Turning an online relationship FAIL into friendship

Lori Witzel, a newcomer to our community, asked me a good question the other day. “Did you get any phone calls? You left me hanging!”

You see, she had just read a blog post I wrote last year called “Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail.”  The summary of the story is that my entire view of social media relationships had been shaken when I realized somebody I had considered a social media “friend,” Jenn Whinnem, had cystic fibrosis.  I felt humiliated that I had not known this collaborator of mine suffered each day.  What kind of a friend is that?

So I vowed to do better.  In that post I issued a blanket invitation for my blog community to call me. It was a risky move. Many thousands of people read my blog every day! But it was also a necessary move.  Is this a community or not?

The answer is, yes, this is an amazing blog community and lots of people called me in a very respectful and manageable way. Generally people DM’d me and we set up a time to talk. I allocated time each week for community chit-chat. I stopped counting, but if I had to guess, I would say that I’ve talked to at least 75 people from {grow} since that post.

This was by far the best thing I have ever done on this blog.  You see, lots of people COMMENT on my blog, but few really give me feedback. There’s a big difference.  I found the unvarnished conversations with my audience brought me closer to them personally and helped me improve professionally as well.

Here’s an example. One of the most profound conversations was with Caroline Di Diego, an entrepreneur in Singapore. I didn’t know her at all. I had not recalled her ever commenting on my blog, and maybe she tweeted it a few times but other than that she was a blank.

“You asked me to call,” she said. “So I thought I should.  Your blog has changed my life.”

And the conversation just got more interesting from there.  Sometimes I get a little down when a “smart” post I write bombs and then something silly like “The 20 Craziest Things You Can do on Twitter” goes viral.

But Caroline could recall every “smart” post I had written.  And not only could she recall them, she could recount how it made her re-consider how she was conducting her business. “You write a blog that makes me stop what I’m doing and think,” she said.

I’m a lousy golfer. But if I have just that one great shot, it keeps me coming back. Caroline’s phone call was kind of like that.

And of course the first person I called after the post was Jenn.  And a few weeks ago, we actually met in person when she flew from Connecticut to Knoxville to attend Social Slam.  Oh yeah. She was unemployed at the time she made the reservations. “I want to meet you,” she simply said.

I hosted a little event for the {grow} community and tears filled my eyes when she walked in the room. I was overcome by emotion as I met this person after two years of friendship — now REAL friendship I think — and collaboration.

The whole experience has been inspiring! I encourage you to try it with your own blog community.  Don’t be a stranger. Call people up and see what they think!  And by the way, when are you and I going to talk?

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