Over 700 posts have been written about the shocking suicide of social media expert Trey Pennington and I won’t attempt to compete with such beautiful tributes that have already been said by Jay Baer, Mark Schaefer and others (Pennington was a popular South Carolina-based expert on social media and spoke at a variety of conferences to great acclaim – tragically, he took his own life on Sunday in a church parking lot). I’ll just add this thought: As a result of Pennington’s influence, many are writing about the renewed need to reach out and form meaningful offline relationships with people in the business world. They are so absolutely 100% right. But I hope people won’t dismiss the relationships we have online as artificial and without meaning either. True, there will be people that we will connect to on Twitter or Facebook who we will never, ever meet in person. But the key is to strive for balance between the two worlds. It means little to compile 50,000 followers on Twitter without injecting personal interactions into the mix. By the same token, just networking alone has its limitations because it doesn’t make you what John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing describes as a “converged” business. You need a component of being a “wired” business or you will lose out to competitors who are. They will blog, they will post, they will upload videos and they will share. Assuming it all isn’t self-promotional puffery, this sharing of knowledge helps expand on a person’s credibility in ways a business card exchange never could. It means something to walk into a room and have someone recognize you by your blog. It means something to meet someone and have that person research you further and find your insights posted all over the online realm.
I think all of us are challenged in some way to find that online/offline balance. We may never get a perfect 50/50 balance, but it’s worth striving for. Make no mistake – if I have to choose, I’ll side with meeting someone in person and getting to know them over a beer or coffee. Every time. But I’d be cheating myself if the online side went undeveloped.
Of course, on both the offline and online levels, Trey Pennington was a terrific contributor who enriched many lives. He will be missed by people who never even had the opportunity to meet him – me being one of those people.
Besides the many people he impacted and the writings we’ll have to look back on from him, there’s one more positive Trey Pennington has left us. In the immediate aftermath, there is a high volume of discussion online about depression, which Pennington suffered from. I learned through client work earlier this year just how much woefully small federal funding there is on mental illness in the grand scheme of things. This isn’t a political issue but one that affects us all, directly or indirectly. It’s staggering how little there is of the human brain that we understand and need to. I hope part of Trey Pennington’s legacy is that online and offline, because of him we’ll make more of the effort to make mental health part of the ongoing discussion of investing in what matters.