It’s hard sometimes to convince folks that one of the amazing things about the internet and social media has been meeting people you might never know otherwise, and how these friendships, over time, become incredibly useful and amazing. Some of us talk about the importance of these seemingly random interactions as serendipity, or happy, lucky accidents, but they become fortunate and opportune in the same way farming is lucky- you plant seeds, and over time, they can germinate into something miraculous and delicious.

Last year, in January, I spoke at AGS, a graphic design and print company, looking to expand its interactive offerings for clients. They have a series of classes, free and open to their customers and potential customers, mostly marketing managers for businesses and non-profits of all size in the area. I did two sessions on “Social Media 101”, introducing the folks in the room to many of the online tools we take for granted.

Within a week, one of the folks contacted me, Ken Grant, to report he took what I showed him as a to-do list, and was seeing immediate results for his company in terms of the number of hits they were getting from all over the world, and he got invited to sit on the board of their big industry trade show group- tangible results within days, not months. Ken Grant really took to social media like a fish to water, and he has become a true force in Delaware.  Shortly, there were tweetups in the works. Information on social media was showing up in local papers, radio stations were calling for interviews, and politicians started to take notice.  Business groups, like NEWS4Women, Technology Forum of Delaware, and the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, as well as local community groups like Community Matters, were all engaging and learning about how these tools could work for them.

Wilmington started coming alive.  People were coming out for social events like Ignite, which will have its third version in April.  At Ignite, people hear from folks from all walks of life, in short 5 minute presentations, talking about what matter to them- talks have ranged from Unconferences to the new children’s museum, to how to make your own beer, to self-publishing a book and everything in between.  That alone has been a fantastic and fun way  to cross-pollinate information across the community.

Diana Milburn, from the DuPont Theater has been incredibly instrumental in letting the community have the Ignite event at the Theater, but also offering tickets as prizes, and that’s helped get us out to events as a family more often as well.  The Delaware Symphony has gotten involved as well- the groups one might think of as “traditional” or even “stodgy” are actively embracing everything that building community- local community- through internet tools- can be about.

Yesterday, there was a great Network Delaware event, where Ken Anderson and Congressman Mike Castle spoke, as well as local social media folks including Rodney Jordan, Laurie Bick,  Maya the Twitter Queen, Ken Grant, 2Fish, Wil and Steve who are starting a Wilmington based co-working space called the CoIn Loft, among others, all spoke to a packed room of people about what social media could do to help bring the community together and help their own businesses and efforts move forward.  I was touched and moved when the representative from the local Food Bank said she had also attended my social media 101 session, and afterward started using twitter and other tools to reach out, forming relationships and partnerships that had increased money and food item donations to the food bank.

This is when I realized that so often, we can think that the little things we do- speak to a group, or attend an event or talk to a few people- in the moment, it can seem insignificant, or like a good thing to do, but we underplay what can come from it.    Yet, if you follow the chain of events, AGS asked me to speak, and because I showed people how to use tools I regularly take for granted, those folks have taken the tools and put them to work, and it’s helped all of us, together, to bring our community closer together, to help businesses connect with customers, to generate more business, and to even feed people who are feeling the brunt of the recession through the Food Bank.

It’s so easy to decide to stay home, and not attend an event.  Yet I am finding a year after I spent a morning talking to a group of folks, my community as a whole is tangibly better off and moving forward.  That is the true power of the serendipity engine- of deciding to engage, to help, and before long, exciting things are happening through ripple effects.   I am by no means trying to take credit for all of this, let me make that clear.  I am just amazed at how when you start spreading ideas, they can take on a life of their own, propagate and turn into something much bigger and more wonderful than if you decided to stay home instead.  You can effect change through the smallest of acts, and if you are lucky, sometimes you get to see a small part of the effect you can have.  I got that yesterday, and I feel incredibly humbled by the people I’ve met and the power of teaching someone to fish, as the metaphor goes, being so much more powerful than just handing someone a fish can be.