Once upon a time, I expected to spend my life as an ink-stained wretch, hopefully with a Pulitzer (or two) under my belt after a career as a foreign correspondent or the editor of a metropolitan newspaper.
In fact, in high school I once feared I was depending too much on life in newspapers and tried to force myself to come up with even just one other career I might pursue when I grew up. Whenever that would be.
I came up with nothing, so I suppose it was fortunate that I managed to snag some decent internships while in college and a job at The Miami Herald after graduating (especially considering it was 1991 and we were in the midst of another recession).
So it’s probably no surprise that no matter how ridiculous, depressing and bleak things got in the news business, I still couldn’t — OK, wouldn’t — see a way out.
I started doing social media to help drive pageviews to blogs on my newspaper’s website. Digg, StumbleUpon, MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, Cre8buzz – I tried them all. Made widgets on WidgetBox, set up our paper’s first CoverItLive account. If I saw a button or link or widget on someone else’s site, I checked it out.
Along the way, I made a lot of friends. In most cases, I knew nothing more than their Digg username or the handle they used to comment on blogs. But we helped each other. Some, like Louie Baur and Patrick Parise I talked to regularly on the phone.
All the while, things got worse at the newspaper and on Dec. 2, 2008, my boss and the executive editor came to our office to deliver the news of who’d be laid off. When they called me into the conference room, I knew it was either to tell me which of my staffers would lose their jobs or to deliver the bad news to me.
Our office lost three people that day: Me, a business reporter and a sports reporter. Though it wasn’t really a surprise, it was still a bit of a shock. No matter how prepared you are for such an eventuality, you can never truly be prepared.
On my drive home, I got in touch with one social media friend to ask him to let folks know why I wasn’t going to be around or reachable much for the next few days. By the time I arrived home (it was a 45-minute drive), I had received a text from that friend telling me a mutual acquaintance of ours might have a lead on some social media work for me.
I got emails that night from other friends offering me moral support, connections with editors I might freelance for and other assistance. In several cases, I didn’t even know these people’s real names – maybe a first name, but in some cases not even that. I knew them by their online handles. What was really cool? It didn’t matter – they just wanted to help.
I’ve never been so humbled as I was in those first couple of weeks after being laid off. I realized there was this huge community of people out there who were just filled with awesome. People I’d never have known if it hadn’t been for social media.
There’s a lot of talk about how our online lives are making us more reclusive and less connected to others.
I wholeheartedly disagree. The Internet and social media are making the world smaller than ever.
When I went to London last month, I spent the first couple of days with friends who live in the U.K. As we sat in my hotel lobby having a drink after dinner, I felt a deep sense of comfort, as if I were seeing old, dear friends after, perhaps, a long period of time – not seeing them for the first time ever.
And I say seeing them for the first time, not meeting them for the first time, because we’d met online a long time ago.
Here’s the video from my presentation at the 140Conference if you’d like to see it.
Amy Vernon is an independent consultant who works with companies of all sizes on their digital, social media and viral strategies. She’s an inaugural inductee of the New Jersey Social Media Hall of Fame and top female submitter of all time on the social news site Digg.com. Her background includes nearly 20 years as a professional daily newspaper journalist at The Miami Herald and other papers, and she has written for Esquire.com, Network World, and The Next Web. You can find her blog here and stalk her on Twitter @AmyVernon.
Photo by Hot Rod Homepage via Creative Commons