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A year ago, I was sitting in my office in downtown Chicago minding my own business when I decided to get more involved in social media. What a strange (and wonderful) year it’s been. Somewhere around November 2010, I decided to ramp up my social media activity. I liked it so much I decided to get even more involved and *gasp* attend a tweet-up in December.

The last year has changed my life. Dramatically. In ways both small and large; profound and mundane. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people online; taken dozens of those relationships to the level of real life trusted friendships by meeting, consulting, collaborating and kibitzing with a great many generous, smart and hungry people.

During the past year, I’ve come out of my shell a little bit. I still don’t blog nearly as much as I would like, but I hope to change that in the coming year. I marvel at those who are great writers, big thinkers and prolific bloggers. I’m grateful for so much and for so many people who have taught me so many things in the last 12 months.

I’ve learned so much from so many over the past year it’s nearly impossible to catalog it all. But I had to try. Because I wanted to introduce many other people to the dearest friends and smartest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet both online and in person. So I thought I would look back at the events and people that were the highlights of 2011 in chronological order, starting with:

Lisa Petrilli

Lisa PetrilliLisa Petrilli is the co-host of #LeadershipChat on twitter. I found #LeadershipChat quite by accident and was thrilled to do so. I met so many great people there (more to come) and I learned so much from so many. I have not been as active in LC as I would have liked the last several months, but when I attended, the discussion was as lively as any chat I have ever been involved with. Lisa absolutely has to be one of the classiest ladies on twitter (and in real life). I met her at the inaugural #Cocktails4Causes event in December 2010. Was it a year ago? Wow. Time flies.

Steve Woodruff

Steve Woodruff is Lisa’s fellow co-host at #LeadershipChat. He is also known as the Connection Agent. In addition to being the most awesome co-host on twitter, Steve ran me through a Brand Therapy Session this past Spring, and helped inspire me to refocus my passion projects. Later in the year, he also introduced me to still another group of awesome. How to explain how Steve has so many fingers in so many awesome pots? Must be because #AwesomeFindsAwesome!

Tom Martin

I met Tom Martin in December of 2010 at the inaugural #Cocktails4Causes event hosted by Lisa Petrilli and Lisa Diomede. #Cocktails4Causes was Tom’s brainchild, and he would later invite me to host the one in January 2011. Tom is one of the smartest guys I know. He does things I wish I knew how to do. Throughout the year, I had the pleasure of chatting with Tom on a couple of occasions. We brainstormed one of my new product ideas together and he took it in unexplored directions. He has his own agency, lives in New Orleans and travels the world speaking about the next big thing in digital marketing – truly a man after my own heart. And he’s a better dad than he is a speaker – which is truly saying something. And he’s better looking than me. I think I hate him.

Social Media Club Chicago

On the train ride home from the #Cocktails4Causes event in December, I remember hopping on Twitter and reconnecting with those I met and lamenting not connecting with people I had wanted to meet. On that train ride, I was depressed for not connecting with Leyla Arsan. We scheduled a lunch the next week and she dragged/invited me to my first Social Media Club Chicago event later in December. I met SO MANY amazing and great people through SMC Chicago in the past 12 months that it’s impossible to name them all. But I have to call out Tim McDonald and Jeannie Walters as people who have had a profound impact on my life this past year. Thanks to you both for teaching me so many things, and for believing in me! My speaking picked up this year because of both of you and I’m forever grateful.

Glen Ellyn Mafia

I mentioned Lisa Diomede already. I also met up with Lisa at that SMC party in December. We hit it off swimmingly. Come to find out Lisa lives in Glen Ellyn, IL. So does Barb Rozgonyi, Xan Pearson, Amy Hesser, Angel Oakley and many other fine, upstanding social media mavens. Glen Ellyn is like our own little version of Toronto here in Chicago – it’s the place the houses all the most amazing social media practitioners (kidding!) Still we had a few parties, and a bunch more laughs. Even though I’m not from Glen Ellyn, I think I’m an honorary member of the tribe…

#UsGuys

I met dozens and dozens of amazing people through my heavy involvement in the #UsGuys stream on twitter. Initially attracted by the amazing Margie Clayman, I met Chase Adams, Josepf Haslam, Sam Fiorella, Sam Parrotto and dozens of others. I also introduced many of my friends to the wonders of #UsGuys, both through real life advocacy and through my post that described exactly “what is #Usguys” – at least to me. I owe the #UsGuys folks a good deal of what I know about social media. I’ll always be grateful to them for their support, their friendship and the way they kept Twitter interesting for me when I was riding a heavy learning curve.

Sam Parrotto

Sam ParrottoSince ceasing my day to day involvement with #UsGuys, the one person I miss the most is Sam Parrotto. I was lucky enough to spend the better part of an afternoon with Sam. She’s a life coach of the highest order and she helped clarify a LOT of things for me. I wish I could package her up and offer all her knowledge, warmth, dedication, friendship and love into a small package – enough times for all of you to take her with you – while also keeping her all to myself. If you’re lucky, I mean REALLY lucky, in this life you may bump into someone who has the potential to affect your life in some meaningful way. I look at Sam as a gift beyond measure – a relationship I treasure because of how I think and feel when I’m around her. The best part? I get to see her again before this year ends! Woot woot!

Margie Clayman

Margie ClaymanMargie Clayman represents all that is sweet and good with social media. She is equal parts warm and intelligent with a healthy side of snarky. She stands up for the little guy, she feels deeply that personal attacks should be eliminated (and I agree with her – even while I’m writing them up myself). I’ve dubbed her the (un)official librarian of the Internet. She blogs incessantly – and not just the short posts looking to build audience. Oh no. These are the thoughtful, lengthy list posts meant to chronicle what she REALLY believes. The heartfelt stuff most writers stay away from. Small in stature, she reigns near the very top of my short list of favorite people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this year. I only wish she lived in Chicago so we could see each other more often!

Gini Dietrich

Ahem. So I mentioned my product idea above. I never did anything about that. But when it was burning a hole through my brain, I knew I just had to talk to someone about it. So I asked Gini Dietrich to meet me over coffee to discuss it. After all it had to do with the PR industry, and well, I just didn’t really know anyone else in the industry. I didn’t know her either (other than through commenting on her blog), but I didn’t let that stop me. I asked her again. Then I begged her. And begged her. And begged her some more. Finally, she agreed to meet me. And the rest is history…or tragi-comedy. Anyway, she listened while I talked. She thought I was nuts. She continues to put up with me anyway.

What can I say about Gini that hasn’t already been said…by her. She inspires me. Her commitment to blogging daily, her passion to change the PR industry, her sense of humor, her amazing community at Spin Sucks. She is the core that holds that all together. I’ve learned from and grown to love everyone on the Spin Sucks team, including Lisa Gerber, Patti Knight and Crister Delacruz. I’ve also met and commiserated with some AMAZING people through the Spin Sucks community – people like Shonali Burke and Jayme Soulati. Who knew that one super connector could mean so much to a schlub like me.

Brandie McCallum

Brandie McCallumI’m not sure exactly what to write about Brandie McCallum. I had the pleasure of meeting her in the #UsGuys stream over time we got to know one another better. She prefers to stay behind the scenes and get things done, but that will only last for so long. I had the pleasure of spending time with her in person twice this year. She’s exceptionally knowledgeable about the behind the scenes workings of the social scene. She seems to know just about everybody that’s working on something cool in this space – or maybe that’s just the perception of this outsider. I’ve never regretted following someone she recommended. In many ways, she’s the curator of awesome on the social web. How else can I explain that she introduced me to Greg Hartle well before anyone I know had even heard his name?

SOBCon

Wow. What to say about SOBCon? I attended my first SOBCon last Spring. Met amazing people (and lots of them). Created new friendships (Jeanne Male). Solidified some older friendships (Ric Dragon, Steve Woodruff). But what makes SOBCon so amazing is the commitment and dedication of the two founders – Liz Strauss and Terry St. Marie (aka Starbucker). These two are the yin and yang, the alpha and omega of SOBCon. Like a solar system with two equally powerful but different colored stars they keep the conference interesting, amazing and energized. What a terrific community. Best networking event of 2011 hands down. I built more terrific lifelong relationships that weekend (see next segment) that through any three events combined.

Canoli Crew

The day before SOBCon kicked off in 2011, Lisa Petrilli and Steve Woodruff pulled together a group of #LeadershipChat participants who were going to be in town for the event and held a lunch with an advisory board of sorts. As a result, I had the amazing pleasure of meeting several online friends, and heavy #LeadershipChat participants in person, including Angela Maiers, Fred McClimans, Anthony Iannarino, Lou Imbriano, Molly Cantrell-Kraig, and Judy Martin. We told stories and swapped knowledge for over 4 hours and would have gone another 4, but we needed to go to the kickoff party for SOBCon. Amazing time. Amazing friends. Amazing talents.

Sam Fiorella

Sam Fiorella is one of the smartest guys I know. He’s a great writer and a big thinker. He’s also one of the nicest guys I know. Sam and I become good friends through #UsGuys and when we was on his way into Chicago to speak at a conference I knew I had to find time to connect with him in person. I was not disappointed. As smart and nice as Sam appears on-line, double it. Then double it again. Then fold it back onto itself a few more times and might actually approach the Sam I’ve come to know.

Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is a gifted consultant with a focus on customer experience. She is also one of the nicest women I’ve had the pleasure to meet this year. She also happens to be a gifted writer and blogger. She’s smart, knowledgeable, and a dear friend. Jeannie is one of the most down to earth, honest and intelligent women I’ve had the pleasure to know. I’ve been very privileged to meet and know her this year past. I only hope someday to be able to repay her all the warmth and kindness she has showed me this past year. I don’t know what I did to deserve her friendship. I’m just glad she’s a part of my life.

12 Most

In the middle of the year Dan Newman and I launched 12 Most. It quickly grew out of control and new roles for both Dan and I caused a crisis in confidence in our ability to continue to manage the beast. We have since transitioned control of the site over the Paul Biedermann and Peggy Fitzpatrick. But the story of and lessons learned from12 Most goes so much deeper than that.

We launched a community from nothing but the relationships we had built in 6 months via social media. As of this writing, less than 7 months later, the site has posted 524 articles from 169 different bloggers. We’ve seen well over 400,000 visits to the site and over 600,000 page views. I view 12 Most as a grand experiment. It may not change the world, but it has absolutely proven the power of social to tap into networks and to build traffic.

My involvement in 12 Most deepened existing bonds, created new ones, taught me new things about blogging, abut wordpress, about crisis management, about malware and about security. What a ride.

Shelly Kramer

Shelly KramerI was lucky enough to receive an invitation to speak at Social Media Masters in Kansas City. It was here that I was FINALLY able to meet the lovely Shelly Kramer. Shelly runs a successful agency and is deeply tapped into the local community. Want to know a secret? Shelly glows. Seriously. You know how there’s people you think you know and like online and then when you meet them in person their personality is almost a mismatch of the online persona? Then there’s the opposite. The person who has an online persona that you don’t really care for, but you love them in person? Shelly is great online and even better in person. She lights up the stage and captivates an audience. And she posts the best and funniest stuff on the web. Where she finds it all, I have no idea. I’m just glad she does.

#CriticalThinkers

Let’s face it. Social media isn’t exactly rocket science. Know what I mean? That said, the social web and blogosphere is filled with a lot of drivel and me-too-ism. It has mirrored the fall of other media in many respects with a sort of race to the bottom. Much of what I read on the web is the blogging equivalent of reality TV.

But there is a group of bloggers that lives above the drivel. These consistently write thought provoking pieces. They are deep thinkers with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. I’ve not met them all in person, but I certainly hope to one day. These are the four that I stop what I’m doing when I see a link they have shared. They are my personal brain-trust. Thanks for being the core of my personal favorite twitter list, the Critical Thinkers: Tom Webster, Matt Ridings, David Armano, Jay Baer, Mark W. Schaefer, and Amber Naslund.

So that’s my year in review. 2011 also saw a career change, a lot of amazing growth and changes in my three boys, even more new connections and friendships spurred and many more seeds planted. I can’t wait for 2012! What about you? What was 2011 like for you?

I wonder what looking back a year from now will look like, and who will have changed my life yet again? I’m looking forward to meeting so many more awesome people this next year. I can hardly wait!

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Sean McGinnis

Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct
Sean McGinnis is Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct. He is also a (digital strategist, blogger, consultant ) and public speaker. You can find Sean on