Archive | July, 2009

Snake Oil in the Social Mediasphere

13 Jul

imagesSo many self-proclaimed social media gurus are full of it. They confuse quantity with quality, and juvenile behavior with “authenticity.” Use of social media does not equal expertise in leveraging the medium for business purposes.

These days, there’s a fair dose of snake oil being peddled by people seeking to make a profit. Business advisors encouraging companies to hire a  “social media expert” lead to further confusion, setting aside real strategic decision-making for reactive jumping-on-the-bandwagon.

Just because someone’s using social media doesn’t make them a go-to for solving business problems. This is like saying that because a person can dial the telephone and talk with every friend in an afternoon that they are an expert in sales. It just doesn’t work that way.

Here are four recommendations for identifying a purveyor of social media snake oil:

  1. Take a look at their design aesthetic. Is the color palette of their blog reminiscent of the choices you would have made as a teenager? Just because you can make your blog header bright pink doesn’t mean that you should. Appearances do matter, and this is a signal that they are not playing to a business demographic. Taste is not something we’re all born with. Most of us develop it over time, through trial and error.
  2. Read their blog. Does it include self-promotional and narcissistic photos and a minimum of useful content, primarily focused on their drinking exploits? Is there a preponderance of lol, omg and cul8r? This is self-absorption that they’ll mature out of, but you probably don’t have time to observe the process of growing up. Let them interact with the newbies in the industry and pay their dues before they get credit for being a “guru.” Experience counts. Come back in 5-10 years.
  3. How much content do their tweets deliver? If they are mainly flirting with people or trash-talking with friends, this is another reason to filter them out. Sharing information is key on social media, but being mindful of what’s worth sharing is the “twetiquette” to live by. Some do not switch gears to DMs when a one-on-one conversation is started on Twitter, and that’s a shame. Knowing when to go off-line or on a private line is a judgment easy to make and honestly appreciated by the Twitterverse. A high frequency of  tweets does not get one access to the ranks of the Twitterati.
  4. Is their point of view “authentic” in a style that can be converted to play in a business setting? The beauty of social media is each individual’s ability to establish a uniquely authentic voice. Just as all voices are not welcome at the board table, not all social media voices are worth tuning into for business purposes. Being authentic in the business world probably does not include over-use of emoticons, IM abbreviations or stream-of-consciousness chatter. High-quality tweets consolidate big ideas, embedded in tiny urls and spartanly precise word choice. They are mini-headlines that when mined open new worlds for the reader.

Remember, there’s a “me” in social media, but it comes after the “social”–meaning that awareness of social standards is still good sense and good business.

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The Bee’s Knees and Vintage Style

11 Jul
Photo of Bee Jackson, courtesy of Phrase Finder.

Photo of Bee Jackson, courtesy of Phrase Finder.

Talk amongst yourselves: What is the real-world definition of “the bee’s knees?”

I found a site today that fits the bill for this interesting phrase: Queens of Vintage. This is a light-hearted take on all things fashionista, historical and cultural–including interiors, clothing and zeitgeist–about the mid-20th century. One of my favorite periods, for all things about its “look and feel.” The only thing missing is some commentary on my friend Ben Storck’s Modern One, a furniture source for mid-century aficionados.

Here are some of the undeniable benefits from the so-called “mid century:”

  • The fedora hat
  • Red lipstick
  • Fashions for women not requiring starvation or extreme diets..except for the latter 50s and into the 60s (we can overlook that)
  • A magical time in American history, with innumerable innovations and forward-thinking positive attitude

Now that you’ve had a few moments to reflect on the meaning of “the bee’s knees,” I will spill the beans. This information, quoted directly from the Phrase Finder, includes origins from an Ohio newspaper and a 1920s flapper who was the World Champion Charleston Dancer. There are also additional word-lovers’ nuggets here too important to ignore, including a phrase often-used by my grandmother, “snake hips.”

So I’ve included the long excerpt, along with the site’s photo of Bee Jackson’s famous knees. Read on and enjoy….

There’s no definitive origin for ‘the bee’s knees’, but it appears to have been coined in 1920s America. The first printed reference to it I can find is in the Ohio newspaper The Newark Advocate, April 1922, under the heading ‘What Does It Mean?’:

“That’s what you wonder when you hear a flapper chatter in typical flapper language. ‘Apple Knocker,’ for instance. And ‘Bees Knees.’ That’s flapper talk. This lingo will be explained in the woman’s page under the head of Flapper Dictionary.” [an ‘apple knocker’ is a rustic]

Clearly the phrase must have been new then for the paper to plan to take the trouble to define it. Disappointingly, they didn’t follow up on their promise and ‘the lingo’ wasn’t subsequently explained. Several U.S. newspapers did feature lists of phrases under ‘Flapper Dictionary’ headings. Although ‘bee’s knees’ isn’t featured, they do show the time as being a period of quirky linguistic coinage. For example, from one such Flapper Dictionary:

Kluck – dumb person.
Dumb kluck – worse than a kluck.
Pollywoppus – meaningless stuff.
Fly-paper – a guy who sticks around.

There’s no profound reason to relate bees and knees other than the jaunty-sounding rhyme. In the 1920s it was fashionable to devise nonsense terms for excellence – ‘the snake’s hips’, ‘the kipper’s knickers”, ‘the cat’s pyjamas’, ‘the sardine’s whiskers’ etc. Of these, the bee’s knees and the cat’s pyjamas are the only ones that have stood the test of time. More recently, we see the same thing – the ‘dog’s bollocks‘.

(Note: knickers weren’t underwear then – even for kippers. At least, one would hope not – the edition of the Newark Advocate above also had the headline ‘Bride Wears Knickers To Wedding’.)

One possible connection between the phrase and an actual bee relates to Bee Jackson. Ms. Jackson was a dancer in 1920s New York and is credited with introducing the dance to Broadway in February, 1924, when she appeared at the Silver Slipper nightclub. She went on to become the World Champion Charleston dancer and was quite celebrated at the time.

It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the expression was coined in reference to her (and her very active knees).

Now, armed with your new 1920s lexicon, go forth with dropped waist and meaningless lingo that will confuse all your friends. Personally, I am eagerly awaiting my next opportunity to leverage “the sardine’s whiskers.”

On Manners

7 Jul
Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Manners are subjective. There are few remaining standards for proper behavior, as recently noted by The New York Times columnist David Brooks. One person’s rude neighbor is another’s best friend. My philosophy is basically live and let live, so I am fairly patient with people’s idiosyncrasies that could be misconstrued as bad behavior.

But one thing that gets my goat is people who are just plain rude. I had a very strict kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Hudson who had a panoply of characters posted above the blackboard. Rude Robert was the most gauche. Above all, in Mrs. Hudson’s class of 5-year-olds, it was bottom of the barrel to be Rude Robert.

Disrespect for the elderly is a pet peeve of mine. The other day en route to work I was coming down the stairs at the parking garage. A young professional-looking guy breezed past me in the stairwell and proceeded to nearly knock over an older woman lower down the flight. I felt badly for the woman he almost knocked over. Not just because she risked a tumble—this was a situation where the proper thing to do, out of respect for her age, was just slow the heck down and politely let her lead the way to the foot of the stairs. Zoom past her then, by all means, but just let her get down the stairs with her dignity intact.

Another example: Being snubbed. When in public settings, it is not necessary to flap one’s arms and flag down acquaintances from across the room. But some sign of recognition, a simple nod in shared acknowledgment of coexistence and common experience, is appropriate and a sign of mutual respect. Long conversation is not required, but no one wants to be blatantly ignored. Just bad form.

One more: littering. Throwing trash out the window of one’s car is just wrong. I remember in the 70s when we kids were encouraged to call people “litterbugs” for not respecting the environment. One time when on the ski lift with my daughter, we boarded behind two fun-loving 20-ish women. They cleaned out the pockets of their parkas and tossed candy wrappers, beer cans and kleenex underneath the lift. At times like this, my inner vigilante comes out. First, do not litter. And second, don’t set a bad example for kids. On the way down the hill, I speared their trash on my ski pole. It was easy to see, because there was NO OTHER TRASH on the hill, since POLITE PEOPLE know not to litter. When my daughter and I arrived back in line for the lift, lo and behold, there were the young ladies. I told them they left something on the hill. They said, “No, we didn’t,” and I said, “Oh YES you did.” There were lots of other people in line, and it is not pleasant to be held publicly accountable for something you didn’t think anyone saw you do. Oops.

And finally…stealing. Again, some people think that this is okay if no one sees them doing it. I don’t think so. Once while at church, I was in the cry room with my toddler (a few years ago!) and saw a man steal a bike from the rack in front of the church. Again, vigilante action. I told a friend to watch my kid and ran out of the church, knowing that no one else saw this happen. I chased the man across the street shouting, “Thief!” Public embarrassment, again, ruled the day. He dropped the bike and ran off to find another something to steal.

Bad manners make us less complete as humans, in relationship to ourselves and others. It’s not a matter of looking or acting properly—it has to do with treating humanity, even oneself, with dignity.

A Tale of Loup City

3 Jul
Communism among the Cornhuskers!

Communism among the Cornhuskers!

Loup City, Nebraska is in the center of the country. Pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s so small that the intersections do not have stop signs. Whoever’s on the right goes first.

When my in-laws decided to move here a couple of years ago, we were not sure why. Now it makes more sense.

My husband’s family has always been about big family gatherings, involving large doses of food and opinion. His parents bought their house in Clintonville/Columbus, Ohio before he was born, and he and his four sisters lived there until they moved out. I can appreciate that, having moved more than a dozen times with my parents before moving into my own place—including a few moves right down the street. There’s something to be said for continuity.

But the concept of family togetherness changed after my husband’s oldest sister died at 43. She had lung cancer but never smoked a cigarette in her life. From diagnosis to death, she had 8 months. It was a painful time for everyone in the family, and she is still greatly missed. The old house in Clintonville just had too many memories of growing up. The other three sisters had already moved away, to the coasts, but my in-laws were still in that house full of memories. They had to move on.

That’s what prompted the relocation to Loup City. I’ve got to hand it to my in-laws. They wrote their own solution to their sadness, and they did it in a way that’s true to their values of family and time spent together.

This is sort of a biblical family name rundown, also in the style of Tolstoy, so bear with me: My husband’s Aunt Janie, my mother-in-law Sandy’s sister, started it off. She bought a house in Loup City that belonged to their mother’s family. My husband’s grandmother, Helen Lewandowski Sorenson, was born in Loup City. The town was settled primarily by Polish and Danish immigrants. Her parents were Polish, off the boat. Her husband’s parents were Danish, off the boat.

Then, my in-laws Sandy and Tim bought Grandma Sorenson’s parents’ house. This was a house where Janie and Sandy had fond memories of visiting their grandparents, Valeria and Waldemar Lewandowski.

Now, for the second summer in a row, all of the family members have converged in Loup City. It’s a vacation choice difficult to explain, on the surface. But when everyone is here, overrunning Sandy and Janie’s houses with 11 cousins and four sets of parents, plus the grandparents and great-aunt, there is a sense of family that has historical threads and a path to the future.

There’s not much to do. We ride old bikes and take walks around “town,” visit the Polish Historical Society and the new town pool. My in-laws have renovated the old house true to its original trappings and have resuscitated the old garden in the backyard. This year, they are celebrating their 50th anniversary in their Loup City home, and we have flocked here from afar to commemorate their commitment to each other—and their ability to move forward past their sadness.