By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist
In late spring of 2012 my friend Gary Martin and I attended a photography workshop in Death Valley. Rather than fly into Los Angeles from the east coast, we chose instead to drive from Gary’s home in western Wisconsin to California.
The trip took four-and-a-half days; we drove through Minnesota, where we had the pleasure of visiting the one-and-only Spam Museum (yes, there really is one; that’s an article for another time); South Dakota; Wyoming; Utah; a tiny sliver of Arizona; and the southern cone of Nevada, before we made our way into California.
In South Dakota, we found ourselves on Highway 87, otherwise known as the Needles Highway. It winds through tall granite pinnacles (sometimes called ‘hoodoos’) that tower hundreds of feet above the forest. They’re massive and craggy and beautiful, so we stopped at a pull-off to photograph them.
As I mounted my camera on the tripod, I heard Gary ask, “Are those people up there?, pointing at the left-most pinnacle. I looked, and sure enough, there were two climbers on ropes, 30 feet or so from the summit. We photographed their ascent and when they reached the top, Gary said to no one in particular, “Sure would be nice if we could find out who they are so that we could give them these pictures.”
My Quest to Identify the Mystery Climbers
I took that as a challenge — and an opportunity to perform an online science experiment. That evening I brought up Facebook and posted a question on my wall: “Does anyone know anyone in South Dakota who (1) is a rock climber and (2) was climbing the left-most pinnacle along Needles Highway on April 21st? I took pictures of two climbers and I’d love to get copies to them.”
One week later, I received a message from a South Dakota outfitter, and the day after I received this from one of the climbers:
Thanks for hunting us down to share your photos. Nice job on those. It would be cool to see some more of the shots. And I’d be happy to give an interview. Evenings work best for me. Looking forward to chatting with you.
What happened? Well, a friend of a friend knew someone who was a climber in South Dakota, and that person knew of a local climbing club. A couple of days later, thanks to the digital tentacles of Facebook, magic happened.
What impresses me about this most is that I live in Vermont, but the climbers were in South Dakota. No question about it: social networking really does erase time and distance. Anyone who tries to tell me otherwise, or that using social networks is a waste of time, will get an argument.
Extend this thinking now to social networking as a business tool. Remember the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game that was so popular a few years ago? Social Media is the digital extension of that phenomenon, and if it’s applied properly, as a way to tell a story about a business, it can be very powerful indeed.