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My New Best Friends

Please tell me I’m not the only one. Over the last year, I’ve apparently started operating in a parallel universe, where I friendslook the same, live in the same house with the same people, but I’ve started to exhibit some really bizarre behaviors. Especially when it comes to my friends. Well, at least my new friends. My new best friends.

I think friendships, the really deep, worthwhile ones, develop over time. At least I used to think so, until social media conditioned me to judge a tweet, consider its backstory, the personality of the Tweeter, and calculate the emotional ROI on the time it took me to read the 140 characters (or less) – and judge it all in a millisecond. String a few of those milliseconds together, and I’m drawing conclusions about who my new best friends are. But it gets even weirder than that…

I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York in January.  As I entered the lobby of the Sheraton and made my way over to the registration desk, I saw a familiar face.  My good friend Dan Blank, the CEO of We Grow Media, was sitting at a table in the lobby working on his laptop.

Dan Blank“Dan!  Hey, Dan!” I yelled, and hurried over to say hello.

The confused look on Dan’s face gave way to a flash of panic when I stuck out my hand.  Only then did I remember that Dan had no idea who I was. I’d been following Dan on Twitter, subscribed to his blog, and watched a dozen video interviews he’d conducted. When it comes to author and publisher branding, Dan gets it / does it / coaches it. I’d witnessed his humor, his humility, and was pretty sure that he’d given me a glimpse of his soul.  He was an old friend. Well, kind of.  As I walked away from a relieved Dan Blank, I thought “Welcome to the world of social media.” In a thirty second conversation I left a prince of a guy muttering to himself and wondering if I was a crazed stalker or a merely a supportive fan. I felt a little creepy.

In the world of social media, there are a million voices screaming for your attention. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or the patience to go to each person’s website, check out their LinkedIn profile and discover whatever else Google can tell me about them.  Whether it is a blog post, tweet, or Facebook reference I’m looking at, I’ll run through four quick-and-dirty questions:

1. Do they really know their stuff?

2. Do they make me laugh?

3. Do they pass the beer / Merlot test?  If it’s a male, is this someone I’d like to have a beer with?  If it’s a woman, would I want to have a glass of Merlot with her? Sorry if the drink of choice is sexist, but that’s the way my test works.

4. How credible is the person / resource who referred me to them? This is the Robert Cialdini “social proof” concept.  If I know you and like you and you recommend someone, I’m predisposed to like them  (just so long as I don’t catch you recommending Justin Bieber or the Kardashians).

A yes to any one of these questions and I’ll take a second look, and maybe start to follow them, or subscribe to a blog. If it’s a yes to all four questions? Then I’m hanging on their every word – and treading dangerously close to stalker status.

The unfortunate reality is that all of these evaluations take place in split seconds.  And the extension of credibility and social proof happens just as lightning-fast. This is where we kind of move from the bizarre to the truly absurd.

Gini DietrichGini Dietrich is the President of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based PR firm.  She’s also a Vistage speaker and social media maven. She provides quality insights into PR and social media on her website, entitled “Spin Sucks.” I started following Gini because I thought she could help shorten my learning curve with social media and she had consistently received good ratings as a Vistage speaker.  Then I saw the fateful post in January 2012 that put me over the edge. She made me giggle like a little kid. In a crowded Starbucks. And I didn’t care.

Gini has a weekly summary, entitled Gin and Topics and she includes stories of interest, funny videos, and other stuff.  It’s an opportunity to laugh and learn for a couple of minutes.  Her intro to the post that day was:

GUESS WHAT?!? It is snowing again! This makes me so happy!

Jack Bauer and I will be out cross-country skiing at lunchtime. Well, I’ll be skiing. He’ll be marking every tree along the lakefront as his.

As a fan of the show 24, I immediately pictured Kiefer Sutherland running through the snow and wizzing on every tree along the lakefront.  Laugh. Out. Loud. If you didn’t catch it, Gini’s Jack Bauer is a dog. With his own Facebook page.

From that point on, she had me.  She’s still a thought leader in the application of social media to the PR world, and remains a must-read / must-watch / must-follow, but now she’s much more. She’s one of my new best friends.

Consequently, when Gini talked about loving the work of a fellow blogger and inviting him to guest post and even present on a joint webcast, I had to check him out – in less than a minute. Enter Marcus Sheridan, otherwise known as Mufasa, the Sales Lion. He is very successful in content marketing, and is to the swimming pool industry what Gary Vaynerchuk is to the wine industry. Yeah, like Gary V (actually, @garyvee), Marcus’s expertise in sales and social media transcends his specific industry.  Much of the message is simple human behavior – but reached and influenced in a new medium, and Marcus enjoys teaching others how to do it.

But Marcus’s appeal to me isn’t just as an expert in swimming pools or social media.  He sells pools in Warsaw, Virginia.  I’ve been to Warsaw, Virginia!  (there aren’t tons of people who can say the same thing – trust me).  I read a blog post of Marcus’s where he chronicled his schedule on an evening when his wife and oldest daughter went to a concert. Marcus watched their other three kids and it was a bit of an adventure. The post ended with his thoughts on what a balanced life looks like.  He described five areas of life, which sounded remarkably like the five areas outlined by Tom Hill in a recent post of mine, “But He Looks So Ordinary.” Let’s see, he’s recommended by Gini Dietrich, he sounds like a young Tom Hill, he lifts people up…  OK, I’m sold.

Three people I met through social media, whose message and personalities cut through the clutter to connect with me: Dan, Gini and Marcus.  In a matter of seconds, they each made the cut. My new best friends.

I did have a beer with Dan Blank in New York, as part of the infamous Stecchino Bistro Writers’ Group (George, Viki, Porter, Kathy – that’s you).  He’s a great guy and I’m an even bigger fan of his after meeting him in person.

Gini Dietrich is coming to speak to one of my Vistage groups in April and we’ll meet in person then.  Maybe it’ll be a glass of Merlot, or just a cup of coffee and a bagel, but that still counts, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not sure about our respective travel schedules so I’ll just throw it out there – Hey, Marcus, can I buy you a beer?

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karl, Here I thought you knew Dan all along! It is amazing how quickly these bonds form and you have captured the amazement and wonder of it all in your story. These meaningful connections are truly magical and I am thrilled to recall the WDC /Stecchino memories! Thanks for sharing. It is the power of story :-)

    March 20, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Kathy, Dan is nice, helpful, informative, and fun. It’s not a bad combination to have when you try to connect with him – digitally or in person. Based on what I’d read & heard from Dan, I’d have been shocked if he wasn’t the real deal. As you know, I wasn’t disappointed. And you’re right, any time we can recall Stecchino Bistro memories – it’s a good thing.

      March 20, 2012
  2. Those 4 questions sound a lot like the basic criteria to pursue real life relationships, too–though the compression into seconds is seriously worrisome. And the one-way aspect can tend toward the creepy.

    But online interaction (as opposed to just following) goes a long way. Since I started blogging, I leave comments frequently on blogs–because I know what it means to a blogger to have people respond. On Google+, I’ve not only found people who have good stuff to share, but I also interact with them over time and build actual connection. Some I get to interview on Skype for my blog. And next time I’m in their towns, I’ll have an excuse to call them up for tea or lemonade. (They can have beer or merlot if they prefer.) Using social media this way is still a new experience for me (under a year), and the new has definitely not work off yet.

    By the way, your last 2 blog posts, recommended to me by Kathy Pooler (credible resource), have put you on my credible and interesting resource list, and made me want to check out Gini and Marcus, too. (I’m already a Dan Fan.)

    So keep up the good work, Karl! Your honest voice and humor make your good content easy to enjoy.

    March 20, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Shelly, the credible and interesting categories are mutual. Your blog, your videos, your comments, your insights – all lead people to connect. You do it well. When our paths cross, the tea / lemonade / beer / merlot is on me! We’ll continue to explore this social media world together. Thanks for the kind words.

      March 20, 2012
  3. I giggle every time I think of your vision of Keifer Sutherland marking the Chicago lakefront. I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing you next month. It’s not often I have the opportunity to speak with a Vistage group whose Chair really gets it. I’m excited!

    March 20, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Gini, I have to tell you – I added an explanation to the original post, since I know Jack Bauer is a dog; you know Jack Bauer is a dog; but I suspect a lot of other people were missing out on the joke. I still love the idea of Kiefer Sutherland on a Charlie Sheenish binge running around the Chicago lakefront, then running up and slobbering all over you. We’ll have some fun in April. I can’t wait.

      March 20, 2012
  4. Mike Mason #

    Those are some really neat observations on the evolution of the development of who we call friends. I guess I am old school enough to lament the art of conversation that is in decline and being taught less and less to our kids. Maybe I see more of this because I deal with them each day. (I am sorry, this is not to put a downer on another brilliant piece by the man who is fast becoming one of my favorite authors)

    I guess it is all a function of time. The social media allows you to cull out the individuals a person deems less likely to be a valued addition to our acquaintances and to aid in the allocation of that valued commodity that we all seem to have less and less of to spend with those who mean something to us.

    You continue to see facets of our lives that need to be explained. Thanks.


    March 21, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Mike – you identify one of the great challenges: there are more ways to communicate than ever before – but the ability to personally connect at a meaningful level is tougher for this generation. As I think about the impact that you have on kids, I’m sure it is eyeball-to-eyeball and not in 140 character bursts. We’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle, but teaching kids how to dialogue and connect at a deep level can help a bright, talented generation accomplish amazing things. It’s worth the effort. Based on the comments on “Seeing It Through Their Eyes” you are leading, connecting and making a difference. Keep up the good work.

      March 21, 2012
  5. Well dang, thank goodness for Google Alerts, otherwise I would have missed this!!

    Karl, first time here, but I’ve got to tell you–you’re writing style is right down my alley. You seem to be a story-teller at heart, which is a quality I find most appealing when it comes to this online word (and offline too).

    So glad you mentioned Gini D. She’s far and away the most likeable person online I’ve ever seen/met….and I’ve met quite a few. And how she finds the time she does to nurture so many relationships makes me smack my forehead with a tad of envy.

    When you meet her in real life, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

    And thanks so much for the kind words regarding my article. I do an article like that once a month because it shows my personal side, and really deals with life outside of just “business”, which is ultimately more important than anything we’ll do at the office.

    Well I’ll shut up now but again, great piece of writing Karl, and I clearly don’t say that because you were kind enough to mention me herein.

    Continued success,


    March 21, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Marcus, I’m honored – and pleased – that you took the time to come by to read and comment – with a nod to Google Alerts. Thank you for the kind words. I’ve read enough of your blog posts, interviews, and watched enough video to observe that you are doing it the right way: a teacher who loves to learn; a leader who is willing to serve; and a man who knows when to be serious and when to laugh at the world around him – or at himself. I appreciate the information you’ve shared; it’s been very helpful. Some day I’ll have to share my interest in the pool industry and the Northern Neck. Hopefully we can meet. The beer is on me. :-)

      March 21, 2012
  6. Bravo, Karl! This post masterfully illuminates a topic that confuses many and escapes explanation for most. From now on, instead of trying to explain, I’ll opt for The Short Distance solution and direct them to this post. Talk about a value add?!?! ;-) Now, I’m off to *meet* Marcus Sheridan and offer a virtual hug to Gini Dietrich who I’d already had the good fortune of intersecting via Twitter. Then back up to my hermitage in the New Mexico desert for one more week off the grid. Cheers!

    March 24, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Thanks George, I appreciate you stopping by as you briefly come up for air from your New Mexico Retreat. I think you will enjoy Marcus’s wisdom and personality. My decision to jump into social media came from a post-Stecchino’s conversation with you and @jeannevb. You both challenged me to join the 21st Century and I’m glad I did. You remain one of my adventure guides as I try to find my way. Keep up the good work.

      March 25, 2012
  7. Devon #

    I used the blog post as part of a communication performance piece. You helped me earn an A!

    May 2, 2015

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