Months ago, I heard the story about how someone’s Twitter network rescued him. He was about to go into a meeting in LA and had left some techno gadget  back at his New York office. Sure enough, someone in an office just around the corner from his hotel was able to help him out. Someone who only new him as a Twitter follower.

I remember thinking: No way!

But now I’m a believer, because it happened to me.

A few weeks ago, I was working on a news release about a client who is now selling compressed natural gas to the public. Their first customer is a professor from The University of Michigan. I had a last name, but couldn’t find him listed anywhere with the University.

As a member of Linkedin’s University of Michigan Alumni group, I sent out a call for help.

The next day, a woman in Ann Arbor sent me an email saying that she remembers the professor, who’s now retired. There had been a story back in 2003 (honestly, I’m not making this up) about him and his CNG vehicle. She looked up his address and phone number in the local white pages and… you guessed it… I was able to connect and interview him.

Turns out, he’s a self-proclaimed “cng evangelist” with a wealth of information about alternative fuels and their use (or lack of) in Michigan.

Thank you, Linkedin… and the group member who helped me out! The power of Social Media knows no end.

It was my turn to nominate a “word for the day” for my Hi-Noon Toastmaster’s Club and I selected the word counterintuitive.

For those of you not familiar with Toastmaster protocol, we try to work one new word into our everyday vocabulary during each meeting.

For those of you also not familiar with the word counterintuitive, it means something that is true, but contrary to what you would intuitively expect. I know, because I looked it up after hearing it for the first time this summer. Since then, I have heard it used over and over and over again. Either the word is becoming more popular, or I’m becoming more aware of it.

It’s a great word for describing Social Media.

I would never have predicted the level of opportunity to publish my own words online, nor the transparent sharing that has developed within what one writer so aptly describes as the “global network of digital campfires.”

(Don’t you just love the imagery? The author, by the way, is Sonia Simone, senior editor of Copyblogger and founder of Remarkable Communication. Both are resources worth watching.)

Now that I find myself sitting at those campfires every day and night, I’ve grown to embrace the candor of the culture and enjoy the opportunity to create and publish content all over the place.

Which is why a recent Advertising Age article surprised me by making big news out of PR professionals bypassing reporters to pitch directly to consumers in today’s shrinking media market. As one reader who agrees with me commented, these are strategies that have been reported for years…  “Good to see AdAge picking up on the trend.”

Some say this trend will rob reporters of their power and influence. I disagree.

When it all shakes out, I believe the working relationships with reporters will continue to be vital within the world of news — even though that world is swiftly switching from print to digital. The process of working with reporters will continue, along with new social media roles.

Like many places in today’s world, the playing field has been leveled. And as counterintuitive as that initially seemed, I’m now really comfortable with new opportunities to hit a few of my own home runs.

If you hear a huge whwhshshsh…. ing sound… don’t panic. It’s nothing more than the echoes of change happening.

Visualize a huge auditorium, where you and I have been sitting. But now, along with most of the other people who have been filling the seats, we have stood up and walked down the aisle and figured out a way to get on stage. We are now the new presenters.

In real life, that probably wouldn’t happen. But in today’s virtual existence, we are continually slipping in and out of the role of “broadcaster” without giving it a second thought.

This should be having a positive impact on self esteem. If my sandwich, and whether or not I added mustard, has become newsworthy… hmmm.

But the fact is, my sandwich and whether or not I added mustard, is really only interesting the first time I talk about it. After that, my audience expects greater things from me.

You can always tell a new Tweeter, because they are talking about the sandwich in front of them or the cookies they have in the oven. Food seems to be the common denominator we all turn to, when first asked to send out a tweet or facebook comment.

But then it gets interesting. We start to think about what we know, what we’ve observed, what we’ve read. And we start to explore an idea or concept that could really benefit someone. And we share.

We stop talking about the weather and share something that someone else might actually find useful. It’s what I’m starting to really like about this whole social media process. It’s fun to discover how much people have learned from life and the degree to which they are willing to talk about it.

I often wonder what Marshall McLuhan would think about today’s media…  If the medium is its own message, as he often wrote, what is the message behind social media? I do think we may all find “ah ha” moments of uplifting that reinforce our own value and the value of the people we exchange ideas with. And that’s a good thing.

 

It was that simple.

Armed with his laptop and hundreds of photographs, my cousin Joe sat down by his Grandma’s bedside and watched her come to life for the first time since he first started visiting her in the nursing home.

“What did you do to Grandma? She wants to go home to Yemans Street!” his dad had complained.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to suddenly become a stranger to someone who had been the center of your universe since you were in diapers.  But I can certainly appreciate how overwhelming it must have felt to suddenly win back that connection.

“Unreal,” he shared. “I flipped the switch to turn on my computer, the photos appeared on the screen, and I turned on Grandma. I flipped the switch again and lost her.”

Connections with people we love are probably the most important resource that helps us make it through to the end of the day. Doesn’t matter. We still let those connections break for a lot of really stupid reasons. Or life breaks those connections for us.

Wouldn’t it be great to flip a switch and get them all back? In a lot of cases, it probably IS just that easy. Sigh!

As with most of life, there’s a PR lesson in this… something we all know, but sometimes forget. The photos that really mean something to our market (not us) are the only ones that will trigger the strong response we are waiting for.

Friday marked two major turning points for me — one deeply personal, the other a significant step in my professional journey to embrace the new social media paradigm. I remember easing my way through early morning Detroit traffic and then down the aisle to sit near guest speaker, Peter Shankman.

For the first time in nearly three weeks, my mind was consumed and distracted from thoughts of my brother lying in a coma-like state, covered by intensive care tubes and medical paraphenalia at Oakwood Hospital in nearby Dearborn.  Peter was a gripping speaker — strong enough to trigger such a mental separation. Or maybe, as I learned later, it was because after 7 am that morning, my brother was no longer alive.

So now, fast forward past the viewing, past the funeral… to today, thinking back on Peter Shankman and what he shared during a program presented by the Detroit chapter of the Association for Women in Communications.

Peter shared great stories that both confirmed and challenged my own theories of where social media are leading us. He talked about how we are each approaching the transition at our own pace and I laughed about how his mom used to call to make sure he’d received her e-mails. It reminded me of mailing hard copies “just in case” when faxes were the new technology.  And he exquisitely underlined the power of the text message when he told about sending from his plane on 9-1-1 the simple message of assurance to his parents: “not my plane.”

Many of today’s “thought leaders” argue that social media function more like intercoms than microphones. In other words, two-way communication. Shankman goes further to say that the overriding power of SM is in our ability to listen and respond. Like the time he was trapped in a Delta Air plane and failed to nudge a response from Delta after five tweets. And then, finally, a response. But, guess what? Not from Delta, but from Southwest. They had been listening.

Shankman sees SM as the new public relations, the new customer relations. Not because we will use SM to broadcast details about our wonderful customer service. Rather, our customers will become so impressed that they will transform into Raving Fans. “Our job  is now to do such a great job that our customers do our PR for us.”

He spoke about how good writing skills will make or break businesses in the future… because “the first point of contact will be by the written word and, if you can not write, you will lose your customers.”

He emphasized the importance of being brief, relevant, and transparent. After all, our attention span has gone from 3 minutes to today’s 2.7 seconds. I won a prize for my guess of 3 seconds and my prize became a gift for my 17-year-old son who, I hope, was impressed. It was a Poken. Really big in Europe, according to Peter, these plastic key chain gadgets offer an easy way to exchange social media data. Go to doyoupoken.com for details.

I will always remember Friday for how my life was changed. My brother had been suddenly sick and then hospitalized for nearly three weeks before he left us. I never had the chance to say “good-bye” and that leaves its imprint on my psyche.

Peter Shankman also left an imprint. I plan to follow him, now that I have been introduced to a new opinion that I find intriguing. I believe I can learn more from him that will be helpful. I would highly recommend paying attention to what he has to say. Visit shankman.com.

This week in 1951, The Lucy Show made its debut on television, changing forever the role of women in mass media comedy and impacting the way we communicate…  I can’t help but wonder what Lucy’s Facebook entries might have looked like back then.