If you’re in the retail business, how do you normally greet new faces that just entered your store?

A few friends and I recently made plans to go for a tasting at Sake Nomi on a Saturday evening. It is a small sake shop in Seattle that we had been looking forward to visiting. As soon as I walked through the door, the man working behind the tasting bar asked: “Are you lost?” He did not introduce himself or offer any information. After 20 minutes, no hint of customer service was detected, so we left.

From Sake Nomi’s web site:

Saké Nomi is a place to learn about and explore premium Japanese saké, and its brewing culture and traditions, in a convivial, welcoming environment.

The man behind the tasting bar was the store owner, Johnnie Stroud. My experience is now the 17th review of his store on Yelp. My Yelp reviews are automatically shown on my Facebook wall. The very next day, Johnnie sent a message to my inbox on Facebook, titled “Apologies from Sake Nomi.” I wonder why he did not respond via Yelp.

In his message to me, Johnnie explained that he gets a lot of people coming into his store looking for sushi. It seems Johnnie finds this to be an inconvenience. Most companies spend a large sum on marketing just to drive traffic into their stores! There is no excuse to not capture the business opportunity brought by those who are already IN the store.

Hospitality. Over the top hospitality. It is especially important for a business such as Sake Nomi that involves a unique beverage with so much culture behind it. Even if someone enters the store by mistake, it could be turned into an opportunity: “Hey, glad you wandered in! I just opened this great new sake. Here, have a sip, let me know what you think. I’ll go get the info on my favorite sushi restaurant in Seattle for you.

To Sake Nomi, I was one of those potential customers that marketing departments dream of and plot for. I sought out its location. I brought friends with me. I’m active on various social networks. I don’t shy away from spending money on food, drinks and experiences. Unfortunately, Johnnie figured I was lost. As it turned out, he was correct. I’m a customer he lost.


On the morning of Monday, March 9, 2009, Maggiano’s Little Italy sent out this message on Twitter:


According to Maggiano’s tweet, they started with 127 followers. At the end of the business day, they had over 2300 followers. At its height, the viral effect of the giveaway/contest pushed @Maggianos up to the #1 trending topic on Twitter. As promised, two restaurant gift certificates, each valued at $100, were awarded to 2 followers. Maggiano’s Little Italy is not the first one to try this tactic of dangling prizes out to attract followers on Twitter. The gift card offer increased its follower count by over 2000 in the matter of an 8-hour business day, which is one of the most successful cases of its kind in recent memory. But what does that really mean for a business Twitter account?

Yes, one of the basic concepts of Twitter is to increase one’s follower count so that his/her messages reach a wider audience. It has also been noted, discussed and blogged repeatedly that Twitter is not for broadcasting, but rather for interacting. Offering prizes to inflate one’s follower count is not a sustainable practice. Among Maggiano’s new Twitter followers today, I wonder: How many actually liked or even knew of Maggiano’s restaurant chain before spotting the prize offer on Twitter? How many re-tweeted the contest without finding out if there’s a Maggiano’s restaurant in their area? Is there any brand loyalty among Maggiano’s 2000+ new Twitter followers? How many of them willl simply unfollow at the conclusion of the contest?

While I thought out loud on Twitter about Maggiano’s today, Jim Tobin (of Ignite Social Media), reminded me that at least 1000 of the new followers will stick. I do not disagree with that. However, with the popularity of Twitter apps such as TweetDeck, a follower does not equal a listener. It’s easy to filter out tweets without unfollowing. In the end, tossing 2 gift cards at a crowd of new followers isn’t much different from throwing a handful of cooked spaghetti at a wall.

I applaud Maggiano’s willingness and courage to explore the social media arena. Having a presence is great. Judging by its tweet stream, Maggiano’s is also making an effort to listen. As Warren Sukernek and Jeffrey Summers both pointed out, the challenge now is for Maggiano’s to move onto the next step: engage. Thanking each diner individually will bore most followers pretty quickly. I would suggest adding value by sharing recipes, wine notes, or helpful tips for event/banquet planning. One of my favorite examples of food related brands on Twitter is Tillamook Cheese. Hannah and Jake do a wonderful job of answering customers’ questions, finding interesting blog posts by and stories about its customers and products, posting an occasional recipe, fun photos, and interacting with followers with a healthy dose of humor. At the time of this blog post, Tillamook Cheese has under 700 followers. They’re building a community around the brand, one follower at a time.

Just as in everyday life, get-popular/get-rich-fast schemes on Twitter don’t work, at least not for very long. Skittles got plenty of chatter, but then what? I hope Maggiano’s will work to build relationships, not just create day-long buzz.


Social Media Club Seattle held its 2nd event on February 24, 2009, on Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA. Chris Heuer, founder of Social Media Club, came to speak on the topic of “Making a Business Case for Social Media. The event had sold out one week prior, and a waiting list was growing.  People were still contacting the org team for tickets just hours before the event began. By 6:30 p.m., Mt. Si Room in building 118 was packed. Microsoft was a very gracious sponsor and host, providing both the venue and catering. Marcus Schmidt and the Microsoft Windows team were instrumental in coordinating this event.

Many social media practitioners and software vendors were present, which added to the buzz in the room. What’s even more exciting is the large number of attendees new to the social media field. Two great examples are these Seattle-based companies that recently began utilizing Twitter: Alaska Airlines and King 5 News. They bring such great energy to the event because they’re so eager to learn and connect. Everyone I spoke to was thrilled to have found the Seattle chapter of Social Media Club. Several are pushing for their employers or organizations to engage in social media, and are doing it outside the scope of their current jobs. Finding others in similar situations is reassuring. Many shared with me their hesitance in getting involved in previous social media related networking opportunities because they thought they needed to already “speak the lingo.” Chris Heuer’s presentation was just right for them. The message I try to convey to everyone is that Social Media Club is not just a roundtable of experts. More specifically, I want them to know that SMC Seattle is striving to be *the* source for information, education and support in their social media endeavors. To borrow from Social Media Club’s slogan: we’re getting it, and we’re sharing it!

This event was truly a success. When the building closed, the crowd migrated to The Matador in Redmond for further networking. There is a real need for an organization like Social Media Club, and the people and businesses in and around Seattle are looking to us for more. The momentum is building and will surely carry us to our next event in March and beyond.

For more information on Social Media Club Seattle, see our blog, twitter stream and Facebook group page.

Photo credit: David Thorson, EpicFoto

Recently, Kathleen Richards wrote an article about Yelp in East Bay Express.

I Yelp. I’ve been doing it since October 2007. At first, I used Yelp. Our relationship was casual. There are so many great reviews and pictures from actual diners, people who share my love of good food and drinks. I searched and read and discovered great new eateries. As I dined around town, I was eager to write more reviews of my own, both good and bad. I wanted other diners to hear about my experiences. It became increasingly fun to get and give compliments on reviews, and I kept clicking the radio buttons to rate them: “useful, funny, cool.” Soon, friend requests starting showing up, and that’s when I realized: I’ve become a real Yelper! There was nothing stopping me from going all out now. My new Yelp friends were hanging out in the talk threads and I joined them. The camaraderie felt real. All the regular Yelpers are really in the know about all things fun and tasty around the city. Before long, a Yelp ambassador sent me a message: “Would you like to become an elite Yelper?” Boy, would I ever! I must have been doing something right to get such recognition so soon! Being an elite Yelper means a shiny new badge on my profile, and invitations to exclusive parties at the hottest spots in town! Just days after my promotion to the Yelp Elite status, I went to a party at a hip lounge. There were free-flowing vodka martinis. I was impressed. Yelp must be quite influential and have a generous budget to pull this off! So many people welcomed me. “They couldn’t wait to meet you!” the Yelp ambassador told me as soon as I entered. The music was loud. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with elite Yelpers. Cameras were flashing. Cocktail glasses were clinking. Everyone was laughing, hugging and having a good time. Nobody remembered it was a school night. I bet the lounge that hosted the party will be getting a lot more new business now that all the Yelp elites have been there. Good for them!

After the party, the buzz continued in the talk threads. More friend requests poured in. Then a funny thing happened. People in other cities wanted to be “friends” with me. What was I to make of that? Maybe they were planning to visit Seattle soon and wanted to get a local’s opinions? Hmm, okay, why not. I want to be friendly, right? Friend request approved. But wait! This other wannabe friend has only 4 review and 2300+ friends! Whoa! How did he do that? He must be very popular and already know lots of Yelpers. I wonder when his Yelp ambassador will give him an Elite badge. What about all those posts in the talk threads from new people that need advice but get ignored or made fun of by regular Yelpers? What exactly is this “Seattle freeze” thing and why is it such a hot topic? Could it be that Yelpers are cliquey? Nah.

By this point, I started looking at reviews differently. When I search for a new restaurant, I no longer read all the reviews. I scan the pages to see what my new Yelp friends say about it. Am I missing out on good reviews from people who weren’t “elite” Yelpers? I have no idea. I barely have time to read and comment on the reviews of ALL my Yelp friends! It’s really fun when I go to a new place and see a that familiar Yelp sticker or sign. That tells me my Yelp friends have been here and they like it, too!

Yelp made some changes along the way. There are more “sponsored” results now, from restaurants that pay to be featured. Sort of like how some canned food brands pay extra to be stocked on eye-level shelves in the grocery stores, I guess. This pay-to-be-featured feature reminds me of how reviews on City Search became meaningless and irrelevant, but hey, Yelp’s slogan is “real people, real reviews,” so they must have thought through what they’re doing, right? It’s also nice to get a message from some business owners once in a while, when I give a place only 1 or 2 stars. They usually want me to go back and try again for free, but I’ve heard horror stories from my Yelp friends about being harrassed by business owners. Yikes! Maybe I need to be more careful about what I write.

That article in East Bay Express sure doesn’t shine a very positive light on Yelp. I’m starting to wonder if some of my 1 or 2 star reviews will start disappearing, but Yelpers and ambassadors assure us it’s not true. Well, I don’t know this Kathleen lady who wrote that article, but I have met my Yelp ambassador and some Yelp friends, so I’m just going to keep Yelping, and trust that my contribution to Yelp’s content will stay as I intended…

Are you a Yelper, too?

I caught wind that there was going to be a wrap party at the North Pole last night. Ty was coming along. We followed the super secret directions and found Santa’s workshop in a large warehouse at the south end of Seattle. Upon entering, it was evident that the elves have already been hard at work for months. There were row and rows of shiny new bicycles, tables piled high with toys and books, bins full of candy (and toothbrushes), and racks of new coats. Many familiar smiling faces greeted us. We were there to do a small part in a Christmas wish granting mission that all began with one mis-delivered letter in 1976.

The fun and excitement began when we received the info page of “our” family: their names, ages and wishes. This year, we were assigned to 6-year-old Robbie, 12-year-old Kayla, and their parents. Ty eagerly claimed Robbie’s wish list and went right to work. It was great to see how much thought he put into the selection and wrapping of the presents and stocking stuffers: everything Spiderman and Hot Wheels, just like Robbie wanted. He taped a 4-pack of AAA batteries on the box for the remote controlled Hot Wheel car. He searched out red wrapping paper and blue ribbons so he could keep with the Spiderman theme for Robbie. He dug through a big box full of coats to find a blue one in Robbie’s size but was disappointed when he couldn’t find matching gloves.

At the end of the night, we loaded everything for Robbie, Kayla and their parents into 3 huge bags, tagged them, and lined them up against a long wall, where they’ll wait with hundreds of other bags. Santa will soon be delivering all of them to children who may have thought they were forgotten.

On the way home, Ty happily recounted the evening. I heard so much joy in his voice. Robbie will be on his mind on Christmas morning. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share this “wish granting” experience with my son. By giving a little time, we gained so much.

To Robbie, Kayla and parents: thank  you, and merry Christmas.

The Forgotten Children’s Fund

Moving Piles


A tweet from Rob McNealy this afternoon stuck with me: “Bottom drops out of recycling industry.”  While I am concerned about our planet’s wellbeing, I’ve always been skeptical about the recycling industry in the U.S. I dutifully clean and sort my recyclables, pay a monthly fee to Waste Management for them to pick up the content of my recycling bins, so that they can turn around and sell it for a profit. If that’s not a good example of double-dipping, I don’t know what is. While visiting my parents in Taiwan 2 years ago, I noticed they weren’t sorting their recyclables. I asked if they knew about the various recycling symbols and codes. Yes, they were well aware, but that’s not how it works there. Residential customers are paid an incentive for separating out recyclables and compostables from their trash for the waste collection companies, whose employees are then responsible for sorting recyclables back at the plant. My father casually remarked, “if we started sorting our own recyclables, a lot of people would lose their jobs.” Hmm… but that’s another topic.

The business and politics of the industry aside, recycling really only moves the piles around. We need to work on reducing the amount we add to the piles. I used to make fun of the older women in my family for washing and reusing Ziploc bags and aluminum pie tins. (If you’re Asian, you know what I’m talking about! They probably have drawers full of margarine tubs, too!) Now I realize they’re the ones who truly understand the word “conservation.” I still wonder how my mother, grandmother and aunts have managed to keep such clean and tidy households without paper towels, but I’m changing one small habit at a time. We recently ditched paper napkins in favor of cloth ones in our house. IKEA sells very simple white cloth napkins, $1.99 for a pack of 4. In addition to reducing our dependence on paper products, using cloth napkins has also added an extra touch of warmth to family meals. For me, small changes like this are simple to implement, easy to maintain, and serve as great motivation for bigger changes.

If you have recently made some small changes at home to be more environmentally friendly, please share your idea and experience with me. Thank you!

A very small collection of plastic and aluminum pieces

My small collection of plastic and aluminum pieces

Morning Routine


(This is a random piece I wrote back in June 2008, with the thought that I’d include it in my blog someday.)

Every school day morning, I help Ty get ready for the day. There have been a few more steps involved since his wrist became injured.

First, I knock on his bedroom door to make sure he’s awake: “Good morning, Babe!”
“Hi…” comes the often sleepy reply.

I go into the kitchen and begin prepping breakfast. He emerges in a minute or two, with his eyes still half

I-Mei Egg Rolls from Taiwan

I-Mei Egg Rolls from Taiwan

closed, and puts his injured arm out. Sometimes he grunts a little to get my attention if I happen to have my back turned. I wrap his arm/cast with Seran, and he heads back down the hallway. About 2 minutes after the shower starts running, I knock on his bathroom door and enter. I wait for his hand to appear from behind the shower curtain, and squeeze some shampoo into his palm. Next comes his blue shower scrubber, onto which I dispense a healthy dollop of body wash. Then I leave him to finish and return to breakfast preparation.

Usually, by this time, if there’s something in the toaster oven, it’s about done. I try to make sure he has both protein and carbs, be it a breakfast sandwich with turkey bacon, or a croissant with fruit and cheese. I sit
down with him while he eats. It often amazes me how some of our best conversations happen during the somewhat hurried morning routine. I get up from the dining table a few minutes before he finishes, to get a fresh bottle of water and pack some snacks for him. Yesterday, he took a package of Taiwanese “egg rolls.” They’re little rolled-up crepes baked to crisp, slightly sweet, and sometimes with sesame seeds. Of course, his snack drew the attention of several curious classmates, and he had a good time sharing with his friends. It’s just so typical of him. Once, I gave him a bag of crackers and he brought it home at the end of the day. I asked if he didn’t care for them. He said he didn’t want to open the bag during break time because he knew one of his classmates is allergic to basil. I gave him a hug and told him I’ll remember that next time.

At 6:40 a.m., he goes down the stairs and puts his shoes on. At this point, I always ask: “Keys? Phone? Wallet?” He always responds with a cheery “yep!”

“Have a good day! Love you!”

“Love you, too!”

I close the front door and race back upstairs. From a window near the balcony, I watch as he approaches the bus stop and greets his friends. I don’t leave the window until the bus picks up the kids and pulls away.

It’s pouring down rain this morning. He only had on a fleece vest over a tee.

“Do you want to wear a hat?” I fretted.

“No, it’s okay.”

“Are you warm enough with just that vest?”

“Yes, the vest is plenty warm.”

“Do you want me to drive you to the bus stop?” I kept on.

He stops and looks at me: “Mom, I’ll be fine.”

I wish I could tell him how much that little sentence meant to me, but I’m sure he already knows.