I just got back from a Learn at Lunch lecture by Post-Tribune Columnist Jerry Davich at the Porter County United Way in Valparaiso. Jerry was speaking about his recent book: “Connections: Everyone Happens for a Reason.” I was intrigued by the book’s title because it’s something I’ve always inherently felt to be true—just hadn’t come up with that particular wording…

After the lecture, I introduced myself to Jerry. (We had previously “conversed” only on Twitter.) He recognized my name instantly, which is one of those strange phenomena with social media sites like Twitter. Your “first” meeting face-to-face is actually more like a second meeting because you’ve got some initial ground already covered. I invited Jerry to attend tomorrow night’s Northwest Indiana Tweetup to be held at Buffalo Wild Wings in Portage from 7-9 p.m. I urged him to come and check out a Tweetup to get a firsthand experience of the unique networking opportunities afforded there, due to this very same phenomena. Jerry said he’s from Portage; hopefully he can make it!

During his talk, Jerry mentioned the brain’s reticular activator. Its job within your brain is to stay on alert, making you notice some things while ignoring others. (If you noticed everything, you’d be too distracted to function.) This part of the brain explains why once you purchase a certain model vehicle you then tend to notice them on the road everywhere. I imagine this impulse partly explains the social media “first alert” about a particular person or idea.

Jerry recognized my name partly because I had sent him an unsolicited message about ideas for using hashtags in his tweets to extend his reach. He was very gracious in his Twitter reply. Jerry also thought he had heard my name before from Steve Dalton, another social media leader in Northwest Indiana. And as strange coincidences will go, he said that the Portage Buffalo Wild Wings was the first place he had met Steve. (Insert Twilight Zone theme music here… I love these small world stories!)

I started thinking about this has worked for me in my own life. Since Jerry mentioned Steve Dalton, I’ll use Steve as an example…  I first became “aware” of Steve a few years ago when I was a Realtor and active on a real estate-oriented blog called ActiveRain. Steve was one of the highest ranked participants, blogging regularly and seemingly all over the site! Steve was a builder at the time and for some reason, our paths never crossed during my real estate days.

Fast forward to about a year ago… I was busy planning and promoting the first (or what I thought was the first) Northwest Indiana Tweetup. I put out info about it on Twitter (of course), Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, email, any way I could think of to get the word out. I finally met Steve at that Tweetup in February of 2009 and found out he had actually organized the first local Tweetup a few months prior, but it had also focused quite a bit on blogging, not just the Twitter micro-blogging service. At first I was worried perhaps I had stepped on some toes, but Steve was very complimentary about the event and gracious about turning over the reins to me.

Shortly afterward, I intercepted a tweet from Steve Dalton stating that he would be doing a lecture on Social Media for a Business Class at Valparaiso University. I invited myself and he was gracious enough to allow me to attend. It was a great lecture. Steve clearly has a depth of knowledge about many, many areas of expertise—social media, building, politics and also mortgages (which is his primary focus.) I left the lecture that day thinking, “This is what I want to do. I want to teach people—business people—how to use social media in their business.” Shortly after that, I began presenting workshops all over Northwest Indiana on Social Media for Business topics.

Fast forward again to December 30th, 2009. Steve, along with Dave Woodson and Aaron Simac, road tripped to Indianapolis together to attend the 2009 Social Media Award Summit. Both Steve and Dave had been nominated, but unfortunately did not win. They were, however, very supportive and enthusiastic when I did win the title for the Women’s award.

Driving the few hours to and from Indianapolis, I had time to get to know Steve a little better… To be honest, I was a little unsure how this ride was going to go—I knew all three of compatriots in the car that day held views (political and otherwise) that are quite different from my own. However, the ride itself was as enjoyable as the event we attended in Indy; we exchanged ideas on many topics and never did I feel ridiculed or attacked. In fact, Steve even stated what a pleasure it was to be able to have such an open conversation with someone whose views were different.

So where am I going with all this? I think right back to the title of Jerry’s book, “Connections: Everyone Happens for a Reason.” I’m not sure I would have met Steve (or Jerry) if not for tools like Twitter. I have a long list of others I have met over the past year that probably would fall into the same category. These tools don’t replace face-to-face meetings, but in the best cases, provide insurance that you don’t miss opportunities for meeting the people you need to meet, sometimes right in your community, sometimes on the other side of the world.

There are experts (Nathan Findling?) who will probably (rightly) say this blog post is long enough for 6 or 7 updates. When I asked for feedback on a prior long post, Steve said, “That’s how you do social media. You tie everything together. It’s your natural voice and I think it works for you.” I hope so—I want to keep connecting and don’t want to alienate anyone with bad blogging practices!