Social Media Club Atlanta: Rebuilding on a stronger foundation


The great metropolis of Atlanta, torched to the ground by Sherman in 1864, is the iconic American rebirth story.  You can rise from the ashes and build something much bigger and stronger.

Social Media Club Atlanta is now resurrecting itself, although it was felled by a structural flaw rather than an outside force.  And many Social Media Club chapters seem to be teetering on the same type of shaky foundation:  A couple of people do most of the leadership work, and when they move away or face increasing business demands or simply burn out, the chapter has no fallback resources.

The Atlanta chapter was founded 2008 and initially experienced runaway success, fueled by intense interest in the new social media phenomenon.  It was almost too easy.

“The two co-founders did have some kind of loose committee around them, but in fact they did most of the work,” recalls Kellye Crane, a PR and social media professional who chairs Social Media Club Atlanta’s steering committee.  “Then both leaders became extremely busy with new opportunities in late 2009, and the organization went into a lull.”

Rebirth

This left a major U.S. metropolitan area—one with a big presence in the information technology and telecommunications industries—without an active Social Media Club chapter, so parent organization co-founder Kristie Wells reached out.  In mid-2010, Wells posted an appeal on Atlanta’s Facebook Group, asking who would be interested in helping to jump-start the flagging chapter.  Some 20 people responded, and Social Media Club Atlanta began forming a new leadership core.

The new leaders promoted the chapter at Social Media Atlanta 2010 (now Digital Atlanta) Nov. 8-10, and the club resumed hosting regular events in January of 2011.  The January 2011 event focused on using social media based sweepstakes and contests to promote brands, and featured experts in contest management who could discuss actual experiences, potential pitfalls, and legal considerations.

“The room we had reserved had a capacity of 40, and about 100 showed up,” recalls Crane.  “It was a great success.  Once you are on the radar as an organization, people are eager to see what you are going to do next.  And people were just ready to come to another Social Media Club event.”

Vitrue, a local agency and developer of social media publishing software, sponsored the January meeting.  They wanted to gain some visibility, and they were also looking for candidates for some job openings.

“Securing sponsorships is something we still have a lot to learn about,” admits Crane.  “We still have our training wheels on.  But Atlanta is fertile ground.  It has a lot of startups, and we’re pursuing all of them.  Sponsors want numbers, and we are just starting to have a track record for delivering a decent-sized audience.”  

Building momentum and redundancy

Taking care to avoid biting off more than they could chew, the leadership is not attempting monthly meetings yet.  The second event was in March, and used the Ignite presentation format in which a series of speakers make short, rapid-fire presentations on a variety of topics.

“It was billed as an experiment, and we weren’t sure it would work,” says Crane.  “But all the speakers did a great job, and it was very successful.”

The next event, slated for June 22, will look at “The Intersection of Social and Local.” Social Media Club Atlanta is considering events in different parts of the city, and perhaps some lunch-and-learn workshops.

“First we want to maintain our momentum, and establish some stability,” states Crane.  “We’re still trying to get our full army of volunteers organized, with the right mix of expertise to leverage.”

The new leadership has suffered the attrition typical of most new all-volunteer groups, as people come up against the realities of the time commitment they must make.

Upon its rebirth the chapter had 10-12 people on its leadership team, and the subsequent turnover has been approximately 50%.  

“But in the process we are finding out who the really capable and committed people are,” Crane explains.

Initially, Social Media Club Atlanta used the chapter-organization guidelines on the parent Social Media Club site and set up committees accordingly.  Crane was in charge of finding sponsors.

However, the Atlanta chapter leaders realized they needed a chair to oversee everything, and “I drew the short straw,” jokes Crane.  “We’ve found that it’s difficult for the chair to also manage a sub committee,  so we’re tapping others to help with  sponsor recruitment, which was originally my responsibility.”

Meeting venues and formats

Pubs and restaurants are the ideal meeting places, because in Atlanta “there is an expectation that evening meetings will be held in places where alcohol is served,” Crane says.  Also, attendees can buy their own drinks and food, or—ideally—use sponsor-supplied vouchers, so the chapter doesn’t have to provide refreshments.  The official meeting time is 6:00 to 8:30 p.m., with networking for the first 60 minutes and a formal program that starts at 7 p.m.  However, people start gathering as early as 5:30 p.m. for informal networking. 

The first two meetings were at the same locale—Manuel’s Tavern, a well-known pub near the city center that doesn’t require a deposit or have a minimum-spend requirement.  There are private rooms with projection screens, and chapter members supplied a projector and laptop.

However, Atlanta is a far-flung metropolis, with important business and industry centers in outlying areas, and a lot of rush-hour traffic.  The chapter plans to move the meetings around a little to spread the commute burden out.

Atlanta has a lot of professional organizations that are providing some good social media events.  Social Media Club Atlanta takes a more casual approach to its meetings, which is reflected in the venues, dress, and overall attitude.

“We watch what the other groups are doing, and try to identify topics no one else is covering,” says Crane.  The chapter isn’t doing any cross-marketing with these groups yet, but the chapter leaders are well-connected folks, with ties to most of them.

Promotion and membership

A lot of the active members of Social Media Club Atlanta are digital media professionals, such as programming committee chair Brian Rudolph from Atlanta based Coca-Cola Company.  There are also a lot of people representing small businesses and mom-and-pop shops.  One such couple even drove 3 hours to get to the March meeting, Crane recalls.

Social Media Club Atlanta does have the minimum number of paid Professional members registered with parent Social Media Club, and is in the process of formalizing its Official Chapter status.  Since the beginning of the year, the group has more than doubled the number of registered Social Media Club members affiliated with the Atlanta chapter.

The key reason for this success:  The membership committee chair and promotions committee co-chair, Candace McCaffrey, has made promotion of on-the-spot membership registration a priority in club-related communications.  For example, e-mail blasts include a membership pitch and a link to the Social Media Club registration page.  The leadership also put together a Twitter contest to promote membership.  Followers who registered and affiliated with the Atlanta chapter became eligible for a prize:  a free ticket to a local social media event.

Additionally, the team has a volunteer sit at the sign-in table at each meeting, and attendees are encouraged to register on the spot.  Since Social Media Club has a free-registration option, there is no reason for them not to, Crane observes.

Social Media Club Atlanta uses Eventbrite to pre-register people for meetings.  These sign-ups are exported to the chapter’s iContact e-mail list, which is used to send out meeting announcements.  The club is also promoted through its Facebook business page, which has more than 400 fans.

“But a lot of the club’s promotion is word of mouth, through the personal networks of the leadership team,” Crane concludes.

Advice to other chapters:

  •  You need a larger core group of leaders than you may think, because there will be a lot of churn.  Without backup, a large team and a deep bench, things can come crashing down when a key person leaves.
  •  Assign an overall chair who can keep an eye on all the moving parts.  It’s best if that person has no other duties.
  • Things don’t have to be perfect.  If you provide great content, your community will be forgiving of minor snafus.
  • Your leadership should represent a broad range of businesses and organizations, with collective reach into other local business groups.