By Lisa L. Kirchner
Tiffany LaBanca, a senior vice president at News Corp., once used social media strictly for professional transactions until she realized there were "real people behind the avatars."
"It sounds simplistic," LaBanca told a gathering of Twitter believers at The State of Now #140conf in New York City this week. "It was nothing short of a revelation."
Taking the stage, LaBanca recalled the tumultuous state of her life a year ago when a number of personal challenges coalesced around the tragic death of her neighbor’s 7-year-old son. "He was like my third child," she said.
Meanwhile, she was tweeting about social media strategy, sharing articles and engaging in polite business conversations. Then Vonage founder and tech startup investor Jeff Pulver spotted her.
It was about a year ago when, out of his half million or so followers, Pulver replied to her, finally writing, "We need to meet in real life." She thought he had an agenda.
"We were crying over pasta, sharing our life stories," she said. "We never talked about work at all."
It was the beginning of a major change for LaBanca, who had never considered how people online might become part of her life. She began to change her online persona, sharing what was happening with her neighbors, with her life. [ Twitter 'Stories' Site Shows the Impact of a Single Tweet ]
Simply finding one user who posts daily photos of the sunrise over Lake Michigan showed her "that life goes on and no matter how painful, that sun is going to continue to rise for us." She has made Twitter friends with people from all over the world, whom she is now eager to meet. At the conference, she connected with two women she now calls "BFFs."
"This is about people. This is about humanity," she said. "The more connections that happen, the more beautiful life can be." While her life might look the same from the outside, she said the experience has been a personal revolution. "There’s a part of me that always doubted I could just step out and be who I am 100 percent. I always held [part of myself] back because of the vulnerability."
Translating interactions on Twitter into real-life taught LaBanca to be courageous. "The course of your life changes through the people you have the opportunity to meet," she said. And she credits Pulver for noticing her when she thought she was hiding online, and encouraging her to put herself forward more. "Believing in someone is the greatest gift you can give," LaBanca says.