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« Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social network sites | Main | In Japan and Korea, consumers embrace social technology faster than marketers »

August 29, 2009

Twitter and the kindness of strangers

by Josh Bernoff

I'm now on my first trip to Asia, Tokyo and Seoul specifically. I was avid to bring our idea to the people here, but I had a problem. In 50 years of being alive I had never tried Japanese or Korean food. It's not that I didn't like it, I just had no experience and a little fear.

So I reached out to Twitter and asked for help.

About a month before my trip, I suggested a deal -- if you're in Boston, I'll take you dinner at the Japanese or Korean restaurant of your choice. You explain the food, I'll try to provide interesting conversation.

As @jbernoff, I have 7,000 Twitter followers. Interestingly, this tweet generated exactly two takers, one for each type of food. Jeana Lee Tahnk (@jeanatahnk) brought her sister along -- they're of Korean background, and her sister had actually spent a year in Korea. Jeana is a PR person. Sean R. Brooks (@seanrbrooks), who runs the social applications at TechTarget, did the honors for Japanese food. And you know, I liked most of it! (Not a big fan of kimchee.)

What I find interesting about this is, amid all the discussion about the downside and risk of social networks, this worked fine -- in fact it was great. Why? Because although I didn't know Sean and Jeana and most of my followers, I could find out about them. When they responded, I could easily check them out and see if I wanted to spend an evening with them. From their various online profiles they seemed like reasonable and interesting people, and they sure were. You can use social networks to meet valuable strangers, but just be careful what you broadcast, and use the available info to check people out.

Can you do this?

I'm sure you're saying "sure, Josh, but you have 7000 followers". Well, I started with no followers two years ago, just like everyone else. If you want 7000 followers, you've got to start -- and you've got to say something interesting. But if you invest the time, you'll create an asset that's not just something to reap for publicity, but a collection of people you can tap, just ask I did, for whatever help you need. But you won't get there unless you actually start.

By the way, for all the sophisticates out there who feel everyone knows this, in talking to corporate America, they mostly don't. Just trying to raise a little consciousness.

By the way #2, now that I'm here, I find out the real problem isn't the food, it's how to work the toilet control in the hotel room!

Japan toilet control detail  


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Ari Herzog

"You can use social networks to meet valuable strangers, but just be careful what you broadcast, and use the available info to check people out."

When you consider I mudded in the mid-1990s and met other "characters" in person at networking events and later went out to eat with them and/or slept at each other's homes, how is your above wisdom anything new, Josh?

Josh Bernoff

Ari, in person networking is great of course. This post is about meeting people you don't know in the virtual world.

It's just an experience around finding people online that I thought I would share, one that's very different from your F2F friends.

Jill Anderson

I recently had a similar experience. I joined Seth Godin's online Triiibes group last August (2008) and made many friends there.

In July of this year, one of my Triiibe friends came to the DC area (from Japan) with his wife and two teenage sons. I volunteered to let them stay at my house for 5 days. We had a marvelous time! It felt as though we were old friends who just hadn't seen each other in a while.

Good luck with the toilet.

Deirdre Reid

I've had similar experiences. I moved to Raleigh a few months ago. Before arriving I started following many in Raleigh so I had a good network of local folks following me by the time I got here, even had a welcome lunch arranged for me by some of them. I found my apartment community via a Twitter request for recommendations, as well as my hair salon. My friends here are all those I met via Twitter. When I tell this to folks, they are both amazed and confused, and a bit apprehensive for me. But Twitter works to create bonds between people that might not be there otherwise.


Love the toilet controls. Get on Twitter and ask for some help ASAP. Hopefully you have a smart phone so you can stay put and get some help right there :-)

Brian Hayashi

Great post. We're in the early innings of what promises to be a long game, and I suspect people will learn how to "crowdsource" all sorts of things in the months and years to come.

In the meantime, do try the "seat warmer" function, but do not press the "slice-n-dice" button. We don't want to see you on a future edition of "Will It Blend?"


Interesting. Looks like a solution can be built to quickly get a high-level online profile of an individual through standard crawls..this can be an on-demand thing which people can use to decide how they want to associate with others.


Just returned from ad:tech Tokyo trip and I enjoyed your session.
As far as social networking tools, I have met so many Japanese marketers via Twitter as well as my blog. I am very careful what I post and how social media represent myself. During this Tokyo trip (I am Japanese, but live in the States), I actually got to meet many of my twitter friends in person. It was a bit strange because I felt like I already knew them. I enjoy utilizing social media to gather info, acquire clients etc. So, did you enjoy the Japanese toilet? I totally love it and even thinking about installing it here in the States :)

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