There has been much talk during the last few years about the return on investment inherent in best practices in social media, social media marketing, and strategies. But is ROI the best measurement of the value of social media? Don’t get me wrong; I do believe social media can be a very powerful tool for business and in building your brand. These days, social media can literally define your brand, but there is more; social media can be a powerful tool for connecting with people and the starting point for real relationships.
I know many people say you can’t connect through a computer screen, but that isn’t what I am talking about. I am referring to using social media to connect with someone who has a similar interest, then taking the next step: a real life meeting over coffee or a beer or at a conference that you will both be attending. Twitter has been a powerful tool for me in this regard. I decided early on in my “twitter life” that whenever I connected with someone on twitter around a common interest or set of interests, I would try to convert the online relationship to a real face to face meeting. After all, isn’t that one of the greatest things in life; having friends with whom you share some common interest or passion? Yes, the internet can be superficial, if not cold, but with a tool like Twitter, the internet can be as personal as you desire it to be. In a recent conversation with a friend (who I would probably not know if it were not for social media), he stated that for him, his Facebook friends are the people he went to high school with; but his Twitter friends are the people he wishes he had gone to high school with!
One day I was headed to get something to eat for lunch and didn’t have plans to eat with anyone. I tweeted, ”I am headed to (a certain restaurant)- if anyone would like to join me that would be great.” I got a quick response and had lunch with a guy with whom I hadn’t made a face to face connection. On another occasion I was following the tweets of a guy and was intrigued by his posts. I connected with him on Twitter and suggested that we meet for coffee sometime. For some reason, I assumed that we lived in the same town, but found out that he actually lives about ninety miles away. He comes to Greenville (my town) fairly regularly for business, so a few weeks later we had lunch together, hit it off, and have become good friends. Additionally, he has introduced me to a number of people who have become great connections for me professionally.
Twitter has not only led to connections in my geographic area, but also to connections, friendships, and even business relationships internationally. Shortly after starting on Twitter, I decided to do a key word search for “#design” to see who was talking about
design and what they were saying. As an architect, this was of special interest to me. I quickly landed on the home page of Arne van Oosterom, founder of the Netherlands-based firm, DesignThinkers. I had been an architect for twenty-five years, but I wasn’t sure what he meant by “design thinking.” An exchange of tweets and then some emails ensued. I read books about design thinking and service design. I began to understand that design thinking is using the tools of design to innovate business through the design of new products or services, or to redesign the business model of an organization. The more I understood the more possibilities I began to see for the application of design thinking. I joined the Design Thinking Network, an online community of design thinkers and people who are interested in the subject. Over the next two years this initial Twitter connection around the word “design” has turned into a friendship which has led to a business relationship. I have started a practice parallel to my architecture firm that is the US base for DesignThinkers. Working with me as strategic partners in this consulting practice are Jason Blumer (@JasonMBlumer), founder of the THRIVEal Network, and Liz Parker, a business strategy consultant. These relationships would not have been likely without a tool like Twitter.
Relationships enrich my life in a way that cannot be valued in monetary terms. Yes, there have been business benefits to having a presence on Twitter, but the friendships have a far greater value. It will be interesting to look back years from now to see the path of my career and the influence that social media played in forming that path.
My advice? Take some risk, get to know some people, and see what happens.