Social media?

November 24, 2010

A woman in Portland, Oregon, has shut herself off from society in an attempt to show whether online interaction is a satisfactory subsitute for in-person interaction.  Newspaper to New Media characterizes it as a sort of experiment, stating that she aims “to learn how technology walls people off even while connecting them.”  Her site itself explains it as not an experiment, but as a kind of performance art, and her living quarters, showcased on a city street, are a companion piece. 

If it’s art, I’m not the judge (the only significant art I own consists of a handpainted pig on the wall and my children’s crayon drawings covering my office door like wallpaper).

But as experiment, I have a few things to say about this.  It offends me not as a scientist (as a scientist, I love seeing nonscientists try changing the variables to see what happens – the basis of some of the greatest experiments), but it offends me as a cancer patient.  Unless handled carefully, work like this belittles the vast experience that people who live this every day have.  That people who suffer from depression, agoraphobia, isolation, disesase, or compromised immune systems live with every day. 

There are many people for whom social media is not just a fun distraction on the commute home or between meetings, but for whom social media is a lifeline. . . their only interaction with the outside world, and one that is vital to keeping their own sanity.

I ranted in a blog comment:

How privileged, do be able to do this as an experiment.  Why not just ask those of us who have to live this, or a form of this everyday?  I’ll give you a hint: many cancer patients in treatment, with compromised immune systems, are largely confined indoors when treatment season (4-6 months) conflicts with flu season. Many of us have found solace, and friendship, and a way to keep up with our lives through social media.  I know I have.

I have, and I’ve written about the way that blogging is my window to the world, both as a mother of very young children needing frequent naps (remember those? as many as five a day for the littlest ones?) and then as a woman in chemotherapy, with an immune system not strong enough to fight off flu season, as in 2007.  My immune system is strong as I fight cancer this time (I have the white blood cell counts to prove it!), but it does take me longer to shake off infections; I’ve been down for a week with the latest preschool virus.

Which makes the count nearly 3 weeks that one or the other of us has had a fever and such, precluding playdates and coffees, and Mommy’s too tired for any activity after noon, so it’s been pretty quiet around here.

Very quiet.

Is online interaction a satisfactory subsitute for in-person interaction?  No.  Hell, no.  But some days, it’s the best you’re gonna get, and for that, I am grateful.

Know someone who is isolated from the world because of a new baby, an ailing family member, or the simple ravages of old age?  You CAN help make it better for them, not by “like”ing something on Facebook or RT’ing it on twitter – but with a simple phone call.  Go ahead.  Use those minutes on your cell phone this month.  Call Grandma or that nice old lady from the church who smells like peppermints.  Ask that shy mom with two kids under 3 to coffee at the park — or ask if you can bring her a treat from Starbucks.  Spend your facebook time today on the phone instead, or dropping by a friend’s house (after calling!), talking and connecting with someone who may not have any other contact with the outside world.  Do your own experiment, and find out whether that makes you feel better than another round of Words With Friends or bringing someone an item for their Facebook Farm.  And come back and let me know.  Maybe I’m wrong in the post above.  Maybe this is a good social media experiment in the reverse — and maybe, just maybe, your particpation could make someone happy.

Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends, and Happy Day-That-We’re-Alive to all of the rest of you around the world.  This year, as I have every year since 2006, I give thanks for not the institution of social media, but the friends that it has brought me and allowed me to keep through the isolation of early motherhood and severe illness.  You are so important in my life, and in the lives of so very many others. 


Not-so-perfect pitch

September 4, 2010

I feel so 2008 writing about off-kilter marketing pitches for blogs, but this one takes the cake. 

Check out what I found in my email box (you know, that box crammed full of THINGS TO DO and letters I’m invariably BEHIND ON?) this week:

Hi Susan,

I hope all is well and you are enjoying your week! I’ve included an idea below I thought this would be a perfect fit for your BlogHer readers — the “vertical” movement is on the rise and <<redacted>> provides the perfect record-breaking endurance sport for all. I thought this would be a great feature/trend piece for you….

Hmmm…. where to even start? 

First of all, people reading here are not necessarily BlogHer readers.  I mean, I hope you are, since BlogHer is an incredible collaborative of amazing women writers, with several new articles that make you laugh, cry, or think every day, but really?  That’s a different site.

Second, I doubt you come here to looking for new “record-breaking endurance sports.”  Other than the 504 times I have to take a chemo pill this Fall.  Which could be called an endurance sport, I suppose, but hardly record-breaking. 

Third, I may be many things, but no one has ever called this astrophysicist/mom trendy.

Ooh, and did I forget?  All is not well.  I have cancer!!!

Not only will this stair climb be held at the tallest building in the western hemisphere, participants will be given the option of two modes of doing the climb. They either scale the 103 floors of Willis Tower, or 2,109 steps by foot — or…

Oh, you had me at 2109 steps by foot!  Seeing as how I’m not strong enough yet to walk around the block alone, I seriously doubt my oncologist would approve trying to scale 103 floors OR 2109 steps by foot.  I suppose I could ask her next week, though, since the PR person writing to me today thinks this would be such “a perfect fit” for my blog.

Now’s the perfect time for your readers to learn about this great record breaking event in their own backyard…

Their own backyard? Your event is in Chicago.  I write in Washington, D.C.  My readers are all over the world.

Why do bloggers complain about poorly targeted pitches?  Because this is the kind of thing we get.  Oh, that and invitations to try out “shapewear to flatter every figure,” tampons that also balance your pH, and baby and nursing items.  There are many, many bloggers who would love this sort of thing — but if you’re constantly sending those invitations to a postmenopausal blogger with no bust, you might just be doing it wrong.

The awkwardness of swag

June 7, 2010

First, I know this is a terribly first world problem, and a first blogger world problem at that. I do realize that there are terrible things in the world today, especially on the Gulf Coast, near my hometown (oh, Ship Island, my heart hurts for you). I realize that people are sick and dying of cancer (1500 Americans a day) and other illnesses, and that we who have the luxury of blogging are the luckiest of the luckiest … but I simply must say something about swag.

Yes, swag. The “stuff we all get” at celebrity events as fancy as the Oscars and as homegrown as a blogger conference.  I get the point. I know that if companies encourage us to try their products, we’re likely to write about them, and they get huge “word of mouth” or “return on investment.” I get it. I do.  And I won’t go so far as to say I don’t like swag. I do! Who doesn’t? For me, I don’t get out much, so it’s my chance to finally try a Georgetown Cupcake, to learn about Bitdefender‘s antivirus package, or to see just how small the new iGo charger is (see what I did there? I’m not anti-swag).

But here’s the thing. I can’t carry it all. I’m starting to feel like a packhorse at these blogger meetups, and it’s counterproductive.  We have these blogger events to cement these relationships that we all have, and to make connections with each other, blogger to blogger at Momzshare, and brand to blogger, blogger to brand at events like SVMom’s D.C. Metro Brand/Blogger Symposium yesterday.  But if it really is all about relationships, then shouldn’t we be spending our time talking to each other?

Shouldn’t we be encouraged to spend our time talking to the vendors and talking with each other, making new connections or really catching up, rather than carrying around four or five big bags of stuff, which forces the conversations to the shallow end, as we ask each other how we’re holding up, or how we’ll possibly get all this home?  Shouldn’t the moms who are carrying babies, already laden down and with a body possibly stressed by nursing, not have to worry about also carrying bags of stuff?  Can’t they be full participants by simply talking, perhaps picking up a coupon or card, but not also worried about juggling the blue bag and the white bag and the red bag and the cream bag and the … well, I think you get my point.

If this sounds ungrateful (and it may), I’m sorry.  But here’s the thing.  I have a disability.  Because of all my treatment, and the giant (7 pound!) tumor I had in my breasts a few years ago, I have a great deal of trouble with my back.  I can’t open heavy doors by myself, or carry a purse that is more than 3 pounds.  I simply can’t.  If I do, my ribs pull out from behind my spine and I’m in a great deal of pain.  For days.  Those sleeves you see on my arms and hands?  Those are necessary to control my lymphedema.  If I carry more than a small purse, hang out outside in the summer, or even stand too close to a hot stove, my arms swell up like balloons, and I have to go back into lymphedema therapy.  For weeks.  So I protect my body, use push buttons for heavy doors (or wait for someone else to open them), and say no to events that I think will stress it.

I took steps to manage my disability yesterday.  I tried not to complain.  I smiled sweetly and said thank  you (as I know that marketing metrics include how many bags of swag are given away), and then walked back to a booth I had called my home base, depositing the box or bag behind a curtain, with the gracious permission of the Lawry’s seasoning folks.  But I know it wasn’t just me.  I know that other blogging mamas struggled, dumping their swag in various spots around the room, too, and it became an issue.  It became an issue for moms with babies, moms with bad backs, and moms who wanted to build relationships, without having to worry about where they left their stuff.

There are other events coming up, particularly at BlogHer 10, that will face the same problem, and they will decide to handle it in different ways.  Last year, the Blogalicious party organizers really made a good impression on me, as they encouraged us to talk to each other, to experience the brand (Lush), and to have a good time.  The swag wasn’t brought out until the end, as we were leaving, and it was a nice surprise.  The experience was about the experience.

In contrast, other parties had limited amounts of swag, tweeting and blogging and teasing about the fantastic swag (misnamed, if you ask me) that would be there for the first 50, 100, or 200 people, and that you better get there early to get their stuff.  What happened at these events?  People lined up early, as they were told, to get their stuff.  They stood in line instead of building solid relationships and planning partnerships around a table.  They angled to be one of the first, to get the goody bags, some of which had $500 and up of product for a select few.  Guests were encouraged in a “me first” mentality … and with predictable results.

How do we create a good atmosphere for brands without overloading the bloggers?  Not everyone will agree, but here are three suggestions to consider:  1) Bring coupons if you want us to try your product at home and write about it.  That totally worked for Trop50 and Ragu last year.  2) Put your product in the big bag that we all get at registration.  3) If you bring product to an event, and it truly is swag, stuff we all get, then let us pick it up as we’re leaving, so we can spend our time at the party building relationships.

When you make it all about swag, it becomes all about … swag.

Disclosure: All the brands mentioned in this post were sponsors of the respective parties, and sent me home with free samples of various kinds.  Oh, and my friend Jessica carried them home for me.

Blog-scraping, Camp Baby, and a hayride

March 21, 2008

blog scraping = Random, unauthored sites stealing content, in whole or in part, with or without linkage, with no apparent rhyme or reason, except to put words on a page with ads.  They typically leave a “ping” in the comments for the original blog’s commenters to click through, but WordPress (hear this, blog scrapers) is really good about marking those as spam and not letting them through.  No reputable blog (read = one with an author, regularly written content, etc.) is typically accused of blog scraping; these are fly-by-night jobs that are often shut down as quickly as they are started; they only want click-throughs and eyeballs to earn them ad money.

You’ll see a new tagline on my posts for a while in an attempt to cut down on blog scraping; adding this really worked for the DC Metro Moms site, and I’m willing to try it, because I’m tired of my personal content appearing on random pseudo-sites without authors, rhyme or reason.  And no, I’m not linking to an example.

The Johnson & Johnson Camp Baby fiasco continues to unravel, despite the quick action by the organizers and their apologies at City Mama’s and Mothergoosemouse’s blogs.  As it turns, out both Firemom and Sweet|Salty Kate were disinvited because of nursing babies as well.  Check out a professional’s opinion over at Susan Getgood’s Marketing Roadmaps.

Oh, and yes, we went out again today, on a rollicking and boisterous playdate:  A springtime hayride, in 40 mph winds.  We dithered back and forth about whether to go, but, in the end, Widget and I went, and it was wonderful.  Widget climbed into the very front of the wagon, ignored the hay, and proceeded to watch the tractor roll for the entire duration of the hayride while his little friends shivered and snuggled into the hay in back, occasionally looking around at the odd bunny-esque displays that popped up along the bunny trail wagon route.  The only one that really got Widget’s attention was the parade of chocolate bunnies.  Um.  Guess I have to put the chocolate bunny in the basket this weekend after all.  Wonder whether his Daddy or I will nibble the ears?  But the hayride itself was wonderful. He asked me how the tractor goes, and I explained (Sort of.  I mean, I don’t know how an engine works, but he didn’t ask that, now, did he?).  I pointed out the engine, and told him that it makes the axles turn.  Then I pointed out the axle and explained how it turns the wheels.  He was fascinated.

And then, when we came to a stop, he was all business, hopping out and running off to play in the wooden train and castle.  When “Princess C.” left the castle for the super slides, he went running after her, telling me, “Mommy, I want to find Princess C again.  Because I love her.”

And so it begins.

But, blogfriends, it doesn’t end there.  As I was running to the drugstore tonight, Widget climbed into my lap and said, “Mommy, I want to go with you to the store. Because I love you.”  Yeah. 

Little boy, your Mommy loves you too.