I'm Game

As a typical teen of the 80's, you could usually find me at the roller rink, the movie theater watching the latest John Hughes flick, or... at the arcade.

I spent too many hours and quarters playing Ms. Pac Man, Asteroids, and my personal fave, Centipede. I'm proud to say, you could almost always find my initials on the leader boards. If someone knocked it off, I'd spend my whole role of quarters trying to get back on. In our little world, it was like being famous. Sort of.

At home, my sister and I spent hours playing Pong, later graduating to Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Tetris. Most of the time, I played with other guys. Not too many of my girlfriends wanted to spend a lot of time at the arcade or in front of the TV playing video games. They preferred to slap on some Bonne Bell lip gloss and Maybelline mascara and head to the mall to check out the boys. They didn't seem to get that the boys were at the arcade. Duh! Not wanting to be left out, I gooped on the gloss and followed them to the mall.

But I really wanted to be at the arcade.

Then I grew up and had kids. No more arcade days for me. But after paying my dues with years of having The Elmo Song stuck in my head, the kids finally grew up and got into gaming. I was so excited!!! Except for the fact that most of my favorite games were "retro" when retro wasn't cool, it was nice to have an excuse to play again.

But these days, we don't need an excuse.

Gaming has become a regular part of life for everyone. When we were kids, adults would laugh off our video games. But adults of our generation will push their own kids aside to rock out to Rock Band or kick some ass on Street Fighter. Unlike our parents, we get gaming, even if they still don't get us still playing. Just the other day, I was showing my mom Draw Something on my iPhone. She thought it was interesting, but before I could finish demo'ing it to her, she asked, "Doesn't this just waste time?"

"Yes, it wastes time," I told her. "That's kind of the point."

I love tuning out with a game. A few of my favorites to tune out with come from PopCap. I have Bejewelled Blitz on my iPhone, Solitaire Blitz on Facebook, and Plants vs. Zombies on my Nintendo 3DS. With all that playing, you'd think there wasn't time to get anything done. Actually, gaming is helping me cope. It's like Zoloft but without the whole losing-interest-in-sex thing.

Picking up a device or flipping over to another window to play a quick "casual game" between answering emails and working on articles or posts is a fun reward for getting my work done. Plus, it's a simple little pleasure that helps me get through the day. And I'm not alone.

More and more women are jumping into gaming. With the popularity of "casual games" on our mobile devices and the ease of connecting with friends with a quick game on Facebook, women are finding gaming a nice escape from our routines and responsibilities. But us girls are attracted to gaming for different reasons than the guys. Men mostly want to compete. Not that women don't want to compete, but as Melanie Morris of Ireland's Image Magazine found out, "Females seek something different in gaming to men. They're looking for coping methods, and they like the positive affirmations. It transports them to a safe environment where they can go into their own world." That's not to say that women aren't competitive. We just like the warm fuzzies of gaming, too!

I recently co-hosted a PopCap sponsored roundtable discussion at Splashes in Laguna with a group of female bloggers that enjoy a good game. Pop Cap is best known for Plants vs. Zombies (which I recently downloaded onto my Nintendo 3DS). We were talking about some of our favorite games and why. One feature we all agreed on some games is a chat feature. Being able to flip behind the game to chat with our friend/opponent is part of the fun. Most everyone at the table was only slightly familiar with Solitaire Blitz, but by the next morning, we were all tearing it up to the top of the leader board. Two weeks later, we are sharing virtual silver and bottles of rum with each other. We also have a private Facebook group where we're goading each other on for high scores. We're not a competitive bunch at all. ;)

One thing we all agreed on at the PopCap luncheon:

Recharging with a little play time is a really good thing.

So what games are you hooked on?

Disclosure: I'm one of the #PopCapMoms Group and a #NintendoEnthused Brand Ambassador. That means I get paid with cash and/or games. My mom STILL doesn't get it.

Busy Girl

I've been a little busy.

Film Festival

I'm still burping up popcorn from the San Diego Film Festival that wrapped up last night. I hope to have the taste of butter and salt out of my system by the time my wrap up post goes up. I will give you a preview-slash-recommendation:

Go see 50/50!

Simon is still hot!

In between film screenings, I drove out to the local mountains for a night under the stars with some Wild Boys. YES... I do mean Duran Duran! Check out #DuranLive tweets on Twitter to read how amazing the show was. If you were (and still are) a fan, you HAVE to go see them! Check out the All You Need is Now tour schedule and get to a show in your town!

Going to the Dogs

I wrote about dogs at Aiming Low. There are some cute dogs and some ugly dogs and a video of a cat. I thought it was funny. It's a tongue-in-cheek post about getting a dog, but a couple of people decided to take me too seriously. Hope you enjoy the back-and-forth in the comments.

Finding Fun

I've got a new weekly gig finding fun things for families to do in San Diego. Coincidentally, it's called Family Finds. Family Finds is a daily deal site with a twist. Not only do they have local deals, they also have national deals. You can sign up to get deals and become an affiliate for an opportunity to make a few extra bucks.

And if you're in San Diego, sign up to get my 7 Things to Do in San Diego list.

Coming Soon!

I'm also working behind the scenes launching my new site. It's not ready yet, but here's the grayscale version of our header:

It was designed by a cool chick named Morgan who attended our first Smart & Social Seminar, Smart Start. We're currently developing a workshop series called Smart Labs right now. I hugely underestimated how much time it would take, but I'm enjoying this new phase. It's the journey, right?

I really wish that microchip was already in development.

Accidentally Branded

[caption id="attachment_946" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Branding: It's not just for cattle."][/caption] Branding is a funny thing. Some people love to talk about it. Some people love to hate the idea of branding. Others like to mock the fact that the conversation is even happening. Whatever your take on it, branding isn't anything new.

Except that it is.

Branding is no longer a logo and some messaging mass marketed to a target audience of drones that are going to march to the nearest store to buy whatever it is that's cleverly packaged in this seasons colors. Buzz is no longer in the sole hands of celebrities, but by the guy or girl next door who has built a brand from scratch using the new Word of Mouth Marketing tools. A perfect example is the Missoni thing at Target that exploded. It wasn't from celebs talking it up, but from average-consumers-turned-brands buzzing it up to a fever pitch that knocked the Target on-line ordering system on its ass.

I like to tell people that I accidentally branded myself. There I was, hiding behind my drinking name and a cartoon image of a smiling woman, saying whatever came to my mind, not concerned what the ladies at the PTA would think... when all of a sudden, I'm this person. Eventually, this person took over the one I was pretending to be before, and POOF... I'm a brand.

Now, I hope you didn't just lose your lunch reading that last line. Trust me... I'm more than slightly uncomfortable referring to myself as a brand. I mean really... who do I think I am? Well, I'm the girl who has been introduced many times as a brand property by others, so I just kind of ran with it. The first time I was referred to as a brand, I almost lost my lunch, too. It felt something like an out-of-body experience to be referred to as a thing. I've had friends -- people who know me personally -- ask me what I was going to do with "this whole Sugar Jones thing." It's gotten to the point where even I refer to this thing as a thing.

There are some of us on-line that, for whatever reason (I like to blame my drunk tweets), have amassed a following of people that like to chat with us, follow our travels, read about the latest games or movies, see what we're eating and/or drinking and where, and will at times, based on our recommendations and experiences, see fit to part with their dollars in exchange for those same experiences.

That's powerful stuff!

Please note... I didn't say I am powerful... I said sharing experiences is.

Here's where I feel like we've come with branding through social media. Like what Hunter S. Thompson did to journalism (minus all the drugs and hallucinations on road trips to Vegas), we are creating a kind of hybrid in what we do, say, and write. We are not just feeding people the message by cutting and pasting thoughtfully long press releases. We are sharing our personal experiences. Our experience IS the message... the story.

I've gotten so many emails from PR people wondering where the heck my post is for (insert name of product here). I can only imagine their frustration when I write back that I haven't "found the story yet." Many of my peers in blogging have said something similar in that we aren't just going to write about something... we need to experience it and then share it. They probably roll their eyes and wonder what kind of journalists we think we are.

That's just it... we DON'T think we're journalists! THAT is precisely why people listen to us. People have become cynical about the messages and emotions brands try to evoke in a 30 or 60 second on-air spot. Enter bloggers, most of us cynical consumers, as well. We are pretty typical people with an interesting take on the ordinary. We have big mouths and enough knowledge about ways to get the word out, on-line and off, to make an impact. Harness enough of us and you've got a serious groundswell happening.

And yes... that IS powerful.

Because I get to play with some of the big kids, I often get asked how I created my brand. Going back to the beginning, I have to reiterate: I am an accidental brand. But I'm kind of lying when I say that. Because the things I've done in life have been purposeful. The desired outcome was to live the life I had always imagined. So if you want to cultivate a brand that is truly you and attract opportunities that might help you get closer to your personal goals, I'd recommend doing the following:

1) Be Yourself. 2) Be Honest. 3) Be Passionate. 4) Be There. 5) Be Unforgettable.

I'll expand on those next week in Part 2.

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The People's Rules of Blogging

Sometimes, I get really irritated. Things that set me off are kind of random. Having to repeat myself. People cutting in line. Teachers sending my genius kids home with ridiculous amounts of homework. Some random stranger telling me to be fair. Why would I get upset about fairness?

This is my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Last week, I was tweeted at by a local store owner. I'm assuming she found me by way of the opening of the new Whole Foods in Encinitas. I was so excited about that gem of a store opening, I couldn't keep my mouth shut! I had also tweeted around the same time that an H&M was opening up in Carlsbad. I was thrilled that our remote part of San Diego was finally getting some downtown amenities.

So in the middle of my elation, this random boutique owner pops in and pokes a big shiny pin into my high flying balloon.

There was no "Hello, neighbor!" No "I've been following you and I think you're awesome/beautiful/amazing/hilarious." No "Hey, Sugar... I'd like to invite you in..." Nope. Just something to the effect of, "Hey, since you wrote about H&M, it's only fair to write about my shop." At first, I thought, when did I write the H&M post? Was I drinking? Medicated? Both? After I remembered that I had not written about the store, but merely shared it in a tweet or two, I replied to this person saying just that. I tried to move on, but I just sat there, growing more and more irritated. I was rather stunned that someone would tell me what I should write on my own blog in the name of fairness. So I did what I usually do when someone irritates me like that.

I went off on Twitter about it.

I'm sure she thinks I'm a complete ass now, but you know what? I don't care! And as interesting as her store sounds, I'll never go in there now. She made a horrible first impression on me by approaching me like that. All I can picture now is a spoiled little Nellie Olsen pitching a fit. After cleansing my soul on Twitter, I felt a twinge of regret. I thought I might have been too harsh about the situation... but I wasn't really. I was being honest. And you know what else? I was right! It's MY blog. I don't HAVE to be fair! I have the freedom to write whatever. I. want. Just like Shop Girl gets to choose what she sells in her store. That's not fair or unfair.

It's just life!

There are so many unspoken rules that people want to impose on us everyday. They're not laws, so much as they are just things that everybody does in order to fit in and get along. Most social mores are innocuous. Sometimes, they're just plain silly. But other times, they begin to impinge on our rights to be ourselves. I guess... no, I know that's why I went off on Shop Girl. I get really rashy when other people's shoulds start to take over my thoughts and words and I find myself doing or saying things in order to avoid offending anyone, even perfect strangers.

A question came up in a Facebook group that I'm a member of. A new blogger wanted to know how to keep up on blogging. She wanted to know if any of us had schedules and how to follow them. Before anyone popped up with a strict editorial schedule idea, I shared that I follow the old non-rule of "Write when you have something to say." Others had some more defined answers for her, but really, there wasn't a lot of shoulding. We're a pretty awesome group like that. One recommendation, however was to read Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. When I saw that comment, the rebel in me was all, RULES? I BREAK RULES FOR BREAKFAST!!

But then I had the pleasure of hanging out with co-author, C.C. Chapman.

On the first night of our Forward with Ford event, we were talking about all of this. He emphatically agreed with my "when you have something to say" non-rule. But we also talked about how we do seem to have quite a bit of somethings to say, and that maybe organizing those random thoughts somehow was a good idea. We left the conference with a copy of Content Rules as a gift from the very generous Scott Monty. Ignoring the rebellious teen inside my head, I decided to read the book on the flight home.

In Chapter 11, I found a list of blogging guidelines that are very hard to argue about:

1. Define your purpose. 2. Set a reliable schedule. 3. Mix it up! 4. Move beyond the written word. 5. Size matters. (hehehe... sorry... twelve inside...) 6. Learn how to write killer headlines. 7. Design is important. 8. Create momentum. 9. Consider comment moderation. (YES!) 10. Categorize and tag everything. 11. Write the way you speak. (Yes, yes, YESSSSS!!!) 12. Don't overthink. (or, as your old buddy Shoog would say, "Don't overnoodle it.")

In the book, the authors expand on these guidelines (not rules) one at a time. Note that number two says to set a "reliable" schedule. What does that mean? Ann and C.C. say, "That's entirely up to you and your ambition and calendar, but at least twice a week is optimal." How long should those posts be? The authors suggest, "Long enough to say what you need to say, but not too long... You want to make them long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep it interesting."

Content Rules goes into podcasting, vlogging, and other media. They give great advice for webinars and ebooks, as well. The book is written in a way that's easy to read, as though you are being coached by a friend who's been there and succeeded. Reading through the book, I never found a khaki colored chapter called People's Rules of Blogging for Awesome Comrades.

Barring content like threats to government officials or defaming innocent people, we can pretty much write whatever we want. You don't HAVE to write about a store you've never been to just because some harpy Shop Girl thinks you need to be fair. It's your blog. Don't let anybody ever tell you what to write there!

*deep breath*

Anyway... go buy the book. It's pretty awesome. Although my copy is cooler than the copy you'll have. My copy is signed by C.C. Or as I like to call him...

"Chippy."

No Expectations

There's a lot of talk about Return On Relationships. Expectations that if a company or brand or person is nice/charming/complimentary enough, that the receiving party of these compliments and charm will be loyal to the company/brand/person. Enough already.

What about relating for the sake of relating? For no other purpose than to be a friend? To share life's amazing moments? What about being a compassionate listener without expecting a purchase/referral/follow?

What about socializing for the sake of socializing?

Social media has created beautiful tribes of people that can lift each other during devastating times like the loss of children, divorce, illness... and during times of celebration like weddings, book releases, and the birth of new life. Through our blogs, tweets, twitpics, flickr albums, facebook posts we all learn a bit more about each other. We see each other's human frailties, grace under pressure, and immeasurable joy. Every time a member of our community shares and we read/watch/listen to their words and thoughts, they add to the mosaic that is our life experience.

But I'm not oblivious to reality.

I understand that we all need to pay our bills and I'm thankful that social media has created opportunities for many of us to continue following our dreams while paying some of those bills. In fact, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I'm an active promoter of companies and friends' businesses on-line. Sometimes for pay. Sometimes for trade. Sometimes as a favor.

Never with any expectation that followers will feel obligated to purchase anything just because I was nice to them once or twice.

There are some people out there that relate with us. We know they work for a company. Some of them never ask us to do anything. They just hang out and share. When we need an answer to a question, they throw up a link. When we need a laugh, they toss out a great one-liner. The good ones know the right balance of joining the conversation without being all shouty. I'm not so naive that I don't think they are hoping for a return on their interactions, but the good ones aren't... what's the word...

It's hard to explain, but when you get ROR'd, you feel it.

And it doesn't feel good.

Relationships are not currency to be cashed in like chips at a casino at the end of a weekend in Vegas. They are gifts from real people... gifts to be treasured. Comparing a relationship to money only cheapens the relationship, tarnishing any cherished memories, leaving the leveraged soul wondering if there was ever any authenticity in the relationship in the first place.

So let's be friends. Friends with no expectations other than to add to the mosaic of memories. Memories of the good times that we shared without waiting for any return but a smile.