ROS – Return on SOBCon

I’ll be Chicago again this May to attend my fourth SOBCon conference. If you haven’t gone before, and if you’re a high-quality, collaborative, smart, pay-it-forward person, I hope you’ll join us.

Why the italics above? Because that’s what I think about when I contemplate SOBCon. The incredible people I’ve met – people who’ve become long-term friends and collaborators.

People like:

  • Lisa Petrilli – with whom I co-launched LeadershipChat after we met at SOBCon and began our years of brainstorming and collaborating. She is a dear friend.
  • Sean McGinnis – with whom I had lunch and immediately built a deep bond that continues to this day.
  • Justin McCullough – a spur-of-the-moment branding discussion (including Drew McLellan) during a SOBCon social gathering led to valuable ongoing back-and-forth over recent years.
  • Carol Roth - who greeted me with a bright smile at the evening event kicking off the meeting and has remained a valued colleague ever since (& congrats on the big news this week, Carol!)
  • Anthony Iannarino – a rock of friendship and encouragement since the day we met in the room at SOBCon several years back.

Yes, the content and discussions at SOBCon are valuable. But what stands out to me is the people who come together to learn, and grow, and challenge one another. People I now interact with on a regular basis, such as Lisa DiomedeBecky McCraySheila ScarboroughShashi BellamkondaAmber ClevelandMolly Cantrell-KraigMarla SchulmanJustin LevyDarrell DeRochierPhil GerbyshakLiz MarshallSarah RobinsonBrian MoranJesse PetersenChris Brogan, Jon Swanson, Alli Worthington, Angela Maiers, Lou Imbriano, Judy Martin, Geoff Livingston, Tim Sanders, Darrell Derochier, Fred McClimans, Danielle Smith, Chris Garrett … and undoubtedly others I’m failing to bring to mind at the moment.

Special thanks, of course, to Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie and Liz Strauss for putting on this labor of love each year. They are the heart and soul of SOBCon.

You want return on investment? Just look a the list above. All high-quality, collaborative, smart, pay-it-forward people.

SOBCon is not merely a conference. It’s like a family of networking professionals. If you’ve not had a chance to go – put it on your calendar!

Signal vs Noise

I remember, back 6-7 years ago, the joy of discovering new people on blogs and on Twitter.

The earlier adopters of social media, by and large, “meant it.” It was mostly signal, with very little noise. A lot more networking, a lot less spewing.

Now I see the various social streams cluttered with a bunch of formulaic efforts to build numbers – whether it’s putting up a stream of inspirational quotes, or posting on the 8 Indispensable Ways to Fake Authenticity on Twitter, or doing endless RTs – there’s way too much noise.

signalBut, still, there’s signal.

That’s why I still tune in to many of the “old” voices – people who always had something original to say, and who have thoughtfully evolved over time. People like Amber Naslund, and Geoff Livingston, and Ann Handley, and Brad Pendergraph. And that’s why I sift through all the static to find other original thinkers; folks like Jon Swanson, and Sarah Robinson, and Brian Moran.

It’s also why I attend the SOBCon conference, where a lot of the innovative “signal-makers” gather each year to brainstorm new ideas and build beneficial networks.

Yes, it’s become noisy in the networking world, discouragingly so at times. But the quality people are still out there. Don’t worry about having a follower count of 100,000. That’s going to just surround you with noise. Find 50 great thinkers and networkers and focus there.

Tune in to signal and let the noise pass by.

Why You Want to be at SOBCon (even if you didn’t know it)

SOBCon2013Those of us who have attended a SOBCon gathering (the think tank for forward-looking business people) don’t need much convincing – when you’ve gotten together with 150 smart, creative, action-oriented professionals who are restless to shape their futures through smart networking and ideation, you view it as an annual pilgrimage.

I’ve been to three SOBCon get-togethers in Chicago – and I’ll be back this May. Past reviews on my blog are here and here and here.

SOBCon is not like a typical conference, where you get talked at endlessly, and mill around in large herds hoping to find someone interesting to talk to.

SOBCon is where you brainstorm in small groups, network with a distilled 100-proof group of high-quality people, and come away with fresh ideas for your business. And people who are happy to hold you accountable to get it done, and encourage you along the way.

If you want to pose and pretend, SOBCon isn’t for you.

If you want to be real and make progress and challenge your own status quo, you need to go. It’s the kind of place where you make lifelong friends and find unexpected collaborators.

SOBCon happens May 3-5. Sign up today (January 31) and save $200. See you in Chicago!

 

Chicago-style Leadership

Last week, with about 150 others, I attended the SOBCon conference in Chicago (this was my 3rd year). This gathering always provides thought-provoking gems, along with great opportunities to deepen relationships (here is my quick review of the 2012 gathering).

I thought I’d list out three discussion points for this week’s LeadershipChat based on things said in the Windy City at SOBCon.

1. “Relationships always trump results.” (from Gary Goldstein). Overall, I agree with this perspective – even if projects go awry, the relationships built are the biggest benefit in the long run. But, what about in leadership? Is this always the case; or sometimes, is it really all about the results?

2. “The act of leadership is fundamentally an act of love.” (from Steve Farber). Hmmmm…here’s what Steve means by this (link to podcast). What do you think?

3. “Having a clear purpose makes it easier to say, ‘No.’” (from Tim Sanders). One of the responsibilities – at times, burdens – of leadership, is decision-making. I agree with Tim that one of the most efficient ways to reach decisions is to be crystal-clear on overarching purpose. But that’s not always easy to maintain in the heat of the battle, yes?

Join us as we discuss these topics – just use the hashtag #LeadershipChat and jump right in (and if you were at SOBCon, we’d love to hear your perspectives on these points!)

See you tonight, May 8th at 8 pm ET, for The Fastest Hour on the Internet – LeadershipChat!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Leaders and their Flagrant Fouls

>> (alt) Leadership

I Went to SOBCon 2012 and All I Got Was…

Inspired. Again.

Encouraged. Again.

Deeper relationships. Again.

New perspective. Again.

Validated. Again.

A chance to brainstorm and dream and hug and laugh and figure stuff out with a bunch of smart, pay-it-forward entrepreneurs who don’t mind talking about things like purpose and failure and love.

If you were there, what did you get? Add your thoughts in the comments!

A few top-of-mind moments that impacted me most:

>>Tim Sanders (@SandersSays) talking about purpose in a way that helped me re-write my own mission statement (“My purpose is to help people and companies discover their identity and purpose, and to create new opportunities for people to thrive optimally in supportive networks.”)

>>Laura Fitton (@Pistachio) speaking so transparently about her near-death business experience with OneForty.

>>Steve Farber (@SteveFarber) recounting how making a personal contact opened up a whole new pinball effect of new opportunities in an unanticipated direction.

>>Brandie McCallum (@lttlewys) just being there so soon after a serious operation.

>>Les McKeown (@LesMcKeown) speaking. Doesn’t matter what he says. I want to download his accent (actually, his presentation was great fun!)

Some of the great folks I got to meet, or go much deeper with, this year included Phil Gerbyshak (he of the multi-colored glasses frames), Liz Marshall, Jeff Shuey, Sarah Robinson, Brian Moran (imagine what it was like with the latter four plus Carol Roth and me at one table – trouble!), Jesse Petersen, Xan Pearson, Kyle Akerman, Nick Kellet, Jane Boyd, Patrick Prothe (finally IRL – where’s my pager?), Aaron Biebert, Christian Gurney, and more that I can’t recall at the moment because of advancing age.

And, as always, it was wonderful to hang out with “old” pals like Sean McGinnis, Lisa Diomede, Anthony Iannarino, Cate Colgan, Becky McCray, Sheila Scarborough, Shashi Bellamkonda, Amber Cleveland, Molly Cantrell-Kraig, Marla Schulman, Justin Levy, Jeannie Walters, Darrell DeRochier, and many others – what a great crew.

This was my third SOBCon gathering in Chicago, and each time, it’s been like walking into a gold mine of great people full of energy and good will. Collaborations and friendships that have begun “in the room” at SOBCon endure, and grow, to this day. How did LeadershipChat begin? Through meeting Lisa Petrilli (@LisaPetrilli) two years ago at SOBCon.

Special thanks to Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie and Liz Strauss for putting on this labor of love each year. The Portland version is coming up later this year for those inclined to spend a few wonderful days of retreat in the great Northwest.

SOBCon is not merely a conference. It’s like family. If you’ve not had a chance to go – put it on your calendar!

(Ha! Just looked back on my blog from 2010 and realized I used the same title to review that year’s SOBCon! Here’s a few thoughts from 2011 as well).

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts:

>> Clarity, part 1: What’s Your Offering?

>> Clarity, part 2: Make Your Message Clear

>> Clarity, part 3: People Buy Stories

>> Clarity, part 4: Your Clarifying Analogy

Free Clarity Therapy in Chicago? Yes!

Last year, pre-SOBCon, I came out to Chicago early and had a chance to meet with several folks for free Clarity Therapy sessions(I called it Brand Therapy then). It was a delightful time and much closer relationships with at least 3 people developed as a result.

So, we’re going to do it again this year! (What is Clarity Therapy?)

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, I’m going to open up a few 90-minute slots to help people – free of charge – figure out their professional DNA and direction. This will take place at (or near) Hotel 71 in downtown Chicago.

Available times:

Thursday May 3: 9:30 am | 2:30 pm | 4 pm (sorry – all booked!)

Send me an e-mail (steve at connectionagent dot com) and let me know if you’d like to take advantage of this free offer, and what time(s) you would prefer. There are already two slots that are on the verge of being spoken for, so don’t hesitate!

(here’s a blog post from last week by Tom Martin describing why Clarity Therapy is important – even for a branding/marketing pro!)

Go With What You’ve Got (A 2011 Reflection)

I freely admit that, in some areas, I am denser than an iceberg made of iron. In a few key respects, my mind runs with Olympic sprinter speed and dexterity – but in other ways, I learn at a glacial pace, only after so many crashes against the wall that I look like Rocky’s sparring partner on a very bad day.

But this year, I may have finally begun to turn the corner on one thing that I’ve believed (in my head) for many years, but failed to fully embrace (in heart and practice). When building business, Go With What You’ve Got.

You see, I often tell others that you really want build a small, high-quality, close-knit network – a tribe  in Godin-speak – instead of expending all your energy in amassing numbers. I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve written along these lines, and in many respects, I’ve practiced it – but, when it came to my primary revenue-generating pharma network (Impactiviti), I harbored a secret addiction to going wide instead of deep. There’s nothing inherently wrong with widespread recognition and messaging – but then I kept looking at where the revenue was truly coming from. And lo and behold (no surprise to any of you quicker learners out there), revenue was coming from a handful of long-standing customers/advocates. All the mass reach in the world, while good for the long-term, wasn’t really the driver. It was taking care of the people who already believed in me, and who talked me up to others. I finally started pro-actively investing much more time digging deeper than going wider.

Duh.

This simple insight, finally burrowing its way from mind to heart, re-shaped some of my social networking practice as well in 2011. I’ve always invested in the idea of cultivating a close “inner circle” of quality people, but it was difficult to set aside the broad reach model in practice. Somehow, the only thing that gets the applause lines is big numbers. Yet, I already had a wonderful circle of friends with whom I could cultivate deeper bonds. Did I really need to pour a bunch of energy into Google+, or worry about an influencer score, or be concerned about blog readership statistics? Not that any of those things are bad in themselves (well, maybe Klout…right, Sam Fiorella?), but I don’t really “need” mass numbers. I can barely cultivate deepening relationships with the wonderful people I already know.

Huh.

Finally, this “go with what you’ve got” lesson came home to me in a very unexpected new business direction. As many of you know, I have been building, behind the scenes, toward a grand vision I’ve had for years of a trusted referral network for building new business (Connection Agency). Yet, the very week I made this initiative public, an entirely different avenue of new business potential dropped into my lap – something that I already had been doing but didn’t really understand could be a business in itself. Doing Brand Therapy with individuals and companies has turned out to be the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done – yet it came to the fore only because I had some unanticipated extra time in Chicago pre-SOBCon and decided to do some free “therapy” sessions with people. Now, this practice has become a growing revenue stream in its own right, while Connection Agency has been on the slower development track.

Turns out the keys to success in 2011 were under my nose the whole time. As Thomas Carlyle put it so many years ago, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Great advice for both business and leadership as we look ahead to 2012. What are the opportunities already at hand? What are you already bringing to the table? Who are the customers that make your business fly?

In fact, on Tuesday (Dec. 19th) at 8 pm ET on Twitter during LeadershipChat, we’ll be discussing our most important Leadership Lessons from 2011. Here’s one from my lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli (My Most Life Opening Leadership Lesson of 2011). What’s yours? Feel free to write a blog post about it before, or after, the chat, and share your wisdom with other members of the community!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Twitter Chats and Cocktail Parties

>> Finding Your DNA

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The Five People You Meet at SOBCon

After SOBCon, you’ll notice a number of tweets and comments by people expressing regret that they didn’t go, and/or mentioning that they’d like to go next year.

To entice you to take action, let me describe the 5 kinds of people you’ll meet at a SOBCon gathering:

1. Business people – SOBCon attracts people who are doing business, not just making noise. If you want to make connections with fellow entrepreneurs, this is your place.

2. Doers – many conferences attract thinkers and talkers. The people who attend SOBCon are definitely thinkers, and many have no problem talking – but there is a bias toward action. If you want concrete inspiration, this is a place to find it.

3. Mentors – there is a surprising proportion of people gathering at SOBCon who will very generously give of their time and expertise. We all need mentors. This is a room full.

4. Up-and-comers – both years I’ve attended, I’ve been impressed by the number of folks who clearly have leadership and initiative written all over them. You can just see that they’re going to be speakers in a few years, with lots of success to share. It’s fun to see the flower in bud!

5. Humble Leaders – SOBCon really is a check-your-ego-at-the-door kind of gathering. However, that isn’t forced – it’s just that humble, servant-minded people tend to find each other and come together.

You can attend lots of other conferences and find, in isolated corners and pockets, these kind of people. But at SOBCon, it’s distilled – 100-proof quality. That’s why it’s my favorite gathering of the year. And you can commit, even now, to next year’s event in Chicago at a very low rate (not an affiliate link – I just think you should be there!)

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A Tale of Two SOBCons

A Friend, two Tribes, and a Gift

I have just returned from SOBCon 2011 in Chicago, my mind and heart swirling with excitement fueled by memories, epiphanies, and new opportunities. And gratitude.

SOBCon is a gathering – I almost hesitate to call it a conference – orchestrated by Liz Strauss and Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie. It’s the kind of event where you roll up your sleeves, check your ego at the door, open your heart, and build professional relationships that turn into…all kinds of things.

[Review of last year's event]

This post is the story of what has transpired due to SOBCon, from the first one I attended (last year) to this one, which was held from April 29-May 1. It may be a bit long, and it definitely will be personal. It will also be a living illustration of what SOBCon is all about – being a catalyst for entrepreneurs.

One year ago in Chicago, I met Lisa Petrilli, and we became fast friends and collaborators. Shortly thereafter, she suggested we co-create something called #LeadershipChat on Twitter, which we launched last fall. Our approach was somewhat unique – building a climate and community that feels like a Tuscan family dinner table – and soon a pretty faithful tribe began gathering on Tuesday nights each week for these virtual meetings. New relationships were being forged throughout the months, and Lisa and I decided that it might be a cool idea to bring a handful of these people together for a REAL meal in Chicago just before the 2011 SOBCon kicked off. As it turned out, a group of 10 of us enjoyed a five-hour (!) afternoon lunch together laughing, talking, brainstorming, and utterly enjoying seeing LeadershipChat come to life at a very real Italian meal. With cannolis, of course (inside joke).

Also, I think I counted at least 7 people who were attending their first SOBCon this year due in large part to connections made via the LeadershipChat tribe. Since SOBCon is all about instigating new stuff, this brand of ROI can be called “Return on Instigation”!

During last year’s SOBCon, I was floating my long-standing dream among a few select friends about creating a professional referral network. I had already created my own referral business (Impactiviti) for pharma/healthcare, but what I really wanted to do was pull together a tribe of like-minded folks who could “matchmake” high-quality clients and providers through a much larger trusted-referral network. After a long pre-launch process building this in stealth mode (with Lisa and 5 others), the Connection Agency was made public – appropriately – the first morning of this year’s SOBCon. And, yes, a handful of the initial members have SOBCon/LeadershipChat roots.

So, thanks to SOBCon, we have a friend, and two tribes. What about the gift?

I have a growing and intense desire to see great people liberated to do their best work – using their best skills – in a business climate of trust. I believe a whole tribe of entrepreneurs can be unleashed with a powerful, supportive network. In fact, I feel that this is my life mission – but, as it turns out, I was working with one hand tied behind my back.

Because of a scheduling oversight, I had one extra day in Chicago before the LeadershipChat dinner. I had just written a post about Brand Therapy – it sounded like a cool name – and, figuring I might be able to do some good for a few folks with the free afternoon, I offered to conduct free therapy sessions for a few victims volunteers who wanted to get some clarity on their professional identities, direction, and brand. That happened Wednesday – and, over the next couple of days, similar conversations occurred with a few other people.

I’m going to let those folks, if they wish, describe those sessions in the comments. For my part, it finally forced something to the surface that I’d been struggling with for a long time.

This capability – helping individuals/companies gain clarity through analytical questioning and creative directive-ness – is a gift. We can acquire skills and knowledge, but there’s an element that almost seems like magic about a God-given gift. Using that intuitive skill to benefit others brings more unrestrained joy and fulfillment than anything else. But it also confused me – don’t agencies and career coaches charge huge amounts to come up stuff that just seems so clear to me after a little time talking?

I was so perplexed by this ability, so uncertain how to incorporate it into my business, that even when I’d be helping others see themselves clearly in the mirror, I was hesitating to see myself. That which was most intuitive – most me – made me uncomfortable.

So, it was a gift that a little group of people entrusted their thoughts and desires to me, because not only was I helping them gain clarity, they were helping me do the same. Sean will be a great DCAL; Greg will become the entrepreneur’s coach; Sara will build marketing starting with empty trays; Marla is the story-getter; Fred will become the pre-mortem problem solver. As for me, I guess I’ll be a therapist-adviser, which happens to complement rather well being the connection agent. Those who gain insight into their identity and message can also be connected to the other people who can help make things happen.

Thanks especially to Lisa Petrilli, Chris Brogan, Sean McGinnis, Jeanne Male, Anthony Iannarino, Greg Hartle, Fred McClimans and Patty Azzarello for listening to my visions, and putting to flight my perplexity. Your investment of time and your outside viewpoints brought both clarity and validation.

Maybe I’ll update this post with a list of the other great people I met, but right now, I have to go pick up one of my boys. Suffice it to say that many new friends were made. And, yes, I’m looking at you, Liz Marshall!

I feel a little funny that this tale of two SOBCons doesn’t include much of anything about this year’s SOBCon event itself – the great speakers like Michael Port and Carol Roth, the usual wonderful hospitality of Liz and Terry, the fun social events – others will be writing about all that, for sure. But I thought it might be fun to let you take a look behind the scenes and see the end result of SOBCon – transformation and business opportunity.

As many stated during the event, it really is all about relationships and network-building. And oftentimes, epiphanies.

That’s my story, and thanks for sticking with me to the end. Feel free to tell yours in the comments (or, if you prefer, feel free to use my post-conference review template from last year…!)

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Announcing the Connection Agency

With a talented close-knit group of trusted collaborators, I’ve been working on something behind the scenes called the Connection Agency. We’re just now emerging out of stealth mode. But before I say more about the CA, I want to point to a very crucial part of the “why?” formula.

The boom of networked communications has opened up an amazing array of opportunities for individuals who are knowledgeable, connected, and trusted. Welcome to the new intermediation.

We talk often about how on-line networks are bringing about radical disintermediation (removal of the “middleman” – think about what Amazon is doing to the publishing and book-selling world). But what we need to see is that new intermediaries are needed, particular when it comes to knowledge curation, resource-finding, and person-connecting. eHarmony provides an example of how technology can intermediate to make matches more efficiently.

When I started my Impactiviti business 5 years ago, it was actually a “trust agent” business model – even before that term was coined by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. I “matchmake” my pharma/healthcare clients with personally selected, trusted and excellent outsource suppliers; and I work on a referral fee basis with those partners. It’s an intermediation business built on trust, reputation, knowledge, and new efficiencies (in fact, this week, I met with 2 high-caliber individuals for brand therapy sessions and encouraged them to adopt a form of that model in their respective spheres).

And here’s a wonderful little secret: there’s not much competition. We become so used to the inefficiencies, dishonesty, and incompetence baked in to our current work models, that few see what an astonishing opportunity awaits a network connector who can create and grow a new ecosystem, with character and virtue and proven capability at the center.

But the business need exists in ALL sectors, not just pharma/healthcare. So we’re evolving a model of an organic network of trust agents who will refer their trusted clients and suppliers across the network to “matchmake” needs – while splitting referral fees. The Connection Agency is a way to help entrepreneurs who work by old-fashioned, trusted handshake values to multiply value through the power of social networks and the universal need for trust-referrals.

The CA is a work in progress. It is, by design, a slow-grow evolution with a very long-term goal – a transformation of how business can get done when the purpose-built network is the heart of the business, not some add-on. We’re figuring it out as we go along and you won’t see a lot of noise about this network, because we’re focused on a high-quality, high-trust, high-touch business that, by design, is very selective.

Will the CA succeed? My current business experience as a solopreneur says, Yes! Scaling it to a network of people is a huge challenge, but I  think we can do it. And I/we will value your support, your input, your recommendations, your referrals – this is, fundamentally, a team effort. The adventure begins…!

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Do Me a Favor at SOBCon

Later this week, I’m planning on enjoying a few happy days of networking at the annual SOBCon gathering in Chicago. And, if you’re attending, I want to ask you a favor.

But first, a funny story from last week…

I walked into an agency for a brainstorming session, and one of the folks there was surprised at my appearance. I mean, he knew I was coming, but he’d been following me on Twitter for a while, and for some odd reason, he thought I was some kind of intimidating 6’5″ behemoth. Maybe it’s that Steve 3-D avatar which does have a certain Terminator quality to it, but really – I pretty much look like a regular guy! Intimidating? Nah….

And no matter how I come across publicly or on-line, when in large groups, I’m actually the one who feels a bit intimidated. The shy gene never fully disappears, I guess.

So, do me a favor. As Carol Roth did last year (and I never forgot her for it), if you want to meet me, just come up and introduce yourself. I want to make the most of every moment in Chicago, which means talking to you, not drifting self-consciously in the crowd.

Oh, and fair warning on three things:

1. If there’s actually time to talk, I’ll cut through the fluff pretty quickly and really get to know you.

2. You’ll understand me if you have a sense of humor.

3. I do hugs. Despite my New England upbringing.

See you in Chicago!

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People of The Year

Every year, I am impacted (generally for good!) by countless people. Some stand out in particular, however; and as I reflect back on 2010, my year-end post will be about a few of those very real people in my network who have inspired, connected, helped, and collaborated in remarkable ways this year.

This spring, I was contacted out of the blue by Lisa Petrilli, a marketer from Chicago just getting immersed in social media. She simply reached out, and wanted to meet when I came to town…which we did. Not only has it been a privilege to be alongside as she launched her blog, but later in the year she came up with the idea of co-hosting LeadershipChat, which has been a real highlight of the last few months. Lisa has also proven to be wise adviser, a stalwart friend, and great connector with others. And, I constantly learn from her, whether she realizes it or not, especially in how she relates to people on-line.

As I’ve contemplated (and even attempted, without success) a move back to Connecticut, I’ve enjoyed building up a growing network of Nutmeg State people via social networks, none more important than my friend Joe Cascio. Joe understands what real people-networking is all about – whenever I’m going to be nearby (he lives near my mother-in-law’s town), he invites me to get together for coffee, and we brainstorm. And brainstorm. He’s a realistic revolutionary, a practical idealist, so we’re often on the same wavelength as we dream of new business ideas. He also put us in touch with a fabulous realtor in the area, and along with Betsy Raymond Stevenson, we hope to spend lots more time in the future growing a network in the SE corner of CT!

SOBCon – OK, that’s an event, not a person, but the SOBCon gathering is all about individuals – an intimate hands-on conference with high-quality people, designed to build networks and boost entrepreneurial business ventures. Here was my summary blog post from the spring where I discuss the many fine folks I rubbed shoulders with there. I’ve been to a bajillion conferences large and small over the years, and SOBCon was, for me, the most impactful ever. This is my kind of gathering – open-hearted, hype-free, practical, and deliberately small to ensure quality interaction. Terry Starbucker and Liz Strauss (the 2 main organizers) rock. I’ll be back (in case you’re wondering, that’s Julie Roads on the chair, who makes up in fire what she may lack in height. And she eats sushi for breakfast. Finally meeting Julie was one of my SOBCon highlights!)

Amy Fitch is a full-time Mom, full-time businesswoman, full-time networker, full-time visionary, who currently resides with her adorable tribe of redheads in northern Vermont. After years of exchanging 140-character messages via Twitter, I had the chance to finally meet Amy and her family this year, as my wife and one of my sons were traveling through and had an invite to spend a day and night at the Full-Time House. During that lovely day in Burlington, I also got to spend more time with Rich Nadworny, who subsequently sent some unexpected business my way (thanks, Rich!) Amy is one of those energetic and savvy younger gals who, like Kirsten Wright and Sarah Evans and many others, give me hope for the future.

Manny Hernandez and Kerri Sparling have been my two sherpas into the world of people with diabetes. These two very active blogger/networkers have allowed me to gain insights into the world of people dealing with long-standing disease by befriending me and opening up their lives and welcoming me in. They are two of my favorite ePatients and, along with Dave deBronkart (get his book: Laugh, Sing, and Eat Like a Pig!) have given me unique perspectives into the “other side” of the healthcare world – regular people/patients. All three of these folks are also incredibly bright and funny. And Kerri’s daughter is a doll!

I was unexpectedly drawn into an unfolding on-line drama when Leigh Fazzina tweeted for help after a bicycle accident in the woods. The awesome power of a Twitter network was brought front-and-center as an ad-hoc, global, virtual support group formed within minutes to help get the seriously injured Leigh found and rescued by local emergency personnel. It actually didn’t seem like that big a deal until it was over; the event got picked up by local and national media and even made Twitter’s list of Top 10 tweets of 2010. Irony – although we’re just a few hours apart, Leigh and I STILL haven’t met face-to-face after years of being acquainted on-line. Maybe 2011, Leigh?

For years, I watched Peter Shankman‘s star rise (he built HARO – Help A Reporter Out – and sold it to Vocus) – we’d exchange occasional messages but didn’t have a natural intersection of common ground. Nonetheless, one day he asked me to meet him when I’d be in the city (that’s NYC for folks who don’t live in a 2-hour radius) just so we could meet and talk. So we did, and became friends. He even sent a speaking opportunity my way later in the year. I will note here that of all the people I’m connected to, Peter is THE MOST rapid-response person on Twitter ever. I think that’s because he has a double dose of ADHD…

The LeadershipChat crew. This lively bunch, gathering on Tuesday nights to discuss leadership topics, was a totally unexpected bonus of 2010. It even led to a spur-of-the-moment lunch meeting with chat participant Lou Imbriano, who saw via Twitter that I was heading on the train up to Boston and invited me to a wonderful time feasting and gabbing over a real Italian lunch. Since I can’t list out all the quality folks that I’m getting to know at LC, I simply invite you to join us (8 PM ET Tuesday nights) and have a seat at the table with the fun little community that’s forming.

My Inner Circle. You know who you are. Your counsel and feedback and encouragement are priceless.

Now, for the best part – I’m guessing this list will be quite a bit longer for 2011. Looking forward to a great year connecting and chatting and scheming and brainstorming and pushing the boundaries with more of you in the coming year!

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Social Media Strategy in 30 Minutes

A challenge has been issued by my SOBCon friends (Terry Starbucker and Liz Strauss) – come up with a proposed social media strategy for a company that currently has no footprint in the social space (here are the details of the challenge/contest).

The firm is Colorado-based Carlsen Resources, a media/telecom executive recruiting outfit.

Typically I’d want to spend an in-depth day with the client going over brand and differentiation and message and all that good stuff, but here’s my set of suggestions based on a half-hour of musings:

1. Produce and launch the Carlsen 2-minute Drill, a weekly video series (YouTube) hosted by Ann Carlsen, and eventually others, giving helpful tips to both firms and individuals involved in the job search process. It’s so simple and inexpensive nowadays to produce reasonable-quality video for the web, and that high-impact medium will play an increasingly prominent role in all of our social communications. Eventually this “channel” can include client interviews, etc.

2. Establish a Twitter account, mainly to link up with key business people and social influencers. Provide insight through it about the search process. Give out helpful links about resume preparation, aptitude assessments, etc. Also use it to promote the videos. Make it a 2-year goal to become the go-to name for executive recruiting among the socially-connected set.

3. Take far better advantage of LinkedIn. Ann Carlsen has only one recommendation on her profile – but there are loads of recommendations for the company on the website. That imbalance needs to be rectified. LinkedIn status updates can be used quite effectively to distribute links to the videos, and can also be tied to Twitter updates. Since LinkedIn is the premier professional platform for job seekers, tying all social efforts closely to it is a no-brainer. Also, the other Carlsen employees should have much deeper sets of contacts, and recommendations, on LinkedIn – those profiles are very uneven in depth.

4. Create (and promote) a Netvibes portal for job seekers, and one for employers. Stuff them with top links/destinations for anyone seeking to gather resources for the search process. This is a build-once, benefit-forever endeavor requiring little time. Since this portal will be fed by RSS feeds (blogs and news sources), it also provides a rich resource for surfacing “stuff” to tweet on Twitter daily.

Of course, all of this has to tie into the overall company culture and method, which means that, at minimum, the company website will need some renewed attention. Right now, it’s too much text and recruiter-speak. Probably the best course is to play off of the line, “The Best People in the Business” by spotlighting (in a more personal way) more about each employee, and also how selective the company is to only recruit and work with the best. Right now, much of the text on the website could easily be one-for-one swapped into some other recruiter’s site, which means that the distinguishing message isn’t at the forefront and being driven through.

It would take a bit more analysis to fine-tune the recommendations and come up with some uniquely creative angles, but this is a start for the basic blocking-and-tackling level. The most important two bits of advice to add:

1. Be in it for the long-haul.

2. Be ready to evolve.

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Adding Voices

This morning, I saw the following two messages, summing up the “meet people in real life after interacting on-line” experience:

Liz Strauss: “I love how, after I talk to people I know online, if I listen I can hear their voices behind their tweets.”

Nancy Swanson (to Jon Swanson): “Now I read his posts and can hear his voice.” Jon’s summary: That is the delight of starting online and then meeting face-to-face: it puts flesh on words.

Adding voices to messages. Putting flesh on words. No better summary than that for the true purpose of networking…!

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“I Went to SOBCon and All I Got Was…”

…a wonderful time with a lot of really fine people. Didn’t want nor need another t-shirt.

I’m going to depart from “Best Practices” and NOT follow the Official Post-Conference Re-Cap Blog Post Template ™. I’m a bit hypocritical that way. Instead, since my purpose for attending was primarily to deepen relationships, I’ll spend the bulk of this post talking about…people.

It’s my intent in 2010 to build deep, not wide; to get beyond 140 characters and really get to know fellow travelers on this network we’re building. SOBCon is a great venue for that – small (150 people), focused, and plenty of time for interaction. Having known Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker (the SOBCon king and queen) for quite some time, it was easy to conclude that the time would be well-spent at an event they were orchestrating.

So…the people.

Drew McLellan was one of the first bloggers I stumbled across years ago, when we both started blogging about the same time. Every interaction with him since has been high-quality and encouraging. There’s a relatively small handful of people I both like and deeply respect, and thoroughly trust as well. Drew is one of those.

It was through Drew that I first heard of Steve Farber, who spoke at SOBCon – first time I had the chance to meet him. And I cannot wait to spend more time with Steve. Not only is he a gifted speaker and author, he’s a nice guy. And funny. And transparent. You’ll want to consider buying his books on leadership – he talks about love and business in the same breath, and I deeply appreciate that perspective.

Lisa Petrilli. Only started interacting with her on-line a short time before the conference, and I’m profoundly thankful for the time we spent talking once we met in Chicago. Not only does she possess a tremendous business background, she has a very moving story to tell – this 100% Italian gal has a little imported Irish in her, due to a donated kidney. Lisa moved from relative stranger into my “inner circle” of confidants and collaborators in one weekend.

For a long time, I’ve interacted with Jon Swanson on-line, and simply could not wait to meet him. Turns out, not surprisingly, that he’s exactly what you see on-line. We have deep shared interest in how the spiritual intersects with real life, and what it means to communicate to a wide range of people. Jon may not suspect that he has been a “distant” mentor to me for many months, but he has. It was a joy to sit at the same table with him and exchange thoughts freely.

Speaking of the table, we managed to find ourselves at what became known as the “Trouble Table,” so dubbed mainly because of the presence of the delightful and free-spirited Becky McCray and Sheila Scarborough (with assists from Anthony Iannarino and Britt Raybould). We were – loud. Full of wisecracks. Loved every minute of it. Becky took this shot of Jon Swanson and me during a calmer moment…

Getting to Chicago the day before meant I could relax, take a walk, work out, and meet Joe Ruiz in the gym. We had a delightful 45-minute talk that could have gone on much longer. Looking forward to lots of future collaboration with that quality fellow from Richmond. Plus, he’s older than me. That feels good, being surrounded as we are by all these younger folks!

I fully expect to have a lot more interaction with Jonathan Fields, who led the panel I was on. Very smart guy. Ground-breaker and entrepreneur. And it was good to once again hang out the always-delightful Shannon Paul, whose 100-watt smile brightens any room, even a darkened speak-easy (that social event was very well-done, by the way).

There were several ladies that I hoped to finally meet face-to-face during the event (after a long on-line history of exchanging messages), and it was a true delight to have time with Jeannie Walters, Julie Roads, Lucretia Pruitt, and Wendy Piersall (aka eMom). All high-quality, real, thoughtful people – each of them creative and driven in their own ways.

The SOBCon event was preceded the evening beforehand by a Social Media Club Chicago tweetup, where, immediately upon walking in, I was introduced to the 300-volt Carol Roth. She had me in stitches every time we talked. Speaking of high-energy, finally meeting Phil Gerbyshak was enough to jolt anyone into full wakefulness. Ambulance companies ought to hire him to reverse cardiac arrest in patients! Fun guy.

The lovely Alli Worthington demonstrated that you can have 5 boys, and, like my wife, look absolutely fabulous in the process.

Time was WAY too short with Bill Rice, David Armano, Amber Naslund, Chris Garrett, Chris Brogan, Geoff Livingston, Scott Stratten, Shashi Bellamkonda, Shelly Kramer, and others – would have liked to spend a couple hours each with these folks and many others, but there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

Memorable moments: A riotous meal spent scheming a self-esteem-building GPS device; daily photo-taking Riverwalks to the shore of Lake Michigan; ad-hoc branding brainstorming for  Justin McCullough with Drew M, Steve F, and Phil G; unexpectedly seeing Eileen and Frieda from Siren Interactive at the SMC event (and, expectedly and finally, Sonny Gill!); and hanging out late one rainy evening at Hotel 71 “lounge” with a whole gang of lively attendees.

Chicago is a lovely city for a springtime event. Even if you cannot find a cup of coffee at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning, you can wander along the beautiful Riverwalk and people-watch, take pictures, gawk at tall buildings, and watch the wind whip up Lake Michigan. I need moments of peace interspersed with “people-time”, and this venue was perfect – everything close by, including the ability to escape and think. I’ll be back…

P.S. I mentioned in the panel discussion my recovery from a nearly life-long struggle with depression. Here’s the backstory, written a few years back: Clearing Clouds.

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