Scared of social media? Follow Batman's lead

batman One of my favorite movies is Batman Begins. Near the beginning of the film is a scene in which a young Bruce Wayne goes to see crime boss Carmine Falcone. As their conversation comes to a close, Falcone says:

This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.

I love this quote and often think of it when I come across an organization that seems to have trouble with social media (or citizen journalism, if you prefer). Pushback against social media, whether it’s against blogging, social networking, photography, Twitter, or something else, is almost always the result of fear caused by lack of understanding. Social media is a disruptive force, so if you don’t understand how it can be beneficial, it’s not surprising that it may at first seem scary.

The other reason I love this quote is that Falcone is wrong, of course – Bruce Wayne does eventually come to understand the crime world. It wasn’t easy, and it caused him to question himself and the way he perceived the world, but he became a better person because of it – he became Batman.

Getting over your fear of social media is simple:

  1. Admit that you don’t understand social media.
  2. Set out to rectify that.

In short, just follow Batman’s lead.

The natural result of completing those two steps is that you’ll be able to embrace social media and benefit from it.

Here are a couple of examples where local organizations didn’t follow Batman’s lead. Instead, they pushed back.

Century Hospitality’s Hundred: Everyone is a reviewer!

hundred bar kitchen Last Thursday, Sharon and I went to Edmonton’s new resto-pub downtown, called Hundred. It’s the latest member of the Century Hospitality family. As you may know, Sharon and I have been to dozens and dozens of restaurants in the last few years, and we’ve taken pictures of and reviewed all of them. So I was definitely surprised to find myself being questioned about taking photos at Hundred.

We follow a few simple guidelines when photographing our restaurant experience. First, we try to get pictures of both our dishes and the interior of the restaurant (sometimes the exterior too). Second, we do our best to avoid disrupting other guests – that’s why we never use the flash. We bought little tripods and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get decent photos in low-light areas.

We were following both of these rules at Hundred when I was approached by the manager, Dean. He asked if he could help me, and I said no, just taking some photos. He then told me that I couldn’t just take photos without getting permission first. When I asked him why, he stumbled a bit and then said he had no way of knowing whether I was from a competitor or not. He asked what the photos were for, and I said a review on a blog. That seemed to confuse him, and he asked again. I gave him the URL for Sharon’s blog, and sensing that it wasn’t going anywhere, asked him for a card and promised to send him the link.

I think that Dean simply felt that he had lost control somehow. When he learned that I wasn’t from the Journal, Vue Weekly or another conventional publication, he immediately got defensive about my activity. That suggests to me a lack of understanding about social media. For an organization that tries so hard to be hip and trendy, I find this a bit disappointing.

Dean – what you need to remember is that it’s not just the mainstream press that will be talking about your restaurant. Real people will have conversations about it too. Social media enables these conversations to be written down and shared, and that can be scary at first. The correct response is not to try and prevent them from happening, but to learn about social media and figure out how you can participate. Learn how to track mentions of your restaurant online, and comment on reviews and photos when you find them. I’ll help you get started – here is Sharon’s review, and here are my photos.

The Edmonton Oilers: I’m blogging this!

edmonton oilers logoDave Berry is an editor at Vue Weekly, and was also one of the main contributors to the Covered In Oil blog. That makes him one of the unique few that have a foot in both the old and new media worlds. On Sunday, October 12th when the Oilers played the Avalanche, Dave was in the press box and with some time on his hands, decided to liveblog the game. He was approached by the Oilers’ press guy, and was told that blogging wasn’t an acceptable use of the press pass. He was told to stop and delete the post, and that if he didn’t he’d be ejected from the building.

You can read Dave’s account here. And via Battle of Alberta, here’s a cached version of the post Dave was writing.

Maybe Dave got in trouble because of his witty writing, or maybe he got in trouble because he failed to read the fine print on his press pass, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the Oilers press team wasted an opportunity to improve, an opportunity to understand social media and use it to their benefit.

Instead of threatening to kick Dave out of the box, they should have stopped and tried to learn more about what he was doing. Obviously they can’t issue press passes to everyone, but I’m pretty sure that Dave didn’t need a press pass to live blog the game. He could have done that from anywhere. The Oilers need to figure out how to work with bloggers, not against them.

I don’t know enough about the way the system works to comment beyond that. I think the Oilers may be restricted by the league in how they can engage with the media both offline and online, at least to a certain extent. I fully expect to hear from either the Oilers or the NHL one of these days, due to my creation and updating of the Edmonton Oilers account on Twitter. When asked if the NHL would try to protect Twitter accounts as intellectual property, Michael DiLorenzo, the NHL’s Director of Corporate Communications, simply said “not yet”. I’m hopeful for a positive outcome – after all, Michael himself is on Twitter.

Social Media is here to stay

The question is not whether bloggers, photographers, and others who publish things online should be ignored or treated like the mainstream media. The question is simply, what’s the best way to work with them?

I think it’s simple. Admit that you don’t know what you don’t know, and then find someone to help you. Stop being afraid of social media, and start embracing it. Follow Batman’s lead.

26 thoughts on “Scared of social media? Follow Batman's lead

  1. Mack,

    It’s our job in part to inspire the greater Edmonton business community to rise up to the challenge through our work.

    Mainstream business cannot hide from it forever. The social media revolution has been brewing for years and it is rapidly gaining momentum.

    Hopefully, these organizations will review their approaches and educate themselves soon.

    Especially, my friends at the Edmonton Oilers…

  2. Regarding your restaurant example, I recently wrote a post about a strange occurrence which happened while I was eating lunch at a popular new restaurant.

    With lines out the door, a girl who appeared to be about seven years of age walked in with a sizable Minolta camera and started taking pictures of walls, section by section.

    I think that the dueling desires of wanting to get the word out, vs. protecting oneself from competitors, must be somewhat conflicting for business owners.

  3. I agree that some organisations are aware of social media.

    I’d complement you on no use of flash, but I would disagree with the use of a tripod, as it clearly would bring attention and possibly make other guests feel uncomfortable – they should not have to understand social media to feel comfortable in a private establishment. If a waiter takes a group shot of people at a table this may attract attention but not unease (although in some restaurants this may be considered a little low-bro too). If you get a tripod out, you look like you are a professional reviewer or someone scrutinising the establishment, which may lead others to question the quality of the establishment. While that in itself may not be a bad thing, it is not the feeling that guests have come for, if it is a negative one.

    Just shredding some light on the situation… 🙂

  4. I can understand the situation in the restaurant to some extent, but I still think it’s a bit silly of him to be worried about you taking some photos. However, given that you were using a tripod (something I was unaware of when I commented on Sharon’s blog), I’m not surprised that he was a bit worried when you said you weren’t from the MSM.

    I’m sure his thought process went something like: “Not from a newspaper, but he has a seemingly professional camera setup…what’s going on here? Oh my god, is he spying on me?”

    Again, it’s silly, but not entirely surprising.

    As for how the Oilers treated Dave, well, that’s inexcusable as far as I’m concerned. Dave was my editor back during my time at the Gateway, and he’s always been professional when it comes to journalism. Sure, maybe his blog entry was a bit “unconventional” when compared to the MSM, but regardless, the Oilers acted unprofessionally and irrational when faced with something/someone that, in fact, is not a threat, but rather a benefit to their organization.

  5. Adam and Colin – I think maybe something has been lost in translation. The tripod I’m talking about is maybe four inches tall. It’s really small! Here’s our entire setup:

    Camera & Tripod

  6. I assumed it was just a small, table-top setup. Personally, it wouldn’t bother me, but I can see how I restaurant manager might get worried if he saw that, and didn’t know anything about social media.

  7. Yeah, okay, I take your point (and yours Colin). Though it’s not uncommon to see people walking around with DSLRs nowadays, so I find our setup quite simple myself.

  8. There are a lot of people out there who are really behind the times and just plain paranoid.

    There’s a bit of a difference between someone who’s having a good time and wanting to document it and someone documenting the competition. Someone systematically photographing an establishment would certainly raise eyebrows, age seven or not.

    Speaking from experience, many many small business people are not that sophisticated when it comes to marketing, so it should be no surprise that they are even less educated when it comes to social media.

    How to handle suspicious restaurant owners is tricky. On one hand, you might want to make them aware of what you’re doing before you’re even seated, but that might have unintended consequences. Perhaps they might want you to eat somewhere else, which is certainly food for thought on the old blog, or they might go overboard and insist you don’t pay, assign one waitress just for you, or whatever.

    Or, you could just proceed as you have and deal with the consequences after. Any restaurant owner with half a brain isn’t going to be seen arguing with you or kicking you out. He’s worried what the others will say and what you’ll say later. There are diplomatic ways of handling these things.

    Just be careful how you frame your photo in case you see prominent Edmontonians who are dining with someone who is not their significant other! 🙂 Could be a valuable photo!

  9. Thanks for your comment Alain. I guess a third rule we have, though less top-of-mind, is to avoid having people in the photos. In some cases they are blurry, in the background.

    I think I’d go the “deal with the consequences after” route every time. I know many professional food reviewers do call ahead of time, and the restaurant makes special arrangements for them. Sharon prefers to review her experience as it would be for anyone else, and I quite like that.

  10. I’m planning on going to check out Hundred sometime soon, should I ask for Dean and tell him I’m only there because of Sharon’s review?

  11. I still don’t understand his hesitation of the photography. For one thing, even if a potential competitor didn’t photograph, any competitor can visit the restaurant repeatedly and take notes.

    Another, is that if there is mainstream media taking photos, er, wouldn’t the same competitor be able to take a look at them at VUE, SEE, The Sun or Edmonton Journal?

    And furthermore, even if a competitor took photos, notes, with the ill intention to copy, so what? Isn’t their restaurant supposed to be unique and stand out on its own? If it got to the (unlikely) turn that a competitor becomes EXACTLY like them, the have grounds to sue.

    Unless you came in and stole their recipes, every restaurant takes cues from others for inspiration. How many places serve different twists of the same dish, for example?

  12. As a professional photojournalist for the past 15-plus years, I read this post (via Alberta Views Magazine) with great interest. I came to the conclusion quite some time ago that social media would become a very important mode of content distribution for both mainstream, and new media journalists. However, I’m not at all surprised by the level of suspicion you raised by taking pictures in a private establishment without getting permission first. I have done this work for a long time, and I’ve run the full gamut of people who desperately DON’T want their picture taken, to those who desperately DO want their picture taken (and everything in between)… Nonetheless, coming from a “traditional” media background, it has always been common practice to first obtain permission to shoot pictures in a private establishment. I’m not a lawyer, and the law is never black or white, but it is my understanding that the owner has every right to tell you to stop taking pictures within his/her privately-owned business. A photojournalist can shoot pictures of anything he/she wants, provided they are not physically on private property. Maybe I’m missing something here, but I’m not sure why the rules would be any different for an online (social media) journalist than a for a “mainstream” journalist. I don’t think the challenges you faced in this restaurant were unique to the social media sphere that you work within… I agree with you that it would be to any business owners’ benefit to allow such work to take place in their establishments, and not view it with such suspicion. But, people do view the media with suspicion. If I walk into a crowded room with professional camera gear, I’m immediately identified as someone from the media (I stick out like a sore thumb)… But, give me a small point and shoot camera, and I blend in like a tourist. I have spent my entire career trying to educate those who don’t see the benefits of using the media to their own advantage, and look at the whole situation as an opportunity. I can understand the owner’s response to you because, in general, most business owners are not accustomed to dealing with the media on a day to day basis. You were probably the first journalist he’s talked to in years (if ever).

  13. Hey Mack,

    I picked up on this interesting thread over at Tony’s blog (

    I did a fair bit of research into privacy legal concerns in a previous life as an A/V tech/consultant. Even so far as hiring a lawyer to consult with regarding this issue. This is good stuff to know for ALL photographers.

    What Kevin says is pretty much right on. There is no specific code laid out governing what you can and can not do. All we have is precedent, and the precedent thus far lends itself to the “expectation of privacy.” Essentially, like Kevin said, if you are on public property you can take pictures of anything that does not hold the “expectation of privacy.” Sitting in your living room, you can expect privacy – so pictures through your front window are out. Attending a public religious service, you do not expect privacy – and this was the whole point of one the consultations we did. Using a public washroom, you can expect privacy – don’t really want to think of an example for that one. If a random person is not the subject of a photograph, they are in a public place and do not have the expectation of privacy, you do not need consent to publish that photo. There are a number of exceptions (if the picture discloses personal information about them, if you catch a trademarked item on their clothing, etc), so be wary if you live by this rule.

    However, on private property, all of this goes out the window. A business owner is responsible for what happens within his restaurant, and I certainly don’t think less of Hundred for disallowing photographs. Without any media credentials, he has no way of knowing what your intentions are. And there are a lot of bad, bad people out there. That being said, no can ever take away your right to review their food/service (assuming it’s not libelous – ie, as long as you post the truth) or your ability to publish this material…and I hope they don’t! I live by your (plural) reviews!

    As for the Dave thing, do we know specifically why they asked him to stop? Is it possible that the Oilers’ franchise has an agreement with CBC/TSN/etc for play-by-play broadcasting rights? I would be interested in hearing Dave’s side of the story before passing judgement.

    My experience with people and social media has been more along the lines of them thinking we’re just “quaint little internet folk” who can be either ignored or pushed around easily. I haven’t sensed a lot of fear, yet. But it’ll come 🙂 And rightfully so…

  14. I’m curious to hear more detail on the comment about trademarks.

    1 I don’t see that there is an issue with showing someone in public (in the incidental background) with a trademark, particularly for a news/review piece of real life. 2 It may be problematic (esp. in the US) if any association/endorsement were iplied, or the piece was a production. In many cop shows or similar trademarks there is blurrying of marks, probably due to fear of litigation under 2. In scripted productions it seems to go either way in terms of whether real life trademarks are mentioned because they are (a) paid for or (b) part of real life.

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