I'm an introvert. One of the things that means is that I'm not a big fan of meeting new people. I can do it if I have to, but I always prefer not to. Even meeting people I know can be hard work sometimes and I don't always look forward to it. I'm only really comfortable with just a few people I know very well, and building that sort of relationship takes a while. My first SAP TechEd was in Amsterdam in 2006. I went knowing nobody, wandered from session to session by myself, and headed back to my hotel afterwards for a quiet evening by myself. The technical content was great, but the social experience was non-existent.
Enter social media. I signed up for Twitter at the start of 2008. I followed a few people, tweeted a few things, saw no value in it and abandoned it. Later in the year I attended an event in Helsinki with a load of people I didn't know. Cue TechEd all over again. Except that I noticed something in the other people attending the event. Most of them hadn't met each other in person before either, and yet they seemed to know each other very well. In the evenings they all went off in different directions exploring the Helsinki night life, and yet over breakfast they all knew what each other had been up to. They were all connected via Twitter. That encouraged me to give it another go. I started small, following a couple of people I'd met in Helsinki and finding a few people where I worked. Because there were existing real-life connections interacting on Twitter was easier. And by watching who these people were interacting with I was able to make new connections. I find interacting with new people on Twitter much easier than in real life, primarily because there's no time pressure. Responses don't have to be in real time. My introverted self can go away and contemplate for a while without making the interactions awkward. And yet, tweet by tweet I do start to get to know people this way. It might take longer than it would with in-person interactions, but it does happen.
Fast forward TechEd Madrid in 2011 and the experience was completely different. While I travelled there with somebody I'd met once or twice, there was nobody else there that I'd met before. But there were a whole lot of people I knew because I'd conversed with them on Twitter and via SCN over the previous few years. I was meeting them in person for the first time and I was actively looking forward to it. Imagine that - looking forward to meeting new people! But these weren't new people. Many of them were already friends. Whenever I was taking a break between sessions there were people I could sit and have a coffee with. While queueing for sessions I would bump into people I could chat to. Even some of the speakers came up to me afterwards and said hello. And all thanks to social media. TechEd is a much better even if you can share it rather than experience it alone.
And outside of the world of SAP, of course the same thing can happen. There are people where I work that I've only met in person due to initial contacts via social media. There are people who live close to me who I've first met the same way. There are some I've still not met in person. I've had help and been able to help others due to social media connections. My band of twitter friends are a genuine community.
We spend a lot of time here in this forum discussing social media as a business tool, and there's nothing wrong with that, but don't lose sight of the personal benefits it can bring. It is worth the investment. At least, it has been for me.
What has your social media journey been like?