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February 12, 2010

#SCRM: How an Accidental Online Community Became an Offline Family

I'm writing this while on a plane flying back to Atlanta from Baltimore. I'm coming back home from BPT Partner's Social CRM training event that was headed up by Paul Greenberg (aka The Frientor of CRM). The event was held in Herndon, Virginia, a stone's throw from Dulles Airport, which is where I flew into to attend the event. But I had to fly out of BWI in Baltimore after having two flights cancelled from Dulles because of the blizzard that hit the Northeast.

I'm writing this after suffering through a 2 ½ hour delay, which had me sitting a total of eight hours at the airport. I'm tired..and cranky… and hungry, because the five pretzel bits they give you on the flight ain't cutting it. But more importantly, I'm happy that I traveled in blizzard conditions and got stranded for a couple of days , because coming to what was eventually dubbed the Social CRM Summit was worth every flight cancellation, minute of flight delay, and inch of snow… and that is truly saying something.

It goes beyond the training, which was stellar. Jeff Pedowitz did a great job going over the practicalities of tying "social" to demand generation efforts. Ryan Strynatka from Radian6 gave a nice demo of their social media monitoring tools that sparked quite a discussion on the tool - and the subject. We performed a couple of interesting case studies that really got our minds (and our creative juices) going. And, of course, PG doing his thing. In fact I can honestly say that he was in the rarest of form, which is truly saying something. But I knew he would be.

This is where I stop talking about the training. If you want a blow by blow of developments check out the pdf of all the #scrmsummit tweets put together by the one and only Esteban Kolsky…who seemed to actually be there with us, even though the weather (and airlines) conspired against him making a physical appearance. And I'm sure there are already blogs posted about the event that have covered it in ways that make it unnecessary for me to do so here(Brian Vellmure's write up is an example). So I'll talk about it from another perspective.

This kind of event would not have been possible a year and a half ago. Not the way it played out over the past few days. It couldn't have because many of the people that attended the event didn't know each other. Yeah we all knew (or knew of) Paul, but even Paul didn't know @ScorpFromHell (aka @Prem_k), or @WimRampen, or @MarkTamis. He probably didn't know @CRMStrategies (Brian Vellmure), @MJayLiebs (Mitch Lieberman), @KathyHermann or @MikeBoysen (who I met for the first time at the summit even though we both live in Atlanta). But we all know each other now because of a Twitter hashtag - #SCRM. And that hashtag was the beginning of an accidental community of like minded people, that officially became an offline, flesh-and-bone, group of friends with a common cause.

What's so cool about this story is how naturally it progressed. We didn't start out thinking this would happen, we just gravitated towards each other because of our interest for this thing we call Social CRM. And the discussions that took place through that hashtag moved from strictly professional conversations, to meaningful friendships based on mutual respect. This was no more evident than at this event.

People came from all over to be a part of this - and from all corners of the industry spectrum. Executives at major vendors, highly influential analysts, industry media, practitioners at leading companies, and independent experts everywhere you looked. And the coolest thing of all was that we were all equals, and equally interested in moving Social CRM forward…together.

I loved that we spent so much time together after the formal sessions were over. It felt like a college reunion of sorts. And even though I had never physically met many of the folks before, it already felt like we knew each other, because we did - through that hashtag. And I really think the blizzard became a convenient excuse for us just to hang out all night with each other.

The most important thing for me was a true sense of camaraderie permeated through the whole thing. We all were interested in "the cause" and in each other. And even though there were many debates and differences in opinion, as the President says, we were able to "disagree without being disagreeable". There were no instances of anyone trying to make a name for themselves at someone else's expense. And there was not even a hint of shameless self promotion, or pointless pontification. None of that is needed when you're among respected colleagues, and friends.

In fact what you did see is quite the opposite - people promoting others at every turn. The best example I saw of this was Michael Krigsman's sincere introduction of Forrester's Natalie Petouhoff to SAP's Peter Auditore. Michael's admiration for Natalie was so sincere you couldn't help but see it as he approached Peter. And Peter, Natalie, Michael and I spent the next hour talking like old buddies afterward.

The brain power at the conference was awesome, and equally matched by the years of experience people brought with them. Concepts were explored and debated. Partnerships and business opportunities were discussed, and possibly initiated. But the brains and experiences were outdone by the spirit and friendship displayed throughout the week. And the common interest of moving Social CRM - with tools, services and strategies - from mass conversation to mass implementation.

In the end this was a great event. Only Paul G. could have gotten us all together from all over the world, and in the middle of a blizzard. Well I guess Paul, and Twitter…and a hashtag. After my last rant (Twitter followership and real influence), this whole event is what can happen when Twitter is used for the good.

A big thanks needs to go to the BPT Posse - Bruce Culbert, Bill Howell and Paul - for pulling this one off in some really challenging conditions. We all will benefit for years to come from this. I can't wait for the next one….hopefully without the blizzard.

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