Ship of fools

VGThere’s a right way and a wrong way to handle social media, and in the city of Biddeford, orange can now step aside because Facebook is the new black.

Biddeford’s political machinations have always been colorful and somewhat interesting.

But lately, our city’s colorful political landscape has gone from an interesting mix of pastels to a nightmarish blend of bright acrylics that looks like something from a Van Gogh nightmare.

Just four hours after Mayor Alan Casavant announced on Facebook that he will be seeking a third term, an anonymous Facebook identity popped up and started sending out “friend” requests.

“Joe Biddeford” says he (she?) wants to keep his/her identity anonymous “to keep trolls from attacking me as opposed to contributing to the important dialogue on local issues.”

Since I routinely blog about Biddeford politics and often play in political circles, I was curious about what this “dialogue” would be. So I sent Joe a friend request. As of this writing, Joe has not accepted my request.  I am heartbroken by this.

Many of my friends have received friend requests from Joe Biddeford, but not me.

Joe Biddeford’s Facebook page is public, and last I checked he had 10 friends. Wow! 10 friends.

But wait, it gets better. Only two people have posted anything on Joe Biddeford’s Facebook timeline. One of them is my friend Fred Staples, a former city councilor who has 407 Facebook friends.

The other person is Paul Pelletier, a familiar enough surname in a community with a Franco heritage.

But get this: Paul Pelletier has zero Facebook friends. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Paul Pelletier seems to be a ghost raised from the dead just a few weeks ago, according to his/her Facebook profile, which is also public. Unlike Joe Biddeford, “Paul” says he/she does not want friends. (All the makings of a sociopath)

In the “About” section of his Facebook page, “Paul” dazzles us with this brilliance: “I don’t wish to share information over Facebook. I use it for informational purposes and to engage in political conversations.”

Someone needs to tell Paul that he should not be on Facebook if he doesn’t want to share information on Facebook.

He says he uses Facebook for “informational purposes.” That’s generally what  all stalkers say.

“Gee, officer, I know I followed her through the mall and into the parking lot, but I was just gathering information about shopping trends.”

I’ve got some news for “Joe Biddeford” and “Paul Pelletier:” There are several places where you can go to engage in social media conversations about Biddeford or its politics.

On Facebook, there is Biddeford Today, a page that features news about the city and profiles of its residents. There is a nostalgia page called You Know You’re From Biddeford If . . . There is a Facebook Page for the for the city’s dog park, and even this blog has its own Facebook page.

Heck, once upon a time there were two other blogs about Biddeford Politics: Game Over: The Premier Blog of Biddeford; and “Biddeford’s Best Blog: B3. Both of those blogs (critical of Mayor  Casavant) went radio silent shortly after Casavant won his last election in 2013.

The point is: there are plenty of places to go on the internet to talk with Biddeford residents.

The power of the internet

Let’s face it, the internet is an extremely powerful tool that enables instant, global communication. And social media has been used to topple governments, win presidential elections and showcase cute kitten videos.

Sometimes, if you use it properly, social media can bring attention to things that might otherwise go ignored. Social media can be used for noble purposes (crowd funding) and for bad purposes (child pornography).

A couple of years ago, I used social media to bring AT&T to its knees after the company failed to address one of my complaints. More recently, I have tried the same tactics with American Airlines, but have yet to accomplish my goals. (I’m not done yet).

If you want to be “social” on the internet, social media outlets are a great place to start. It’s also a great place to stop because an increasing number of people are reporting being addicted to social media.

Sometimes, the best way to be social is to turn off your computer, pick up your phone and call a real friend. Go for a walk, have a cup of coffee. You don’t have to be anonymous or play silly little games.

If you really need to connect, try stepping away from the keyboard and breathe some fresh air.

[Edited: “Joe Biddeford” accepted my friend request. Yippee! Now I can finally take part in the “important dialogue about local issues.”]

Talking in your sleep

Angry-Computer-GuyOftentimes, it’s not so much what you say but rather how you say it.

It’s an important lesson for all of us, but especially important for those who aspire to be our leaders. Think: “Social Security is Welfare

Earlier today, I was interviewed for a locally produced talk show in my community. I was pitched for this idea several weeks ago, and my first instinct was to decline the invitation. But the host was persistent, and he wanted to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: strategic communication.

As I prepared for the 25-minute taping, I paused to think about some words that I routinely take for granted.  After all, I am a strategic communications consultant; my job makes sense to me but I wondered if it made sense to anyone else.

stra-te-gic \strƏ-tē-jik\ adj 1. of, relating to, or marked by strategy. 2. necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.

com-mu-ni-ca-tions\ kә-myὕ-nә-kā-shәns\ n. 1. an act or instance of transmitting; 2. process by which information is exchanged between individuals.

con-sul-tant \kәn-sәlt-nt\ n. 1. one who gives professional advice or services: expert

Thinking more deeply about those words led me to a basic conclusion: Despite the rapid and sometimes overwhelming advance of technology, the basic fundamentals of good communication skills haven’t changed much.

In fact, I quickly recalled a lesson that my late uncle drilled into my head during my teenage years: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.

Human beings have always had the need and desire to communicate. Our ancestors used hieroglyphics (an earlier version of SnapChat) before sharing stories around campfires and passing those tales and lessons from one generation to the next. From there, we moved on to the invention of the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, television  – – all the way into our brave new world of Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

But as the speed of our communication increases exponentially, it becomes increasingly important to remember my uncle’s Golden Rule of Communication: take the time to listen and think before you speak, post or tweet.

If you want to learn a little bit more about my professional life (how I feed my family): check out this relatively short video clip.

In the meantime, remember that social media tools are power tools and require caution and a firm understanding of the consequences of making one wrong move that can happen in an instant without warning.

As always, I encourage your feedback. You can contact me by clicking this link.





LePage leads on Facebook; abandons Twitter?

Governor Paul LePage continues to lead his two rivals for the Blaine House on Facebook, picking up 341 new likes for his re-election campaign page over the last 10 days.

But the Governor is still lagging on Twitter, gaining only 11 new followers during the same time period.

In fact, the @LePage2014 Twitter feed has been virtually silent since March 24, when the campaign issued its most recent tweet directed at reporters, saying no one better understands poverty than LePage (referencing his impoverished youth on the streets of Lewiston)

Meanwhile Democratic challenger and Congressman Mike Michaud’s campaign received a nice plug on the Portland Press Herald’s blog, detailing where the candidate would be touring during his two week-Easter break from Congress. Among the highlights: a visit to a micro-brewery and the opportunity to learn how to blow glass at an Ellsworth glass shop.

Michaud will also be opening some campaign offices throughout Maine, according to the Press Herald. No word from the newspaper about the plans of the other two candidates.

Michaud picked up 205 new fans on Facebook and again made the greatest gains on Twitter, adding 61 new followers in the last 10 days.

Michaud now has 11,901 Facebook fans and 1,605 Twitter followers

I’m not alone in tracking the candidates’ social media activity

After boasting about their growing number of Facebook fans, the campaign of Independent candidate Eliot Cutler was called on the carpet by the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Only four days after our latest social media tracking update, the state’s largest newspaper published their own report,  following a rigorous examination of the social media analytics of all three campaigns.

The newspaper’s lead graph:

Eliot Cutler’s campaign trumpeted its popularity on Facebook last week, saying its more than 20,000 “likes” outpace his competitors, Paul LePage and Mike Michaud.

What the independent candidate for governor’s campaign didn’t say was this: It has paid Facebook $16,000 to promote the campaign page . . .”

Our own analysis shows that Cutler’s campaign is trailing both LePage and Michaud on Facebook.

During the last 10 days, Cutler picked up only 170 new fans (Likes) on his campaign Facebook page. Although Cutler has the greatest overall number of Facebook fans, both LePage and Michaud are gaining ground faster.

LePage and Michaud each saw their Facebook fans increase by margins of 4 percent during the last 10 days. Cutler’s Facebook fan base grew by only 1 percent during the same period.


April 4, 2014 Update

March 22, 2014 update



My Son, Facebook and Five Dollars

My son Tim with his girl and his Caddy...lovin' life

My son Tim with his girl and his Caddy…lovin’ life

This is a story about my son, Facebook and a “crisp $5 bill”

It is also a social media wake-up call.

There are a lot of articles out there about the use of sarcasm in social media, but this piece by Katherine Rosman in the Wall Street Journal is exceptional in both its clarity and lack of pretense.

A couple days ago, I decided to give my oldest son, Tim, a shout out on my Facebook page. It generated a lot of reaction, mostly positive. It also reinforced my earlier thoughts about how to drive your social media analytics because of its wide reach and connection with my intended audience.

To save you time and for those who are not my Facebook “friends,” I have included the original post here:

I am so proud of my oldest son, Tim!
 For the first time ever, Laura and I left him alone at the house for a few days while we leisured at Moosehead. He will be 18 in just a couple weeks.
Our wonderful neighbors were on full-alert.
Shortly after we left the house, the hot water tank failed and began leaking. Tim cut-off the water, used adhesive putty to seal the leak and cleaned up the basement.
He also went to work each day and took care of our dogs, the cats, the rabbit, turtle and three fish tanks.
The house looked awesome when we got home.
I did not hesitate to offer him a token of my appreciation: A crisp, $5 bill

Most people received the post as intended: my overwhelming pride in a young man who continues to amaze and impress me; and a humorous comparison to me (his step-father).

Many of those who commented on that post jumped on me for being a cheap skate or assumed I made a typo. Neither one is true, but most of my real friends already knew that and were just teasing me about my skimpy measure of gratitude. But some other folks thought I was being serious.

Whoa!  Did I just say “real friends?”

Yes, I did… so deal with it. Despite what my Facebook page portrays, I do not have more than 640 friends, and neither do you. It’s impossible.

I am blessed to have more than my fair share of real friends, and I cringe when I think about how the word “friend” has been distorted.

What is a real friend? A real friend is someone you can call at 2 a.m. for bail money. You can talk openly about otherwise embarrassing stuff with your real friends. Go take a look at your friends list on Facebook. Have you ever been to their home? Have they been to your home? Do you know the names of their children?

I wrote about this subject a couple of years ago. Back then I only had 240 or so Facebook friends. But enough about our abuse of the word friend.

Social media outlets such as Facebook are powerful communications tools. They can be used to topple governments, achieve justice and raise global awareness.

But like any other power tool, you need to be careful. Because as Ms. Rosman points out above, sarcasm remains elusive to the data-encrypted networks that are becoming an increasingly important part of the way we communicate.

On a final note, take a good look at this picture of my son with his latest girlfriend, Gina.

He will be 18 in two weeks. He owns and drives a fully loaded Cadillac. He has high-speed internet access in his bedroom, not to mention a flat-screen TV and access to more than 500 channels of satellite programming. He has two part-time jobs and runs his own business.

More importantly, he has a growing relationship with his biological father and his half-brothers. He has the world’s most awesome mother; and a step-father who continually pushes him to excel.

Now you tell me . . . you would kill to be Tim, right? Right.





Little pink houses…in Biddeford & Saco

I don’t know how it happened.

It started off like any other Monday morning, but by the time the sun began to set later in the day I realized that I had lost more than three hours. Gone; Vanished; Disappeared; Hasta la vista, baby!

I could have done laundry. I could have mowed the lawn. I could have gotten drunk and run around naked, cursing the plummeting Dow Jones Industrial Averages.

I could have built something really cool with Legos.

I could have done so many things, but instead I got sucked into the vortex of an ancient, parochial battle field, where soldiers were slaying the dragons of childhood memories. And it all happened on Facebook.

Yup, I was like a porn addict; fervently pitched over my laptop, numb to my surroundings with blood-shot eyes glued to the instant messages popping onto my screen from people I grew up with, people I remember and people I don’t know.

Yup, I joined one of those cyberspace group: You know you’re from ________, if . . .

I am usually much more disciplined. I loathe Farmville and all the other crap on Facebook, but these pages were speaking to me, sparking memories that had long ago been neatly tucked away in order to make room for much more important things than childhood nostalgia.

You know, important, adult stuff: mowing the lawn, doing laundry, getting drunk and playing with Legos.

But this is where I got into trouble. I joined two of these groups. Yup, I am a glutton for punishment and an overflowing e-mail inbox. My decision sparked the ire of competition between these sibling communities. My loyalties were immediately called into question.

I grew up in Saco, a small town that calls itself a city in southern Maine. (Hint: In Maine, we don’t have any cities, only a couple of big towns.)

Today, I live on the other side of the river, in a small town called Biddeford that is also described as a city. These two towns (like so many others in Maine) have a bitter football rivalry. I have always thought of these two communities as one town, and I never paid much attention to the whole rivalry thing. Probably because I never played football.

My grandparents lived in Biddeford and later bought a home in Saco. My grandfather taught high school English in both communities but my grandmother taught fourth grade only in Saco. Shortly after I was born (in a far-away college town), my parents moved into an apartment on Quimby Street in Biddeford. We lived on the third-floor of that “triple-decker” until I was seven years old and my parents bought their first home in Saco.

My best friend at the time was John Lessard.

Today, John lives in Texas, and he has a beautiful family. We are “friends” on Facebook.

Today, I live less than one mile away from that triple-decker, where I learned how to ride a bicycle and kissed a girl for the very first time. So, I guess you could say that I am from Biddeford.

Not exactly, at least according to the opinions of some people.

When I learned that we were moving across the river, I cried myself to sleep. My friends would be gone forever. I would never again see the girl I kissed. John and I would not be riding our bikes to Mayfield Park. Life was coming to a screeching, terrifying and horrific end.

I think it took me between 48 and 72 hours to get over the trauma of moving two miles away from Sevigny’s Market, my childhood friends and that back-yard shoe shop, which has since been converted into apartments.

There were new kids, a new school and even a new market, Don’s Variety. There were no girls who would kiss me, but it didn’t matter much at that time. Back then, I thought I could fly if I tied an old blanket around my neck.

Who needs girls when you can fly?

I don’t think too much about those days, even though I had the pleasure of serving as the editor of my hometown newspaper long after I had ditched my flying blanket (okay, maybe not that long).

The paper covered news for (gasp) both communities. And after traveling and writing stints for the better part of two decades across the country, from Annapolis and Nashville to Oregon, South Dakota and Texas; not to mention a bitter divorce, it felt good to be back home. It was reassuring.

So much had changed, yet so many things were the same.

I choked the interview for that job, but the newspaper’s publisher was eager to hire me because one of the graphic artist remembered having my grandmother as a teacher. I had graduated from Thornton Academy in Saco. I had my first haircut at Ralph’s barbershop, got my First Communion at St. Mary’s, got busted for shoplifting at Zayre’s department store and bought my first lottery ticket at Vic & Whit’s.

I was a local boy. We were a local paper. It didn’t take long for me to assimilate.

Eventually, I re-married and began the task of raising my own children in Biddeford. Some high school acquaintances chided my decision. Why, after all, would I (a Thornton graduate) choose to live among the working-class of Biddeford?

Well, maybe it’s because nobody ever stole my lunch money or gave me wedgies in Biddeford; or maybe it’s because people in Biddeford seemed just a tad less judgmental than their counterparts across the river. Maybe I favor the underdogs: the men and women who made the shoes, the blankets and machine parts more than those who checked the timecards and carried the clipboards.

Or maybe it was because they stopped calling it “Factory Island” and started calling it “Saco Island.”

But the reasons don’t much matter. I am from Biddeford.

And I am from Saco. And I am the lucky one because I have two hometowns.

Why can’t we be friends?

“We are reckless in our use of the lovely word, friend.” –Romain Rolland

If he were alive today, I wonder what Mr. Rolland, a French journalist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915, would think about Facebook and its use of the word “friend.”

How many “friends” do you have?

According to the most recent stats on my Facebook page, I have 285 friends.

That’s a lot of friends . . . or is it?

Without friends no one would choose to live, even if he had all other goods,” wrote Aristotle…but what did he know? I tried following him on Twitter, but I kept getting tweets back from Ashton Kutcher.

So, how do you define the word friend?

Personally, I have one simple criterion for the people I describe as my “friends,” and there are only four people who fit into this category, if we exclude relatives.

A friend is someone you can call at 2:34 a.m., and then ask them to drive 16 miles to post bail so that you don’t have to spend the rest of the night in the county lock-up.

With a real “friend” you can do this even when you are slightly intoxicated and can’t quite remember how you got to jail in the first place.

I have to stay out of trouble because of my four “real friends” one lives in Nashville; another lives in Eugene, Oregon. The other two both live in Maine, but one of them has young children; and the other is a very sound sleeper.

But considering the onslaught of social media networking and its impact on my professional life, my definition of the word friend seems quaint, if not entirely useless in the digital age that brought us both Farmville and the word “un-friend” simultaneously.

If you think social media is just a fad or something that can be ignored by those of us who have moved beyond repeated bouts of acne and anxiety about our SAT scores, think again. In fact, check this link.

Like it or not, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become an essential part of our modern communication infrastructure. Every presidential campaign in 2012 will use all three of these platforms. Nearly every bank in Maine has a Facebook page and you can even let the whole world know what brand of whipped cream you prefer by clicking “Like” on the Cool Whip page.

I don’t mind Facebook, but it can become a time vacuum and very labor intensive if you are managing a page or multiple pages as part of an integrated communications strategy.

It’s just the casual use of the word friend that I find offensive.

Furthermore, it seems that some people are a bit less discriminating when it comes to choosing their friends.

As an experiment, I created a fictitious Facebook account. My alter ego was a woman in her mid 30s and she set about finding “friends.” It took less than 48 hours for this non-existent person to rack up more than 75 friends, including two U.S. senators, four television news reporters, three newspaper reporters and seven state legislators.

More disturbing: A recent poll showed that more than 80 percent of people in Maine still receive their news across traditional platforms, such as newspapers, television shows and radio broadcasts. But the media and the small number of policy leaders who chart local, state and national policy are all sharing Tweets and checking their Facebook pages on a regular basis. They are “in the loop,” while the other 80 percent of residents are not.

Thus, you’re nobody until somebody “Likes” you.

But what is the value of more than four or five friends?

Could you really handle having several hundred friends?

Seriously. Think about it. You would spend the rest of your days attending funerals, weddings and anniversary parties. Your Christmas shopping list would need to be underwritten by Goldman-Sachs. You would never get a good night’s sleep nor have a moment when you could just relax.

Unfortunately, the number of friends on a Facebook page has become a quantitative measure of modern-day success; a metrics of accountability and an insatiable need to be more connected while isolated in front of a computer screen.

Check your friends list. How many of them would take a call from you at 2:30 a.m.? If your answer exceeds the number 2, congratulations. You are luckier than you can imagine.

The rest is just an illusion. . .sort of like Farmville.