Allan Schoenberg: My Twitter “Patient Zero”

Ever heard of a woman named Mary Mallon? Probably not. But if I said “Typhoid Mary” that might trigger some recognition. Mary Mallon was the index case for typhoid in the US in the early 1900s. She was a healthy carrier of the disease and spread it to at least 53 people before she was forcibly quarantined. Mary Mallon was the American typhoid epidemic’s Patient Zero.

For me, Allan Schoenberg played a similar role, but without the fever and malaise. I consider him to be my Twitter index case. (Stick with me here.)

I spent the first several months on Twitter not doing much. I followed a few people I knew from “real life” and a few who were into Georgia football. I didn’t even really think of it a professional networking medium at the onset. At some point, though, I caught the Twitter bug and from that point things changed dramatically. And I can trace that moment back to Allan.

It was about this time last year when I was working on putting together a photo book of pictures from my trip to Iceland. I tweeted about it and got a random @ reply from Allan commenting on how great Iceland was and how much he loved it when he had visited earlier in the year. I followed him back and checked out his profile, where I saw that he had a pretty sweet job as director of communications for CME Group. We continued to chat via Twitter throughout the next few weeks about everything from movies to beer (good beer) to the economic situation in Iceland.

Allan  Schoenberg and Amy MengelAllan was my conduit to the Twitter PR and communications world. Recognizing that he was pretty interesting guy with an interesting job in my field, I figured that I’d probably enjoy following some of his other Twitter pals. I began looking to see who he was following and unabashedly started poaching his network. This led me to people like Mike Pilarz, Arik Hanson, Matt Batt and Lauren Fernandez. They led me to others like David Mullen, Kellye Crane, Chuck Hemann and Scott Hepburn. And it just kept proliferating.

Today, I consider Allan and that initial group tops among my trusted colleagues, confidants and advisors. In the year since that first tweet about Iceland, I’ve started this blog and my consulting business, founded Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley, and forged what I consider to be lifelong friendships as well as professional alliances with people from Twitter. I’ve had the opportunity to meet most of my closest Twitter friends in person, despite the fact that they all live in far-flung places. Allan even got me a tour of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange when I was visited last spring.

So in the spirit of those Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” ads (though Allan would rightly never drink Bud Light):

I salute you, Mr. Twitter Uber-connector Index Case of Networking Genius Guy. Thanks.

Whose your Twitter Patient Zero?

60 thoughts on “Allan Schoenberg: My Twitter “Patient Zero”

  1. Amy such a great post. It made me think back to my “Patient Zero.” I started a Twitter account December of 2007 and honestly forgot about it. One of my closest friends, Heather Allard (@HeatherAll) was my Patient Zero who made me have an epiphany with Twitter and got me consistently tweeting October 2008. The rest is history. Heather is one of the top mom bloggers with a pretty prominet community of mom entrepreneurs. I’m a B2B marketing gal and stayed in that niche, which also brought me to some of the same great folks in your/our circle. I was approached by Arik to collaborate with Allan and others to create B2B Voices. I will start up some posts in the new year after finally being settled in my new job now for six months. And of course who can forget when I came across your tweets when you were excited about going to Amsterdam. I’ve never met Allan or Arik but feel like I’ve known them anyway. Hopefully I will get to meet you all some day in my travels.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Anna! We definitely need to meet in 2010 – we’re only three hours away from each other so we should be able to make that happen. It’s been great getting to know you this year, sharing Amsterdam tips, and following along as we both made new moves in our careers. Here’s to a great 2010!

  2. This was a pleasant and kind surprise and I remember our Iceland conversation. I really appreciate you sharing this with your community. While I can’t pinpoint my “patient zero” moment there certainly are dozens of great connection moments and too many to list here. What you really nail though is how Twitter is much more than an “online network of babble” as I hear from people who, ironically, don’t use it or give up because they can’t get anyone to follow them. What I think is the true value of Twitter is the ability to connect in real life with people from all walks of life, and you and I have been lucky enough to do that. We’ve had a great year and I’m sure we’ll have another great year of connections in 2010.

    • I’ve almost given up trying to “explain” Twitter anymore to people who are committed to believing it’s a time waster or of little value. I’ve found enormous value in it, as evidenced by my connections and friendships with you and many others. I can’t wait to see what new connections and discoveries next year brings. Thanks again for pulling me into the fray!

  3. Hey Amy – thanks for sharing this story with us (and thanks for the shoutout – the feeling’s mutual). Couldn’t agree more about Allan. Quality dude. Here’s to an awesome 2010!

  4. Amy,

    I completely agree with your response to Allen. Trying to explain the benefits of Twitter to “Haterz” is about as useless as banging your head against a wall. Though I do not have one closed sale because of Twitter. I have connected with insurance professionals throughout the country that delivered advice, news and market insight it would have taken me years to learn otherwise.

    I have not been able to attend an SMBTV yet but I have never but Great things. Congrats on your 2009 success and I’m sure you build upon it in 2010.

    Ryan H.,

    • I think following you on Twitter is what got me linked up with the CAYP group and led to severl good friendships and professional contacts. Thanks, Ryan!

  5. Love this post, Amy. And I don’t think there’s a better patient zero than Mr. Schoenberg. He’s been a tremendous influence on my professional life this past year. But, he wasn’t my patient zero. I actually have two: David Mullen and Shannon Paul. I remember reaching out to both of them very early on and asking them to help me with a post about establishing a presence online (I know, lame, right?). Well, without batting an eye, they both responded and either wrote posts or helped me with mine. And both have been strong supporters and friends throughout the year. Amazing, the power of Twitter and relationships, isn’t it?


    • I’ve learned so much from David and Shannon this year, as well. I remember early conversations on Twitter with you and David (was so bummed he didn’t make it to BlogPotomac!). It’s been great to discover how responsive and helpful people are.

    • Thanks, Patrick! You were one of the first people I connected with locally and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you this year and starting up SMBTV with you. Excited for what’s in store in 2010.

    • Very much agree with Patrick (and Jim) here. I’m not sure Amy gets enough recognition for what she’s brought to the Cap Region this year. I know she’s connected me with some absolutely great folks I wouldn’t have met otherwise and she’s given so many business owners a great outlet for connections and education. So thanks for that.

      • Thank you, Lisa! It’s been great getting to know you this year and watching all those connections happen. And it somehow makes me feel less creepy to be friends with everyone in real life, too, versus just on the Internetz. :-)

  6. I started a twitter account a few months ago, mostly to follow Bill Simmons.’s The Sports Guy. He was pimping twitter on his podcasts constantly, not just his but the service in general. Then I went about following celebs, writers, etc. for a few weeks.

    Then I read an article on twitter that talked about the importance of following local people. How events, emergencies, shows, meetups would come up in my feed. From there I went to Metroland and other local blogs/sites and started following people they were following who were real life residents of the Capital Region. So my Patient Zero was actually the day I decided to follow local people in general.

    Since then I’ve had conversations, replies, and even a random meeting. One night at the MSG Phish shows I tweeted a picture of my seat. Within minutes @jimstagnitti was behind me and we met based on him seeing my picture and sitting on the same side of the arena!

    I’m a huge fan of twitter now and I can’t wait to get to some tweetups and social media breakfasts in the new year. As the webmaster for a small professional organization I have a goal of incorporating social media into our plans. By webmaster I mean guy who tells hosting firm what to put up and not a technical person.

    • It is an amazingly interesting networking tool that has ignited or reignited business relationships for me by way of personal relationships. Eighteen months ago I thought about 140 characters or less entirely the wrong way. Whether Twitter exists or matters in 1, 5 or 10 years, it is a significant change agent.

    • Joel, thanks for sharing your story. Twitter has also been a great local connection tool for me. I’ve lived in this area for five years but until I really got going with Twitter I had a very limited professional and personal network locally (classic introvert). Now I know several people throughout the Capital Region via Twitter that I consider to be good friends and colleagues!

      • I’ve been here for about 5 years as well and my whole network is personal friends or direct business contacts. Seeming I’m new to the area I’m always looking to meet new people. It’s very cool to use twitter as an opportunity to meet interesting people in the area from different fields.

  7. My patient zero was Mack Collier… He was the first person that was actually nice and responded to me on Twitter. Is anyone surprised by that? ;-) Today, I would consider Mack one of my dearest friends and supporter. Through Mack, I got to meet a TON of great folks like Connie Reece, Leigh Duncan-Durst, Ann Handley (My boss now! I always knew Ann’s name, but through Mack I built up the courage to actually chat with her…crazy, right?!), Sonny Gill, Frank Martin, Tim Jackson, etc., etc…. Way TOO many people to list.

    Valeria Maltoni actually introduced me to Twitter (via her blog posts about it) and was my first Twitter follower, but because I’ve known her for SO darn long (almost 8 years), I am focusing on someone net new who I never knew in real life before Twitter.

    Happy holidays Amy! So glad to have met you this year on & offline. Wishing you a very prosperous 2010!

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs

    • Great story, Beth! Mack is a fantastic guy and I’ve learned a lot from him this year. Hopefully I can meet him in 2010. Valeria is great too; I got to meet her at IMS this fall and hear her speak. They both have great blogs that I consistently learn from and are always willing to converse and be helpful.

      I am so glad that I got the chance to meet you at BlogPotomac and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. Twitter’s so full of smart, fun people!

      • Amy, you’ll totally laugh about what Mack and I first talked about…not social media or marketing. Nope! Accidental ‘dog love’ I found… He asked me about my dog, etc. and it was downhill from there… LOL! ;-)

        • It’s funny – I think my first conversations with Mack were about college football’s national signing day! Marketing and social media didn’t come until much later. But once I’d established that he was an SEC football fan, I knew he was good people.

    • Of course I’m one of your biggest supporters, I ain’t no fool ;) I remember I found The Harte of Marketing about the same time I found Amber Naslund’s The Brand Box. I was amazed at how good your blog was, and when I first found it, my thought was ‘Ok how long has she been blogging and how have I not found out about her before now?’

      And that’s when I was shocked to find out that Beth’s blog was only about a month old! She blogged like a veteran from the get-go! And of course when I would go tell everyone to check out this Beth Harte superstar, everyone was so thankful to me for introducing them to Beth’s blog!

      Now you see the method to the madness ;)

  8. Hands down – David Mullen. He introduced me to some great folks like you, Arik Hanson and Beth Harte. Those people are instrumental in my daily conversation and thought process. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities because of how much faith DM put in me – You might be the best writer, but confidence in the form of others goes a long way!

    So happy we connected, Amy!

    • It’s been great connecting with you this year, Lauren! We started our blogs around the same time if I remember correctly, and it’s been fun to go through that process with you. Plus, I love that you can always send some laughs my way when I’m having a rough day. Let’s make an in-person meeting happen next year!

  9. Such a good idea for a post, Amy!

    It would be hard to pin down just one “Twitter Patient Zero” for me — so many people have been so influential to me along the way. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a time when some of these folks weren’t part of my life.

    One of the most touching moments was when @JukemFootball (Michelle Spelman) sent me a Tweet this summer and reminded me of the time I rather bluntly called her out for poor Twitter etiquette. I felt ashamed, but Michelle said it prompted her to re-evaluate how she was using Twitter. Today, she’s using social media quite effectively, her game business is growing nicely, and she’s a true friend.

    It’s hard not to be sentimental when I think of all those I’ve met on Twitter over the years. They’ve all shaped my life in some way. Maybe there’s something to this social media stuff after all…

    • I know what you mean about imagining the “pre-Twitter” days. It sounds cheesy, but I’ve made so many great friends and it’s hard to remember ever not knowing them!

  10. I joined Twitter to follow industry-related events and issues – I am a consultant in the exchange traded derivatives market, and joined to follow topics in that space. Like so many, my Twitter usage has expanded far beyond that! But I still consider that to be my main focus.

    No doubt about it, my Patient Zero is @JessTitlebaum. Her participation is what got me started, that led to some amazing people to follow – including Allan. But, realistically, I owe most of it to Jessica.

  11. I first heard about Twitter not long after its creation on I created an account and like many others, did nothing with it for a long time.

    You already know the story of how I started using it for work. That spurred me to start using my personal account more too.

    If I had to peg a patient zero, it would probably be you. I think it was a RT from @alloveralbany mentioning hamrburgers from the Co-Op that sparked my curiosity. I followed you, which led me to other interesting folks and then SMB-TV hit and the rest was history.

    2009 has been the “Year of Twitter.” Thanks for helping to make it interesting!

    • I remember the hamburger discussion! Burgers from the Co-op are so, so good. It’s been great getting to know you this year, and thanks for sharing your Twitter strategy/story about WNYT for my blog post earlier this year.

  12. I first signed up for Twitter after listening to Grammar Girl’s podcast. I signed up for an account when I was bored one day, I had one of those lazy, “Trying to figure out Twitter” initial tweets. Since I didn’t have a smartphone or any desktop clients, posting to Twitter was a pain.

    I don’t want to go back and look at my timeline, but I think it took off for me once I got an iPod touch (constant Wi Fi) and installed Twitterfox on my Firefox browser. That’s when it really started. Since then it’s become a way of communicating with fellow Dawg fans (watching games has become more exciting with some twitter folk to celebrate/lament with), and I also use it to communicate with colleagues on a regular basis.

    I actually had to turn off the Twitter/Facebook syncing b/c folks got annoyed w/ my constant tweets during Georgia games this year (such as, “Make a tackle!” or “Protect. The. Football.”, or “Crap.”

    • Applications definitely helped – when I installed TwitterBerry/UberTwitter on my phone and really started using TweetDeck, my participation jumped significantly.

      And yes, I’m equally guilty with the game-time Tweets. Mine also included: “For the love of God, catch the freaking ball!” and “I miss Stafford and Moreno.”

  13. AOA had a Twitter account for a while, but didn’t use it. Then we met Rachel Sklar. And she forced us — at fork point — to use it. And then we all ate some Ginger Man cheese.

  14. Excellent idea. And I can’t say enough nice things about Allan, yourself or those other fine folks you named.

    I’m going to have to call an audible and go with my Twitter Patient Zero to the 3rd power. Because Beth Harte (@bethharte), Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) and Shannon Paul (@shannonpaul) were ridiculously kind to me when I first started using Twitter – and Plurk. :) They were already well connected with folks like Mack Collier and Chris Brogan, but still made time to chat with the new guy on the block that didn’t know anyone.

    Of course, there are so many other people that I met on Twitter shortly after who became invaluable industry peers and friends. I won’t name them all, but how lucky am I? :)

  15. It’s funny because I’ve only been on Twitter since March 2009, yet it’s hard for me to remember that far back! However, Richard Waters (@rdwaters) was the person who invited me to join Twitter. After I set up an account, I didn’t see the value in it, and Richard, Paul Jonas (@JonasPK) and Kirsten Hamstra (@kirsten), all classmates of mine in grad school, encouraged me to stick out in the initial period of wondering what was going on. I am so glad they did because I am in love with Twitter now! I continue to learn from them as well as many other PR/marketing/social media professionals every day. So thank you Richard, Paul & Kirsten!

    • Thank you for sharing your story! I agree that there was/is an initial period of “What the heck am I doing here?” that many people go through with Twitter, but sticking it out is key. Once I found Allan and many others and got plugged in it made a huge difference.

  16. I find this hard to believe myself, but I’ve only been on Twitter since February of this year. I feel like all of my Tweeps are family!

    My Twitter Patient Zeroes are Paul Potratz (@ppotratz) and Chris Rooney (@ChrisRooney). I knew about Twitter (I thought it was pretty silly), but it was Paul who really convinced me that I needed to be on there. When I finally signed up, I found a few friends – one of whom was Chris (how we are friends is a funn y story in and of itself) . We had followed each others’ blogs for a while before that, and I at first relied heavily on Chris for Twitter technical stuff (feed URL’s and the like). Chris then clued me in about SMBTV, and the rest is history.

    So, Paul got me started, and Chris helped me to fly. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Sara Thomas at CBS6 Albany, who helped me define (and embrace) who I am – a “lipstick nerd”.

    And it was awesome to meet you, Amy, at the very first (and very lame) Schenectady Tweetup!

    • Wendy – the Schenectady Tweetup was not lame! There was beer and there was laughter, and that’s all you need.

      Thanks for sharing your story. It’s funny, I actually randomly reconnected with one of my mom’s cousins earlier this year via Twitter and my blog – so Twitter technically IS family to me now!

  17. Great idea to start this discussion Amy.

    I’m not really sure if I can remember back to March 2009 let alone March 2008 when I first joined Twitter. If I had to put a finger on my patient zero though, it would probably be @shannonpaul. She and I were working together at a PR firm when I first started hearing about Twitter and getting interested in social media. I’ve got quite a few years on Shannon, and it was conversations with her that made me realize any career that doesn’t include learning and growing is a career destined for the unemployment line.

    So, here I am, nearly 2 years later, probably permanently branded as a green peanut m&m, but being asked to write, speak and teach about social media. And I can’t imagine not having the friendships and interaction with colleagues whom I first met via Twitter. The people who say it’s a waste of time aren’t using the same Twitter I am, or the Twitter that a lot of your commenters obviously are using, too.

    • I remember at the Ragan Unconference when you stood up to ask a question and introduced yourself as Ari Adler. I was shocked, SHOCKED that you weren’t, in fact, a green peanut M&M.

      Great story about @shannonpaul – she sure seems to be a common index case in this discussion. Congrats on all of your success this year!

  18. It’s amazing the close friendships you can form through Twitter, isn’t it? So happy that I can count you among them, Amy.

    It’s also fun to read everyone’s “patient zero” above, since I can see that I found most of the commenters through the people who have influenced them. All “Patient Zeros” have one thing in common: they don’t care how many followers a person has – they treat everyone equally. That’s why they play such an important role for the whole community.

    I almost abandoned Twitter very early on, were it not for my “patient zero,” Karen Swim. We bonded one Saturday afternoon over an article we both disliked, and her positive energy made me want to find more Twitterers like her. Fortunately, I did – many of the folks listed by others who commented previously. Cheers to them all!

    • Amy and Kellye, I will admit to getting misty reading this post. This is what people often miss when they talk about quick ways to gain and pimp followers, the true value of these wonderful tools are the relationships that are formed between human beings. My exhibit A is the lovely Kellye Crane. She is not just a beautiful smiling avatar but a friend and someone I routinely talk to people about who need PR. She is bright and funny and I had the pleasure of “discovering” her on Twitter. Thanks Amy for writing this post and letting us all celebrate the gift of the wonderful people that the dashing little bird brought our way.

      • Karen, you are absolutely right. All the stories shared here are about relationships. Not followers or numbers. I know of several people with thousands and thousands of Twitter followers, but I bet many of them would have a hard time coming up with stories like these. Thanks for visiting the blog and for inspiring Kellye to stick with Twitter!

    • It’s certainly fun to read all these stories and see the “six-degrees of separation” play out. I think Arik was the one who connected me to you, and it’s been so great chatting with you this year and learning from you as I transition to more solo work. Hopefully we can meet the next time I’m in Atlanta.

      Thanks for sharing your story about Karen. It seems a common thread in these stories is that they start with conversation about something personal – a common interest or preference. Then the snowball begins!

  19. While I had been fumbling around on Twitter for months, blindly trying to establish my own little corner I happened to tweet to @ChristinaGayle. She introduced me to @LisaBarone and @Rhea and my world exploded (not just my twitter stream, but that certainly did grow). They’ve introduced me to amazing people, both on and off Twitter!

  20. I had Patient Zero twins, Constantin Basturea and Paull Young of Converseon in NYC. I heard them talking about Twitter for months before I finally registered and followed them. And that was July ’07, so that will tell you how early they were in!

    • I could actually do a whole other post on how you’re my blogging Patient Zero. I think yours was the first PR blog I ever followed back in 2005, and one of the first posts I read linked out to Todd Defren’s blog. I became addicted to PR-Squared and then through his blogroll and yours I found many other great PR blogs. So thanks!

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  22. I probably had two patient zeroes… Danny Brown and Arik Hanson.

    Both of them were amazing enough to connect with me when I was a wee little twitterer. Both of them provided me with the support and friendship that inspired me to push forward in my career. Now, the majority of the people I consider to be my “closest” friends and contacts in this space, including you Amy, are in some way connected through Danny and Arik.

    Community Manager,

    • Thanks for sharing, David! I remember first chatting with you via Twitter when your blog was brand new and you were still a student! No surprise that Arik and Danny were great connectors – I have met many of my favorite tweeps through them as well.

  23. It took some thinking but the person that really made me change my ways about Twitter was Julia Roy (@juliaroy). Julia and I had been communicating via Facebook and her blog when we connected on Twitter in late 2007 — except my profile was set for private. When we met face to face for the first time in the spring of 2008 we talked about Twitter and what I remember most was her opening remark, “Free your tweets.” This led to us talking about the usefulness of Twitter and it’s ability to connect with people based on keywords, topics and professions. That conversation about the power of dialogue and real-time conversations made a difference in how I approached Twitter moving forward.

  24. I think my patient zero was Ann Handley, although it’s hard to tell because I also was chatting with Valeria Maltoni back in 2005. This post is a kick – and such a great point. Hope to meet you IRL sometime Amy.

  25. It is truly amazing how you can build such a solid network of friends and colleagues on Twitter. I have had a Twitter account for sometime now but haven’t put a lot of effort into building a network. You have encouraged me to try. Thanks and great post!

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