The advent of social media has fundamentally changed my professional life. Prior to embracing social media, I didn’t know how isolated and closed in my professional life was (by comparison). Now I realize. It sounds cliche, but my involvement in social media has opened up a world of professional opportunities that didn’t exist for me in the pre-social media days. Today, the best minds in healthcare marketing and healthcare social media are right there, within reach, via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And they are willing to share and engage in conversation.
It fascinates me to think about how many professional friends I have developed over the years that I have never met in real life (IRL). These are people I know primarily through Twitter. The lack of in person interaction has in no way hampered the development of these professional relationships. And they are no less rich because our contact has been through online channels. One thing I tell people is that the online world of social networks is part of the real word – it is not some alternate reality. However, online relationships can definitely be supplemented and enriched by in person interaction. I met my friend Lyle Green online when he commented on one of my blog posts. Lyle works in physician relations at MD Anderson. Since that introduction, we have presented together at several conferences, written an article together and co-authored a book chapter. That probably would not have happened in the pre-social media world. Lyle jokingly tells people that he learned his lesson and will never again comment on a blog post! Similarly, I met Dana Smith of Spirit of Women via Twitter, my blog and Instagram, and we developed a great relationship. It was much later that we met in person when Dana invited me to speak at one of Spirit of Women’s conferences. This is another example where I was able to extend my professional community thanks to my involvement in social media. And the impact has been incredible meaningful from both a professional and personal perspective.
My digital footprint has also opened the door to impromptu meetings with people who readily approach me at conferences and other events because they are familiar with me through my online activities (blogging, Twitter, etc). They feel as if they know me through my writing – even though we’ve never met online or IRL. I love this unexpected impact of social media. It is always a pleasure to meet people who share my interest in healthcare marketing. Now I actually reach out to people and invite that kind of interaction. Just prior to attending a conference I will usually write a blog post inviting people to come up and introduce themselves – letting them know that I welcome the opportunity to meet them.
It is exciting to meet someone IRL whom you’ve only known through online interactions. I certainly understand that. In fact, recently I’ve made an effort to reach out to several people who I know primarily through online communication and suggest that we meet in person. I’ve discovered that many amazing healthcare marketers and thought leaders live within an hour of my office. Who knew? A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with Lisa Fields (@practicalwisdom) who is one of the co-founders of the Healthcare Leaders Twitter Chat (Tuesday at 8:30pm). It was wonderful to meet Lisa in person. )If you aren’t familiar with the #HCLDR chat, I definitely suggest you check it out: http://hcldr.wordpress.com/about/.) Then last week I met with Anton Zuiker (@MisterSugar) whom I had previously only met at conferences and online, despite the fact that our offices are perhaps 10 miles from each other. Anton is a professional communicator in the Department of Medicine at Duke. He’s also a blogger and social media early adopter. Next week I’m meeting with the one and only Andre Blackman (@MindofAndre) of Pulse + Signal. It is amazing to me that Andre and I have never met IRL. I am a huge fan of his work.
Here’s my message: The next time someone insinuates that online relationships, communities and friendships are somehow less than those that we experience in real life, I would challenge them. I would suggest that they are part of the whole and that they have incredible value. No less important. No less real. And remember, online is real life.