learning about their content and what they cover. In other words, brands have to work much harder and get more personal. And, I'd add, listen.
86% of bloggers disclosed that a post was sponsored or paid.
58% disclosed they had received a product they reviewed.
The highest is product reviews, followed by sponsored posts, focus groups and spokesblogger or brand ambassador in that order. In terms of what their audience liked the best of this list, it was product reviews.
Tools that Brands Use:
Blogger outreach 12%
Majority of the above have only been using social media for only 1-2 years.
34% of them have their own blogs.
- 4% of all bloggers and 37% of full time pros say blogging is their primary income.
- 14% receive a salary for blogging with the average being around $24K, the highest report was $140K.
- Display ads represents 34%
- Affiliate ads: 31%
- Search ads: 27%
- Paid Posts: 34%
- Spokespeople: 5%
The following results came from bloggers when asked what was the fee they’ve been paid for a single instance of the following:
- Being a brand or product spokesman: $1,365
- Paid to give speeches: $1,560
- Paid to attend events: $1,018
- Paid for a broadcast media appearance: $796
- Received an item of high value to review or endorse: $409
- Print or other media contributor: $935
November 03, 2011
What is REAL Influence? Will Klout & Other Tools Define & Control You or Will You Define Them?
There's been so much buzz -- on and offline -- about Klout's decision to unveil a new formula which supposedly recalculates scores more accurately, the result of which brought most people's "popularity" scores down a few notches, including my own.
While I think what the guys over at Klout are trying to do is admirable and truth be told, we need really smart analytics and measurement tools to break through the noise, what we have today simply isn't accurate enough or "whole" enough to give us the real truth on who's influential and more importantly, in what circles and why.
Wouldn't it be more interesting to know who had a Klout score of 80 in food and wine, 80 in social media, 80 in fashion, 80 in politics and so on?
Wouldn't it also be more interesting if tools like this took into consideration a person's offline influence as well as other things they may have done, such as a bestselling book or created a program that made an African village sustain itself?
Part of the issue is that we're early and all of the vendors trying to innovate in this area are trying to figure it out. I spent time talking to Klout's CEO and founder Joe Fernandez in Dublin recently at a web conference and I think he's a great guy who's trying to do the right thing.
I jokingly complained that I've seen 21 year olds who are new to social media, new to Twitter and new to business whose Klout scores have been higher than mine on some days. There are many things they take into account when dishing out a Klout score, including the level of engagement. Crikey, if you're my niece's age and have thousands of Facebook friends who have a ton of time on their hands and can chat away all day with their friends, regardless of how big the circle is, then no doubt, that online "activity" gets engagement brownie points which goes into the Klout analysis.
While engagement could be high in this 'circle', it is its own ecosystem and the real question is: will this voice influence a certain number of people to buy a certain product or take a certain that builds brand awareness?
I have 3 Facebook pages attached to my name, all of which are mine, but I don't get credit in the Kloutsphere for any of them because they can only give you points for one Facebook account - your personal one. When I asked Joe about this, he had a logical explanation. There are far too many people managing a celebrity or brand's Facebook fan page and they shouldn't get credit for that level of influence when the page is about someone else. Fair enough. But what about those whose Facebook pages are legitimately connected to themselves? Small business owners would also fall into that category.
Yet, despite the fact that the numbers aren't accurate or "whole," tons of vendors and brands are jumping into the lions den and testing things out. Frankly, there's nothing wrong with that. With every evolution and revolution, you need to learn by trial and error just like we did with email after fax, blogging after websites and Twitter after AOL IM.
One of my issues is how much credence we (as an industry) give these early tools and how much of a time waste they are for so many I know including me at times before I kick myself back into perspective, nevermind the cultural impact which has quite honestly turned into a popularity contest. I feel as if everyone is competing to be Ken or Barbie and we're back to high school behavior in a way that's not healthy.
Scores are one way for brand marketers and PR folks to create a list of targeted bloggers and tweeters they can go after, aka a list of the most influential voices who must hear about their product or service. I get it as I've been on the pitching line - both in front of it and in recent years, on the receiving end with We Blog the World.
As Geoff points out, the most influential people in any given sector aren’t necessarily on social media. They hire other people to serve as community managers. As one example, Klout only gives President Barack Obama an Influence Score of 48.
While we do need analytics and tools for measuring, they need to take offline influence into consideration as well as more complex elements and texture that can extracted from people's social graphs.
It's time to bring in the socialogists and anthropologists. One of the best talks I've heard in awhile on a Web-something stage was in October at Web 2.0 Summit by Intel's Genevieve Bell, an Australian born anthropologist and researcher. She is the director of Intel Corporation's Interaction and Experience Research and her talk was begging the question: what if we built data for humans rather than devices?
Looking at data from an anthropoligical and "human" perspective (bring on more women please), means that we can take the science out of the analytics just long enough to get the pieces that make up the multiple facets of what makes someone who they are into the "measurement" pool.
Christopher Poole (aka @moot69 on Twitter) also raised the point at the same conference that who we are online may not necessarily be who we are offline. In other words, my social graph online may be very different from who I am in my personal life or frankly want to be...the games we have to play with social media to be part of the conversation -- authentic voice or not -- in order to keep up with metrics and measurement are currently robotic and linear at best.
Relationships are what really matter and building them take time. I've been working on (yes, while I LOVE it, it's work and takes time), building relationships for over twenty years and yet, my Klout score is lower than someone who's barely been in business or is even old enough to have a relationship with someone longer than a few years of their adult life.
Geoff also refers to this in his post: "without a relationship, it would be extremely hard to get that high scoring influencer to invest energy into your effort. Instead you would have to focus on the magic middle and build your own influence from the ground up."
Gavin Heaten refers to Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties”. While the original post is now a few years old, his point is still relevant. "Social influence and its impact on action is determined by a large number of “weak ties”. So those blogs which are built around an identity which is well-known to its audience (strong ties) is less likely to carry social influence."
Yet, buzz agents, PR people, marketers and large brands are deciding who's influential or beyond that, who can move their brand or sell products inside that brand....all based on these scores.
I went to the Travel Blog Exchange (known among those in the biz as TBEX) in Vancouver for the first time this past year and it was loaded with travel vendors, resorts, hotel chains, restaurants, retailers and more vying for travel blogger's time and ultimately "ink."
While I spend a few hours a day nuturing a travel and culture blog, I also run a business. Many of these bloggers are doing this full time so are spending a lot of time gathering content from the world's most popular destinations and there is an inherent value in that. Yet, many of these 21-25 year old bloggers are enjoying free trips around the world on some brand's dime based on Klout scores and other things like it.
Fair enough, trust me, I wish blogging were around when I backpacked through SE Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe when I was 22. But I think some other form of value will be necessary in the future as online publishing is being rewritten.
I often wonder if I were blogging and tweeting at 22, whether I would have spent less time chatting with a villager next to a fire on some remote mountain had I been loaded down with technology? When I went on those adventures, I wore nothing but a mid-sized rucksack on my back and an old Fujica AX3. My main consideration was making sure my film didn't get roasted in the Southeast Asian sun or when I went through security lines at airports.
Today when I travel, Foursquare and Twitter (via Hootsuite) are close companions. I often tweet in real time as I'm walking down an escalator and see something interesting and at times, can get so wrapped up in following streams, that sometimes I forget to have a conversation with the guy from Chicago or Tokyo standing next to me.
It's far too easy to get caught up in check-ins, status updates and Klout scores and there's no one who can disagree, that its addictive. It's precisely what makes gamification a godsend to marketers today. And yet with all these distractions, what are we losing and are we forgetting what "real influence" and "real relationships" are in the process?
Refer to my Google+ blog post which talks about data overload and over consumption.
Two decades ago, I would have had a Klout score of zero in the travelsphere and yet by the age of 25, I had been to more places than many travel writers at magazines and newspapers I met along the way.
I didn't spend any time building relationships with influential 'travel sources,' but with the locals I met en route and here is where I captured magical stories, most of which were written down in an old fashioned diary every night by a fire or from a rickety bed.
I would argue that in a world where the lines between marketers and content creators and publishers are muddy, that large brands should ask for more than a little link love, or a certain number of tweets. How about strategic feedback based on years of valuable insights, experience and perhaps connections to people where both sides benefit in a mutually positive way? Airlines take note. It's not rocket science, it's called listening to your customers, and not just those with high Klout scores. Pay attention to what customers are saying -- on and offline -- and implement changes so they're singing your praises alongside your marketing department.
Another example of a missed opportunity for "influencer collaboration". This past summer, I was flown out to a conference with about six other bloggers and while I was given hashtag and Twitter data as well as the program in advance, I had no knowledge of who was attending the conference so I could connect with people who shared similar interests and passions in advance.
Imagine the power of my writing a story about the work of a few of the attendees as well as their speakers? Ammunition for selling tickets the following year, especially if a new initiative formed as a result.
At events where everyone is interesting and has a story to share, the magic of what can be discovered doesn't always happen on the stage. 90% of my best stories are gathered off the stage and compelling input is often found from those who are not asked to speak or haven't written a book.
And, did those speakers who authored books know the bloggers and journalists who were attending? They should have known in advance so they could have taken the opportunity to send us a copy of their book to read before their presentation. Insights would have been much deeper and after-the-talk conversations much more powerful.
Sure, we all could have done our own homework and sure, if we were interested in a particular speaker over another, we could have proactively ordered their book on our own. That's not my point. In a world of over data and over pitching, we need aggregators and curators, and human ones are often the most powerful ones.
Proactively faciliating those connections in a way that is more powerful and intimate increases the likelihood of more stories, especially ones may include more depth and texture.
I think that marketing and PR people have to not only become content creators on multiple channels but also strategic faciliators, aggregators and curators as well. I also think that asking bloggers, tweeters and other online influencers for input into their processes, products, services and ways of communicating will be critical to making this new ecosystem purr.
Events like TBEX for the travel industry, BlogWorldExpo for bloggers and social media addicts, TED for those who thrive on ideas and innovation, DAVOS for those who are participating in the global economy in some way, the national auto show for those who live and breathe cars and thousands of others were created for a reason. Sure, someone thought of an event that would draw people together including sponsors and they could profit from the outcome.
But the real draw for those who attend, even those who fork out the money to host, is the networking and the value of that "in-person" networking over the years. It was one of the reasons people were so upset when COMDEX died, the largest computer show of its kind in the U.S., an event that drew together anyone and everyone who mattered in the industry once a year in the ugly sprawling city of sin Las Vegas.
There, we built a community, and old timers still talk about memories they shared -- in the flesh, not online -- where stories, drinks, food, dancing, ideas, demos and deals were all shared. TED is a great example of a community which has been created both on and offline, and now extended through TEDx events throughout the world.
Relationships are built by investing time in people. In Dublin recently, a group of us were brought to the Irish President's residence and a day earlier, we all listened to the Trinity Orchestra at a college older than the U.S. - there's nothing in an online world, social influence or not, that can take away from those shared memories and moments, some of which may have showed a precious vulnerable side to someone you dare not share online for online is not where that "exchange" belongs.
A deeper dive into what really makes up influence, which includes trust, will improve the current ecosystem we now embrace. It may also change the cast of characters we currently hold in high esteem when honesty, real openness and "human influence" replaces old schoolXYZ networks that keeps things in status quo, maintaining the same dozen voices we hear from again and again, particularly in the online publishing world.
Here, Geoff is spot on when he says "when we focus on influence rankings — tools that quantify a media form’s participants like it was run by journalists — we walk away from the basic truth about these particular types of media. They are relational. They are SOCIAL media.
So, by focusing on lists and not dialoguing and adding value through relevant content and investment, a practitioner is not present. Their effort is bound to have fundamental weaknesses. Building relationships in real life at events, meetings, and through social media are the ways to cultivate better influence.
And oh man, I love his ending: "what is the real reason to quantify big social media influencers? If relationships are your desired outcome, why waste time?"
We've paid so much attention to data for data sake and the last century has paid an unfair advantage to scientific knowledge and stats, that we need to rewrite the rules of what holds value in and out of the boardroom. Francis Cholle in his book The Intuitive Compass takes 223 pages to tell you why our intuition (the quadrant which is defined by relationships and creativity) is critical to succeeding in the next century. (book review coming on We Blog the World before the end of the year in the Books category).
A fundamental question to think about is this: will Klout & other measurement tools like it define and control you or will you define and control them? If we are to innovate, shouldn't we step up and tell the data what really matters? In a Genevieve Bell world, we'd start with humanity and relationships and build up and out from there.
Photo credits in order of appearance: Garagehangover, Obama shot unknown, John Ryan & Associates, a Facebook stream, Selfleadership.com.
November 3, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, Magic Sauce Media, On Blogging, On Branding, On Geo-Location, On Innovation, On Journalism, On People & Life, On Social CRM, On Technology, On the Future, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 02, 2011
The Magic of Maine in the Fall: Where Lobster Meets a Perfect Sky
Maine is one of my favorite places on the planet and I'm counting over 74 countries at this point and have lived in eleven of those. Truth be told, I probably gravitate to its familiarity and small town American charm since I grew up in upstate New York and when renowned author Richard Russo writes about either one, I can't always tell the difference. (one of my favorite authors btw and hope I don't end my stint on this earth before meeting him, preferably over lunch).
While I used to drive up often when I lived in Boston, its been years since I ventured up Route 1 taking in every roadside stand, every lobster shack, every pottery stall, every antique store, every candle shop...unfortunately on my way up the coast, it was raining, but I didn't let it muck up all those previous memories camping somewhere you weren't supposed to be, slowly dozing off as you gazed into the fading fire with your last marshmallow on a stick.
There was one point in a turn north of Portland I recognized so well that I actually remembered not just the smell of twenty years ago but the color and texture of the trees on that wild group trip one July.
There were roughly 8 of us and we all decided to camp and cook, particularly since one of the friends on the trip was a French chef, married to a girlfriend from Colorado. We ended up roasting lobsters on the grill, carmelizing onions (Pierre always knew precisely when to grab them from the fire), and boiling corn. We had cheap French Bordeaux for drinking since we were all young with measly salaries, yet we felt as if we were eating and drinking like kings. And, we were.
We had Maine's midnight sky, the smell of pine, the taste of fresh lobster and good friends who loved to laugh a lot....and tell stories. We went up in a friend's open jeep (what I wouldn't do to relive that warm summer weekend where a carefree life with so few commitments was the order of the day).
I heard from that friend with the jeep recently although I wasn't able to see him this time round because of a family conflict. He now has gray hair, children and has one of those responsible jobs my Aunt Evelyn would approved of. I also didn't see my French chef friend and his wife; although they still live in the area, she was in Colorado visiting an aging and sick parent.
We all have schtuff going on and none of us are in our early twenties anymore and yet that drive sent a signal and a voice from my heart to my head that said in a not so quiet voice "you must and you will find a jeep and window where the weather is likely to be grand and drive up the coast of Maine, into its interior, bug spray and all. I'd wake up to a glorious New England sky, without my damn iPhone, without sending a Tweet or a Facebook update, without email beckoning me to do something not all that important.
Often, my ex-husband and I would jump into our beat up cream-colored Chevy stationwagon we called Daisy on a Friday afternoon, close our eyes, point to a place on the New England map with eyes still closed, open them and then drive towards whatever destination our fingers landed on. I paid my grandfather $350 for that car after I returned from a European trip not long after I graduated from college.
It was large enough to sleep in, which may not sound all that comfy, but we had my aunt and uncles mattress in the back from the 1950s (visual - old but very very soft), curtains that I made from some African materials I picked up in Kenya, a cooler, binoculars, sleeping bags and hiking boots. What else do you need in your early twenties? No cell phones. No laptops. Plenty of maps.
Somehow Maine turned up more often than New Hampshire or Vermont but regardless of where we went, one thing was constant: we'd wake up with the back window's light coming in just enough to remind us to jump up to see the early morning rise in the distance, a sight I never see today since I'm often up working (or writing) until 3 am. While New England not have Arizona or African sunrises, it delivers a beautiful sky morning and night and color-rich leaves every October that you can't find with such magnitude and scale anywhere.
The other thing that was constant was lobsters. While neither of us made much (I still find it shocking how much we did and the rich life we led with so little), lobster was cheap.
There were places we could find that for $9.95, you'd get a twin deal: essentially two one pound (to 1 and a quarter pound) lobsters. He often wanted to eat two so sometimes we splurged, but it tended to be the most we'd spend in a day. We ate them often and if we were on the coast, one thing was guaranteed, we returned to Boston late on a Sunday night with our hands and faces saturated with the smell of lobster.
On my way north, I didn't see one lobster shack opened even though I'd imagine October would be prime season for folks trying to make money off tourists. The weather was gray and many of the shops and stalls not only looked closed, but permanently so, I sadly wondered how hard things were hit with the economic downturn.
Things felt more run down and yet, they may not have been I reminded myself. It could very well be that living in Silicon Valley, a modern, fast paced environment where technology rules and money is plentiful, was enough of a lifestyle to make anywhere look recessed.
I had lobster in Camden at a restaurant but it wasn't cheap and it while it was good, I was more focused on the conversation of the group, aware of being present to their energy and input more than the food on my plate. You have to BE with lobster to really get lobster. I always found it amusing to watch how much time my ex would spend getting meat out of the legs -- his lobster and mine. It's a process. It's an experience. It's oh so so Maine.
On my south, it was on a Sunday, the weather was better, there was a blue sky and at the very least cafes and diners seemed to be open as I passed town after town. I ventured into antique stores and a few art galleries with price tags I'm sure only out-of-towners and those with second or third homes in Maine could afford.
It was a day I never wanted to end and yet, as I passed Warren and Wiscasset, I knew I had only about two hours left before those old familiar outer Boston suburb exits would be on my right, a sight that was part of every week of my life at one point in my life, a memory that now felt about as far away as early childhood.
If there were two words that came to mind as I reminisced of those precious days, they were fate and faith, two words I lived my life by. We both did. Fate loves the fearless and fearless we most definitely were in all aspects of our lives. Faith had so many meanings to me. Faith is looking at a sunset and knowing who to thank. Faith is having gratitude when things are not going your way and its been days since you felt a real smile. Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.
As I was in a place of faith and gratitude, I made my way over the bridge in Brunswick, and the sky got bluer, the clouds cleared out, the wind was dying down and there on the left was the lobster shack that wasn't open on my way up. Sprague's Lobster & Clambakes the sign read. Although a pick-up truck nearly healed me as I made my sudden turn left into the parking lot, I was there and lobster was calling my name.
You could get a lobster dinner with corn on the cob, cole slaw and a roll for $15.99. It was warm enough to sit at the picnic table and eat outside and so I ordered the largest size they had, which was only a one pound a quarter at the time I arrived, something they apologized for.
Sure, deep inside I was hoping for a pound and a half and two pounds seemed outrageously piggish although how often did I have a precious moment like this to take it all in and show up at one of those Boston suburb exits exuding lobster from every pore of my body? But knowing that a dinner at a friends was waiting for me in three hours, I ordered only one -- no extras, just a boiled lobster in all its glory.
The ticket was clipped up on a line, a bell was rung and off it went some 20 feet or so down to where Frank himself was boiling 'em up in a little shack. I meandered down for a chat and as I did so, his neighbor Robert Jones from Ridgeback Pottery came over to hang out as well.
Unlike most days in my life, I wasn't in a mad rush and I didn't care whether I had an Internet or phone signal and so there I was just like when I was ten, able to hang out and chat to two older men full of wisdom, rich stories and kind of humor that can't be found in its purest form on the west coast.
Both talked about their children, one of them lived in northern California, and Frank showed me photos of his dark-haired grandson who was bound to break many a woman's heart in about 15 years. After awhile, as I neared the end of my last claw, I was kicking myself for not ordering the twin lobster and Frank somehow knew this as he didn't give me much of a chance to fight him on cooking up another one before I left.
This time, he threw in a little pesto butter for the claws and while it was fabulous (definitely worth trying), I realized boiled lobster is best in its purest state, on its own, with a little lemon if you must.
While I love all seafood, lobster was what I was after. For those passing by however, Frank has many other options to try, including a crab or clam cake basket, crabmeat roll, fried or baked haddock, fresh chowder with lobster meat and lobster rolls.
You can also get a pound of steamers for $8.95 at the time of writing this. My pound and a quarter on its own with no frills was $10.95. Don't be an idiot like me and not order the twin - they're just too good to pass up and on top of it, you've got Frank's personal touch which is hard to find.
Robert's pottery had equal care and like a true artisan, he was proud as he showed me his work. Done using the Raku technique, the style mixed a little New England with Raku, which originates from the tea ceremonies of Japan.
The pieces are rapidly fired and taken from the kiln as soon as the glaze is melted. The rapid cooling causes the glaze to form cracks at which point, the pottery is placed into airtight reduction containers with pine needles, grasses, leaves or wood shavings.
This causes the cracks to absorb carbon and become black. The lack of oxygen also changes the color of the minerals in the glaze, and then the pieces are plunged into water to set the color.
How I wanted to buy some his pottery and a couple of the old oak chairs I saw in an antique store along the side of the road. If only I had a house down the road.
After devouring both lobsters with a huge smile on my face and the fabulous company of Frank and Robert, I made my way down the final stretch to the Massachusetts border to see old friends, a few I hadn't seen in several years.
Fate, faith and gratitude were the order of the day as my pores filled the car with the smell of lobster and my radio played old tunes from the 70s and 80s, a station that was pre-set and I didn't choose and yet it seemed to play every song I loved and was a magical part of my time in New England, part of one person's life history, stored in my mind's eye and memory only until now it is told in a story as I remembered it on that long drive this past October.
They were both the Maine I remembered, the Maine I still cherish and hopefully the Maine I will return to with a jeep on some future hot summer day.
For more reading about Maine and all things New England, have a meander through our Maine pages.
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