Social Media Meets the Aloha Culture in Hawaii


The island paradise of Hawaii rounded out the stars on the U.S. flag at 50 in 1960, and it remains the union’s most unique member.  Hawaii is the most ethnically and racially diverse state, the southernmost state, and the only state not part of the North American continent.  Globally, its islands, islets and atolls comprise the world’s longest island chain, and its Kilauea crater on Mauna Loa is the world’s most active volcano.

However, the standout feature for me and many other visitors is Hawaii’s Aloha phenomenon.  Aloha in the Hawaiian language means affection, love, peace, compassion and mercy, but you can’t really describe the Aloha culture.  You have to experience it.  It still permeates life even in Honolulu, the most cosmopolitan part of the state.

“The Aloha culture and geography combine to make Hawaii a particularly good fit for social media,” says Tara Coomans, president of Social Media Club Hawaii.  The Aloha culture is inherently social, and the water barriers between the inhabited islands make virtual connections particularly valuable.

Getting the chapter culture right

Social Media Club Hawaii was launched in October 2008 by board member and new-media professional Roxanne Darling, in conjunction with a PodCamp unconference held at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.  Coomans credits Darling with establishing the chapter’s culture—“a very opening and welcoming environment that embraces people at all levels of social media involvement. 

Darling opted for a statewide chapter, which at first glance seems a bit counter-intuitive.  After all, people who don’t live on Oahu have to come from other islands to attend chapter meetings, and there are no bridges.  However, no other state has so much of its population and business and government activity concentrated in a single city.  Honolulu grew up around one of the world’s greatest natural harbors, and nearly two-thirds of the state’s people live inside the city limits.

“Instead of forming a Honolulu chapter, the founders wanted to include the other islands and share resources with them,” explains Coomans.  “However, that doesn’t preclude people from other islands having their own community meetings.  We welcome such activities.”

The meetings do draw people from the other islands, who often come to Honolulu on other business.  In fact, people from outside of Oahu accounted for the biggest part of Social Media Club Hawaii’s membership growth this year, by far, Coomans reports.

“Also, the good thing about social media is that you can meet without meeting face to face.  Beyond business, we all have friends and family on the other islands, so social media is a great asset for us.” 

Surmounting brick-and-mortar barriers 

Virtual connections and virtual meetings—including live-streamed event access—provide a lot of Social Media Club Hawaii’s cohesiveness, since the chapter currently limits its face-to-face meetings to a quarterly schedule.   

“We still have some challenges with resources,” Coomans acknowledges.  Hotels and other public facilities are geared toward tourism, which accounts for more than two-thirds of Hawaii’s economy.  Consequently, meeting space is at a real premium, and the chapter has to pay for it.  Also, the hotels are relatively hard for locals to get to, and parking is very expensive. 

The chapter now uses the Cupula Theatre for its meetings, which typically attract 50 to 75 people.  The Cupola Theatre provides a non-profit rate and the remainder is subsidized by an event sponsor. The facility is part of the Honolulu Design Center, which includes a wine bar and café where attendees can buy their own beverages and food. 

“The theater has everything we need, and the space itself has great energy that encourages mixing,” says Coomans.  “It’s the perfect setup for casual presentations—not so much a classroom as a place you want to be, with couches and high tops. In the local culture, people don’t like to get up in front of a group and ask questions, and this space seems to help them get past that.”

Social Media Club Hawaii provides additional help by using a simple group tool:  a colored-card system.  Attendees each get a set of cards, and the different colors represent different signals.  For example, holding up a green card means you agree with what has been said, while a yellow card means you have a question. 

“We have a lot of new people at each event, and this is a way for them to engage without feeling threatened,” Coomans notes.  “It’s a really great way to work a group in which people don’t know each other very well.” 

The next meeting of Social Media Club Hawaii is February 21 at 6 p.m. 

Training and outreach 

In between the quarterly meetings, Social Media Club Hawaii holds some virtual events for the social media professionals, and supports third-party events that focus on social media.  The chapter helps to plan, promote, and provide speakers for such events as Hawaii Social Media Summit and Pubcon Paradise. “These events give our professional members speaking opportunities, and increase the visibility and credibility of our chapter,” says Coomans.

The online training sessions are somewhat more frequent. 

“We pick a topic that needs our attention, and we discuss it at a higher level than we can at a general meeting,” explains Coomans explains.  Such topics range from sales training for consultants to very technical how-to-use-Facebook-applications discussions. 

The chapter leadership is drawn from this professional segment of the membership, which also accounts for 33 Professional-level members of the parent Social Media Club.   Interestingly, the chapter’s social media professionals consist almost entirely of independent consultants; PR and ad agencies are notably absent.  

Hawaii doesn’t have many large corporations, so small businesses make up most of the rest of the membership.  There is also a government presence—Honolulu is the state capital, and Oahu is host to some major military bases.

Generating synergies with multichannel marketing

Chapter leaders use both traditional and social media marketing to promote membership and events.

Twitter (hashtag #SMCHI) and Facebook are the main marketing channels, and members are making increasing use of two LinkedIn groups—an open one for everyone, and a closed one for chapter’s social media professionals.  “We are starting to use Google+, too,” adds Coomans.  “We love the Google+ Hangouts—we have used them to hold board meetings.”

The chapter has also built an e-mail list with more than 900 names, and submits events to the local newpapers.  “Ninety-nine percent of our communications are social-network-based, but e-mail is still significant,” states Coomans.  

Social Media Club Hawaii uses Eventbrite.com to pre-register people for its meetings, and hasn’t been charging for them.

“That may change in 2012,” Coomans reports.  “Initially we set meetings up as open and free to encourage attendance.  But we provide higher quality events now, and charging for them would help cover costs such as live streaming, which is particularly important to our members on neighbor islands. Also, you get fewer no-shows when people have to pay to register.  If we do start charging, we may make free attendance a benefit of Professional-level membership in the parent Social Media Club.”

Advice to other chapters

  • Communicate regularly, with communications targeted at social media professionals and at the community at large.  And do build an e-mail list to augment your social media marketing—they are very synergistic.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask key leaders in your community to participate.  People like to be asked directly; it makes them feel special about their involvement.  They love to think that what they have to contribute is valued.
  • Create paths to your community—do that first.  This social infrastructure will let your chapter respond quickly to community needs.  For example, Social Media Club Hawaii was scheduled to discuss analytics at a pending meeting when there was a sudden Tsunami warning.  The topic was changed to using social media for disaster information and relief.
  • Your local needs may be unique, so have some topics specific to your community.  Define what’s important locally, and find that local personality, that voice.
  • Make it easy for people to participate and volunteer at whatever level they are able.  Really articulate what you need help with and don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Constantly monitor your membership’s changing needs, and evolve your chapter accordingly.  Keep in mind that people’s jobs take precedence.  As more people with day jobs joined Social Media Club Hawaii, the chapter had to move the conference calls for professionals to the evenings.    
  • Not everything is perfect all the time, and that’s okay.  Let go of the control issues and allow things to flow a bit, and your club can flourish.  Keep the main goal in sight:  raising your community’s awareness of social media and what it can do for business.

“Emulate the Aloha culture a bit:  If you get it, share it, always with Aloha,” sums up Coomans.  “Aloha is a living, breathing belief that will help your club to grow and attract more community support.  And above all, give it some time.  Don’t be frustrated by a lack of immediate results.”

[Image Credit: Roxanne Darling