An engineering visionary found his place on the web, and in our hearts

It is almost too much to bear to report that another dear friend, and social media marketing titan, has passed away.  Imad Naffa, a consistently joyful and inspiring presence on Twitter, died Tuesday, according to a Fresno newspaper account.

Imad and I had known each other for about two years and I had previously featured him on a blog post called “A Tweet Fit for a Queen.” Just last week I talked to him for over an hour as part of an interview for my upcoming book.  I admired him so much as a beacon of enthusiasm, positive energy, and endless intellectual curiosity.

I was planning to run a blog feature about Imad on Monday to tell the story of this visionary business leader and how he used the social web to propel his civil engineering business.

Here is that post, a small part of the story behind this truly amazing man.  If you only knew Imad from Twitter, I think you will love to see another side of him …

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Imad Naffa, who proudly describes himself as an “atypical engineer,” has built a power base on the social web as a master content curator.  Although he is a remarkable entrepreneur and intellect on many levels, pushing content through Twitter and engaging with his fans from around the world has helped him grow his personal influence – and his business success.

Naffa immigrated to the United States from Jordan as a teenager to realize his dream of attending college in America and getting an engineering degree.  After being graduated from Fresno State University, he found that jobs were tight. “I volunteered to work at a civil engineering firm for free,” he said. “The price was right, so that was the start of my career!”

He eventually built his own business, Naffa International, to help architects and engineers understand complex building codes and regulations.  Naffa was intensely interested in technology and integrating web applications to serve his clients. He pioneered the use of online forums to allow 24,000 professionals from around the world discover regulatory information and have their building plans reviewed by industry experts – a model he eventually monetized.

His family pet helped get him involved in social media. “At first I resisted Twitter,” he said. “I thought it was for kids.  But we started doing research on the best way to care for our pet African Parrot and my eyes were opened to the possibilities.  “I’m a child of information. I’m interested in a million different things, from global affairs to scientific developments, and there it all was, waiting for me on Twitter.”

He began to experiment with a few tweets about his business and even though engineers were late adopters of social media platforms, he found a small but enthusiastic audience. “I started following people in my industry — engineers, construction people, architects — and once in a while I would see a question on building codes and I would jump in because I knew the answer.  I would give them a link to be helpful, so they could see where they could find the information on our forum.  And I started to notice that a huge amount of traffic to the forum was coming from Twitter.  I love data and statistics and started to think about how I could drive even more business this way – to optimize the social web as tool to connect with people and help them.

“I began to realize that in this channel, knowledge is a valued commodity. This is a key to power and influence that most people don’t understand, and I became very interested in this. I found that as I shared information about diverse topics – not just engineering – that my followers grew and grew.

“I think diversity of content is important — people want to know a variety of different things. But I think you have to have knowledge and passion to be really good at social media. You can’t just do what everybody else is doing. When the dust settles, I think the people who have good content, like my content, will come out on top. I communicate about a lot of things, but when it comes to my area of expertise — the building codes — I don’t think anybody in the world can touch me on that stuff.  And I love that. I love developing and sharing content.

“You establish relationships because of Twitter and they watch you for a while to see what kind of content you provide.  Are you the real thing? Are you consistent?  Reliable?  Do you have a story to tell?  And when you kick a topic out there, you have to engage. You can’t just ignore it.  That’s why you have to have knowledge and passion about your subject so you can go back and forth with your audience.”

Naffa approaches his content curation as both art and science, with a dashboard tracking the success of his more than 100 individual tweets every day.  He can connect new web traffic, new paid subscriptions, and new customers to his Twitter activity.

His unique role as a voice of engineering on the web has also paid off financially.  A few of the benefits of his content curation and distribution includes:

  • More than 30 percent traffic increase to his paid website, as well as measurable increases to paid subscriptions
  • Invitations to speak in China and the Middle East
  • Unique, global brand awareness that has led to new client contracts
  • A cost-effective way to promote his business that allows him to compete with much larger firms

And of course, all his online influence has resulted in other benefits as well. “A couple of times I checked into a hotel and kidded with the front desk person by saying ‘hey look at my Klout score … I’m on social media and I’m sure you want me to have a good experience.  So all of a sudden, I’m finding myself in the penthouse in the middle of San Francisco!  I’ve also received invitations from a couple of car companies to come test drive their new models because they found me on Klout.  I got a case out of wine from Australia, out of left field, because I wrote about a wine experience and the wine maker wanted to thank me,  I think proactive companies like that are ahead of the curve because they want people to talk about their products. I think it’s a novel approach.

“It’s good to see that businesses are finally paying attention to our voices on the social web, and like it or not, we’re here to stay.”

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Here is Imad’s obituary from today’s Fresno Bee:

Imad Saleh Naffa was born on August 17, 1962, in Amman, Jordan. Imad went home to be with the Lord on Tuesday, September 6, 2011. After graduating from Bishop’s School in Amman. Imad moved to the United States to continue his education at Fresno State. Imad graduated from California State University Fresno with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering. He met the love of his life, Loretta, who he married in 1985. Imad was highly respected throughout the world, including Jordan and China. He was an outstanding and successful business owner of Naffa International and a member of People’s Church. Imad is survived by his wife, Loretta; sons, Jordan, 22, and Jacob, 20; his parents, Saleh and Aneseh of Jordan; his brothers, Iyad and his family of San Jose and Jihad and his family of Jordan; and by many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and by many, many friends. A Memorial Service will be held in the G.L. Johnson Chapel at People’s Church, on Saturday, September 10, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. Immediately following will be a graveside service at Belmont Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made for his sons to the Naffa College Fund 529 Acct. at Wells Fargo Advisors 7102 N. Fresno St., Fresno, CA 93720
I will miss, and always remember, this inspiring friend.

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  • It has been a rough week. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. While I had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with Trey, I had not had the same privilege with Imad. His work was of interest to me and, based on all the thoughts shared, I wish I had had the chance to know him.

  • Coreen

    Mark, I’m so sorry to hear you lost another friend. Imad sounds like a very interesting guy and like one that will be sorely missed. How nice that you just talked to him and could run this fantastic tribute. Take care.
    Coreen

  • He was a truly caring man. The real deal. Thanks Shane.

  • I really feel so fortunate that I was able to connect with him just last week. Thanks Coreen.

  • Sorry for your loss of another good friend, Mark. You are so fortunate to have been close to two such exceptional people and we are fortunate to have come to know something about them through you.  Take care.

  • He really was an awesome guy. A great husband, father and leader too.

  • MichaelQTodd

    Wonderful stuff Mark, although it has made me cry for the third time since I heard about it 48 hours ago. You have given a great explanation of how a construction engineer quickly became a social media superstar by being open and giving.

  • He was such a special guy.  Unbelievable energy.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Michael.

  • A fantastic article, and he sounds like an amazing person. Sorry for your loss, but at least he will be remembered forever in the digital realm and in your book.

  • He was so excited about being in the book. I’m so sorry he won’t see it but his spirit will be apparent … and published. Thanks Rob.

  • I’m sitting here in tears.  Imad was a friend and customer for many years, and a beacon of “how to do it right.”  There are no words.

  • I am so sorry for your loss Mark — and for Imad’s family. It sounds as if he is leaving quite a hole to fill. It’s been a tough few days here for you and I sincerely hope you can take some time for yourself right now. I can’t imagine losing two people so close to me so quickly. 

  • oh my goodness.

    I’m so sorry, Mark. =/

  • Thanks Margie.

  • What a week, huh?

  • Think of it thus way. I’m so jealous you got to spend time with him! That is a blessing. Imad was planning to come to see me in Knoxville during Social Slam in April so I will never have that opportunity. Still, isn’t social media wonderful … that we got to connect at all? Thanks for sharing Rosemary.

  • Tonya Goldbach

    Wow, what sad news to learn about on a Monday morning. I just read an article last week about the friends you never meet through social media, and while I’ve never met or spoken with Imad, I thought of him as that go-to friend . Even though I only “knew him through following on SM platforms, I respected his enthusiasm and often enjoyed sharing his content. He will be missed.

  • Thanks very much for caring enough to comment Tonya.

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