Monday, January 31, 2011

Brand fiasco unites bloggers

When the first thing you read in the morning is “Benihana Bashes Bloggers,” your hackles rise and you go straight to Alexander McNabb’s blog Fake Plastic Souks to read about it.

Benihana Kuwait is suing blogger Mark, of TWENTYFOUREIGHTAM, for a review he wrote on the Japanese restaurant last December.

You can imagine the uproar in the online community! There has been an avalanche of tweets on Twitter; Benihana Kuwait’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments and bloggers have united in condemning the lawsuit.

This being a Café, and having blogged about a restaurant in Dubai not long ago (see Saladicious? Delicious! 10 January 2011), I feel I have to add my voice to the shock, alarm and disbelief.

I had a good experience at Saladicious. I thought the food was excellent and I look forward to going back. But, like Mark (@mark248AM) at Benihana, I could very well have not have been “impressed.” I would have written just that, adding that I wouldn’t go back.

So are we supposed to feel intimidated? No way!

This is an excellent case study for marketers, PRs and brands on how to deal with the online community, blogs in particular. Unfortunately, a brand is as weak as its weakest link. In Social Media it takes just one tweet by Mark, one re-tweet by Alexander (@AlexanderMcNabb) and a couple of blog posts to rally a community without borders.

It is a PR and management fiasco of gigantic proportions, to say the least.

Dubai blogger SeaBee said on his blog This is Dubai: “In my opinion the unprofessional, unbusinesslike action needs to get as much exposure on the 'net as we can give it… I hope you other bloggers and social media users will expose these people too.” Too right!

Mark will be live on air at 11 am Dubai time on DubaiEye 103.8FM. The Benihana story has also been reported today (Monday) in Gulf News and will be The National on Tuesday (February 1).

Other blogs to visit on the subject:
From Blog Baladi and Ivy Says

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    Bullets, batons and fear

    It has been an out of the ordinary start to the year for Social Media and platforms – chiefly Twitter, Facebook and YouTube -- and their contribution and role in the upheavals and clamor for change in Tunisia, a country I grew up in, and Egypt. The earth-shattering events in both countries consolidated the authority of these platforms as well as of bloggers into mainstream media.

    The communication revolution and technological innovations played a major role in both events and will continue to do so. The ability to almost live happenings in Cairo and Tunis evoked in me memories of the 1975-1990 Lebanon civil war when we hardly had a telephone line, let alone the Internet.

    Even now, we don’t stop complaining the Internet connection is slow, the Twitter “whale” has popped up on our screens because of overload. We feel cut off if we forget our mobile phone at home or in the car; if the Internet is sluggish or down; if a café or a mall has no Wi-Fi, if we can’t tweet from work... So can you imagine how it felt, and still feels, in Egypt without Internet and phones?

    "Cairo with love" by Naeema Zarif (
    With access to “field” information mostly denied, except for a few television stations, we were supporting the people in Egypt through a hashtag -- #Jan25 -- and by conveying ways to get around the shutdown and creating aggregators, as in the case of this image aggregator site created by Mireille Raad (@migheille) and Layal (@Nights) in Lebanon.

    What got me writing about this was a tweet by @th3shad0w (Ryan Copeland), who said on Saturday (January 29): “Social Media has its role in these revolutions but we're really just a bunch of armchair pundits. It will be decided in the streets.”

    Ryan added: “Curious how many Tweeps would/have ever protested, let alone braving batons & bullets. Not many of you, methinks.”

    I couldn’t agree more with both statements.

    We held our breath on Friday and tuned in to the television channels with the most credible reports and watched the events in Egypt unfold on our screens. We then tweeted what we were seeing to each other. Remember, Egypt proper was in a technology “black hole,” so it wasn’t much good to lift people’s spirit there.

    Regarding how many of us would have braved the batons and bullets, I was immediately transported to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Some memories, even 29 years later are as vivid as the present moment, as I am sure the Egyptians out in the streets will never forget what they are doing and facing.

    The morning of June 6, 1982 started as many others. Yes, Israel had invaded Lebanon. There were no landlines, no mobile phones, no Internet, no Twitter or Facebook to let us know the tanks had smashed their way through the borders first and into East Beirut by end-June.

    On Wednesday 15 September 1982, the Israeli army thrust into West Beirut. I recall wearing a favorite yellow summer dress with red kitten heels that day and walking down to Monday Morning, the English-language weekly I worked for in the Wardieh district of West Beirut, not far from where the French Embassy was located.

    After about five minutes I noticed that the streets were more deserted than usual; there was an eerie silence everywhere. I stopped at a grocer to buy a friend a bottle of J&B whiskey being sold with Hebrew lettering on the label as a joke. I kept walking. Then I started hearing a loud rumbling noise while people I was crossing were hurrying and looking anxious. The closer I got to Wardieh from Hamra, the louder the rumbling got, until I was finally told to take cover, “the Israelis have arrived.”

    I hurried as much as possible, oblivious of my high heels, very anxious by then. But as I got within sight of our offices, I could see the tanks moving slowly towards me. I rushed into an apartment block where, luckily, a friend’s mother lived. Together, and with a handful of tenants, we went down to the parking that served as a shelter.

    A few hours later, when the friend living opposite the French Embassy did not appear, anxiety set in. I spontaneously said I would go and check on him and see what was happening. The distance between the two flats is about seven minutes on foot.

    I went out into the building’s courtyard and started walking towards the French Embassy, and then my legs froze. It is an inexplicable kind of fear. It is so all-consuming the body just goes rigid. I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t do it!

    It’s nothing like covering the war with a media pass or as an embedded journalist… I don’t know. But it is one of the few past incidents that I regret in my life and cannot forget. How do you come to terms with such gripping fear, with being a coward, even at the expense of helping someone?

    So would I be able to brave the bullets and batons? Somehow, I doubt. I’m thus full of admiration of every Egyptian man, woman and child out in the streets.

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Love is blind...

    “I just want to live in Beirut.” I heard those words from my mother Vicky so often when I was a growing up that I got to hate them. They have come back to haunt me of late as I parrot them a hundred times a week.

    It may sound funny, with the current political uncertainly in Lebanon and so many people wishing to leave. But that’s the problem when you fall in love – and I have rekindled my love with Beirut!

    Teta Asma
    Vicky, as a diplomat’s wife, lived most of her life away from home in Beirut and constantly dreamed of going back. She was attached to her mother, Teta Asma (after whom my sister is named), my Aunt Emily, her brothers, nieces and nephews. She missed them very much. This was something difficult for me to understand as a child.

    We always lived abroad, often in trouble spots. Mum used to wait for the three-month family vacation, every two years, when we would go back to Beirut and Bethlehem.

    I dreaded those vacations. Being just a kid, I was often sent to some mountain resort or another. The worst was going to Brummana. I still have memories of my Uncle Adeeb spanking me in the middle of Brummana high street because I wanted to follow my sister and cousins to the international Brummana Tennis Tournament that was held every summer.

    Mum carrying me, Teta Asma and Aunt Emily
    The compensation was being enveloped in Teta Asma’s love, tenderness and angelic compassion. She was very old by then, but I was lucky to have known her and to have learned so much from this majestic woman of another era.

    Beirut took Vicky away from home when I was 10. She left Tunis, where we were then posted, to be with ailing Teta Asma. Vicky stayed in Beirut for a year, until Teta’s death. It was very difficult to be without a mother for that long at such a critical age and, of course, I blamed Beirut!

    Vicky finally realized her dream when we moved back to Beirut for good in 1973. That was it, she was home at last… or so we thought. But after years of civil war and sickness, I brought her back to London with me in 1990 and she was never to return.

    Seeing mum so happy in her home and among her family and friends, I made peace with Beirut and began to love the city as much as Vicky did. But a 15-year civil war can be draining. Many reasons, chiefly the lack of work, finances and papers, forced me to leave in 1985.

    It took 20 years to get over the civil war scars, the memories of dear ones I lost and a Beirut without Vicky, for me to make my way back in 2009. I fell in love with this wonderful city again! And I too started dreaming of returning.

    Rawcheh by Antoine Naaman (@_Ant1_)
    Why do I love you ya Beirut?

    I love you because you are the closest thing I will have to home.

    I love you because, as soon as I arrive at the airport, it’s as if a blanket has been thrown over my shoulders and I feel immediate warmth.

    I love you because family, like cousins Lillian and Dalal, envelops me in affection and care.

    Yorki and Zepure Mansour
    I love you because my soul mates, Yorki and Zepure (see Soulmates for Life, November 2, 2010), are there. We have shared so much over the past 35 years.

    I love you because when I walk in the street, everyone knows who I am (see Walking in Hamra, November 12, 2010).

    I love you because no one asks me “where are you originally from.”

    I love you because I can pick up with friends I haven’t seen for 20 years as though it was yesterday.

    I love you because every servees (communal taxi) ride is an adventure and could warrant a post on its own.

    I love you because you go to sit in a café to get some work done and end with a table packed with friends.

    I love you because I can walk almost everywhere.

    I love you because when I buy a ka3ki for lunch from the vendor next to the American University Hospital (AUH), we become friends, and the next day he refuses to be paid for it.

    I love you because the mixed nuts vendor will offer me something every time I pass by, in memory of my mum.

    I love you because I can go in and out of the hairdressers in 10 minutes, with the best haircut and blow-dry for $13.

    I love you because of the beach I used to go to is still the same and still serves the best fish in town (see Beirut: Walking to the beachfront, November 25, 2010).

    ...for breakfast
    I love you because a friend will take me to Sidon for breakfast (November 30, 2010 post); be back for lunch in Downtown Beirut and dinner on the ski slopes.

    The Gustav Mich Cafe birthday cake
    I love you because my friends will remember my birthday and celebrate it with me and offer not one cake, but two – one of them a Mich Café cake -- made by our favorite pâtisserie, Gustav (see Salsa in Beirut, November 11, 2010 and Gustav’s sweet offers, December 4, 2010).

    I love you because the friendly grocer is still there, as is the butcher and the fishmonger.

    I love you because you have the best food in the world that can be washed down with the best local wine, Arak or Almaza beer.

    I can go on and on…

    I love you Beirut in war and in difficult times as much as I do in peacetime… Isn’t that what love is all about?