Often those that don’t, a few that have, and one or two that do, criticize social media platforms (Twitter, FaceBook, et al) of being a conceptual experience robbing the depth of authenticity from face-to-face relationships. In their opinion relationships on social media platforms are a far cry from the real world and are therefore best avoided.

There is some merit in these pronouncements, especially with some of the bizarre and ridiculous anecdotes that abound in these emergent spaces. We all know the one about the one guy that murdered the other guy in the real world because he stole something from him in the virtual world. And we know about the woman who divorced her husband in the real world because of his affair in the virtual world.

But what of the other stories? The counter-stories to these crazy ones? Are there any, and if there are, what do they look like? Do they have substance? Do they add value? Do they benefit us individually or corporately?  That was the journey of discovery I set myself 2 weeks ago as I thought about writing this post.

If any social media platform is going to survive it will need to impact the real world we inhabit. It cannot remain conceptual and virtual and expect to be more than just a passing fad. ChatRoulette, in my opinion, is a good example of a social media platform that will not find a place in our near future. It will be one of those places you go and visit because you’ve heard about it, and having been, will tick it off and never go back again. Unless of course it finds a way to impact the real world. At this juncture I cannot imagine how?

Mid-morning three Sunday’s ago, I received a Tweet from someone I’ve not met face-to-face. Someone I’ve not spoken to voice-to-voice. Someone I’d not ever sent a fax, e-mail or sms to. She’s someone I’ve only ever sent 140 character bursts to, via Twitter. I know she’s married, has two children, grew up in East London, and works in marketing for one of South Africa’s large financial institutions. You can learn a lot through 140 character bursts over time.

Her tweet had me digging around on Google for people who had done real things through and because of virtual relationships and interactions on one or many of the available social platforms?

I found some of the well known stories. Stories like the Kogi Korean BBQ:

The Kogi truck is now a staple of the Los Angeles area, delivering quality Korean BBQ via truck to different areas of the city daily. Owner Mark Manguera knew it would take off, but he couldn’t figure out how to let his growing customer base know where the truck would be each night. What did he end up doing? You guessed it. Twitter. He tweets the truck’s locations and times throughout the day, letting hungry customers know where to get their fix. It’s worked out splendidly. Mark and his team serve about 800 people per stop and have 22,000 Twitter followers. Twitter address: @KogiBBQ

The problem is that stories like this one have reached ‘legend status’. We look at them with a sense of awe and pass quickly by because we see them as ‘one-offs’ and ‘lucky breaks’. I needed a story closer to home. One that I could imagine myself a part of?

Welcome to the Twitter Blanket Drive. The tweep who got it rolling was @MelanieMinnaar, and her tweet was simply attempting, in her own words, to get 10 friends together for coffee to gather some blankets for people not equipped to deal with the approaching South African winter. Well, that’s where the story began. And it’s a great story. Suddenly people, all sorts of people, climbed on board.

Andre Bruton registered www.twitterblanketdrive.co.za (his initiative) and designed a website for the project. He describes himself as:

IT Geek, trouble shooter

On the 29th of May there’s a TweetUp being held in 8 different cities in South Africa. People are gathering on that evening from 18:00 to meet each other in the ‘real world’ to have a few drinks and give a few blankets to the project. Each one of those venues has been arranged by people that Melanie had nothing to do with organising. These are people that believe in the project, wanted to participate, and arranged the venues and will host the events.

If you’d like to go, there’s not criteria outside of interest in the project and to bring and donate at least one blanket on the night. You can go to the ‘official website’ and RSVP with your Twitter username. And if you’re not on Twitter you don’t need to RSVP, just pitch up and say hi.

There are traditional media partners involved in some cities, and organisations in each city who will receive the blankets and distribute them once the event is over.

I’m not sure if it’s an urban legend or not, but word (I heard) in the Twittersphere is that at least one company is donating R10 000 to the cause?

This is a great example of ‘the virtual’ meeting ‘reality’ and impacting people. In my mind it not only illustrates the value of social networks but it furthers their foothold in how we do things together as we move into the future.

I had an opportunity to interview Melanie (via Skype) about her, at that point, 2.5 week experience of the TwitterBlanketDrive (#TBD). It’s an interesting interview. Not only because you get to hear the story from the source, but because there are some interesting lessons she’s learned on the way. Lessons about a new way of doing things. Lessons about control, lack of it, and how big things can happen in an unexpected way. I guess Malcolm Gladwell would simply point us to his book, The Tipping Point? And he’d be correct. This is a great tipping point story. Made all the more interesting by the channel that was used to tip it.

To listen to the interview with Melanie Minnaar around the Twitter Blanket Drive, please follow any one of these two links

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