Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I don't speak Italian

For this post, I've decided to post a real story about how social media can create relationships.

It all starts with an article I contributed to for an Italian cycling magazine (see above). Here's the catch: I don't speak Italian! But then how, you might ask, did I publish an article in an Italian magazine? The answer lies in an authentic story about social media and how it can create interesting relationships, as it did in the experience I describe below.

I joined Twitter late in 2008, so I was a bit late to be considered a real early adopter, yet I was still considered ahead of "the mainstream." I tried to understand the best and worst ways to use this tool as fast as possible in order to get up to speed with the actual early adopters. After reading many blogs and opinions on the matter, I decided to use Twitter initially to find information about topics I personally found interesting. One day in particular, while searching for sports journalists, I came across an reporter from Italy named Enzo.

I clicked the "follow" button in order to begin following Enzo's tweets. He then direct messaged me to ask how I found him, since he had a relatively small number of followers. I told him about using the search engine feature, and in a sense, acted as an mentor and advocate for Twitter and its functionality all at the same time. He inquired about the picture I had featured in my background picture on Twitter, which was a picture of a beautiful lookout called Le Belvedere on the French Polynesian island of Moorea. As our conversation via direct messages progressed, I learned that he was soon to write a series of articles for a magazine about Tahitian tourism and cycling.

What happened next is the amazing part. The human part of social media. By no means was I a professional cyclist, however I disclosed to Enzo that my fiancée and I had chosen the bicycle as our primary means of transportation, since renting a car cost upwards of $100 per day. We would be traveling for five weeks in total, so renting a car wasn't really an option.

Enzo asked if I'd be willing to write about my experience so he could include it in one of his articles featuring the testimonial of a real live tourist. I had been feeling exceptionally adventurous one day, and we had decided to bike 60km around the entire island. The trip proved itself to be among some of the most memorable experiences of our entire stay, and I was delighted to write about it.

The image I've posted here on my blog is the article Enzo wrote; the product of our collaborative effort resulting from the connection we formed via Twitter. Presently, I'm living in Central America, and Enzo in Italy. It is social media that brought us together. I now have a new friend in Italy and something unique for my scrapbook of photos!

In the end, we don't always need a social media expert to find ways to connect. Sometimes the connection is much simpler than we realize, and the dividends are far greater than we could anticipate. In this instance, I spent an entire day writing and editing and uploading pictures for this article, all free of charge for a stranger. So, in my opinion, there are some critical questions we as marketers should ask ourselves:

How do connections form using these new vehicles? We have studied and understood the nature of these conversations and relationships for years. But the ability to receive information so quickly, coupled with our need for instant gratification has changed the dynamic a bit. In what ways has it changed the depth of the conversation, if at all? And if it has, what details can we now afford to leave out (or not)?

Another important question is in what way can people achieve an authentic connection in social media environments? Does there have to be reciprocation? Yes. But, how do we define reciprocal acts when it comes to a relationship founded upon a social media platform? Some might say I got the short end of the stick (with my new friend who published the article getting the long one). However, I'd disagree as they would fail to understand that as a user, I received gratification from "mentoring" my new friend about the search engine feature on Twitter. And then of course there was the terrific addition to my scrapbook. Understanding exactly what is being reciprocated and why it matters is key.

There are undoubtedly many more questions to ask. What do you think?

The author thanks her new Twitter friend Enzo Vicennati for providing her with the opportunity to contribute to the magazine article. You can follow Enzo on Twitter @enzovicennati. Follow me, @reneecassard, here on Twitter.

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