How old were you when you first learned not to talk to strangers?
It's one of those rules parents try to instill at an early age, right up there with eating vegetables and not watching TV before finishing homework. In my adult life, I've fallen short in all regards. Anyone who's seen my photos on Foodspotting knows I don't eat nearly enough produce, I'm prone to playing Angry Birds when there's work to do, and it's part of the job to talk to strangers all the time. Beyond that, though, I'm realizing that I've been benefiting regularly by listening to strangers.
Consider an example from my recent travels to Washington D.C. Thursday night, after arriving in the nation's capital, my wife and I drove straight to dinner at Birch & Barley, a trendy restaurant that boasts over 500 beers on the menu. My wife had heard of the spot from various sources, and gastronomes tend to vouch for it.
While waiting for our table, I checked in on Foursquare and then checked out the tips, a couple of which referenced brunch. Then I checked in on Yelp's app, which has the useful feature of highlighting the most frequently cited phrases in a location's reviews. Yelpers apparently are crazy about Birch's chicken and waffles, a dish that wasn't on the dinner menu. Well into what was proving to be one of the best meals either of us had eaten, I asked the waiter if brunch was a different experience, and he started telling us about the new menu. Before dessert arrived, I had booked a Sunday brunch reservation with the OpenTable app.
The whole process traversed four stages that make recommendations effective: discovery, validation, confirmation, and actualization. We'll look at all four, specifically in how they're used in mobile situations.
1) Discovery: Recommendations need to be readily accessible. Right now, more technologically savvy consumers can find location-based recommendations easily through check-in services, Twitter, barcode scanning, and other means. To gain wider adoption, they'll have to gain even wider distribution, especially through default mapping and local search offerings on both feature phones and smartphones.
2) Relevance: The recommendations need to resonate in some way with their audience. At Birch & Barley, there were more recommendations for the Brussels sprouts than brunch, but I quickly ignored them and forgot about the vegetables. Food's a salient example, but this could relate to anything. When I shop at J. Crew, it won't help if I only see mentions of women's clothing. When I'm at a hotel, I'll care more about the WiFi than the spa. Venues and location-based marketers will need to know their audience.
3) Validation: Consumers must make sure there's some credible reason to listen to the recommendation. If there's one reviewer saying something that strikes a deeply personal chord, it may not matter at all who that reviewer is. In my case, there could be one tourist from Kazakhstan raving about fried chicken, and I'm fine taking a chance. Most of the time, other cues are needed. These factors include: quantity -- the sheer number of recommendations listed; convergence -- several reviews echoing similar notes; and proximity -- how closely you identify with the reviewers.
There are degrees of proximity. Complete strangers are the least credible, unless it's a relatively small and like-minded community (this can even apply to Foursquare today). Brands familiar to a consumer will provide a useful filter; around D.C., I consistently found sound, reliable information from AskMen, C-Span, Epicurious, and The History Channel. Then there are the spheres of known acquaintances and close contacts. Other cues can come from local subject matter experts, such as when I needed to ask the waiter about brunch and gauge his reaction before making a reservation.
4) Actualization: How can a consumer take action? Can someone act on it right there? Is it close by? Is there a long wait? Is there any compelling reason to do something about it sooner rather than later? These forces can determine if the payoff will happen and what kind of latency is involved.
Reading it like that, recommendations look like a lot of work. Satisfied customers don't think much about it, though, as for them it's all about the reward.
This is a little off topic for this blog, but after about 20 comments and counting on photos I posted on Facebook, I had to share a few details on what I was up to this weekend.
I was invited to a dinner party, and the host, knowing my sweet tooth, asked if I'd bring dessert. First, I went to the annual International Food Festival on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and picked up a couple apple pies - crowd pleasers. But I wanted a little something extra.
Then a flash came to me. A few months back, a friend Mike Fisher noted he made bacon brownies. All he told me about them was that he cooked the bacon in the brownie pans so that the brownies would use the bacon grease.
Building from there, here's how I went about it:
First, I cooked the bacon in the oven at 350. I used a pound of bacon in two brownie pans, one a standard 9x13 and one a bit smaller (give or take). The brand doesn't matter, but I used the thickest, juiciest looking package I could find.
As the bacon cooked, I prepped the brownies from scratch. If you want to do something really quick, use the Kraft iFood Assistant if you have an iPhone or BlackBerry. I tried this and it had some great ideas, including Oreo brownies that I considered, though that would have been overkill for this mission.
I Googled other recipes and found one on AllRecipes for Quick and Easy Brownies with over 600 reviews and nearly five stars, and there were no fancy twists here. It's just sugar, butter, cocoa powder, vanilla, eggs, flour, baking powder, and salt. I scratched the walnuts from the original recipe and used 1 cup of flour instead of 1.5 cups based on feedback from reviewers on making the brownies chewier (actually, I doubled the whole recipe, so 2 cups instead of 3 - I like baking in bulk). One confession: I forgot the baking powder. The brownies still rose and you'd never know the difference; I've eaten enough brownies and couldn't tell. I think the bacon fumes were getting to my brain.
After I prepped the brownie batter, I took the crispy bacon out of the oven and poured most of the bacon grease in a bowl. I used a paper towl dabbed in the grease to fully coat every bit of the inside of the brownie pans, and then poured most of the rest of the grease in the batter itself, stirring some more.
I then poured about half the batter, maybe a bit more, into the pans. Then I layered the bacon on the batter and poured more batter on top. You can see the midpoint below with the smaller pan.
Again, the photo above is before I layered the rest of the batter on top to fully coat it. Then I put the pans in the oven, still at 350 as it was when I first cooked the bacon. The aroma of the oven that had the bacon cooking in it can only help the recipe.
Now I continued to improvise. I still had extra bacon (I bought two pounds and only used one so far). I cooked this in a pan on the stove while the brownies were bacon, getting it fairly crispy. I let this bacon cool for just a minute on a plate lined with paper towel - it wasn't the grease I was after here. Then I moved it right to the food processor, turned it on for a minute, and wound up with homemade bacon bits. Growing up on the fake stuff, this was a real treat - these flavor-packed granules of fresh bacon.
Once the brownies seemed to be five or ten minutes away from fully baked, I opened the oven, slid out the racks, grabbed the bacon bits by the handful, and sprinkled them across all the brownies. I used about a third of a pound of bacon in this, again for the double recipe of brownies. You want to make sure to have enough to get some on every brownie, as this aspect is sheer overkill. It also adds a fun crisp texture to the top of the brownies, and if you wind up taking a bite of a brownie and eat the bacon in the middle first, there's still some extra real bacon on top.
Take the brownies out of the oven when they pass the toothpick test - a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, without brownie batter clinging to it. And if it seems to take extra long, just don't burn the suckers. For me, perhaps the combo of adding bacon grease to the batter and then forgetting baking powder increased the cooking time. The good news for anyone replicating this: I wasn't being too cautious and even used two plans with very different depths and dimensions, and it all came out well - not a single bite was noticeably overcooked or undercooked.
Here's how the brownies looked when they came out of the oven, this being the larger pan. I missed a few spots with the bacon bits but was trying not to burn myself. That objective was also successfully achieved.
Once the brownies cool enough, cut them with a very sharp knife. You need to slice through the bacon.
Lastly, enjoy! And try not too eat too many in one sitting.
Originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
If you were going to create a new application or tool to take
advantage of the current trends in social media, what elements would you
include? Add your thoughts in the comments, but I'll share my wish list.
First, there should be some mobile component, or it should be
entirely mobile. Much of the social media innovation currently is on the mobile
front, and it dovetails with consumer media usage patterns.
Next, it should be tied to consumers' locations. GPS is one of
those so-called killer apps for mobile devices, and it's almost a waste of the
mobile device not to incorporate location in some way.
It should probably look like an application, rather than a mobile
You'll probably want to include check-ins as some component of it,
but maybe not have that as the entire purpose. We still don't know how far the
check-in craze will go or if it will scale.
You'd want to incorporate the camera. After talking and texting,
photography is generally the next most popular mobile activity across age
If you're really smart, you'll incorporate the one thing social
media users can't shut up about: Justin Bieber. Or food. And in aggregate, food
is probably slightly more popular than Bieber and has a little more staying
power. So yes, the safe bet's on food.
There should be points, providing a layer of social currency.
Finally, you'll create a lexicon around what you're doing.
Facebook owns the word "fan," Twitter owns "follow," and
Foursquare may well own "check in," and definitely owns
"mayor." Creating or defining a language around the experience can
further enmesh consumers' consciousness.
If you throw all of these together, you wind up with Foodspotting, which I effectively just
deconstructed ("Top Chef" fans will appreciate the gastronomic
reference). Unlike some of the location-based check-in applications like
Foursquare and Gowalla that are really only valuable for users who participate,
Foodspotting caters to both content producers and more passive consumers, which
instantly expands its potential reach.
Obsessive foodies are the primary target. They can upload photos
of what they eat, enter the item name and where it was photographed, and then
optionally add commentary before uploading it. They earn points when posting
photos, and also when others say they want to "nom" dishes pictured.
There's also a much broader audience of anyone who wants to find a
good place to eat -- the same people who would check Citysearch, Yelp, or
Menupages. Instead of looking up starred reviews, they can flip through photos
of food near them. It can help consumers decide where to eat, or even what to
eat when they're there. Last week, I was dining at Urban Farmer, a steakhouse in
Portland, Ore., with two others, and loaded up the Foodspotting iPhone app,
which immediately displayed a photo of a butterscotch sundae from that
restaurant. I checked with the waitress to see if the dessert was any good, and
she loved it. Not only did we each order one, but one of my compatriots changed
his dining plans to save room (this may shock you, but I had no such
Appealing to these two audience will make the difference between a
lot of these emerging sites, apps, and platforms. If they're just focused on
the content creators, that's great -- there are enough of them that they can
sustain a profitable business. Forrester's technographics
tool shows 24% of U.S. Internet users are "creators," and the
number's been growing. But there's a broader audience that needs to be served.
Even content creators are usually behaving like Forrester's
"spectators"; I spend far more time reading blogs than blogging, and
I read at least a hundred Menupages reviews for every one that I write.
Foodspotting provides value for those engaging in search and discovery rather
than constant content creation. That's true for Twitter and Facebook too, in a
way that's not as true for Foursquare, Gowalla, Plancast, and other services
that are attracting a lot of buzz right now. Most of us are spectators, we're
often influenced by content creators, and we want to reap the value from that
If we can't, we'll just have to find the next bandwagon to hop on,
which undoubtedly will be Bieberspotting.
Full disclosure: the product featured here was sent to me by a friend.
Fuller disclosure: he wasn't asking me to blog about these at all. He just had some inside information about the latest Peeps product and knew I loved this kind of stuff. I'm really just blogging it for fun. And since the product's so new, there's barely any content out there and I figured it'd be fun being among the first.
After all that, the post's pretty short. A friend sent me a box of new dark chocolate covered marshmallow peeps. I ate too many. I gave some out at EventCamp NYC 2010. I didn't have enough to share them with my office. They're very good - they don't quite replace the normal Peeps covered in sugar crystals (I still love those), but they are a great complement.
But before all the destruction was done, I photographed and shot video of the experience. I've embedded the Flickr and YouTube versions below. Since it was a box of them, the YouTube one counts as an 'unboxing' (the meme of shooting a video of opening a new product - usually associated with tech gadgets like an iPhone or Wii).
Enjoy. And if you want the physical goods, either wait until they're rolled out close to Easter, or buy them in milk or dark chocolate - by the box.
Final disclosure: I like milk chocolate even better, which of course figures since it's not as 'good for you' as dark chocolate. But these dark chocolate ones were pretty damn good.
The event started the way every event should: with milk and cookies. But then
the panel got sizzling. Here’s a recap of highlights:
Question: How is social media changing things?
Amanda: Publishing used to be more top down and social media
changed that dramatically.
Merrill: Our commenting system keeps conversation going.
Emily: For traditional media, it’s a challenge. Our systems
are optimized to send out a magazine to a million+ people and not get much back.
“Changing that is a challenge but it’s an extraordinary opportunity.” Our
product improves with feedback. We use it to engage with our users, to promote
our content, and for inspiration.
Liza: I can’t believe the power of social media. “I was a
nobody six months ago.” Social media helped fulfill a dream.
Nick: We forget that email is the core of social media –
“it’s the mother ship… Today, we take that for granted.” Replying to their
newsletters goes to his inbox. Facebook and Twitter are important - “Twitter is
a means of filling in the gaps between stories.”
Nicole: Social media is the sole reason Hot Grease has been
so popular. “I try to remember that everyone is not on Twitter” as she’s not a
big Facebook person.
Cathy: I thought there was something a little unfulfilled
with having so many nameless friends. I don’t want to forget the real-life
social aspect of food. “When you come to a table, it should be about meeting
people” and sharing the experience with them. It’s great to have two ways of
Amanda: Last week we used Hot Potato to run a virtual Sunday
supper and all cooked it at the exact same time, taking pictures, uploading
them – it doesn’t replace cooking in a kitchen with someone but it was a
valuable community experience.
Question: There’s some debate over whether this is all good or all
bad. Amanda, you got in a dust-up with Christopher Kimball at Cook’s
Amanda: He challenged us to a duel about crowdsourcing
recipes. We had about eight conference calls with him. We agreed to all of his
rules but he wouldn’t agree to any of ours.
Emily: We need a new revenue model. Social media almost
makes it too easy to share content. There’s value in professional test kitchens.
But the pros of social media outweigh the cons.
Moderator: Any other cons?
Nicole: There are some people in small towns, say an expert
in canning, who aren’t online and get left out of this. This is our life – we
live and breathe social media. There’s a group of people who will never be a
part of the social media movement.
Cathy: If we’re all plugged into all these blogging and
tweeting and creating content, when are we going to come up with the content,
and when will we enjoy ourselves in the moment?
Question: Is this enhancing our discussion of food? Is it dumbing it
Liza: I think it’s making it more exciting. Social media’s
all about developing relationships. You start to learn who you really trust.
There are certain people who I’ve seen their content and I know I can trust
them. When you’re using social media to get good ideas and feedback, you need to
rely on trust.
Emily: It’s becoming so much easier for small producers of
quality food products to sell them, thanks to sites like Foodzie. That’s a pro.
One of the cons that Liza brought up is that there are a lot of stories that
can’t be told in 140 characters. When I’m reading a great piece in the New York
Times elsewhere, I always think, “How does David Carr turn off his Twitter feed
long enough to write good stories?” The challenge is putting out a quality
product while communicating with our fans, but we won’t have a quality product
if we don’t communicate with our fans.
Question: What does the future hold for food writing?
Nick: Food writing is becoming more like being a potter –
it’s generally more of a hobby, but if it turns into a career, great. “It’s
becoming harder and harder to make money writing and selling words about food.”
Part of the blame comes from writers in general because we started giving away
the milk for free and no one wants to buy the cow.
Amanda: It wasn’t that long ago that the old media model was
very exclusive. It’s always been a very limiting field. The limits are in a
different landscape now.
Liza: I think there’s a big future for video. Advertisers
want video content like that that they can sponsor. Hyperlocal is also a big
Cathy: It’s not just about writing. There’s radio, there’s
video – there are more things we can do. It doesn’t have to be limited to
writing for a magazine anymore.
A yummy Yucatanian spread at Chichen Itza in South LA, which we found in Zagat
Social Brands In The City Of Angels
swore this would be a vacation. It was so weird taking a cab to JFK and not
asking for a receipt, but I was ready to embrace it. Still, a long Labor Day
weekend in Los Angeles for a friend's wedding wound up being shaped continually
by social media experiences with brands big and small. Here are some standouts.
Virgin America: There are two reasons I
flew Virgin for the first time to get to LA. One was that the groom noted there
were good deals on flights from New York. Yet uncharacteristically of me, when
I checked that the fare was reasonable, I didn't look elsewhere -- I
booked it right away. The buzz surrounding the brand has been a big
influence, especially with the countless exposures I've had through social
media such as the repeated
mentions on Rohit Bhargava's blog. I don't quite get all the hype, but I'd
fly it again if the deal warrants it.
Kogi: We landed at LAX at 8 p.m., got our
rental car at 8:30, and by 9 had arrived at where one of the Kogi trucks
cooking fresh Korean barbecue was scheduled to arrive, according to their
Twitter status update. We were among the first on line, and we still waited
an hour and a quarter for the grub, even walking with the line around the block
when the truck had to change parking spots. Its fans on Twitter, and it diehard
fan base of California hipsters, know what they're talking about. We got far
more food than we needed and devoured it all on the trunk of our rented Ford
Mustang in a liquor store parking lot. It was the best meal of our trip.
Coolhaus: When arriving at the
hotel, the groom heard our predilection for Twitter-promoted food and told us
to check out Coolhaus
ice cream sandwiches, which had some architectural inspiration. It turns
out a furniture store was sponsoring free Coolhaus giveaways, again as
per Twitter, and we managed to make it over.
Sprinkles Cupcakes: There was little doubt
that having frequented the Sprinkles in Dallas, I had to visit the birthplace
of these baked goods in Beverly Hills. The original's just as good, with slight
menu variations such as offering Coca-Cola with cane sugar, instead of Dr
Pepper in Texas.
This West Coast visit came with a social twist though. Sprinkles
routinely posts Facebook and Twitter status updates with secret passwords that
a number of customers can whisper in the stores to get free treats. On
Saturday, for instance, Sprinkles
tweeted, "It's football season! The first 50 people to whisper
'touchdown' at each #Sprinkles
today receive a free football vanilla #cupcake!"
When we got to the front of the line, my wife couldn't keep herself to a
whisper and shouted "Touchdown!" as if Tony Romo of her home-team
Cowboys had just completed a pass that sent them to the Super Bowl.
Granted, we would have gone to Sprinkles anyway, so they didn't
gain a new customer. That kind of math would be shortsighted, though. Sprinkles
has turned me into such a fan that they trained me to check Twitter before
going into a store, deepening their number of touch-points with me and
strengthening the consumer-brand relationship. Furthermore, they created a much
more buzzworthy experience -- instead of just saying I bought cupcakes, I can
say my wife shouted for them, and they gave her one for free. Through social
media, even more people get involved -- the "touchdown" comment has
170 comments and 70 "likes." The total cost of the promotion? $162.50
in free cupcakes that day at retail prices, minus their margins, plus a few
minutes of someone's time, which may have just been shifted from doing something
else -- like writing a press release.
Millennium Biltmore: This was the official
hotel for wedding guests close to the event venue. But as a rule my wife won't
stay somewhere unless it has at least a pretty good TripAdvisor rating, so that
means I check TripAdvisor before we go anywhere. Other consumers' reviews, and
the nature of them (do they write like seasoned travelers or first-timers?),
will make or break our decision. To Millennium's credit, they regularly respond
to any negative reviews.
Chichen Itza and Water Grill:
Zagat reviews influenced my wife's interest in both of these restaurants, the
former a Yucatanian quick-service restaurant in South LA and the latter an
upscale seafood restaurant by our hotel in New Downtown. The heart of Zagat Survey's
business is curating user-generated content; it had a business model around
social media before the phrase "social media" was coined.
There were many other brands we engaged with on the trip that were
not social media-related. The cult around In-N-Out Burger led to my wife's
first and my second visit there. And speaking of religion, we had to check out
the Church of Scientology when we drove by the headquarters; we only caught the
first five minutes of their four-hour video in their screening room (catch it
all on the DVD for $20). Then there's one of the world's largest unofficial
religions, the worshippers at the Texas Longhorn altar, who without fail
routinely comment on my beloved burnt orange University of Texas shirt that I
wear wherever I go. All of these are social brands, even if I can't trace my
connection with them to a Twitter update or blog post. Brands that understand
the role they play in social contexts, though, can more effectively use social
media to spread the word, amplify the buzz, and bring in more customers in the
Here's today's Social Media Insider, originally published in MediaPost. Photo credit: Me.
In the future, will all of our restaurants turn into roving
trucks? You may not ask yourself that question every day, but answering it will
reveal a few things about the evolution of social media.
This megatrend of trucks serving gourmet food is one of those
cataclysmic events that can only be brought on by a slew of events that were
never supposed to happen at the same time (think "The Day After
·A recession that caused consumers to be thrifty when
eating out while also giving the jobless and underemployed more time than
they're used to.
·GPS technology accurate enough to locate restaurants
·The advent of Twitter, which allowed truck-food
proprietors to economically broadcast where they are, along with empowering
consumers narcissistic enough to tell people they are on line waiting for a
truck chef to serve them.
·Finally, the emergence of Dr. Scholl's shoe inserts so
comfortable that truck chefs can be gellin' without having their feet resemble
snapshots from the podiatric-themed issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
New York City has a multiplying fleet of truck chefs. Battles for the
streets have become so intense that one truck food purveyor told
The New York Times a few weeks ago, "I should not have to carry
a baseball bat on my truck in order to sell cupcakes." I've visited two
trucks for food this month alone: Van
Leeuwen artisan ice cream by the High Line park (after trying the vanilla,
"artisan" must be a synonym for "bland"), and the
CupcakeStop.com truck that I
found via a colleague's tweet, which served the best red velvet I've had
east of the Mississippi (either side of it, you can't top Sprinkes).
The most famous, uber-hip food truck isn't driving near my office
anytime soon. It's Kogi, the Los Angeles-based Korean barbecue truck fleet with
35,000 followers on Twitter. Proprietor Mark Manguera seems to have an
Oprah-like command of his followers, with hundreds of them lining up for
Asian-Mexican food whenever his trucks tweet.
How much further will this trend go? Here are a few ideas:
·The locations of these trucks will be crowdsourced.
It's the converse of the drive-thru: instead of the truck saying where it is
and people tweeting about it, people will tweet and the truck drives to where
the most buzz is.
·Mobile applications will instantly show which food
trucks are in your area. Trucks will be sorted by cuisine type, location, and
the length of the line.
·A market of line-savers will emerge. Someone spending
$10 on dinner from a truck may well pay another $20 not to wait on line for an
hour or two (I couldn't find anyone offering or requesting this on the Los
Angeles Craigslist boards). A secure arrangement between the parties using SMS
and PayPal could ensure timeliness and accuracy. A more sophisticated system
could have the person on line periodically checking in via GPS to confirm their
·Trucks will eliminate all of their selection and will
tweet the day's option along with the location. One day, it might only be steak
fajitas, while another it's shrimp tamales. And the same people who waited two
hours to get what they wanted from the truck would wait four to have no options
to choose from.
·Trucks will tweet the wrong locations intentionally.
This will weed out the fans from the superfans. Anyone can follow a truck on
Twitter and find it and wait on line for food while telling all their friends
about it. But imagine if people had no clue where the truck was, and even their
friends tweeted the wrong locations to throw them off? The same people who
waited four hours to eat food from a truck with only one menu item would spend
another four hours trying to find out where the truck really is before waiting
another four hours for food.
Thanks to social media and the mobile technologies facilitating it,
these trucks may in time lead to a super-race of Twitter users. Consumers
already too thrifty to gorge themselves will spend four hours running around
after a truck and four hours longer standing in line, all to consume undersized
portions designed to easily fit in their hand for on-street consumption. While
engaging in these tweets and spending ample time with their fellow
line-waiters, they're bound to comingle and eventually reproduce. These
offspring will in turn exhibit the genes for fitness and tech savvy that will
give them disproportionate advantages in the centuries ahead.
I'm not sure I'll be one of them. Sunday night, while walking
home, I discovered a Vietnamese restaurant in my neighborhood and ate my first
banh mi sandwich. I had read no reviews, whether by professionals or consumers.
I saw nary a tweet about it, and didn't tweet it either. Monday night, I went
back for another banh mi. It won't be my last. The whole time, the restaurant
stayed in the same location, there was no line, and I sat down while waiting.
I'm clearly not cut out for the future of truck-based food consumption, though
if it's carrying red velvets, I may make an occasional exception.
3) Greed: Don’t create something only product focused, only as a sales funnel. It’s not about traffic – it’s about relationships.
4) Sloth: It’s really about apathy. A worst practice is not having relationships in place when you need them.
5) Envy: Enough playing copycat, get me one of those (“gmoot”).
6) Wrath: You can’t beat the stick down when stuff doesn’t the way you want it to. Have a plan to deal with the worst before it comes up. Also, don’t make off-hand comments on Twitter – that can bite you (Steve notes it has for himself).
7) Pride: Be prepared to get dinged, get criticized. Don’t let that get in the way.
David Berkowitz is Chief Marketing Officer at agency MRY. A frequent speaker and media pundit, he has been published hundreds of times in MediaPost, Ad Age, eMarketer, Mashable, and elsewhere. Get to know him in the links below the blog's header.