The Accidental Guru

August 4, 2009

Editor’s note: This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for MinnPost. To view the original, go to

I met some leading Twin Cities social media thinkers last week for a few flights of fancy beer at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul. A stranger at the bar was having trouble deciding what to order, so I gave him my 5-ounce sample of Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale.

As we talked, I realized that I’d unwittingly stumbled onto a celebrity. You may not have heard of him, but in certain circles, Bryan Person is a star.

Two years ago, Person discovered a budding social media service called Twitter. After a few weeks of tweeting, he thought it would be nice to meet some of his new online acquaintances face to face.

“I like breakfast,” said Person, now residing in Austin, Texas, but then living in Boston. “So I thought, why not get together for breakfast with some of the people I’ve been communicating with?

“And when we finished breakfast, some people said, ‘When can we do this again?'”

Bryan Person

Bryan Person

Thus was born the Social Media Breakfast, a phenomenon that has spread to 27 cities and has caught on more powerfully in the Twin Cities than anywhere else. Nearly 1,000 interactive and marketing professionals are part of the Social Media Breakfast network here – so many that the group has had to limit attendance at its monthly events.

Person was in town to give a presentation at the latest Twin Cities breakfast and touch base with a client here. He was happy to talk about the unexpected success of his baby.

“To be honest, I didn’t have any grand vision,” said Person, 32. “Every time I go to an event, I’m blown away– I never foresaw it growing like this. It’s very humbling.”

The breakfasts are intended to be action-oriented, he said.

“I want people to learn something,” Person said. “I see a lot of academic events. I want people to get practical advice– to walk out with a takeaway they can go back to their office and put in place.”

Recent topics at Twin Cities breakfasts have included online reputation management, using social media in job searches, viral marketing strategy and personal branding through social media.

The explosion in online media has been so rapid that people are in constant need of information on how to navigate that world, he said: “People are hungry for knowledge of how to apply social media to business.” Yet no matter how much we live online, “nothing replaces face to face interaction.”

Person has no grand scheme for the social media breakfasts and doesn’t try to control them; local organizers know what works best, he said. But he does offer a couple of rules to live by.

“All I say is: Be inclusive. Share what you know,” Person said.

And that includes sharing beer, which I’ll be happy to do with anyone who wants to discuss this topic further.