SMC France chooses quality over quantity with invitation-only membership


In heaven—so goes an old joke told at international business meetings—the policemen are British, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, the technology is German, and it’s organized by the Swiss.  In hell, the policeman are German, the cooks are British, the lovers are Swiss, the technology is German, and it’s organized by the French.

All five countries can justifiably claim they are getting a bad rap with their hell roles, but the French don’t even bother.  They aren’t copping an attitude; they are the attitude.   The French simply have their own way of doing things, and it works.  Just ask the people living elsewhere, who have made France the top tourist destination in the world.

Social Media Club France is hardly one of the attractions, but it demonstrates the same kind of uniquely Gallic approach to things that has made France a trailblazer in fields ranging from fashion and cuisine to nuclear power and aerospace.  The founders of the national interclub looked at what early SMC chapters were doing, listened to advice from SMC leaders, duly considered all the input, and then came up with their own formula for success.

It all got started in 2005, when companies in France started trying to figure out to use social media or make a business out of it.  Club founder Pierre-Yves Platini was put in charge of social media strategy at international innovation agency faberNovel, where he was director of new business.

The company has offices in San Francisco, and Platini arranged to meet with Social Media Club founders Chris Feuer and Kristie Wells during a 2006 business trip there.  On his way home he visited with Social Media Club New York to get information from a chapter’s perspective.  The next step was founding Social Media Club France in 2007. 

Social Media Club France is a national interclub and legal entity that can serve as an umbrella organization for local chapters around France.  While somewhat Paris-centric, the interclub also holds regular meetings in Lille, Marseilles, Nantes and Rennes.  

NOT another networking opportunity

Unlike a lot of new chapters who are happy to fill the meeting venue with warm bodies, Social Media Club France went for a very targeted membership from the outset.  Attendance at the early meetings was by invitation only.  The initial focus was on the news media and academia, but that was eventually expanded to include people in the advertising, marketing, and PR fields; corporate social media professionals; and attorneys specializing in media law.   

“We didn’t want to start a club that people came to for networking,” explains Platini.  “There were already plenty of organizations providing networking opportunities. “  Platini had attended a lot of these meetings, and saw the same people everywhere—all with ulterior motives.

“We wanted Social Media Club France to provide high-quality content for professionals who came to discuss social media developments, not to promote their own businesses.”

Today the French interclub is still fairly closed by Social Media Club standards.  New people must be invited by existing members, and then go through an application process.  Prospects have to convince the membership that they can bring something significant to the club, and that they won’t abuse the privilege.

This filtering process has produced a club with 350 elected members.  Meetings are basically private sessions aimed at a sub-section of the membership that is interested in a specific topic.  These meetings are held every couple of weeks, usually in Paris, and attract about 20 people.  They typically feature two or three speakers, but the presentations are brief.

“The meetings are about sharing insights and experiences and best practices,” says Platini.  “The speakers are just there to get the discussion going, and to inject their expertise as needed.”  Recent topics include crowdfunding; social commerce; and finding private equity for social media startups.

SMC France’s closed sessions generally meet at La Cantine, a co-working space in Paris, and occasionally at nearby PayPal France.  They start at 7 p.m. and are free to members, with sponsors usually providing the refreshments.

“We try to get sponsors who commit to a year,” Platini says.  “We’ll take smaller contributions, but having those annual commitments lets you budget and plan a lot better.”

30 to 40 events per year

Social Media Club France serves the public by organizing monthly meetings and conferences that are open to everyone.  The open meetings have broader topics with more universal appeal, such as the use of Big Data; social ratings; and social media monetization.  

The club is also working with PayPal France on a research project focusing on social media monetization.  Two academics—an economist and a sociologist—have set up a one-year study, and SMC France organizes private working sessions on various topics.  Every three months, an open conference is held to publicize and discuss the findings.

The dates of the open events depend upon the availability of speakers and venues.  Attendees register in advance on Moxity, a French ticketing service oriented toward smaller events, and pay 10 euros to cover refreshments.  The venues typically accommodate 100 to 120 people, and the events usually sell out.

Between the closed and open meetings, the club is staging a staggering 30 to 40 events per year.  The organization behind this prodigious output includes a 5-member board elected for 2-year terms and a 12-member steering committee that turns over annually.

Social Media Club France and its events are promoted across multiple channels, including a website (socialmediaclub.fr), a Twitter account (@SMCFrance), a private Facebook group, and a public group on Viadeo.  The club also maintains two e-mail lists—one for members, and one for the open events.

Advice
to other chapters:

Part of Social Media Club’s charter is to serve as a model and resource for people who want to launch local chapters around France.  Drawing upon his experiences over the past five years, Platini offers suggestions to them and to chapter leaders everywhere.

  •  Differentiate your group with focus and quality.
  •  With events, define and focus on a specific topic and unique angle.  You have to be original, because there are a lot of groups already doing social media events.
  •  Since there are already plenty of events, you need to achieve a higher quality.  Most organizations can’t, and aim a lot lower. 
  • Don’t go it alone.  Collaborate with and thus leverage the rest of web ecosystem.
  • As soon as financially feasible, relieve the member social media professionals of some of the organizational overhead by hiring an administrative assistant to handle clerical tasks and help organize events.

Social Media Club France sets the bar quite high, and encourages local French chapters to follow suit.  “We want to make sure the quality brand we have established is maintained,” says Platini.