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?

All posts

  • He’s not lying, folks – he really did tear up!

    Mark, it was great to meet you finally. You and your blog have been such an important part of me growing up online. It was when I fell into Mark’s blog and started to get connected to great people here – Jayme Soulati, Jon Buscall – that my social media experience started to change into a really positive one. From there I’ve met more {grow} community members – Neicole Creichton, Erica Allison, Laura Click, Autumn Thompson, Brad Lovett, Jamie Wallace, and more I’m sure I’m not remembering this early in the morning – who have been so generous with their knowledge, time, and kindness.  Thank you for opening up this world to me, Mark!

  • Done and done Mark. It’s amazing how one person can completely reaffirm why we blog all the time, namely to help our readers from what we’ve learned. Even better when we can get them on the phone or meet them in person.

    I look forward to our next one.

  • Bill

    Talk about trusting your readers Mark, asking them to phone! I am unsure how I recently found your, blog a Mitch Joel reco perhaps? Just yesterday I was considering culling my RSS, “Grow” will remain.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for being so accessible and engaged Mark. It’s interesting to hear about your individual contacts with {grow} community members. I don’t see how you find time to manage it but you do.
    I once read that of all jobs, some of the most sastified people at the end of their careers are firemen, nurses and teachers. It’s because they have no doubt that their life’s work made a difference. You are part fireman, part nurse and part teacher along with being a damn smart and creative marketing genius and funny man. Keep up the great content & contact of {grow}. Even though it’s a mystery to me how you do it, it’s easy to see why your readership keeps growing.

  • Mark, I truly view you and Mitch Joel as mentors in
    this ever changing digital marketing/media field. You are an inspiring fella, with
    “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” type of ideas. As Jenn has stated, you have helped
    so many of us Grow in our careers. I have been around your blog for less than a
    year, but have received years’ worth of knowledge from you and your community.

    This post is the end result of what social media is
    determined to be…advancing social relationships.

    I too hope to one day meet you and Jenn, two very
    inspiring people I have met through these channels.

    Well done Mark.

  • NoudW

    Exactly the kind story that grabs attention and stick to one’s mind. Thank you for sharing! Although a great idea like this also could have resulted in x-hundred calls 🙂

  • Thanks for everything Jenn!

  • Agreed!  In fact I have an opportunity for you … certainly a side benefit of being active on the blog!

  • Well, that’s about the highest compliment somebody can give me … keeping me in their blog reader! : )   Thanks Bill!

  • It’s a mystery to me how I do it too. : )  But it’s a lot of fun, educational every day and it obviously leads to great business connections too. The business plan of the social web: You Just Never Know!

    Thanks for this very kind comment!

  • Johnny, you have been such a great supporter of {grow} and knowing that it has had an impact on you really makes my day. Again, that is the kind of “feedback” you don;t normally get from comments but it is really what keeps me going. I’m so fortunate to be at a place in my life where I can share all the great experiences I’ve had, I have a forum to do that, and have a great group of people willing to listen and share right back! 

    Look forward to getting to know you better!

  • Well the calls are still coming in slow but steady .. in fact I have one today with a member of the community who seems to be suffering a bit. But there is something about a phone call that really cements that bond so I’ll keep doing it! Thanks for your comment.

  • I’ve read both posts and it’s a wonderful story. @twitter-54546555:disqus I live with disability too, chronic and painful but I cope, not always very elegantly or graciously though! Recently I’ve made some great friends online who have been a real support to me; I am so glad that you, and Mark, and the rest of the community here at {grow} have each other.  

  • Thank you for sharing YOUR story, Ryah! We can’t always be elegant or gracious when we’re ill – I think that’s a myth perpetuated in old novels or movies like that one with Winona Ryder. The important thing is to hang in there!

    You’re a part of {grow} now too!

  • Fantastico! I’ll send you an email sir.

  • Same here Mark. 🙂

  • It is a mystery and if we could just get Mark to share his secrets (which you KNOWS he knows, keeping to himself), even just one then we’d be cooking with gas. 🙂

  • I met Jenn and learned about her condition via this blog Mark, quite an eye opener. It later inspired me to write one of these ‘the stuff you don’t know about the people you think you know’ posts, sadly lacking in Danny Brown Zen. Anyway.. it’s so unreal. I can recall some of the smart posts (and can relate as my ‘sassy’ or ‘ranty’ do better than when I wax ‘smart’) and the silly, feel slack when I’m remiss and skip a day. 

    The ‘change my life’ is always amazing. What’s more impressive to me because yours is a ‘social media’ blog, about ‘marketing’ and yet you manage these ‘life’ and ‘kick in the butt motivational’ posts too, by keeping it real, by talking about golf or your family or other friends. That to me is the difference maker. As to when we’ll talk, now I have phone fright.. let me work on something. 😉 FWIW.

  • I had the pleasure of meeting Jenn at Social Slam. It was great that she could fly out from the Northeast for this event, and always great to meet people from the {grow} community in person. It’s great to have met and studied under you, Mark, as well. You were the first to welcome me to East Tennesseee last  year, and I look forward to seeing everyone in the Knoxville Social Media community again soon…though I may temporarily be away, “I’ll be back!”

    Mark, hope we can talk again soon.

  • Agree with Jenn on this.  We’re all in this together.  People in this community are amazing in how they support each other.

  • Phone fright? I find that hard to believe!!!  You? The sassiest person on the whole blog? Ha!

    I’m heading out on vacation for a few weeks but I hope we can chat when I get back.

    As far as keeping it real, it is a balance. If I didn’t bring some personal stuff into it, this would be boring. I’m not a good enough actor to pretend to be two people. On the other hand, I keep most family stuff private, which the way I was brought up too. There is a difference between being honest and believing you have to disclose everything. You don’t.

    But blogging became a lot more fun when I stopped trying to be a persona aiming at a target market and just relaxed and wrote as myself : )

    Talk to you soon!

  • Always a delight to hear from you, Brad. Hope things are looking up, settling down for you!

  • Phone fright here, too–wrote a post about it, myself; I’m quite a disappointment over the phone. But I like to think I’m better in person. 

  • I met you Davina through Jayme (on my end of things) – but naturally we’re all part of this community!

    Also I can attest to Mark’s being extremely friendly and easy to talk to on the phone. He’ll ask you who you’re reading! 

  • I can almost see that meeting between you and @twitter-54546555:disqus ; what a nice moment to share with us. I’m not much of a phone person myself, so can’t imagine the phone ringing off the hook, but there’s something in asking people to call you–because then at least THEY can set the tone and let the call go from there. 

    I hadn’t been blogging long before one Twitter friend asked to meet me; she lives in MA but visits DC every year, and I’m not far. It was 5 montsh in advance, and I wanted BADLY to talk myself out of it. I’m not really shy, but I’m quiet (hence my avoidance of the phone) and I wasn’t sure how I would keep the conversation going, and she’s older than me by a couple decades, so I was seriously nervous! But I knew I couldn’t turn her down because a) I truly liked and respected what I knew of her so far and b) she was coming all the way from Boston and was willing to go out of her way just to meet li’l ol’ me! We met at Borders, hugged, talked, and talked. And we’re already talking about the next meeting. 

    Extending online relationships offline–however it’s done–really deepens our perceptions of each other, and that’s very important when we’re building a “community” of people we regularly communicate with online, to gve them that extra, personal part of ourselves that online relationships lack by default. 

    So although I may be shy about it at first, I know I’ll do it again with others when I get the opportunity.

    Thanks for opening your blog and yourself to so many people in such a tangible way.

  • What a wonderful post Mark.  You are truly an inspiration!  And how brave of you to publish your phone number!  I think that’s a great idea. You are truly one of the most reachable people in the social media realm.  I’m always amazed at how you get back to me when I tweet you hello. 🙂  

  • Hi, Mark.

    I am overwhelmed with the breadth of what I still have to learn online. Just reading your post today makes me want to have more days to a week, just so I can absorb and then act on everything I have learned so far, since I started blogging a month ago. 

    You have an amazing blog and you are a wonderful person to actually want to know people who comment on your posts. Not everyone is able to do that. 

    Kudos to you, Mark and thanks for sharing that information about, Jenn. Am heading over to her blog now. 

  • Hey Mark, now I’m that much more excited for us to connect on the phone! Does Monday/Tuesday work for you?

  • What a great reminder of the power of a personal connection. I actually met my business partner, Christine, by commenting on her blog. Many emails and phone calls later we had formed an LLC and forged forward as a team. We never met in person until our company was almost 2 years old — crazy! 

    I am a new stalker of {grow}. I don’t always comment as much as I should, but I read every post thanks to my email subscription. This post makes me want to get to know you ALL better!

  • I ramble and talk WAY too fast, my mouth struggling in vain to keep up with the crazy pouring from my head. Ergo, phone fright. (Enjoy vacation and I’ll risk it if you will when you get back.)

    I probably lean too much on the cautious side of not getting too personal but that’s also my nature. I also don’t think you have to disclose everything, nor should you. The real me, not the whole me blah blah … for my balance it’s knowing the difference between getting personal vs. being personable, human. My writing improves when I don’t try for smart or sassy, just let either (or both if lucky) glow naturally.. and yes, it’s more fun. 

  • Anonymous

    A few weeks ago, I commented on one of your posts and in your response, you invited me to call.  I sort of chickened out because I felt that grabbing your time that way would be taking advantage (after all, I’m already benefiting from the free content in this blog all the time).  But this post made me re-think, and you’ll be hearing from me 🙂  The Grow community is amazing.

  • Go for it! I’m amazed that people are somehow intimidated to call. My mother would never believe that. Seriously, I’m just a guy. : )

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  • Anonymous

    Hey all y’all (yes, that is the official plural for y’all) – am on the road working a conference, but wanted to say thanks. To Mark, for sharing the rest of the story, and to each of you, for making this a place I gain uplift and smarts from, every time I come back. More later, as I can!

  • deb

    am doing it right now – leaving in a few minutes for an unschooling conference and will be blessed to meet in person many online friends 😀

  • …You are part fireman, part nurse and part teacher along with being a damn smart and creative marketing genius and funny man…

    This is one of the nicest funny comments I have read about someone online; and it seems to be all true. 🙂

  • Hurray for you! : )

  • Good job Deb! Thanks.

  • That is such a wonderful story.  I know this may be a surprise, but I’m kind of shy too. I know, a shy blogger. What an enigma!  But I definitely prefer to listen unless I get rolling with a story!

    But I know when I push myself to get out there, it always works. I know that about me now and know I need to do it because I’m always glad I did!  Thanks for the great comment. I can relate!

  • Thanks Samantha.  Sometimes it’s hard keeping up with the volume but it is not for lack of will that I don’t connect and respond … just am in the middle of a tornado sometimes!  It is a wonderful time to be in marketing, isn’t it?

  • Kim, I love your spirit and your urgency to learn. What a wonderful quality. Thanks so much for your very kind words.  Much appreciated!  I’m glad you’re here.

  • I sent you an email.  Those days are not good (US holiday) but I suggested an alternative. Talk to you soon!

  • That’s the spirit Tara.  I did a podcast interview today (don’t know when it will be up) and I spoke a lot about this community. Saying it aloud made me realize how special and unique the people are who come on here.  You don;t see snark. You don’t see any mean spirit. Thankfully you do see dissent but it is done in a professional and caring way.  And most of all, people get to know each other here and it is translating to offline benefits. Very cool.

    I’m so glad you stepped up so we can all see you’re out there : )  It’s the only way I would know!   Thank you!

  • What about Batman?  Am I part Batman?  Cuz that is what I’m really aiming for. I have wanted to be the Caped Crusade since I was five. : )   The Batman of Blogging.  I like that. It fits!  : )

    Thanks for being such a cool part of the community Billy!

  • I think we would get along smashingly. Really.  We need to set something up when I get back from my overseas trip!

  • Karen Bice

    Hi Mark, I’m glad you wrote a follow-up to the original blog post because that post is one of your posts that stands out to me. There are times when I question whether social media is worth it because there are some people that seem to use it only for their “niche” and aren’t open to speaking to others that either don’t fit their niche or aren’t important enough, or they just don’t or can’t make the time to get to know others. I also realize that there are those who are too busy to connect with everyone. Anyway, great post, and it’s nice to see that you and @twitter-54546555:disqus met!

  • Mark, now you have developed status of yours that most of us look up to
    you for any help and guidance. It is good to see that you even engage with
    individual contacts. There is something special about you which easily connect people
    with you.

  • I do realize I’m in a rare position as a blogger and that the only reason I’m there is because so many wonderful people support {grow}. I never take that for granted. The sad irony however, is that the more successful a person is on the social web, the less they are able to engage. I hate that. Thanks for your comment!

  • I probably don’t do enough of these “follow up” posts. There is such an ebb and flow of readership on the blog that I don’t know if it makes sense sometimes. It’s almost like I start new ever week! It’s nice that I have some continuity out there with great and loyal readers like you Karen! I’ll try to do better. It helps when people chime in and ask me to write on specific topics. Thanks for this feedback!

  • Richard

    Nice blog Jamie. I’ve been following you on Twitter, and found your blog via the same route. An article like this really stands out…. you’re spot on with making it personal and ‘connecting’. Enlightening. Many thanks.

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