For a sample of the power of social media, consider Chuck Painter. Painter is an avid LinkedIn.com user, spending a few minutes every morning on the website. Thanks to his long career in plastics distribution and sales, he values the networking opportunities.
On Sept. 19, he noticed that President Obama was planning a Town Hall meeting on Sept. 26 through LinkedIn.
“I had not been a fan of his. But I saw that people were asking a lot of questions, and some were very crass,” Painter told me in a phone call.
Painter, who had been laid off and out of work for a stretch recently, decided to ask a question. He was inspired in part by President Kennedy's famous inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
So Painter submitted a question asking what Americans can do to come together and bring our economy out of the recession.
Within a few days, LinkedIn invited him to ask Obama the question — in person. Painter flew to Palo Alto, Calif. A total of 18 LinkedIn members were there to ask their questions.
At the meeting itself, Painter sat a few feet from Obama. There were tons of reporters, of course.
Painter was told he could give a little background about himself, in addition to asking the question. It just couldn't take more than 45 seconds.
“I timed it out. I didn't have a stopwatch, but I rehearsed it to myself while I waited for my turn to speak,” he said.
Then came his moment. He was selected to ask the first question. He decided to mention his plastics background: he's currently a sales professional at Allied Plastic Supply Inc., and his previous experience includes a long stint at Piedmont Plastics Inc.
“Good morning, Mr. President,” he said. “I'm from Austin, Texas. I've been in sales in the plastics industry for 20 years. I lost my job in 2009 and [am] fortunate enough to have found another position, become reemployed. My question is what can we do as American citizens to unite ourselves and help the economy?”
Obama responded: “Well, first of all, are you a native of Austin? Because that's one of my favorite cities in the country.”
Painter replied, “Actually, I'm a native of Charlotte, N.C., but just relocated to Austin, and I love it there.”
“Austin is great. Charlotte is not bad,” Obama replied, prompting laughter.
After some more chatter, Obama went into a long pitch for his American Jobs Act.
Painter's still not a huge Obama fan, but that's beside the point. He said the experience was overwhelmingly positive.
“I had at least 300 emails and phone calls,” he said. He joked that if you Google “Chuck Painter,” you'll get links to stories and videos about how he prompted laughter at the meeting.
It's a pretty sweet story for a plastics salesman who, just four months ago, was looking for work.
And it's all because Painter's a fan of business-related social media.
“I use it every day. It didn't help me get the job I have now, but LinkedIn is phenomenal for networking and job searches,” he said.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”