A Winnipeg intersection

Portage and Main? River and Osborne? Vaughan and Graham?

In the past few days I’ve had a couple of close encounters of the Winnipeg kind with the city of my birth.

It started Thursday evening at the Bachman Cummings concert. What a trip – down memory lane, that is. It was an amazing show. The songs, every one of them a solid hit, were brought to life by two 60-something rockers, in great shape and sounding as good as ever.

They seemed to be having a lot of fun with each other, musically and otherwise. In one case Burton Cummings introduced a song that Randy Bachman had written about Cummings when he didn’t like him all that much (Hey You). And Cummings’ keyboard acrobatics were a perfect complement to Bachman’s intensity-on-guitar.

The duo talked about starting out in Winnipeg and wore their civic pride on their sleeve, which of course made me proud by association.

Then Saturday, I went to see Guy Maddin’s hallucinogenic documentary, My Winnipeg. (Can someone please pass the Forks?) And while it was definitely his warped vision, it was only a neighbourhood away from mine.

I was particularly thrilled he showed the garbage dump that thee city turned into a toboggan hill (no kidding). That he ventured into the hallowed sixth floor halls of The Bay’s Paddlewheel eatery and featured tales of the Crinoline Court (ladies only) and Gentleman’s Gangway (Men, ladies with escorts) in all their cafeteria glory. That he crisscrossed the city’s back lanes.

After the movie, someone heard me mention the Paddlewheel and asked me to explain the Crinoline Court. I told her what it was and then she turned to her friend and said, by way of explanation, ‘Those people are from Winnipeg’.

All of a sudden I was transported back to the prairie landscape I left so long ago and felt both alienated and special, which is what being from Winnipeg was all about. And for a moment I missed the city’s wide boulevards, its endless sun and sky, its Salisbury and Pancake Houses and snow so cold it creaked like ancient floorboards when you walked home from school.

And I realized my brief reverie could be encapsulated in two musical moments I’d had in the past few days: Burton Cummings singing These Eyes live at the Molson Ampitheatre and a recording of The Bells sullen rendition of Rick Neufeld’s Moody Manitoba Morning.

I guess that’s the thing about your hometown. You pretty much know all the words.


Something to gloss over

One thing I really like about the blogosphere is how much constant learning I need to do, just to keep up. The ever-evolving nature of social media is one of its best and most daunting characteristics. I can’t begin to tell you how many times my head starts spinning and I feel like I’m in a fog trying to digest all the new tools and developments.

For example, do you know what a SERP* is? I use them all the time (and likely so do you).

I just learned the definition on Daily Blog Tips’ The Bloggers Glossary. Check it out. It’s a clearly written, comprehensive and all-round useful resource.

There, school’s done for today.

*SERP – search engine results page, i.e. what you see when you do a Google search.

Of Youtube and corporate blogs

In a couple of recent entries, Joel Postman offers communicators a strategic perspective on two social media fronts:

1. He analyses the types of posts you most often find on business/marketing blogs and then breaks them into useful categories. I was struck by the fact that so many of my own posts fit into his model and that he was able to group them so succinctly. This one falls into the ‘TOH’ or ‘Tip-of the-Hat’ type (and you’ll notice I am trying to add a bit of value, as Joel suggests). I also realized I do my share of ‘Trivial’ posts, but hey, I like writing (and reading) quirky personal observations. To me, it humanizes a business.

2. How many times have you heard someone say, just upload a video on Youtube and people will flock to it? Sure, it’s a great distribution channel, but before you blindly jump on the bandwagon, you need to ask some tough questions and especially: is this the best place to be to deliver my message? I think that’s a good lesson for anything we do in social media or in PR for that matter. We need to stand back, consider all the options and make an informed choice. It’s too easy to get dazzled by the cool gadgets tech toys.

When a good word loses its shine

We’ve all seen this many times. A perfectly good word gets noticed by a group of people, who grab it and seemingly hold on for dear life.

The poor word. It has so many hangers-on that its coattails start to fray. It becomes overburdened. Overused. It keeps creeping up on you.

It becomes a vapid cliche.

We all have examples. But right now, the word I’m referring to is: conversation.

Thanks in part to the convergence (another example) of marketing and social media, conversation is as sought after as the latest tabloid teen star.

Everyone wants to have a piece of one. Are you having one? If not, you should be. I just started one. How many have you had lately? Was it good? You wouldn’t believe how many of them I’ve had today. I just started another one. I don’t know what I did without them.

Now, I’m not saying words shouldn’t evolve. They should. Language is ever-changing and that’s what makes it a beautifully flawed living organism.

I’m also not advocating a vow of silence (as opposed to the Cone of Silence which I always like).

However, when I hear a word used in business 10 times a day or more, it starts to lose its meaning and context; its sense of self.

So what’s the solution (yet another word that lost its way when it became synonymous with products and services)?

I think we should embrace the concept, not the cliche. Keep the lines of communication open. That’s one of the best aspects of social media. But maybe we should stop boasting about all the so-called conversations we claim we’re having.

Or to borrow a page from Joan Rivers, I’d like to ask you, ‘Can we talk?’.

All maxed out

No, this is not a post about being overburdened at work. (Although it may be.)

It’s just that lately, a bunch of people have been referring to me in emails as Max.

Now to be clear, my name is Martin (in case you hadn’t noticed). So why is this happening? Why, in the last six months, has Max has become the alternate me?

It doesn’t seem to matter that I append my name to the bottom of virtually every email; that my name is in the from line; that it’s prominently featured in my signature. It’s as if some people just aren’t able to comprehend what they see.

Instead, they smush the first syllables of given and last names together in a bizarre form of familiarity: Max.

Perhaps they’re too time-challenged to read my full name. Possibly they’re being over-bombarded by communications, so they have no choice but to skim and gloss. Or maybe they’re so used to reading text message-style abbreviations, that this is what comes naturally to them. I can imagine the etymology. It almost makes sense.

Yet I wonder what other details they may be missing.

Truth is, I like the name. It always reminds me of the scenes in Annie Hall when Woody Allen and Tony Roberts, kibitzing or kvetching as they walk down the street, address each other as Max. As if that were their collective identity. I guess can relate to that.