Dear Twitter, how I love you.

Okay, you all know that I love social media, and I fully support people using it, blah, blah, blah.

But it’s not just some new tool that I’m excited about using and have jumped on the bandwagon for. It can be incredibly useful professionally. That was particularly clear to me this week.

I started in my current position six and a half years ago, and went to my first LMA conference in 2005. I was a shy young thing because I knew NOBODY and I hadn’t even participated in any of the local chapter’s events. I was terrified I’d end up just wandering to and from conference sessions like a ghost and not meeting anyone.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I met some lovely ladies, had dinner and lunch with them a couple of times, and enjoyed their company. But other than a few sporadic emails after that which eventually died off, that was it.

Fast forward to 2011, when I attended my 6th LMA conference – what a difference! For the first time, I was actually looking forward to conference – not that the sessions aren’t always valuable, but I’ve been so intimidated over the years by the networking side of things that I had trouble enjoying myself. Not so this year.

Over the last three years, I’ve developed a network of LMA friends and colleagues through Twitter – our online conversations happen on a regular basis throughout the year, both about professional and personal topics. Many of those I’ve met through Twitter have subsequently become friends on Facebook, where we share much more of our personal lives and deepen our relationships.

As a result, we’re talking before the conference and making plans, we’re talking during the conference – about the sessions, about meeting for meals, about meeting those on Twitter we don’t know in person yet, about where we’re sitting, what we’re thinking, the questions we might have – and we’re talking after the conference – sharing posts, sharing articles, continuing the new and old relationships and friendships we’ve found in LMA. Even those who weren’t able to attend the conference got the most valuable tidbits via the tweetstream and will share in the blog posts that re-cap the event.

How valuable is that?

Through Twitter, I’ve met marketing professionals at all different levels – some new to legal marketing, some with years of marketing experience – and they inspire me, introduce me to other people in the industry, help me on projects, ask and answer questions, and make me feel cherished and supported. For the first time at an LMA conference, I didn’t eat alone once – and many of you know that some of the best networking happens during mealtime.

So I’m grateful to Twitter for enriching my conference experience – I’ve gained professional colleagues (as someone who works alone most of the time, that is invaluable), but I’ve also gained lifelong friends. Some people may still not understand Twitter or think it valuable, but it can really enrich a conference experience, and make your membership in an organization incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.