Three years ago, I participated in Toronto’s first Social Media Week. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was intrigued by the connection to a global event and was looking forward to the opportunity to hear from well-known locals, like Andrew Coyne and Mathew Ingram, be introduced to other smart, talented folk, like Maggie Fox and Scott Stratten, and visit spaces and sites that I wouldn’t usually have access to.

That first Social Media Week was a catalyst for me. I was fully enthralled with the conversations that I was able to participate in, my understanding of social media was deepened and my commitment to working in the field became fully entrenched.

Why? Because I quickly realized how important the one-on-one connections were: just as much as (if not more than) the online ones. At each event, I was able to chat with the panellists or speakers, get their direct insights and feedback, and walk away more informed and energized. Access to these thought leaders and influencers is still one of the highlights of #SMWTO for me, and one of the reasons why I’ve participated every year since.

So much of my learning from that first year still influences and informs me, and how I work in the field to this very day. Looking back at my Twitter activity reminds me of just how many connections I made then and how many of those connections are still part of my online and real-life circles now. Some of those connections have turned into real friendships and many have facilitated collaboration opportunities for me, for others and for our respective organizations.

That’s the special thing about social media. As I’ve said before, social media is the warmest handshake there is, because once you’re connected online the real-life relationships already have roots.

Back in 2009-2010, I knew that I was engaging at the leading edge of a movement that was quickly changing the way that people would connect and communicate, and how businesses would evolve and market their offerings. It seems that forecasting has definitely come true.

The influence and reach of social media has been well documented and Social Media Week has grown massively since, occurring simultaneously in five continents with millions of impressions worldwide, reaching people from newbie to C-Suite across every imaginable vertical and industry.

This week is the fourth Social Media Week in Toronto and the global theme is Open and Connected, incorporating principles of openness, inclusivity, transparency, collaboration, co-creation, networked power and agility. It’s a natural alignment with many of the principles that drive my work and the work of MaRS and our community.

Join MaRS at SMWTO on September 27

This year, MaRS is excited to work with the Entrinsic team that is producing the Toronto events. In support of the Toronto theme of “Looking ahead to 2015”, we’ll be participating in these important conversations and gatherings as we host a panel discussion titled “Is Canada Falling Behind in Innovation?” on Friday, September 27, and help to showcase a number of startups that are disrupting their respective fields in the Day of Disruption Demo Pit on the same day.

If you’ve never been to a Social Media Week event, it’s not too late to participate either in person or via webcast. If you’re looking for inspiration and an opportunity to learn, then come and get connected.

Karen Schulman Dupuis

Karen Schulman Dupuis was the manager of business development in the ICT sector at MaRS. She has worked with startups and entrepreneurs for 15 years in information and communications technology, and brings together years of practical experience in the fields of sales, education, operations, business analysis, project management and marketing communications to tell compelling stories and generate results. See more…