The Power of Social in Social Media

The power of social in social mediaAuthor’s note: Shelly was so kind as to ask me to share a bit more of my story after seeing the video of my presentation at #140Montreal last month. So, well, here ’tis.

Once upon a time, I expected to spend my life as an ink-stained wretch, hopefully with a Pulitzer (or two) under my belt after a career as a foreign correspondent or the editor of a metropolitan newspaper.

In fact, in high school I once feared I was depending too much on life in newspapers and tried to force myself to come up with even just one other career I might pursue when I grew up. Whenever that would be.

I came up with nothing, so I suppose it was fortunate that I managed to snag some decent internships while in college and a job at The Miami Herald after graduating (especially considering it was 1991 and we were in the midst of another recession).

So it’s probably no surprise that no matter how ridiculous, depressing and bleak things got in the news business, I still couldn’t — OK, wouldn’t — see a way out.

I started doing social media to help drive pageviews to blogs on my newspaper’s website. Digg, StumbleUpon, MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, Cre8buzz – I tried them all. Made widgets on WidgetBox, set up our paper’s first CoverItLive account. If I saw a button or link or widget on someone else’s site, I checked it out.

Along the way, I made a lot of friends. In most cases, I knew nothing more than their Digg username or the handle they used to comment on blogs. But we helped each other. Some, like Louie Baur and Patrick Parise I talked to regularly on the phone.

All the while, things got worse at the newspaper and on Dec. 2, 2008, my boss and the executive editor came to our office to deliver the news of who’d be laid off. When they called me into the conference room, I knew it was either to tell me which of my staffers would lose their jobs or to deliver the bad news to me.

Our office lost three people that day: Me, a business reporter and a sports reporter. Though it wasn’t really a surprise, it was still a bit of a shock. No matter how prepared you are for such an eventuality, you can never truly be prepared.

On my drive home, I got in touch with one social media friend to ask him to let folks know why I wasn’t going to be around or reachable much for the next few days. By the time I arrived home (it was a 45-minute drive), I had received a text from that friend telling me a mutual acquaintance of ours might have a lead on some social media work for me.

I got emails that night from other friends offering me moral support, connections with editors I might freelance for and other assistance. In several cases, I didn’t even know these people’s real names – maybe a first name, but in some cases not even that. I knew them by their online handles. What was really cool? It didn’t matter – they just wanted to help.

I’ve never been so humbled as I was in those first couple of weeks after being laid off. I realized there was this huge community of people out there who were just filled with awesome. People I’d never have known if it hadn’t been for social media.

There’s a lot of talk about how our online lives are making us more reclusive and less connected to others.

I wholeheartedly disagree. The Internet and social media are making the world smaller than ever.

When I went to London last month, I spent the first couple of days with friends who live in the U.K. As we sat in my hotel lobby having a drink after dinner, I felt a deep sense of comfort, as if I were seeing old, dear friends after, perhaps, a long period of time – not seeing them for the first time ever.

And I say seeing them for the first time, not meeting them for the first time, because we’d met online a long time ago.

Here’s the video from my presentation at the 140Conference if you’d like to see it.

Amy Vernon is an independent consultant who works with companies of all sizes on their digital, social media and viral strategies. She’s an inaugural inductee of the New Jersey Social Media Hall of Fame and top female submitter of all time on the social news site Digg.com. Her background includes nearly 20 years as a professional daily newspaper journalist at The Miami Herald and other papers, and she has written for Esquire.com, Network World, and The Next Web. You can find her blog here and stalk her on Twitter @AmyVernon.

Photo by Hot Rod Homepage via Creative Commons

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  • http://twitter.com/susanborst susan borst

    Amy, That’s a great story about the ‘power’ of social media connections on real life experiences.  Many of us have similar stories of how social media ‘friends’ have become ‘in real life’ business associates.  We can debate all day whether meeting online is ‘in real life’ or not, but the sake of argument, let’s say it’s not!  It was great meeting you IRL at 140MTL.  Your talk was excellent and I can see why you have developed the meaningful relationships you have both online and off! Thanks for sharing~~

  • http://twitter.com/susanborst susan borst

    Amy, That’s a great story about the ‘power’ of social media connections on real life experiences.  Many of us have similar stories of how social media ‘friends’ have become ‘in real life’ business associates.  We can debate all day whether meeting online is ‘in real life’ or not, but the sake of argument, let’s say it’s not!  It was great meeting you IRL at 140MTL.  Your talk was excellent and I can see why you have developed the meaningful relationships you have both online and off! Thanks for sharing~~

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

     Thank you, Susan! I’d agree that sometimes meeting online is not “in real life.” But sometimes it is. However, nothing beats actually seeing those people and shaking hands or hugging or whatever. The online meeting is just the first step.

    Great to meet you, too, and I’ll see you next week at 140Conf NYC!

  • http://marksherrick.wordpress.com/ Mark Sherrick

    There is great power behind being able to reach almost anyone, anywhere at any time. Social media brought that power to the masses. You are correct about the perpetual debate about online vs real life – but for me, they are one and the same. Maybe I haven’t met you in person, or Shelly, or Chris Brogan, or whomever, but if we connected in some way, that’s real life to me.

    I’ve gotten job interviews and made connections in my field that I would have NEVER gotten without social media, bar none. It is a different experience from having to beat feet all over town with a stack of resumes, but in the end, they can both accomplish the same feat. 

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

     Absolutely, Mark. I’ve gotten contacted for jobs on LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook, all because I was there, and active. Our world has become ever smaller, hasn’t it?

  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    I’m starting to think those scaredy-cat studies these articles are written by are initiated by people who want to return to the way things were. We’ve gone far beyond the era of the gatekeepers, where suddenly now if you want to be able to communicate with someone in a foreign land, you don’t have to be wealthy enough to buy a ticket and book a trip. That’s frightening for people who were the gatekeepers or see how the world’s power balance is being restructured. Which is really too bad. It’s not as if this new weird world excludes them. It’s just inviting them to change.

  • http://soulati.com/blog Soulati

    Amy, I love this piece. I couldn’t agree more. The community I have developed and now consider friends are all over the world. It’s so absolutely cool, and the support is intense and lovely.

    Congrats on coming “over to the dark side,” well not totally into PR, but close enough! Heh.

  • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

    Thank you for sharing such a warm story, Amy. I couldn’t agree more. Meeting new friends (virtually), building connections, sharing awesome experiences, and getting in touch with the world anytime, anywhere were never been this fast and easy – all thanks to social media!

    Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.thewholesaleforums.co.uk Anthony Trollope

    I wish every sector was like this. I wish every sector understood social media and it’s power to make things like this happen. Problem is it’s not permeated everywhere yet which makes it a struggle for some industries, particularly the one I’m in (trade/wholesale), to get others to buy into it. We are pioneering this stuff in our industry as I’m sure plenty of others are as I know our industry desperately needs to become more transparent and therefore more connected. LinkedIn seems to be used a lot, folks can see the value in that, it’s just Facebook and Twitter that many seem to shun it as valueless.

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

     Totally, @Tinu:disqus . It’s a great, wide world out there.

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

    Thank you so much @soulati:disqus ! I try not to be too Darth Vader-ish. ;)

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

    Thank you, @kentjulian:disqus ! Much appreciated. :)  

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

    It’s so funny, @anthonytrollope:disqus , because in so many other sectors, they see the value of FB/Twitter and brush off LinkedIn as useless and boring. I love all three for totally different reasons.

    But fight the good fight – in the end, we know how this story is going to turn out: Those who adapt will succeed. Those who don’t, eventually, will not. Just a matter of how long “eventually” takes.

  • http://www.thewholesaleforums.co.uk Anthony Trollope

    True enough. I think that’s why we continue to push the benefits of the platforms and have faith that more people will start trickling through. We’ve definitely seen some uplift this years vs. last but I don’t know if that is down to our efforts or simply because social media itself is gaining much more coverage these days. I think you’re right, though – it will eventually come through and we’ve got to all assume that we’re in it for the long haul.

  • Joseph Brown

    Very inspiring post, Amy. Social media have definitely made the world smaller and even people closer. It’s good to note though to use it always at our advantage positively and with caution.

  • http://www.bydj.ca/ DJ Perez

    Amazing..Agreed with you.. things will be as real as you make them. Online relations are no longer an option.

  • ShellyKramer

    Agreed. One million percent!!!

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