Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Twitter's Paul Steele: Blazing a Trail of Greatness

This is cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Impact Section.

This is the latest post in our series, Twitter Powerhouses, which focuses on the contributions of people who've helped to expand, influence, and redefine how we view social networking.

When Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and 11 others started Twitter in 2006, the plan was simple: create not only a shining star of social media, but a phenomenon that would foster cross-cultural understanding, expand our imagination, and develop a new, fantastic way of communicating. Their dream is now a reality. And by every indication, world traveler Paul Steele is the living, breathing example of Jack Dorsey’s now famous tweet: “One could change the world with one hundred and forty characters.“

From London to Lagos, Lima to Los Angeles, Steele’s impact has been tremendous. His TwitterSingups - one of 2010's great success stories - are highly anticipated. But he is greatly respected for his adventures that raise much needed funds for charities and nonprofits. In fact, he was profiled some months back about a fundraising climb he did to support the Anthony Nolan Trust.

And since then, he has become an unmistakable force in social media. While his Twitter numbers are impressive, the substance inside of his numbers is even more impressive. What do we mean? Steele is one of the most admired (and retweeted) because he engages others based on their Twitter content, not because of their follower count or “status”. This approach has gained him a loyal and enthusiastic following (including the two writers of this post). Indeed, when Paul Steele tweets, people listen.

Steele’s upcoming climb in the Himalayas with 13 other tweeters promises to be the stuff of legends. He’ll be leading the team to Mera Peak, the highest trekking point in Nepal, with all proceeds going to Charity Water. So let there be no doubt: if people walk with you through a neighborhood, you probably rock the city. But when they climb with you up a mountain in the Himalayas, to raise money for a great cause, you most certainly rock the planet.

Authors' note: In this 1st anniversary post, we hyper-linked the words TweetUp and Twitterverse to give people unfamiliar with Twitter an understanding of how it operates. Enjoy!

How do you use Twitter to connect with your fans, and promote some of your projects?

I always like to say friends more than fans. One thing I always have in mind on Twitter is that we are all equal. Follower numbers etc fade into insignificance towards the great heart and kindness of the people out there. Giving is more important than taking in my book. There are thousands upon thousands of Twitter users, all with projects of their own. I love to learn and see what other great people are up to all over the world. Throughout my time on Twitter, I have become stronger in my belief that giving more than taking is a strong way to connect in a way that makes a difference. To some that could just be giving a warm genuine smile. To others it could be to help with a project or simply helping to elevate their voice. Friends will care about you if you care for them. You can't make new friends either just by shouting a message at them.

As you know, Twitter announced the opening of an office in London. The news is so huge that even Jeff Pulver is looking to do a Tweetup there. How exciting is it to see Twitter make a huge expansion into your country, and, Europe as a whole?

I read this news with great interest. Twitter is truly global, and yet English isn't even the most tweeted language. As with any platform there are ideas to be gained and input to be made from many demographics and user types. I am sure Jeff will know that a Tweetup here would be just as fantastic as one in the US, but will gain a whole new perspective. A move into London/Europe will help Twitter gain and stop an insular feel whilst making the users less isolated and unheard.

Your popular TwitterSingups are just simply amazing. You have participants from every corner of the world. How did that idea come about?

The Singups, innocent fun. Started simply with a tweet I sent out way back. Basically a line from a Queen song. Someone from South Africa tweeted back the next line, then someone retweeted that with the next line, and so on. Fun! I thought, wouldn't it be great if we could hear that? So I threw the idea out in the stream and we had the first basic TwitterSingup. Each one since has been a pleasure to put together. The principle stays the same: Tweeters around the world joining together for fun, smiles and song. Singing quality not a necessity. (Laughs)

You're always helping charities around the world. Talk a little bit about your upcoming climb in the Himalayas with 13 other Tweeters to support Charity Water. There's great support around this project.

This challenge has been close to my heart all along. When I went to climb Mt Aconcagua for Leukemia I was grateful for the huge support from every corner of the twitterverse. So many people say to me they wish they could go do something like that. My answer is yes you can, put your mind to it, feel positive and anything can be achieved, another answer was to enable a way to show them. The 13 Tweeters climbing Mera Peak with me come from every corner of planet. They are great people. They have taken to a goal, having never climbed a Mountain near 6,500 meters. What a challenge it is and the way they are coming together and training for this is unbelievable. It will be an absolute pleasure to get together and climb in aid of Charity Water.

What tips do you have for someone who wants to use Twitter to make a difference? Where should they start?

I would always say start by being as positive as you can in a real way. Everybody can make a difference no matter what it is. Help others to make a difference, its amazing what other people around the world are doing and sharing. People generally will not care about you if you do not genuinely care about them. I learn a great deal from people from all walks of life, and I enjoy doing so.

We know you always think ahead. Can you give us a hint at any future challenges you have in the works?

I can never sit still and big challenges need long planning and sponsor support. Throughout the year after Mera Peak, I will be continuing a run of UK Mountain/Distance challenges, but, next November a friend in New Zealand and I plan to start the 600 mile ski trek from the Antartctic coast all the way to the South Pole. It will take 40 to 50 days. A mammoth challenge and goal that will keep me more than motivated.

What do you do when you’re not climbing? In fact, how you get into climbing?

I spend my spare time thinking up or finding new challenges. In fact, if I sit around too much my brain buzzes. When I was a child my father introduced me the wonderful Lake District, its mountains and thousands of pathways. Throughout my teenage life it was just a hobby I enjoyed with family and friends. It also helps living on the edge of the Pennines. I was in the Army for 16 years. I suppose that experience taught me self discipline, realizing goals and teamwork, and of course, many skills in the open fields and hills. Upon leaving the Forces I sat behind a desk putting on weight and found my release back in the mountains. Add great summits and goals to that and my hobby was set. The next goal was to raise as much as possible for charity as I go, differing good charities each time. Whether it be a big foreign mountain/trek or a UK challenge, it is always a pleasure if people want to get involved or join me and have a go. The support is amazing. Wonderful people out there.

How would you describe yourself in 140 characters?

Looking at the positive view in all that I can for ways to stay motivated. And if that spreads to others, all the better. Hit the world with a smile!

For more information on Paul Steele and the international issues that inspire and inform his work, follow him on his Twitter feed and read his great blog entries.

Author's Note: In case you missed it, here's Part 15 of the series: Marc Parent and the Art of Twitter Activism.

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