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I drafted this post last Summer. I filed it away with a pile of of the “maybe someday” posts. The idea behind this post is simple, and so is the anecdote. I hesitated to publish it earlier because it felt it was *too* simplistic. then I had a “That’s the point, DUH.” moment and decided it was time to let this post fly. Enjoy.

I often think of my dad when doing business and building professional relationships. Social media growth has made me realize that I channel him more than ever, mainly because of a newfangled confusion over “the right way” to utilize social networks to build relationships, grow your network and your business. Folks want to make it seem pretty complicated. “Make sure you tweet links to your content at specific times, specific days, stand on your head when you tweet to get more RT’s…” While I love the analytics folks and I do get that patterns can be identified and leveraged when sharing content, none of that crap is the most important ingredient in building your social currency, reach, and trust. Recognizing that social media has allowed us to create a powerful word of mouth community, in much the same way our grandparents did within a small town, might be a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s time to go back to some old school thinking…

In recent years, I’ve brought up the idea that social media is really just helping us find (and be) “a guy for that” in a much larger (online) community . Throughout my father’s life, he has always had “a guy for that”. Whether it was a new car, a guy to come help hang drywall, a lawyer, a Las Vegas casino manager, a plumber, or the guy with the best garage for drinking beers and re-building hot rods. In his business, his vendors were always his “guys” too. He referred business only to the dependable, hardworking, honest guys.

Why? Because he liked them. He trusted them, and he knew he was giving a solid and valuable recommendation.

He also wanted to make sure that “his guys” got as much business as he could send. He wanted to see them do well. They always returned the favor. These guys built word of mouth networks that stretched worldwide. And it wasn’t just built on “what’s in it for me”. It was built on relationships, trust, and the occasional liquid lunch.

In my life and my work, I have my own network of “guys”. I’m the “guy” for many others. That’s how I approach building a sustainable network to grow relationships, reach, and business. Through the magic of the interwebs, I use social media tools to connect with “my guys” and see where I can be someone else’s “guy”. It’s been working since the dawn of time, the internet doesn’t change the heart of the matter. It’s about people. Making real connections. These connections can become real life conversions. If you aren’t a total douche, it’s a pretty good way to grow your business and tap into new networks.

For those of you that live and die by ROI, I have a story for you. (An example of “personal ROI”, if you will, but it demonstrated the potential power of your network, when built on nurtured relationships and trust. It had a tremendous impact on me.)

My grandmother died six years ago. My grandfather and all of my grandmother’s friends had passed before her. My father, my mom, my aunt and all of the children and grandchildren formed a receiving line at the foot of her casket. We figured maybe a few long-time family friends might come. It would be mostly quiet, and we’d just stand there and hold on to each other. This day was one of the hardest of my father’s life. And, although he would never trouble anyone for help and support through the day, the look on his face showed the need. The morning began quietly, as expected, but in the first hour something changed.

One by one, my dad’s “guys” began to file in. They all came. The plumber, the electrician, the lawyer, the used car dealer, the hot rodders, the Harley dealer, his vendors, everyone. They filled that chapel. Full. These guys and gals were more than just the sum of the functions they performed throughout the years. They had become something bigger than that. Over time, these people were many different things to my father, they were his “guys” in some capacity, and they knew how to give and take so that everyone grew. When my dad needed support most, they came and gave back something he had earned with each of them, respect.

My dad is retired now, but certainly active and social and still enthusiastically (and FREQUENTLY) referring business to his “guys” (and his “guys” kids!) whenever he gets a chance. His guys have earned it.

What would a network of “guys” like THAT mean to you? To your business? To your life? The next time you are fretting about what time of day to post something or how to tag something properly, stop. Stop fretting. Start talking. Go find YOUR guys.


FACT: Once my dad reads this, an email will go out to all of his guys, with a message like, “Sara’s talking about us again…it’s probably all over that Facial Book thing…”

AND: Last year, Chris Brogan posted a video on his blog of me talking about my dad and his network of guys. My dad and his guys had never heard of Chris Brogan before. Now they think he’s a freakin genius, for two reasons.

1. Chris *gets* what they have been doing their whole lives, and it works.

2. Chris put “Paul’s kid” on his blog, so he must be a damned smart guy.

Do you remember the moment that someone really catches your attention? I think it’s really interesting to examine the moment in time that another human being caused you to pause and listen. A moment in time that you said to yourself, “I want to learn more about this person.” Sometimes it’s so fleeting that you can’t really put your finger on it. Sometimes it’s like a baseball bat to the face.

What I find even more interesting is that it isn’t always for the obvious reasons. Sometimes it’s the nuances that make impact. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Ungeeked Elite Conference in Milwaukee. Of the many interesting people I met there, one of them had a definite impact on me, and I didn’t even get to meet her formally.

Liz Strauss, social web strategist and community builder is a veritable force of nature. Before Ungeeked Elite, I had heard of her, followed the SOBCON twitter hashtag, and read her blog from time to time. In my quest to try to figure out why some people “get” social media (read: relationships) and why some don’t, I found her blog to be a great resource. But it wasn’t the thing that made me sit up and pay attention. It was a story. A story and a matchbook.

Liz came to Ungeeked Elite to express congratulations and show true respect for the conference’s founder and organizer, CD Vann. She told a story about her father, a tavern owner who understood relationships at a level that “strategists” today may never achieve. His patrons considered him “a personal friend”. Liz recalls a few stories here: My Father’s Saloon — A Blogging Story. These are the stories that resonated with me. It was her connection to her father and the way that she has used what she learned from him to become who she is today. Her business card today looks like the matchbook from her father’s tavern. The matchbook read, “You are only a stranger but once.” I love that. I love even more that her father didn’t just convey that message to his patrons in word. He showed them by his actions.

Liz coming to Milwaukee, in person, was what I imagine her father would have done, what I know my father would do. It’s the kind of thing I wish I saw more of these days. Real, actual effort to support others in your network. It’s a little harder, a little more time consuming. It’s an investment of time and effort. It’s the kind of thing that earns my admiration.

I truly believe that if we stop for a minute and think back to earlier generations of truly great businessmen and women, and examine what they did that made them successful in work and in life, I think we’d find that the common thread is that they actually gave a crap about their customers, friends, and community. They put forth the extra effort. They were truly invested in their relationships.

It’s so easy to talk the talk on social networks. It takes more effort to walk the walk. It takes more than just a retweet or a pat on the back to support a community. Dive in. Become part of, well, something, anything. Make an impact. Make an investment in relationships. Help someone succeed. You may find that the returns you get are more than you may have expected. It’s not new. But clearly, some people seem to have forgotten. Liz hasn’t.

That moment when Liz spoke about her father was the moment of impact. More than a successful blogger, strategist, and SOBCON founder, she was the kind of person for whom I’d like to buy a drink, and listen to her story. With a story and a matchbook, she made me want to shut my big mouth and learn something.

Later Gators.