People who do not invest time in social networking often wonder about the quality of online friendships. They doubt the depth or strength of connections made with people you’ve never met face to face. My thoughts match those of Shel Israel: “My virtual friends are all real.” (I’m paraphrasing something you said in an interview, Shel. Hope I got close to your actual words.)
For you Doubting Thomases, here’s a story to demonstrate the depth and breadth–and the power–of online community.
A friend I’ve never met in person is scared. Very scared. Susan Reynolds is having a mastectomy tomorrow. She found the lump on December 5, went to the doctor the next day, and was immediately sent to a diagnostic radiologist. Big words, big fear: Invasive Lobular Carcinoma.
You can read about Susan’s journey through the cancer experience in her new blog, Boobs on Ice. The story I want to share is how a community of so-called invisible friends rallied around Susan to support, comfort and cheer her up–and somewhere along the way turned it into a fight–and a fund–against cancer.
It started on Twitter, where Susan is the self-proclaimed nana; she’s also a power networker with hundreds of followers. When she posted a new avatar–a photo of a package of frozen peas tucked inside her camisole to relieve the pain from multiple biopsies–she joked about putting her boob on ice. Her friends continued the joke.
Then a few days later, Cathleen Rittereiser (@cathleenritt) tweeted that we should all donate the cost of a package of frozen peas to a fund for cancer research. Before you could say “bring back that beat,” Susan’s friends picked up on the idea, and what started as an off-the-cuff remark has become a full-fledged fund-raising campaign named, in honor of Susan, the Frozen Pea Fund.
In the interest of full disclosure, my company is doing a social media campaign for a new ACS initiative that will launch early next year. When David Neff, Director of Online Communications for the corporate office, located here in Austin, first emailed to ask us to do some pro bono work for the Society, my reaction was to sigh and wonder how I could gracefully decline. David has been part of our local Social Media Club since the very beginning, and it would be hard to turn him down. But I was frazzled from a year of starting a new business and juggling client work with personal responsibilities. How could I possibly squeeze one more item onto my already overflowing to-do list?
Before I could decline, however, Susan got her diagnosis. And everything changed.
Now I had a personal stake in this battle against cancer. While I still haven’t met Susan in person, we’ve e-mailed and talked on the phone–and were about to launch a cooperative venture that is now on hold until she recovers from surgery.
The photos you see to the left are what we are calling pea-vatars. I can’t even remember how it started–probably it was Ann Miller (@annohio) who first posted a package of peas as her avatar on Twitter. Before you know it, dozens of people had added peas to their photos and the Frozen Pea Friday Flickr group was born.
Within the first 24 hours, I noted at least 40 people sporting pea-vatars, and that was only among the 600+ people I follow on Twitter. Much to my delight, Robert Scoble picked up the peas theme and tied it into the world economic forum at Davos. And even Loic Lemeur, founder of Seesmic, is sporting a pea-vatar on Twitter. (Bless you, one and all!)
So many people are working behind the scenes to help launch the Frozen Pea Fund that I’ll probably miss naming someone here, but I at least have to acknowledge Michelle Wolverton (@chelpixie), who is building the WordPress site, and Ryan Karpeles (@ryankarpeles), who designed the FPF logo. Cathleen came up with the tagline: We will not appease cancer. And Laura Fitton (@pistachio) is cooking up something with a new Twitter account: @peaple.
In the days to come, Susan’s family will be by her bedside, caring for her and assisting her recovery. But an entire socialmediasphere will be rallying around her cause, lifting her spirits and doing our small part to help find a cure. Join us, won’t you?