On Monday, September 19, 2001, I attended The Marketplace Conference hosted by the Small Business Community Network at The Museum in Kitchener, Ontario. I was participating as an audience member, but I was also vying for the title of Social Media Idol. During the competition segment of the day, all contestants were asked one question and the question that came to me was “how has social media impacted your every day?”
Although I express myself easily on Twitter in those 140 character limits, to share just what kind of impact Twitter has had on my life, I want to take the time here to explain just how important this medium is to me. So, to paraphrase my own answer (somewhat), I share this…
Social media, Twitter especially, has had a profound impact on my life. I don’t use that word lightly. It has been tangible, positive and hugely influential, on both a personal and a professional level.
When my family and I first moved to Stratford, Ontario, I tried many of the traditional routes to engage more in the community. I joined a book club, a writing circle, participated in photography classes at the Gallery Stratford, joined political groups, invited couples over for dinner; but ingratiating ourselves into our new community was a slow and not very successful process. Stratford’s a small town in many ways and it seemed that everybody had enough friends already. I was flummoxed. I mean, my husband and I are nice people; we’re pretty engaging and have a wide range of interests. Surely people would want to make the time to get to know us better? It was hard not to take it personally.
Slowly, very slowly, our social circle did grow, and some of our friends from those early years have grown into being good friends to us still, but it wasn’t until I started to engage heavily in Twitter did mine and my family’s whole experience in Stratford change, dramatically.
Feeling passionate about the city we adopted as our hometown, I was eager to share all of the amazing things happening in the city with a greater audience, so I tweeted and retweeted everything and anything to do with Stratford, and I did it a lot. After a few months, I received one of my first #FollowFriday recommendations from a London, Ontario local called @late2game. It resonated so deeply with me that I remember it almost word for word: “If you want to know anything about Stratford, you should follow @karensd”.
Wow! I was SO honoured! I realized just then how powerful Twitter was for me. I was influencing people in London and my online reputation was growing.
My relationships in Stratford were growing and changing, almost exponentially too. I was meeting people from right across the city and the county that were interested in and moved by the same things I was; foodies, arts and culture, activism, politics, community building and of course, social media. The people that I call friends now I would not have been able to know on such an intimate level had it not been for Twitter opening up the avenues of dialogue and giving us the opportunity to find our “likeness” and to get to know one another better. Neither the Ignite Stratford or Social Media Breakfast Stratford events would be anywhere near as successful as they have been had it not been for Twitter and it the outreach that it enables.
At the same time, my community was also growing in Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph. I was learning about events like Ignite Waterloo and being introduced to people that I would never have known of otherwise. Facebook was still rather insular a few years ago, not nearly as open as it is now with the advent of Fan Pages and Events being so well integrated into calendars and news streams. Twitter was my conduit to these amazing people that were doing things I was interested in and who were creating them, actually making them happen.
I’ve been calling Twitter “the warmest handshake you’ll ever experience”. It’s a reference to my old sales days, when you’re looking for a “warm referral”; someone that knows you, likes you and is willing to introduce you to another potential customer.
I realized the power of Twitter when I attended that first Ignite Waterloo event. I was early and planted myself in the seats at The Museum and started tweeting. The organizers had one of the first Twitter walls I had seen up to that point, so when I tweeted that I was excited for the night to begin, a few moments later, I heard someone say out loud, “Ya, me too Karen!” I turned to see this guy that looked familiar to me; he smiled broadly and that’s when I met one of my favourite KW tweeps IRL (in real life), @renjie. We chatted for a while that night, about the event and the speakers. At the end of the evening, we shook hands and our engagement on Twitter continued.
A few weeks later, I was in KW again to attend a SIG hosted event at The Seagram Museum in support of Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love. It was of little surprise to me that @renjie was one of the organizers. We DM’d to find one another in a room of hundreds, and as we walked towards one another, we naturally greeted each other with a hug. I tell this story often to share how in no time at all, Renjie Butalid went from being this figure on Twitter to being someone I considered a friend. We could not have come from more diverse backgrounds, communities and environments, but through Twitter, I met this someone that I shared a huge amount of energy and “likeness” with.
“The #140conf events provide a platform for the worldwide twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business.”
A dedicated team of volunteers in Kitchener worked for months to bring this conference to fruition, and one only has to read through the #140ConfOnt hashtag stream on twitter to realize the effect that the speakers had on the audience.
Most of the people that spoke that day were sharing their stories of how Twitter has impacted their lives. Some of them has us in tears, like Heather Hamilton who spoke of how her twitter community rallied to raise $41,000, blowing pas the $25,000 goal to help build a room at York Central Hospital in honour of her son Zack, whom she lost earlier this year. Jodi Sonoda showed true bravery in being vulnerable by sharing how she turned to her Twitter community in times of great despair, now calling Twitter “her place to fall in case I fall again”. Or Matt Scobel, who spoke of bringing his love of marketing, technology and doing something together under Project Macfrica, giving new life to used Macs and creating computer labs in Africa.
I spent the entire day of the #140ConfOnt conversing in real life with some of the most amazing people that I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. These are people, that if it hadn’t been for Twitter, I never would’ve met otherwise, and because of Twitter, I’m able to learn more about and help support them and their passions. Whether we met at events organized and announced on Twitter, or they recognized me at the #IronChefUptown events held at Nick & Nat’s Uptown21, or at the #SMBWR breakfasts, or the Slow Food Perth County market, these are the kinds of people that I want to know. We’re all amazingly diverse, but fundamentally, these are the kind of people that I need in my life to help me feel fulfilled, engaged and connected. They are passionate, active visionaries and they inspire me each and every single day.
Twitter has also shown me, quite clearly, where my real passion and “feed my soul work” is. It has shown me where I need to make changes in my professional life and it’s this online community that reinforces for me that where I’m heading is where I’m meant to be. It’s where I’m most passionate and most compelled. That realization is priceless, in anyone’s development and growth. This community has given me unfiltered feedback on companies and organizations that I’ve encountered, or have considered working with or for. They’ve provided me feedback on my profiles and online presence, without expecting anything back. They do, because they’re of that ilk.
It was while chatting with my friend @TheKarlTopia at dinner the other night (after winning Social Media Idol at the Marketplace Conference and who by the way, I met up with only because I saw his tweet that he was eating at The Bauer Kitchen and I was only a few blocks away), that I shared with him how much I love Twitter because it lets all of us, every single one of the users of this amazing outlet, find our chosen kin. “Like finds like,” I said.
I can only hope that I bring some of the same energy, knowledge, experience and authenticity to those that I consider my community, and although I couldn’t possibly name all of you here, if I follow you or list you, it’s because I consider you an essential part of my growth, development, realization and life experience.
Thank you, Twitter. Thank you, all…