07/18/2013 04:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Your Best Prospects Are Your Customers' Online Friends' Friends

People I know know Miriam's Kitchen through me and my volunteering there. That said, when I do volunteer I can't help but share my time chopping veggies or serving my homeless guests. It's really the very least I can do. Now my constituents, they might not leap into volunteerism or feeding the homeless, but they're more than just slightly aware of homelessness or soup kitchens or volunteering, they're imprinted by Miriam's Kitchen specifically. In a big way, I feel this is my part.

Now, when I speak in person, friends ask after not just my volunteering but after MK as an effort and a brand too. In the world of Generation C, the connected generation Brian Solis elaborates so eloquently on, people pursue vicarious living like they have never before, gladly and willfully. And, while it ends there for most, some become inspired. Some do research. Some add volunteering and giving to their budget of time and money. And, some come to Miriam Kitchen's door with a helping hand or a check.

In a world made egalitarian by the Internet, the competition for time and treasure has never been more cut-throat; and, shrouded in the fog of war that results from this level of global competition, and of limited time, attention, and cash, every bricks-and-mortar organization, hotel, and restaurant, and retail store needs something more than just the best prices (can't compete with the Internet) or most deserved mission (you and everyone else). What is needed is a personal testimonial from a friend (or a friends of a friend) or someone whom a real person knows and respects, advocates to vouch for you and your endeavors.

Even more importantly, and something that's much more powerful, is to take it further: if someone you know, know of, and respect is living an admirable life and having experiences that either represent that life or a pathway to it, then that experience will become a very real aspiration -- and a very concrete, palpable, realistic, and attainable goal. I mean, if they're my friend or a friend of my friend, I couldn't be that far from attaining it, could I? Chris is in his 40s and has a motorcycle, so can't I? And it's a Honda XR650L. Chris goes to church, doesn't he? And it's Trinity Episcopal in Arlington. Chris volunteers at a soup kitchen, right? Miriam's Kitchen in DC, right? Don't they make food for the homeless from scratch from fresh organic ingredients they get from donations? Maybe my company should volunteer. Maybe my company can contribute. Maybe I can, too.

Now don't get me wrong here, I am not saying I am a super-influencer, but what I am saying is that I am a regular Joe, I have lots of friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and blog on my own blog and others, and I really do live out loud. Lord knows everything I can do you can do better. And I am unique like everyone else. And you can be, too. But, what's more, if you want to cut through the dense fog that's obscuring some of the most innovative, delicious, hospitable, world-changing, fun, entertaining, altruistic, generous, and life-changing organization, businesses, hotels, restaurants, and stores, then you're going to need to do much more than "get online," way more than "do Facebook," or even "do online ads."

While all of those are essential, we also know that until people are ready to pull the trigger, all you can do is do your best to win their hearts and minds, to drill into their skulls, to become the obvious answer to a question they haven't even asked yet: "where should I volunteer?" "Where should I stay in Paris?" "Which restaurant should I take my date?" And so on. As for general reviews, those have become commonplace and less effective. Now people are becoming more aware of what it takes many people to sit down and write an entire blog post about their favorite software package or baby buggy: money! Who's paying for this review? Is it authentic and how do I know? Who benefits?

Well, showing has always been more powerful than telling. I could write a manuscript about Miriam's Kitchen, but I don't because I am too busy chopping onions, making Tang, bussing coffee mugs to the dishwasher, and mopping floors. I surely do pull aside a few times in the three hours I spend there twice-a-month to take some Instagrams, cross posting to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr, but I am not there as a documenter but as a participant. And, at one point, I felt a little bit like a douchebag for live-tweeting my volunteerism -- I didn't want people to fancy me bragging about something that is so dear to me -- but Jenn Roccanti reassured me that with my following on social media, if she had to choose between getting me to cover MK on social media or volunteering in the kitchen, she would choose the social media attention -- because without the light cast into their little basement kitchen and dining room just West of GWU in Washington, DC, by me and others onto our social media rivers of news, walls, timelines, and blogs, Miriam's Kitchen might become the best kept secret in Washington -- and that would be a pity.

In short, when you do things in real life, in the basement kitchen of a church, and they're feeding men and women off the street, they can become ephemeral art ... unless it's recorded for posterity. The colorful powders and grains that Buddhist Monks use to construct their elaborate artworks return to chaos at the end, spread and dispersed -- just like the experiences, too, of people making POS purchases in stores, stays in hotels, dinners in restaurants, attendance of events.

The Internet has a glib saying, pics or it didn't happen, which is to say that it don't mean a thing if people aren't moved enough to crow about you. But don't worry, it doesn't need to happen 100% organically. Jenn from Miriam's Kitchen is very much a participant in my experience at Miriam's. While I have surely become family over the last 3 years, everyone there is very aware that I am to be given whatever time I need whenever I am in the kitchen to noodle with my iPhone, recording Vines, Instagram videos, images, check-ins, and posts. And they are grateful and supportive and have never flagged in their appreciation or have ever become complacent or lost their excitement with having me around (and while I believe that has to do with my charm, work-ethic, likeability, and rapport with the guest, I am not naïve enough to assume they don't see the value-for-value associated with my social media coverage and my social media influence).

In a cynical world, a world in which even the most least-likely pay-per-posters and getting paid for posts, we're getting closer to being post-formal-testimonial and post-formal-review where telling people how awesome something is is far less important than allowing those around you to know you well enough that, of course Chris only wears Blundstone boots, carries a De Martin courier bag, rides a Honda XR650L motorcycle, wears a Shoei helmet, runs in Mizuno and Nike shoes, eats at Taqueria el Poblano, drinks coffee at Java Shack and Peregine Espresso, sports Warby Parker frames, lives in Dominion Towers, works at Unison Agency, and volunteers at Miriam's Kitchen -- they'll see that every day in some way or the other in context, in @replies, in hashtags, in photos and even on video -- that's how people know me, know what I love, and maybe result in other people making their choice as a direct or indirect result.

The future of social media marketing and digital PR will require learning how to compel everyone's friend-of-a-friend to crow about their clients. Sadly, the one stumbling block could be when it comes to brands, products, and services that suck -- the only real synergy that brands can have with clients using this strategy is based on excellence. The only things that I -- and everyone -- write about on social media are things that I love and things that I hate. I love my Casio Mudman watch and Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch, but I hate my Sony Internet Player with Google TV; I how Fitbit tracks by health but I hate that I keep on losing them or killing them in the washing machine. We're passion-driven people so we only post when we feel either compelled or obligated. Start today: how are you going to compel or obligate influencers online to live outloud with your venue, restaurant, non-profit, store, or hotel well branded, mentioned, correctly-spelled, and in-frame?

How are you going to clear the fog to reveal your brand? You going to clear the fog to reveal your brand?