Monday, July 11, 2011

Silicone Bitch: South Florida Social Media Day and the Bigger Picture

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

mashable social media day key west 2011Our neighbors in Key West also had a Social Media Day meetup and this photo was one of 10 chosen from around the world along with Miami's. Not bad for South Florida! Stacy Green, Director of Communications at Mashable, was present in the Monroe County gathering. More photos at Mashable.

Recent online discussion between Carlos Miller's post about Social Media Day at Miami Beach 411 and a lengthy comment thread at South Florida Daily Blog got me thinking about a few things that perhaps bear repeating in this column, so here we go.

If you're not familiar with the subject at hand, it boils down to this: Social Media Day is a worldwide meet-up day promoted by Mashable, a top source for news on social media and digital culture, "to celebrate the revolution of media becoming social." In Miami, Jimmy'z Wynwood Kitchen offered Social Media Day attendees freebies and discounts on food and drink while Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill did not. Apparently, some people got pissed at the latter and Miller wrote about it, capturing some of the bitching on video.


What happened with Sugarcane barely reflects the overall social media community in South Florida and I hope that Miller's article doesn't sour people to what that community is really like. We are a group of professionals, largely from fields involving communications, who use social media in a variety of ways: for fun, career purposes, personal branding or all of the above. Some of us even get paid to help individuals or companies figure it all out.

Actually, just go to any Social Media Club South Florida meeting and you'll see more than communications specialists. You'll also see a cross section of people from various walks of life and different industries -- from doctors to lawyers and scientists to teachers, athletes and more -- all gathering to learn and share. These aren't purely social gatherings but mini-conferences during which a moderator and a carefully selected panel discuss their best practices and field questions from the audience.

We are not a bunch of whiny brats complaining about expensive drinks. We move and shake and make things happen in the community at a grassroots level. We are really good at networking. We build bridges between businesses and community. We espouse good causes and get people excited about good things that make South Florida a better place. It isn't just about the parties.

Let me also add web and soft tech groups that overlap with social media here. Refresh South Florida and New Tech Community, to name just two; we are all connected because the geeks make the tools we use for social media and the geeks "get it." Add to this SFIMA (South Florida Interactive Marketing Association) and The Startup Forum (an entrepreneurship forum focused on, but not limited to, the tech sector) and you see that the overlapping network is broad reaching. The social media community is way more than just a circle jerk of a few cronies. (Although there are circle jerks out there, believe me.)


One article about a meet-up barely scratches the surface on what is really going on. No one, to the best of my knowledge, is properly covering the social media and web tech scene both locally and nationally (national topics that would interest South Florida readers) on a consistent, exhaustive basis.

I did it for eight months at Miami New Times under Silicon Beach, posting three times a week. I resigned because I couldn't justify the amount of time it took to properly cover the beat at a meager level of compensation. (Nothing against Miami New Times, I loved working with my editor Duran and publisher Strouse, but I just couldn't afford it, and this, sadly, is true for many publications and writers out there.)

I started Silicone Bitch on this blog because I wanted to at least continue covering as much as I could without the pressure and time suck.

To thoroughly cover the scene, you need to make yourself available to attend many meetings, panels, conferences and of course social gatherings hosted by various groups. In recent years, the field has grown to the point where there is something going on almost every day. Factor in drive time in the tri-county area and you're looking at -- not kidding -- about twenty hours a week at least. Also, you need to connect with and interview many people deeply immersed in the industry on a national level, which means you are always "on" in your online and personal social networks.

And finally, you also need to remain as unbiased as humanly possible. This is one reason why I have never been a board member of Social Media Club even though I have been involved with it on some level since day one. It is important to be part of it while remaining somewhat detached. You shouldn't be too quick to judge, because you are dealing with many different layers of complexity in the social and business arena.

In my experience covering this scene, I have found it important not to burn any bridges because I am, ultimately, representing the community at large -- I'm supporting it because I appreciate what it's doing.

This doesn't mean I have to cover up a mess or paint a pretty picture. (This column isn't called Silicone Bitch just because it's a catchy title.) It simply means that I understand the intricate ties among the community, the insider stories, the rumors and what not, and that being a voice, I'm careful to not jump to any conclusions. I would encourage anyone else who is writing about social media in any community anywhere to really get their feet wet first.

This is one thing that was reiterated constantly at the recent National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference. In online media, it's important to be right, not first. It's important to build trust in your audience. (More on that in an upcoming post.)


The original motto for Social Media Club, the mothership organization with members all over the world, is: "if you get it, share it." Most people in our social media community do get it and do share it. We're about bringing together and connecting, not creating division or antipathy.

I'm saying this because there are some naysayers out there who want to poo-poo on social media. That's ok. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But social media is only doing what humans have done since time immemorial, it's just that now we harness the power of the internet to share and stay connected. (I philosophized about this extensively in my post about yoga and social media.)

Just because you don't use Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare doesn't mean you aren't using social media. Guess what? If you are reading this, you are already using social media. If you blog, you are part of the foundation for social media. And if you don't blog but read and comment on blogs, you're still riding the wave.

Trying to avoid social media if you're part of any digital communication space is like trying to outrun a tsunami. There are ways you can use it to enhance (but not takeover) your life. A lot of good has come from social media for individuals and businesses. Maybe a list of that warrants another post.


I have already discussed tweetups extensively elsewhere on Silicone Bitch and in my former column at Miami New Times, but to repeat here: not every tweetup is a social media gathering; sometimes "tweetups" are events put on by a company to attract customers. Calling something a tweetup when it's not is a big pet peeve of mine. I won't get into it here and yes, I sometimes find myself obligated to attend those corporate events, too.

But let's take a look at social media event planning for a moment. I'd like to encourage anyone who plans an event to assume that everyone reading the invitation is a moron with ADD. Assume the least common denominator here. Even people with razor-sharp focus are busy and frazzled. Your guests need all the information they can get in an easy, digestible format.

I have been to many social media events where the details were unclear or missing. The parking thing annoys me to no end. Do not assume that people are going to know where to park or how much parking is going to cost. Put everything in writing.

A case study ...

There was some talk about Sugarcane not living up to its drink specials on Foursquare Day back in April. Here's the event invite, which was copied and pasted to various websites and retweeted ad nauseum. I'm not sure who wrote this invitation, by the way.

"The Miami area Meet Up will start at 4:16 PM at Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill. There will be a special $4.16 drink specials and a 4SQDAY certificate of official recognition from the city of Miami Beach. Stop by to celebrate before 8 PM for some one on one time with your foursquare friends."

Not only is the phrasing grammatically incorrect "a special $4.16 drink specials" but there is nothing to indicate what the specials are. As it turns out, $4.16 was only for specific drinks. What the invitation should have read is this:

"There will be $4.16 drink specials from [insert start end end time] on [drink names] for Foursquare Day."

Or, in the event that drink specials were TBA when the invitation went out: "Ask your bartender about particular drink specials."

This may sound like a really petty thing to focus on, but communication needs to be clear between the restaurant and the event organizer as well as the event organizer and guests. And guests, you too should not assume that the restaurant and the organizer have their shit together. As a rule, any time I go to any event, I always ask the server what the specials are anyway.

(My comments here aren't meant to criticize @alexdc and @sebrusk, who tried their best to put Social Media Day together at Sugarcane in a very short time. Not having drink specials really wasn't a big deal and nowhere on the invite did it say there would be drink specials, so there were no surprises.)


While Sugarcane may have not been up to speed on drink specials this Social Media Day, it has been supportive of other gatherings in the past. And I want to add here that this particular event by no means overshadows the dozens upon dozens of restaurants and venues that have collaborated with social media, web tech and other related groups. Just look at the list of events that have taken place and you'll find everything from burger joints to five-star hotels in South Florida that have gotten involved sponsoring everything from food, drinks, staff, meeting space and more.

I'm not trying to single out Sugarcane as the one venue that doesn't care. What I am trying to say is that what happened on Social Media Day is not indicative of what happens at large.


Lastly, I want to apologize to Sugarcane for putting my face on Miller's video. When I walked into Jimmy'z, the chant was going on and I got sucked into it. I really thought it was a joke at first and I regretted it almost immediately. I didn't think Miller was really going to post it; he records a lot on his Flipcam but only a small percentage of it ends up online.

I also didn't think the article would be published on Miami Beach 411, a website that I've contributed to for about six years and which I believe does a great deal to build community in a constructive, diplomatic manner.

Miller had, I believe, a more appropriate outlet for a rant. Earlier this year, he created a funny, tongue-in-cheek website called Social Media Puto in which he writes in the third person with brazen sarcasm, making fun of everything that is laughable about social media.

For the record, Miller is a good friend of mine. Even though we disagree on some issues and our individual ways of handling them, we have shared many a beer and done some great projects together. He is entitled to his way of seeing the world and just because we may sometimes be polar opposites in our sensibilities doesn't mean I don't respect the great work he has done, especially in the photography and first amendment rights field.

But since I have been writing about the local social media scene for some time now, I felt it was necessary to widen public perception and offer the blogosphere a bigger picture.

And finally: I personally have worked with Sugarcane in the past and have no issues patronizing the restaurant in the future (try their chicken and waffles and beet mojitos and you'll see why). Yes, I did experience bad bartender service on Social Media Day but that won't keep me from patronizing the restaurant.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Miami's Aviation History

flight to havana from Miami
An article about Cubana Airlines' "Tropicana Special" flight from Miami to Havana in Cabaret Magazine, 1957.

There was a time in Miami when the party wasn't in South Beach but in Havana. You certainly didn't have to wait until you landed in Cuba to get your drink on. The party started on the flight, with live music, a floor show and the appeal of the exotic when mojito wasn't a mainstream word on the U.S. mainland.

Things would change regarding flights to Cuba, of course, but Miami would continue to grow as a main airway hub for the Americas. Today, Miami International is the country's second largest airport by volume of international passengers.

Miami played an important role in aviation history as far back as 1911 when Miamians witnessed the first ever flight over its sunny skies. Future major Everest Sewell and aviator Howard Gill flew over golf courses on a Wright Brothers winged biplane, much to the amazement of those city dwellers who had never seen an aircraft. Over the decades, Miami would be home to aviation training and host to sky-bound celebrities.

The new exhibit at History Miami museum puts it all on display for you, chock full of interesting tidbits for Miami trivia fans.

Here are just a few that caught my eye:
  • Burdine's flew gowns to Miami from New York on the first air mail route connecting both cities. (For you spring chickens out there, Burdine's was the original Miami department store, brought out by Macy's.)
  • Amelia Earhart began one of her around-the-world flights in Miami so that Pan Am's mechanics, reputed to be some of the best in the world, could inspect her plane.
  • The Pan-American Field had the first modern passenger terminal in the United States.
  • Many female instructors took over Embry-Riddle's aviation classrooms during World War II.
  • Charles Lindbergh flew several inaugural flights between Miami and Latin America.
The exhibit dig deep into more history including the rash of hijacking incidents in the 70's related to strained relationships between the U.S. and Cuba -- a far cry from that pre-revolutionary "nightclub in the sky." What with flight restrictions to the island easing up this year, it's still doubtful flying to Cuba will ever be a party.

Flying just isn't as pleasurable as it used to be, no matter what the destination. An exhibit panel on Mohamed Atta, the 9/11 terrorist who trained in a Florida flight school, offers a grim reminder.

Aviation in Miami: The First 100 Years is on display until July 22, 2012 and features lectures and films. The exhibit is free on Wine Down Wednesdays (first Wednesdays of most months). For more details, visit History Miami.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Silicone Bitch: Birth Mother Connects with Adopted Son on Facebook

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

His loving kiss
Photo via Caseywest on Flickr.

Today we depart from our usual South Florida focus for a true story about a birth mother, an adopted son and how Facebook facilitated their meeting. Without the social network, the process would have been held back by the very same protocol designed to protect adopted children. Names have been changed to protect identities.


Jane was your typical teenager, a good student, full of hopes and dreams for the future. But her senior year would turn her life around with challenges most of us never think to face until adulthood.

She fell in love. She got pregnant. Her father had a heart attack. She became a caregiver.

At 18, the girl with hopes and dreams was a single mom high school dropout.

This was South Carolina, 1983. This was before shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, before high schools started accommodating young mothers and their babies, before people spoke as openly as they do today about teenage sex and pregnancy.

Jane’s father eventually succumbed to a second heart attack and passed away. Her mother couldn’t really help and her baby’s father stepped out of the picture, marrying someone else soon after baby boy Shaun was born.

Struggling to stay afloat, unable to provide for her baby, she found herself with no other choice but to give up the child to adoption.

Jane’s ordeal turned out to be blessing for the adoptive parents; they had been trying to conceive for 13 years, so Shaun couldn’t have appeared at a better moment.

Little did they know they’d all be blessed again nearly three decades later.


Jane would eventually move on with her life. She got her GED, graduated from the University of South Carolina and married a wonderful man who already had children.

The thought of Shaun was always in Jane’s heart though she knew little about him. “My child was an abstract thought to me,” Jane said during a phone interview. “I knew his adopted parents were great people, but that’s as close as I got.”

Jane always kept her records up to date with the adoption agency, just in case Shaun ever wanted to find her; however, there was nothing she could do to contact him. Adoption agencies enforce a strict protocol to protect children, even when they’re all grown up.

Reunions don’t always guarantee happy endings. Some adoptees have contacted their birth parents, only to be derided and ostracized in what could only be a painful emotional experience.

But even with the best of intentions, when the parent and child express a mutual desire to meet, it could still takes months, if not longer, to make that happen.


Last year, Shaun turned 26 and experienced some chest pains, which prompted him to unseal his birth records and learn more about his blood family’s medical history.

He always knew he was an adopted child and his parents were very supportive. “I was very lucky. My parents told me: ‘whenever you want to meet your birth parents, we’re right behind you,’ ” Shaun explained over the phone.

Shaun contacted the adoption agency and soon thereafter exchanged some letters with Jane through proxy mailing addresses. The letters were censored; any information revealing potential contact data was blacked out, FBI style.

When it was becoming clear that they were getting along via correspondence and that were was nothing but love and support for Shaun in his desire to get to know his birth mother, Jane made a bold move: she friend requested him on Facebook, bypassing the adoption agency restrictions.

Shaun had mentioned his martial arts instructor in one of his letters. The former had three friends on Facebook with the same name as Shaun’s. Even though Jane had never laid eyes on Shaun, she instantly recognized his Facebook profile photo. He looked a lot like her, but was truly the spitting image of his birth father.

Shaun didn’t hesitate to friend her back.

Within two weeks, they met in person.

“It was very shocking,” Shaun explained, “But at the same time, I also had people who would help me get through it. Jane and I clicked from day one and we instantly jumped into a relationship. We ‘get’ each other.”

Jane’s life changed as well. The mother and son, who live only six hours apart between South Carolina and Virginia, meet regularly.

Jane did get a verbal scolding from the adoption agency, but had she stuck by the rules, their initial face-to-face contact may have dragged out far longer than they were willing to wait.

Jane and Shaun remain active on Facebook, posting on each other’s walls and sharing photos. Facebook keeps them connected socially.


This story doesn’t just end happily for the reunited mother and son. Even though Jane’s husband lost his own son in 2006, the connection is a blessing. “Shaun’s presence has helped heal his heart,” Jane said. “My husband loves Shaun.”

“I never had any other children,” Jane continued. “But we spend time together now and it has changed my life completely. I’m close to his adoptive parents. They’re wonderful. And he’s my mom’s only grandchild. Let’s just say Shaun had a really good Christmas last year.”