Social technologies are awesome, especially the open ones. When I say open vs. closed, I mean Twitter vs. Facebook. On Twitter, you don’t have to mutually opt-in to a relationship, and frankly neither person has to follow the other one, in order to connect and share ideas around a common interest, concept, product, or event. On Twitter, anyone can listen, participate, add and derive value. On Facebook, it’s a little tougher, because you can only have that exchange if both people are connected as friends. As awesome as all of this open participation and communication is, it is no replacement for in-person contact. Tools like Twitter and BritghtKite allow you to connect with people at the same location / event as you, so you can meet them in person. Countless times, I would be twittering from a conference, and interacting with someone who is at that conference, only to have that person come up to me and say “You are The Maria, right?” (this is why it pays to have an avatar that actually looks like you, and to have a short and memorable handle). In short, social technologies should ultimately help you meet people IRL (in real life), not lock you up in a room with online friends and no IRL contacts.
Moreover, people connected on Twitter are always organizing “tweetups” to meet together and converse over some food and drink. The benefit to knowing someone on the Internet first, and meeting them IRL later, is that it can lead to a more fruitful conversation and a stronger connection, because you already know some factual information about each other. However, even though you know about each other, doesn’t mean you know each other. There are obviously some intangibles that are only experienced in person – perhaps a little bit of chemistry, ability to observe body language. By the same token, social technologies allow to strengthen existing weak ties. If I only know someone tangentially, but enough to know that I want to be connected on Facebook and Twitter, everyday exposure to that person’s lifestream, thoughts and analyses, will strengthen our connection, even though we may see each other once a year.
I think in our pursuit of technologies, we have come full-circle. Prior to Web 1.0, we were social IRL – we called each other on the phone and hung out. Then with online chatrooms, IM and email, we retrieved to our separate corners. Now, with tools like Twitter and its surrounding ecosystem, we are using the social web to drive us closer together IRL. Brands and venues that understand that, will ultimately win. For example, the Roger Smith Hotel, the social-media-friendly hotel in NYC (where my Murphy Goode video was shot) understands this and has pioneered Twitter-friendly content, discounts and events. Many conferences, networking breakfasts and post-conference events are held there. Folks can even get discounts on rooms by following @RSHotel and discounts on food and drink by tweeting pictures of food (check with them first for current discounts, of course). These guys are (at least local) pioneers in the space and have become a de-facto watering hole for the NYC (and out of town) “Twitterati”.