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Coffee break

The simple ability to tweet, share and post puts the power to influence our community at our fingertips.

Indiana women are beginning to find their power on social media

Around the nation, women use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in higher numbers than men. But when Amy Stark attended a Blog Indiana conference in 2012, she noticed the state lacked strong female voices on social media.

In fact, about 85 percent of the presenters at the conference were white men.

Where are the Hoosier women making their mark on the social media scene, she wondered, and then turned to Twitter to let off some steam.

That’s where she met Erin Albert, an associate professor at the Butler University College of Pharmacy And Health Sciences, who also believed Hoosier women didn’t have a loud enough voice on social media. So when the two Indianapolis women met in person at a writer’s conference last fall, they decided to do something about it.

They gathered an advisory board of six women around the state and started planning the first Social Media Dames Conference to get Hoosier women to share their stories on social media and give each other advice.

The conference sold out in Indianapolis last fall, so they decided to host other conferences around the state. Next week, they are coming to Fort Wayne to host the 2014 Social Media Dames Unconference (#SMDames14).

It is called an “unconference” to emphasize its egalitarian nature, Stark said. You won’t be able to tell much difference between the speakers and the audience because they want all of the attendees to share knowledge on the same level.

But the whole idea behind the conference got me wondering what it is that might be keeping Indiana women from having more powerful voices on social networks – and how these networks can help us make Fort Wayne a better place to be.

As moderator of The Journal Gazette’s social media, I’ve noticed many local women who are shaping conversations around town, and many people, in general, around Fort Wayne who have more or less stumbled into jobs managing social media for local companies and found success.

Take Sheryl Brown, who is social media director at Ash Brokerage and on the advisory board for the unconference. Brown said her use of social media started as a simple effort to connect with co-workers after she joined Facebook in 2007 in order to keep up with her kids.

Then, after experimenting with social media for a few years after that, she suggested that Ash start a social media department in 2012. She was assigned to run it.

Now she works with insurance companies, helping them define their presence on social networks. Brown is also speaking at more than 17 social media conferences this year alone. Her humble beginning in social media and background in financial services actually work for her – making her approachable and easier to relate to than a “social media expert.”

“I am them,” Brown said. “So I am able to teach them.”

It makes me think the barriers to using social media to promote our work and ideas are lower than we might think. We don’t have to be experts in social media or be techies to use these tools well. Actually, being successful at managing a social media for our work and personal lives is much like being a successful networker and influencer in-person.

“It’s about communication skills,” Stark said. “Being able to share a complete thought in a short message is the way we spread ideas.”

Some women around Fort Wayne are already showing us what a strong voice on social media looks like. Kevin Mullett, who hosts a Social Media Breakfast in Fort Wayne (#SMBFW) on the last Tuesday of each month, said Amber Recker, Ashley Motia, Heather Schoegler and Randi Bortles-Lincoln come to mind.

“They put themselves out there, and they’re helpful and giving to the community,” Mullett said. “Many of them are also very active in the community of Fort Wayne as a whole.”

Social media helps us communicate, but it also helps us create community. The more I use social media around town, the more I feel connected to other people around town, and the more I realize the simple ability to tweet, share and post puts the power to influence our community at our fingertips.

Coming up

In a column after the Social Media Dames Unconference next week, I’ll share some of the ways perceptions about social media are changing in the business world and hopefully help distill some of the fears among those who are yet to find their voice in the social media scene.

If you go

Social Media Dames Unconference

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 24

Where: Ash Brokerage, 7609 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Cost: $69 (includes lunch)