8 Things I Learned about Social Media and Social Networking in 24 Hours in Toronto

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If you’ve been following my blog, you already know that I won a free ticket to fly to Toronto thanks to Virgin America’s #VXToronto Twitter campaign.  I’ll write about the “Virgin” experience later.  Right now I want to share with you all what I learned on this trip.

I’ve had many people ask me, “Was the trip worth it?”  My answer, of course, is “Of course!”  Because what I was doing in Toronto is what I do in social media everyday: meet new people, have interesting conversations, share information, and learn a lot of new things, things that help advance my business as well as my career.  What is there not to like about that?

I wanted to share with you all what I learned or confirmed on this trip for your future reference.  It is just one example of what is possible if, when you go on a business trip, you schedule your own tweetup or meetup and go out there and Windmill Network!  All this happened primarily over a 2-hour tweetup, so if you have never gone to a tweetup before, this is a preview of the types of people you could be meeting and conversations you could be having!

1) Partner Up for Successful Windmill Networking

Earlier this year I hosted good Windmill Networking events on business trips to Jacksonville, New York City, and Portland.  But each time I was a lone soldier, doing almost all of the inviting and legwork in finding a venue by myself.  This time I had the help of a local in Toronto, Judy Gombita, someone I had never met before but gotten to know through Twitter.  Judy took on the event as if it were her own, spreading the word through her network and Twitter and helping me secure a venue for the event.  In fact, it was someone who listened in to our Twitter conversation, Candice Best, who ended up partnering with the two of us and executing on the final venue selection and logistics.  From Judy’s and Candice’s efforts we were able to get 40+ people to attend a tweetup at a coffee bar on a Thursday night.  By far my most successful Windmill Networking event…thanks to the help of my partners Judy and Candice!

Advice: When going to another city and trying to organize a networking event, try to find at least one local contact in your network who can help you on the venue selection as well as spreading the word.  Your networking event will be the more successful for it!

2) Twitter Relationships are REAL

As the above illustrates, these two people who partnered with me I met through Twitter.  I had never met them before in real life, and yet they treated me like family going out of there way to make sure that I had a pleasant stay in the “T-dot.”  And it wasn’t just them.  There was @Animal, the famous recruiter who has a raucous, entertaining yet educational Recruiting Animal Internet radio show about recruiters and jobseekers, who I had a chance to meet in real life and get to know over coffee at Tim Horton’s.  There were people seeing my tweets from the Virgin flight who lived in Toronto and came out to meet me the next night.  There were countless other tweeps that I met that were drawn into conversations from Judy on Twitter.  In fact, most of the people that I met in Toronto I had met, not through the 300+ LinkedIn connections I had living in Toronto, but in one way or another through Twitter.  Twitter has helped enrich my life in countless ways, and I realize this even more as I write my 2nd book, which will be on Twitter of course!  Some people give Twitter a bad rap, talking about the automated bots that exist and the Direct Message spam.  If you can look beyond that there is a golden group of real people out there to meet and develop relationships with.

Advice: Part of the problem of starting out on Twitter is not finding relevant people to follow.  Do yourself a favor: go to the Twitter Yellow Pages Twellow as well as the Twitter List Directory Site Listorious, enter some keywords of things you have an interest in or the name of your local city, and look for people that might be interesting to follow.  You’re bound to find someone…and then take it from there!

3) Social Media Events are Not Just about Freebies

Through Candice’s help, we were able to secure not only free coffee tastings from our sponsor Crafted, but also some free beer (Mill Street Brewery), pizza (Pizzeria Libretto), and chocolate (Nestle…in the picture).  But we weren’t able to advertise these things until the last minute.  It had no affect on the turnout.  Those coming to a networking event were coming for the networking and meeting people, not the freebies.  Sure, it was nice to know that local businesses were supporting the event and, don’t get me wrong, the food and drink was awesome and greatly appreciated!  But if you think freebies are enough to draw a large crowd for networking, think again: it’s all about the networking!

Advice: Businesses often think they need to give something away to provide “value” to their social media audience.  While providing free products does get your product talked about in social media and are appreciated by attendees, try going beyond that by thinking outside of the box in terms of other ways of providing value and becoming participants in social media events, which could draw more potential future customers to the event!

4) Businesses are Starting to Realize the Value of Content Curation

Whenever I speak with clients about social media strategy, the subject of content curation always comes up.  Still understood by relatively few, the art of sharing content about your line of business, if done right over time and combined with your own compelling content, can help elevate you to a subject matter expert or even a thought leader status.  Imagine how surprised I was when members of a start-up company from Toronto, ConnectedN, were excitedly talking about their software platform which helps businesses automatically curate and publish content.  Here’s a video of an interview I had at my #VXToronto tweetup with the co-founder, Brad Milne:

Advice: If you want to know how content curation can be utilized as part of a comprehensive social media strategy for your business, please contact me.  If you’re ready to invest in a platform to help automate the content curation process, contact ConnectedN!

5) Think Social Media?  Think Canada!

Whenever I think of areas of the world that foster the growth of social media companies, I always think of the Bay Area.  Think about it: Within a small area of California one can visit the headquarters of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn!  The existence of these companies in close proximity has spurred countless social media startups in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and surrounding areas.  But this trip made me realize how many of the leading social media companies are located in Canada, not the Bay Area:

The leading social media monitoring software company?  Many would say Radian6, and they are located in the beautiful Canadian province of New Brunswick, northeast of Maine.

Up-and-coming social media monitoring software company?  We were blessed by the presence of Sheldon Levine, the community manager for Toronto-based Sysomos, who are apparently working with a lot of big brands and are gaining major traction in the market.

The leading integrated social media client platform?  Look no further than HootSuite, hailing from Vancouver.

Although there are many excellent social media agencies that exist worldwide, one that has gotten recognition as one of the top 15 social media agencies worldwide and is also famous for its relationship with Ford, is the Social Media Group which hails from Toronto.

Advice: Be on the lookout for exciting social media startups to spring up in Canada in the next 6 to 12 months.

6) The Zen of SlideShare

I’ve been talking a lot about SlideShare recently, primarily from a B2B social media marketing perspective.  But there’s another side of SlideShare, something concerning the “Sharing” of content through social media and developing your personal brand.  I always talk about blogging being a great way to share your expertise with the world.  Why not take it one step further and repurpose your content into a Powerpoint presentation and upload it to SlideShare?  If you’ve ever spoken on a subject, why not upload your presentation to SlideShare to share with those that might not have had a chance to hear you speak?  A presentation is a powerful way to package and share something in a format that is easy-to-read and professional looking.  Furthermore the demographic that is active on SlideShare is overwhelmingly professional.

It was a conversation with Sacha Chua, an Enterprise 2.0 consultant working for IBM, tech evangelist, and Toronto rockstar that helped me see the light.  She has uploaded 25+ presentations to her SlideShare account, and she has shared information on topics ranging from “The Shy Connector” to “A Teacher’s Guide to Web 2.0 at School.”  In fact, her most popular presentation, “The Gen Y Guide to Web 2.0 @Work,” has more than 50,000 views!  That is more views than a lot of blogs get in one year!

Here is one of Sacha’s presentation where she has off-the-cuff calculations of the ROI of sharing your content throughout social media:

Pretty powerful, huh?

Advice: Knowledge is not power.  Knowledge is there for you to share with the world, and in doing so display your expertise.  Get on the bandwagon…share…and you shall reap the benefits!

7) Social Networking: No Person Left Behind

My concept about social networking vis a vis hosting events was that the event had to be larger than I was.  In other words, even if I didn’t get a chance to speak to everyone who came, if the people I didn’t speak to were able to meet others and had a good time, I would consider it a successful networking event.  I learned of a totally different perspective on social networking from the Networking Queen of Toronto, Dennie Theodore.  Dennie runs a popular networking group in Toronto called Similar Circles that periodically meets and often has a waiting list in order to attend one of their popular events.  The secret of her networking success?  She personally makes sure that every person that comes to a networking event is meeting new people.  Instead of herself networking at her event, she is looking for people that are not networking or speaking with others.  If she finds them, she will make sure they are not “left behind” and get them socializing with others.  Isn’t that a great idea and refreshing approach, that someone is providing a personal touch in leading the event and ensuring that no person gets left behind?

Advice: If you host networking events and are looking for ways to get people to talk to each other, here’s some advice that Dennie gave me.  Go to a 99 cent store and buy small ornamental objects that you can give out for free at your next event.  When you meet someone, you exchange your unique objects.  In such a way, your “object” should be traveling the room as you and others meet new people.  The catch?  You can’t leave home until you get your “object” back by meeting other people!

8) Is 6 Degrees of Separation Still Valid?

As we network and meet more people, the world around us becomes smaller.  Sometimes really small.  After chatting with Judy, I don’t remember where, but the fact that I had a Jewish and a Japanese connection came up and Judy had asked me if I had heard of a book called Hana’s Suitcase, which is actually the true story of one Japanese woman’s search for details on the whereabouts of a girl (Hana) who owned a suitcase that was installed at a Holocaust Museum in Tokyo.  Thanks to the efforts of this woman from Japan, the story of Hana, another innocent victim who was all-but-forgotten, was brought to life and now helps children around the world learn about that dark period of history.  Judy had mentioned that the book was written by a Canadian, but both Judy and I were surprised that @40deuce, the Community Manager over at the previously mentioned social media monitoring company Sysomos, was the book author’s 1st cousin!  Coincidence?  Maybe.  But the more I network around the world, both offline and virtually, I am realizing that we are all a lot closer than we think…

Advice: I learned of this magical story just from having a conversation with someone I met on Twitter.  Social media is full of real people that can enrich your life.  They are waiting to engage with you.  It’s not about the tools: it’s about the engagement.  Go for it, and see for yourself how our world is becoming smaller…and how meeting new people can truly enrich your life.

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
How can rainmakers (Investment Bankers) ‘make it rain’ like never before? http://t.co/k2lYp5t0Cl via @LinkedIn - 9 hours ago
Neal Schaffer
Social Tools Summit


  1. says

    Glad you had a great time in Toronto Neal!
    That really was quite a strange coincidence, but I'm happy you enjoyed the book. I will try to get you in touch with Karen if I can.

  2. says

    Neal, I never really considered the ramifications of SlideShare until you mentioned it, spurred by your exchange with Sacha Chua. That alone was worth the price of admission–but really, I want to consider everything more carefully, from windmill networking to whether there really are as many as six degrees of separation.

  3. says

    Hi Ed, I am glad you had some takeaways from my experiences in Toronto. Yes, as Sachua illustrates in her SlideShare presentation, the potential is compelling. Happy pondering!

  4. says

    Neal, it really was a fabulously fun experience, working with @candicebest and you to plan the #VXToronto Tweetup. And out of the many people you met in the T-dot, I was lucky to be the one you spent the most quality time with on Thursday afternoon. We had a lot of fun, didn't we?

    I do agree that Twitter is an excellent starting point for relationships, but I think that in order for it to really grow a relationship needs other outlets. For example, yes we “met” on Twitter probably about two years ago, but then we hooked up on LinkedIn within the past year, and it was actually through LinkedIn that you sent me the message asking if I'd like to come and/or help plan the Tweetup. Then we moved to mainly communicating (about the event) by email and Gmail chat.

    Likewise, I think the *most* effective communication to individuals reached out to to attend was either through LinkedIn mail (with a link to the Tweetup details and RSVP) or a direct email message or (initially) a Twitter DM. And there was one IRL friend I invited to come (has a Twitter account, but doesn't really use it…not on LinkedIn…or Facebook), because she's agreed to do a guest post on my group blog, PR Conversations. There were some tweeps expected to attend that I thought would make for great “interview” subjects for the topic; Madeline Lunney had a great time and did get a chance to chat with many of them (like Claire Kerr, a.k.a. @snotforprofit). So that worked out well for all of us!

    I got to meet in person at least four Twittermates for the first time (Candice Best, Kristen Ridley, Randy Matheson and Bernadette Da Costa Winberg), plus some of the colleagues of existing Twittermates/colleagues–like Brad Milne of your above video fame. And then there were the ones who came because of your LinkedIn or other Toronto networks, most of whom I at least said hello and/or goodbye to, and several of whom I'm now connected with on Twitter and/or LinkedIn. All good!

    I think one of the reasons that my dear friend, Dennie Theodore, and I are such “kindred spitirs” (another Canadian phrase for you–it's from Anne of Green Gables) is because it gives both of us tremendous satisfaction introducing people with similar interests and passions…even if their line of works or viewpoints on some things are quite different. You are very much a (networking) kindred spirit yourself. I'm so pleased to have connected the two of you!

    Thank you for giving me a copy of your book. I've read the Table of Contents and flipped through to some sections, but it needs more serious attention, soon.

    Finally, I recall exactly how and why we talked about Hana's Suitcase. We were having an Americano on the top floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario (overlooking Grange Park that we had walked through after lunch), and discussing Work the Pond! and other books or Canadian souvenirs you might take home, particularly something that would be “appropriate” for your family. I'd known about your Japanese connection, but it was over coffee that the Jewish link came up. It was then an inspiration to say to you, “maybe the perfect book for you to take home would be Hana's Suitcase…I saw the film version, Inside Hana's Suitcase, at the 2009 Hot Doc's festival…this is what the story is about…”). We then revised plans to visit the third floor of the AGO and instead headed over to Chapters, to try and find a copy of the book and/or DVD.

    I've known Sheldon Levine for awhile (and met him in person during Social Media Week Toronto this past winter), but I must admit I never thought of his possible connection to Karen Levine. I “know” Karen primarily through her writing and producer work with CBC Radio, which is where the Hana's Suitcase tale originated.

    Anyhow, I think you did an amazing job summing up the #VXTororonto Tweetup on this blog post, plus highlighting several of the people you met and the “takeaway” lessons you learned. Here's hoping that we meet–or tweetup–again, soon, my very favourite OC Twittermate!

  5. says


    I am speechless by the length and passion of your comment 😉 Thank you thank you thank you. I really could not have pulled off such an amazing experience without your help and friendship.

    I was happy to find other kindred spirits in Toronto who realize the value of networking and are passionate about connecting with and helping others connect with others. It was quite refreshing, actually, because so few people really understand it do the depth that you and the T-dot crew that came to that event did.

    You are right about the cross-platform communication techniques. Twitter is a great way to begin a relationship, but it is through LinkedIn or meeting in real life that the relationships solidify and blossom into something much more meaningful.

    Looking forward to the next chance I can get to go back to the T-dot. Until then we shall be in touch…on Twitterville!

  6. says

    This is a great post Neal, had to bookmark and come back to it as it has so much content. Sounds like you had a fantastic time up ther! Like the idea of a trinket being handed around the room, will try out in London and report back :-)

  7. says

    This is a great post Neal, had to bookmark and come back to it as it has so much content. Sounds like you had a fantastic time up ther! Like the idea of a trinket being handed around the room, will try out in London and report back :-)

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