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.

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