Thursday, 14 April 2011

How much time I spend on social media and how I organise them

From Wordle-images

I've been using social media in relation to business and pleasure for a couple of years now. Today, I found myself writing a letter to an artist friend about how my use of social media had evolved and thought - this is relevant to a wider audience! So here it is:

"Dear ...

You were talking about trying to find the time for your blog. I thought you might be interested from a business perspective about the time and effort I spend on different social media. The way I organise them and my time spent is as follows:

  • Twitter: good for quick comments, takes 1 minute to make comment.
  • Twitpic: allows you to link a photo to a quick tweet.
  • Facebook: About 5 mins for a longer wall post. Best to have a separate FB page for business
  • Blog: Couple of paragraphs - including links and photos. Up to an hour - a lot of that thinking, composition and correction time.
  • Picasa Web Albums. Any decent or relevant pictures are uploaded to a web album. This also allows me to incorporate single images or slideshows into the blog.
  • YouTube: A couple of hours - several takes of video, editing, uploading. (You can do it quicker!). Again, YouTube videos can be incorporated into Blog articles
  • Website: If fully structured, takes 1h plus for new entry. Faster alternative is to use blog as website and ensure you have good search and indexing function (blogger and wordpress provide these).
  • Daily time spent on Social media - some time daily (up to an hour!). 
  • Remember the key word is Social - you need to interact with others, not just talk about yourself all the time.

Optimising your entries for maximum effect:
  • My twitter entries are linked to Facebook, so appear there too automatically.
  • By adding an additional tag, I can also direct tweets to Linkedin if serious enough.
  • Once I write a blog article or make a YouTube video, I tweet a link to it (which also appears on FB and LinkedIn if appropriate).
  • I use the name miltoncontact as the common link throughout as there are too many Chris Thomas's out there!
The idea is to have a virtuous circle linking your different media.
All this ensures that you can be found on the web by a whole range of different routes.

My possible weakness is that I tend to have a wide range of topics and interests all represented in these different media. More focussed businesses have dedicated blogs and other social media accounts for each different specific business stream.

My excuse is that I'm a generalist with wide interests and am happy to be seen as such. :-)

This is actually a letter relevant to many others so I will also blog it! Which reminds me of a very useful piece of advice to generate content:

If anyone asks you a question or you have a conversation and you think the answer is of general interest, share it, it is an effective way to generate new content

Best wishes,


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Two German Companies visit London and the IFE

Two German food related companies came over to London for meetings with UK companies in and around the International Food and Drink Exhibition IFE.  “Der Pommeraner” is a family run business specialising in speciality and regional sausages and meats, whilst “Von Blythen” provided lifestyle products using flowers and flower products in food.

The benefits of arranging meetings around the IFE was that in addition to the planned contacts, the companies could gain an immediate snapshot of the food world within a UK perspective. There where a multitude of products on display, numerous suppliers exhibiting, and you could get a good idea of what was happening in food trends.

What's more, Central London was but a tube ride away from Excel. Two further articles will describe the individual experiences of the companies in more detail, see the links at the bottom of this post.

Dana and Sandy Reggentin-Hassenstein (Account Manager and CEO respectively for der Pommeraner) and Martina Kabitzsch (Owner Manager, von Blythen) arrived together at Gatwick where they were collected by Mark Dodsworth (Europartnerships) and driven to London. I joined them at the IFE at Excel.

The meeting point and haven of tranquillity was the German Pavillion who kindly allowed us to use their facilities when not travelling around, and looked after us very well.

Together, we had three days of meetings, highs and lows, miles of walking and innumerable trips about London.

There were perhaps two items of note in addition to business. The first was the hotel. We had looked for a more economical option and found it in Notting Hill. The exterior looked extremely promising, sitting within a lovely columned Georgian terrace, however, the rooms can only described as “quality commensurate with the cost”.

There were two key features to my room. First, the handle to the bathroom door was apt to come off in my hands. Second, the window did not face outwards, but across towards the window of the neighbouring room. Since that was occupied by a bevy of attractive young Spanish ladies on the first night, this could have given me a delightful free evening's entertainment.

However, I felt duty bound to let them know and warn them to draw their curtains. My tact and restraint was rewarded by by being awakened by their noisy preparations for departure at 4am the next morning.

As a group we had taken one look at the “breakfast room”, laughed ourselves silly and agreed to eat out at a nearby breakfast bar.

The evenings were a much more positive and entirely different kettle of fish. The first night we met up with a Belgian delegation in a Lebanese restaurant for an excellent meal and conversation.

The second night was in a little gem of a pub that Europartnerships had used before, the Victoria in Bayswater. The initial stumbling block was gaining a free table, but once achieved, we had a pleasant evening in a Victorian setting, with apparent links to Churchill, Dickens and Charlie Chaplin!

The third night, we were invited by Martin Straus (Wine Trainers) and Michael Sweetmann (Hospitality and Cocktail expert) to dine at the Institute of Directors club. Martin ensured that we walked off a considerable number of calories through Pall Mall getting there, presumably to justify the excellent meal in relaxing club surroundings that evening!

Each company achieved at least one success as part of the visit to London and the IFE. Read more about the individual companies and their experience here:

Der Pommeraner
Von Blythen

Part of the VHP Lebensmittelwirtschaft 2010
Supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology
Project Management by Europartnerships Ltd
in cooperation with Milton Contact Ltd (UK)
And Come Across (DE)

Der Pommeraner, German Sausages visit the UK

On the visit of the Pommeranian sausage company, Der Pommeraner, to London and the International Food and Drink Exhibition.

There is an undiscovered country on the Baltic coastline, in the North-East of Germany, it is Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. A green undulating and scenic landscape with coastal resorts and lovely beaches occasionally littered with the amber that the Vikings prized.

An appreciated tourist destination for the Germans ever since the former East German became accessible after the fall of the wall, it is also home to a set of culinary traditions and food related businesses. One of these is “der Pommeraner” (the Pommeranian).

Der Pommeraner is a family run business specialising in that quintessential of German foods, the sausage!
As with any stereotype, it hides a far richer food experience than one might originally expect. It’s like saying that we British have a cheese, and that’s Cheddar, totally ignoring the fact that we have Stilton, Wilstshire, Lancashire, Red Leicester, Wensleydale and many, many more, often from artisan producers at the highest level.

So it is with Der Pommeraner, who provide a range including not only the familiar Frankfurters, but also Bockwurst, Knockwurst, Wiener, Bratwurst and more which, including their flavoured variants, total an impressive 72 products - with of course, five Pommeranian varieties. These are quality, award winning products.

It was my pleasure to accompany Dana and Sandy Reggentin-Hassenstein, responsible for Der Pommeraner’s foray into the international market, as part of a program supported by the German government. Our base was the International Food and Drink Exhibition (IFE) 2011 at Excel, in London.

The objective was to learn about the UK market and find opportunities for Der Pommeraner products in Britain.

The IFE itself gave the opportunity to visit different meat stands and see what was on offer, talk to some of the exhibitors and arrange to meet people. London was also a place to visit external companies and see what the high end retailers were offering and a place to travel from.

One surprise for the visitors was the comparable quality of the average British banger (as sausages are colloquially known), with its lower meat content, coarser texture and oozing fat. An unexpected culinary shock when used to a more quality, finer German product (and also a reason for my preferring the “finest” ranges of  British pork sausages, where there was a guaranteed meat content above 70%).

So what were the potential ways into the UK market for Der Pommeraner? We identified two main issues, 1. Getting people to taste the product to win them over, and 2. Finding the best route to market.

It is no secret that 80 percent of meat products are now sold though the large supermarket chains, with their competitive pricing and centralised purchasing. Butchers and independent delicatessens make up another 15 percent and the remainder is taken up by farm shops and other outlets.

These all have different requirements in terms of approach and, more specifically, presentation to the UK consumer. In retail outlets in particular, there was a big difference in packaging and product presentation, depending on whether it was a supermarket or an independent small retailer.

Despite the grim grey weather, we also managed to visit a range of the high end shops in London, via a few sights on the way. The best display and range of German sausages being on show in – Harrods – where else!

A dash to Southwold also gave an insight to what the independent shop at the end of the retail chain required to make it easier to sell new products, and when.

The high quality pork sausages, in their many variants, do have a potential market in the UK, where 69% of households eat pre-packed, fresh sausages at home!

Dana and Sandy of Der Pommeraner left the UK with one immediate contact interested in further business and a number of leads and new insights to help them target the UK market even more successfully.

To find out more about Der Pommeraner, visit their English website at If you are looking for new, quality sausage and meat related products for your business, give Dana a call at Der Pommeraner, +49(0)39998 318-0.

Related articles:
Two German companies visit the IFE
The taste of flowers.

Part of the VHP Lebensmittelwirtschaft 2010
Supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology
Project Management by Europartnerships Ltd
in cooperation with Milton Contact Ltd (UK)
And Come Across (DE)

Von Blythen, flower liqueurs, syrups and condiments to the UK

From German delegates at the IFE

An unusual lifestyle addition to foods, Edible flowers and flower products by Martina Kabitzsch’s company Von Blythen (old German for from flowers) visited London and the IFE.

“Say it with flowers” takes on a whole new meaning when, in addition to appreciating their visual beauty and scent, you can also taste their delicate and often unusual flavours.

Ever since Martina Kabitzsch stumbled across an old recipe book that showed her how to produce a flower based liqueur, she has researched and expanded the use of flowers in food as part of an enriched lifestyle.

From founding Von Blythen in 2004, she has researched and developed flower based recipes, from liqueurs, syrups to preserves and condiments. Martina also runs courses and is an author in her own right, as a recognised expert in this area.

Von Blythen visited the UK and the International Food and Drink Exhibition (IFE) 2011 at Excel in March and I accompanied Martina to the first two meetings to provide language support if needed.

We did not have to worry as once Martina was in flow, she was able to get her message across with a smile. Our second meeting, at the German Pavillion in the IFE, was a revelation as I also had a chance to taste some of the different samples that she had brought along.

Quite often the flavours were delicate and not immediately apparent, then a subtle lingering taste would emerge, prolonging the flavour sensation of the particular food.

Mark Dodsworth took over the accompaniment for Von Blythen as I concentrated on our other company, Der Pommeraner, and I believe that Martina returned to Germany with a number of interested leads and ideas how to come back in the future.

Martina did leave me a signed copy of her book “Blütenmenüs”(“Flower menus”, currently still in German, but look out for an English edition in the near future).

Being a natural experimenter, I could not resist trying out some of the ideas with some of the edible Spring flowers emerging. Do note that not all flowers are edible, daffodils for example are not! Here are two useful links – edible flowers, flowers and plants to avoid.

Sugaring the small spring violets from the Garden did not really work – then again, I could not detect any scent on them. The big success was from the Magnolia tree in a neighbour’s garden.

Having gained permission to ravish the Magnolia tree of three or four flowers, I followed Martina’s instructions to detach and lightly paint the individual petals with eggwhite and then coat in caster sugar. The petals were left in a warm kitchen to dry for two days. About two thirds of the petals did go sugar crystal hard. Biting into the crisp petal released a perfumed flavour in the mouth.

Eating a single petal was a pleasant and repeatedly surprising experience, two at one go was too much. So over the next day, the stock of crystalised petals diminished one by one.

When our apple tree began to bloom, I thought I would try t make some apple flower syrup. This turned out a delicate shade of clear green and has a very subtle flavour, not of apple, indescribable, but definitely an improvement on a simple sugar syrup on its own.

For more information about flower derived products, Martina Kabitzsch and Von Blythen, visit

Related Articles:
Der Pommeraner
Two German Companies visit the IFE

Part of the VHP Lebensmittelwirtschaft 2010
Supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology
Project Management by Europartnerships Ltd
in cooperation with Milton Contact Ltd (UK)
And Come Across (DE)

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Continuing evolution of QR code design

In a previous article I described the first steps in learning about QR codes and starting to test their technical limits (Making QR codes more Human). The Japanese obviously have a head start on further creative applications, but it is still great to play.

Technically, the way to create a flexible QR code design is to ensure that there is sufficient contrast between the dark parts of the code and the light areas, and to leave a sufficient light border around it.

I have added a further three designs to the collection.

  • Design for a car magnet for Martin's Wine Club. Since this was a large item, I could include Martin's signature glass from the logo in the three large squares of the logo. You can see them if you go to the Martin's Wine Club Car Magnet image and enlarge the design.
  • Richard Wishart of Delivery Management has been a great proponent of QR Codes ever since I introduced him to Mirko Kisser of Celloon last year. Richard has been collecting examples of QR codes and I felt that his code could be enhanced by adding the eagle from his logo. My first attempt worked on screen but not in print. I was able to redress this by lightening the eagle's blue to ensure that there was sufficient contrast even on printed material.
  • New HBN Banner.  When we at HBN discussed having new banners, there was almost unanimous consensus that one of the banners at least should include an HBN QR code! Whilst pondering about the design, I also wanted to reflect the cooperative nature of HBN. Incorporating individual company QR codes into the larger HBN QR code seemed an appropriate solution.  It took some trial and error to ensure that the contrast within each small code was sufficient to be recognised and that yet when viewed from a distance, these individual codes were dark enough to fit into the large code and let it function.  The final banner design with the QR codes within the QR code was a resounding success at the Wood Green Business Fair. It aroused curiosity and comment.

My friends and colleagues at HBN have taken to the QR code technology like ducks to water. In particular, Richard Wishart of Delivery Management has been promoting their use for logistics and tracking.

I will add any further novel designs of QR codes that I make over time.