Paying it forward: Sacramento chapter focuses on community building


Sun is a great mood enhancer, and Sacramento is one of the nation’s sunniest cities.  That and a relatively young demographic may help explain why optimism abounds in Social Media Club Sacramento.

The chapter’s leadership made a bold move recently and started the process of applying for Official Chapter status—even though Sacramento at the time could account for only three of the requisite ten paying members of Social Media Club.  The chapter’s growth and development have started to raise issues that make the benefits of Official Chapterdom look like a very good deal.

“A lot of venues are suddenly asking for things like proof of liability insurance, and we are starting to get sponsors who want to make cash donations,” reports Social Media Club Sacramento President Laura Good (@goodlaura), one of the three.  There was some initial resistance to becoming an Official Chapter, but it came down to a business decision:  In the chapter’s current circumstances, free membership is false economy.

“In all-volunteer organizations like this, the leadership team is a revolving door,” explains Good, who is director of programs and operations for SARTA, a non-profit that facilitates technology-oriented entrepreneurial activity in the region.  “People get burned out or move on to other things.  You need some legacy, and the infrastructure that comes with Official Chapter status provides that permanence.”

“The grass-roots approach to running the group has worked quite well over the past two years,” adds Scott Eggert (@marketsmall), Social Media Club Sacramento’s vice president and a social media manager at Augustine Ideas, a marketing and communications agency.   “However, we are seeing that being an Official Chapter and gaining more sponsors will lead to better hospitality, opportunities to grow the programming, and a continued increase in the professionalism of the presentation quality.”  

The chapter now has six Professional members, and expects to have at least ten by July.  Several more of the leaders have committed, and they are running an ongoing campaign to encourage meeting attendees to register for paid membership as well.  Besides the pitches at meetings, there are links to the Social Media Club registration page in all e-mails.

“We use Eventbrite to pre-register people for meetings, and we customize the confirmation e-mail,” Good says.  “There is a link to the parent Social Media Club registration page, and there is also an option for asking for more information about the benefits of membership.

“It’s a soft push, but it’s new.  We’ve never done this before.”

A local social media culture helps

Sacramento is the capital of the nation’s most populous state, and government is the region’s biggest industry.  However, while the inaugural meeting in April 2009 did focus on “Government 2.0,” most of the leadership and attendees come from the private sector, with small businesses predominating.

“That’s more our target than enterprise social media professionals, although some do participate,” relates Good.  “We also get marketing professionals from the agencies, independent social media practitioners, and students from the local universities.  We have a lot of bloggers, and we attract quite a few social media hobbiests as well.”

The local culture has embraced social media in a big way.  The #SacTweetUp, attracts some 200 people to its networking mixers, and Sacramento was recently rated fourth on a list of the top Twitter-for-business cities in the U.S.  The whole business community in Sacramento is connected via Twitter, and a lot of activities get organized that way. 

When the Sacramento Kings announced plans to move to Anaheim, Calif., local fans launched a massive social media campaign to keep the NBA franchise in Sacramento.  A year’s reprieve was the result, and the fans are working on a more permanent arrangement.  The recent June meeting was a special #HereWeMeme event discussing lessons learned from the Kings campaign.

 “Being in that culture makes it easier,” Good concludes.  “Most of our raffle prizes come from leadership team members sending out tweets asking for donations.  We get most of our food sponsors the same way.” Social Media Club Sacramento’s Twitter account has more than 4,000 followers, and individual chapter leaders have big and influential followings as well.

Meetings:  Mixing it up

Social Media Club Sacramento bounced around a bit before finding a regular meeting place at the Urban Hive, a local co-working facility.   A big shared-space room is broken down and set up for the meeting.  

Now on the second Tuesday of the month, the meetings start at 6:30 p.m., with 30 minutes of networking followed by a formal program.  They officially end at 8:30 p.m., but many remain for another half hour or so of networking.   Attendees pre-register on Eventbrite for free, although donations are collected at the door.   Refreshments and door prizes for drawings are contributed by local businesses.

The programs aim to foster discussions about trending social media topics, and typically feature panels of speakers who have implemented social media effectively.  “Local people who are examples of local success resonate better with the audience than gurus,” Good states.

Past topics have included social media for non-profits, how professional sports teams can use social media to connect with fans, and how artists and musicians are leveraging social media.  In January a panel of personal trainers talked about using social media to achieve fitness goals, and the July 12 meeting—“Social Media and Motherhood”—features a panel of local “mommy bloggers.”

“By changing topics like this and targeting different industries, we expose the club to to a new audience each month,” Eggert explains.  “And the professional social media managers get to see how each industry leverages social media differently.”  

The meetings typically draw 50-100 attendees.  The biggest turnout—150—was for “Social Media ROI:  Is It Measurable?


These higher level discussions are supplemented by quarterly hands-on workshops on particular topics, such as blogging for business and building Facebook business pages.

“We recently partnered with Drexel University and use one of their high-tech classrooms for our workshops,” says Good.  “We live-stream all of our events and then make them available on demand, and Drexel is already set up for live streaming.  For the regular meetings, local video producers donate their services.

We all need some lightening up from time to time, and the chapter has started holding purely social events on occasion.  The first, designated #TheSocial, was held in March.  It was well received, and the leaders plan to hold about three such events per year.  The next one is in September.  The Club partners with local restaurants who sponsor the venue and often provide appetizers and drink specials.

Reputation and connections draw sponsors

Like many chapters, Social Media Club Sacramento charges no dues and collects only what attendees elect to drop in a donations cup when they arrive for events.  Sponsorships are critical, and the chapter’s track record and reputation are starting to attract them.

“We used to use a crude Mac-and-camera setup to stream our meetings, but now professional video producers XSiGHT Photography & Video donate their time and the use of their equipment,” says Good.  “They see a value in having us promote them.  They want to be part of the party.”

As a major political center, Sacramento is a connections town, and the chapter’s reach has been spreading exponentially.  In the last few months potential sponsors have started coming to us and offering support, instead of the chapter leaders going begging to them.

“We are getting more interest in cash sponsorship,” Good reports.  “The Sacramento Business Journal sponsored our June 16 Facebook for Business workshop and a major telecommunications company has expressed interest in sponsoring our September workshop.”

Inbound marketing gets the word out

Social Media Club Sacramento practices what it preaches, relying entirely on inbound marketing and networking to promote events.  The chapter has a Facebook page and LinkedIn group, and does lots and lots of tweeting.  The only e-mail list is the accumulated database of past registrants on Eventbrite, who get notified of each new event.

The group is also forming relationships with other local organizations and engaging in cross-marketing with them.  They hosted a joint Christmas party with Sacramento’s very active SacTweetUp group, and partnered with the California Museum on an event featuring Anupam Chander, a U.C. Davis professor who spoke about the role social media played in the recent upheavals in the Middle East.  And the upcoming October meeting—themed “Social Media Horror Stories” in keeping with the Halloween season—will be held in conjunction with the local chapter of the American Marketing Association.

The chapter is also looking to tap into the region’s agricultural business community.  People tend to associate California with the technology and entertainment sectors, but agriculture is actually California’s leading industry—even if you don’t count the top crop, marijuana!  Sacramento sits atop some of the richest soil on the planet, in the middle of a farm region that produces a hugely disproportionate amount of the world’s food.

The agricultural community hasn’t been much in evidence at Social Media Club Sacramento meetings to date, so the chapter is reaching out to it.  An event early next year will focus on the use of social media in the agricultural business.

The right structure is one that works

The chapter leaders also exploit the power of social media for intra-group communication and collaboration.   Google Groups was the initial platform, but the leaders didn’t like the changes Google made to the application.  They switched to a private Facebook group through which they communicate and collaborate, sharing documents and information.

Social Media Club Sacramento initially modeled itself on the Boston chapter as suggested in Social Media Club’s “How to Create a Chapter” guidelines, but the structure didn’t work:  One or two people were doing most of the work.  The leaders recently reorganized, creating three functional teams:  

  •  Promotions—responsible for promoting meetings, disseminating information, creating media alerts, and interfacing with the local news media.
  •  Production—produces the events, finding venues, sponsors, moderators and speakers, and handles any setup or tear down.
  •  Administration—the president and vice president, who oversee all activities, recruit Social Media Club members and leadership team members and look for partnerships.

 

The leadership team currently has 13 people—8 of whom have been onboard 6 months or less.  The team lost 7 members over the same 6-month period due to changing work situations and life priorities.  The president and vice president are leader/manager roles, while the other positions are more task-oriented.  Once the group becomes an Official Chapter, treasurer and secretary offices will be added.

 

Advice to other chapters:

 

  •  Always be recruiting for the leadership team.  The deeper it is, the less dependent you are on one or two people.  And don’t just look for social media and marketing types—you need people who know how to do event planning and who are well-connected in the community too!
  •  Create an annual event calendar for planning purposes.  Having a target date with a proposed  topic will motivate the team to do what it takes to get the event done.  Have the next 4 to 6 events in some stage of planning at all times.
  • Meeting the same day each month helps establish the club with its constituents.  Look at a matrix of regular business organization meetings in your area and avoid conflicts as much as possible.
  • It can be hard to get all the leaders together at the same time, so augment face-to-face planning meetings and conference calls with collaborative tools like Facebook Groups and Google Docs.  Information is shared more effectively and decisions get made faster.
  • Even with collaboration tools, it’s important for the leadership team to connect face-to-face about once a month for team building and idea generating purposes.
  • Reach out to local media—they are interested in what is going on with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  You can become their source of information on the subject of social media.
  • Live-stream your events.  It increases your “attendance” and gives you a library of archived content.
  • Live-tweet your events, and use the same hashtag regardless of the topic (Sacramento’s is #smcsac).  This helps generate more buzz about your club throughout the community.