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09/27/2010 It’s not the media; it’s the social

A few weeks ago I spoke at the #140Conf in Boston on why smaller towns might be better at social media than bigger ones. One idea I put out there was that the chances of you meeting most of the people in your stream was far greater in small towns than it is in cities. I think that this helps with two things: it makes your social media world more relevant, while also encouraging more positive discussion and behavior.

More importantly, though, it places a greater emphasis on the social and less on the media. The media ends up acting as a conduit to face-to-face connections and as such, builds much stronger relationships than virtual ones.

I know that in the past 2 years, since diving into social media, I’ve met more people in Burlington during that time than I had met in the previous 10. And it’s not limited to Burlington either. But the small town-ness of the place means funny things will happen.

One of the panelists at the #140Conf, Cathy Resmer, told a story about car trouble in Burlington. When a guy stopped to help her, she looked at him and said “Hey, you’re @swichi293.” He looked back and said “Hey, you’re @cresmer!”

At my daughter’s soccer game, I sat next to another dad and we Dad-yelled and laughed during the match. When we got up and finally looked at each other, he said “Hey, you’re @rnadworny” to which I replied, “Are you @daveburkevt?”

We all end up repeating this stories to our non-Twitter friends again and again, as we’re delighted at the random meetings with people we already “know.”

The media set the stage for social connections. And it’s these in-person connection that lead to greater interaction and community. A recent study by the Keller Fay Group showed that most word-of-mouth for teens still happens overwhelmingly offline, in person. And while this was a study about teens, there's no reason to think the same isn't true for adults.

In Burlington, it sometimes happens more naturally. But in all places, we should think about how we can use the media to build more social, in-person interactions. These are the ones, after all, that leave a much longer lasting impression on us.

It happens to us all. Just ask yourself these questions: Which members of your stream would you really love to meet face-to-face at the next SXSW? And why?



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