In my 2009 interview with social media analyst, Jeremiah Owyang, he noted that building a community has to be done both online and in-person to be effective. He talked about how he makes time for meetups when he's traveling, as a way to stay in touch with his community. In his mind, this is just as important as connecting online, using social media.
Three years later, I get it.
I recently returned from a trip to Chicago, where I did a meetup at a favorite restaurant, Dave's Italian Kitchen. I've done previous meetups at this same place--wonderful dinners, lively conversation. Yet by comparison, these past gatherings felt like a warm up for the real thing. Sort of like the "hundredth monkey" effect.
For a few hours last week, I felt bathed in the glow of being in a community. Ten people, one community.
10 fascinating professionals from all walks of life, who had never met before, showed up. (Even as the host, I had met just three of the attendees in person before.) Their passions ranged from web design and IT to marketing to biomedical research to growing urban gardens as an outdoor classrom. We came together as a community, engaged in rich discussion and held together by common experiences and the willingness to learn together. What made the difference?
I think it has to do with Brene Brown's research on how vulnerability leads to joy and other emotions. I started off the dinner with the following request:
Introduce yourself with a snippet of your story, and if you are willing, talk about a turning point from your story.
I went first, to better illustrate what I meant by turning point. I recounted three times in my life that were difficult and transformative, times when I turned lemons into lemonade:
- The first turning point was when I had TMJ surgery, after being in chronic pain for years. It was a crisis of the body. I credit the surgeon for greatly improving the quality of my life, if not saving my life.
- The second turning point was when I was laid off from my last corporate job. It was a crisis of the mind and the heart. Engineering no longer satisfied me as an intellectual pursuit and I wanted work that was more meaningful. The layoff led me to becoming a career coach and an entrerpreneur.
- The third turning point was when I burned out last summer. It was a crisis of the body, mind, heart, and spirit. I hit bottom in all four dimensions.
When I finished, I simply said, "Who's next?"
From there, the evening took off.
My thanks to all who attended. (You know who you are.) I learned the power of "brand community" in a whole new way.
P.S. If you are interested in hosting a meetup for your brand community, please contact me. I'd love to brainstorm with you on how to do this well.