“Who says there’s a limit?”

In the dining room at The Cobalt Club, Stephanie Hutcheson applied a blue cloth napkin to the corner of her mouth after sampling the savory Southern delicacy on the plate before her.

“That’s good,” she said.  “Not as good as my mom’s, but I’m still impressed.  It’s hard to find a place that serves homemade biscuits and chocolate gravy.”

I swallowed shrimp jambalaya.  “The staff here prides itself on being accommodating.”

As if on cue, Stanwood the wine steward appeared at her elbow with a bottle of blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah.

“You found it,” she said, rewarding him with her trademark smile.

“Indeed, ma’am, though I must confess it was rather difficult. Joel Gott Relative Red is not one of our usual labels.  Shall I unscrew it for you?”

Stanwood poured wine and bowed before vanishing as quietly as he’d arrived.

As Stephanie swirled the red in her glass, I reflected that the directors of the Alabama Social Media Association had made a good choice in selecting her as the group’s new executive director.  A left-handed piano player with an affinity for Southern comfort food, Howard Stern, and wine bottles that don’t have to be uncorked, Stephanie is as unpretentious as she is savvy.  She’ll represent the organization well.

It was a quiet night at the club when she stopped in, and her arrival was quite welcome on an otherwise uneventful evening. “You were saying that social media is all about relationships,” I prompted, returning the conversation to where it was before the food and drink arrived.

“Right.  When you’re using any type of social media tool – Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, Gowalla – you can get to know someone online and develop a really good relationship with them, but there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction.”

“Taking the relationship offline and into real life.”

“Think about it.  Once you’ve shaken someone’s hand and made eye contact with them, you’ve taken that relationship to the next level.  With that, the possibilities are endless.”

Taking a sip of wine, she continued, “As you know, many people have mixed feelings about Bill Clinton.”

I smiled but remained silent.  My mind dropped back momentarily to my old newspaper days as a political writer, to Clinton’s first campaign and the early years of his administration.  Even pre-Lewinsky, covering national politics was a gas when Clinton was in the White House.

“He was a master relationship builder,” Stephanie was saying.  “I once read a book that explained how, in college, he would go to social events, meet people, and find out what they did, something about them not related to work, what they liked, what they were interested in, how many kids they had.  Later, he’d make a note card for each person and put that information on it so that he’d remember it the next time he met that person.  That, to me, is so inspiring, and social media can be used to build relationships in much the same way.”

I tended to the beverage I’d been neglecting.  “Would it be accurate to say, then, that, while social media offers a person or a business access to a huge audience with virtually unlimited possibilities, individual, one-on-one engagement is always going to be important?”

Stephanie didn’t hesitate.  “Absolutely.  Suppose you go to a networking event. Meeting a few people and developing relationships with them has greater worth than saying nothing but ‘hi’ to 500 or 600 people.  You haven’t done anything other than look at them.  But those people you took the time to listen to and interact with you can later friend on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and maintain the relationships through social media.  Who says there’s a limit to the ways it can be used?”

As I wasn’t inclined to propose one, we both happily returned to our plates.



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