Planning Pays off Big in Evansville
Population-wise, Evansville, Ind., is not a big area—130,000 within the city limits and some 350,000 in the
whole metropolitan region. So on a per-capita basis, what Social Media Club Evansville has achieved is truly amazing.
Some social media clubs get going when a couple of local social media enthusiasts decide to throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks. Social Media Club Evansville took the opposite approach when interactive media professional Tim Piazza formed a steering committee of ten diverse professionals who met and carefully planned the February 2010 chapter launch.
Of course, the initial committee followed the typical 80-20 rule: The majority dropped away as the realities of the time commitment sunk in, and a small fraction of the members ended up doing the lion’s share of the work. But a revamped steering committee of committed individuals now has its own monthly meeting—a non-virtual, face-to-face, brown-bag-lunch meeting—to plan the chapter meetings.
“We tried to have virtual meetings, but it just doesn’t work,” states Dana M. Nelson, chapter co-chair. “We have a private group for communicating and collaborating between meetings, but we have to meet face to face.” The steering committee shoots for having the programs planned four 4-5 months out, with backup programs for emergencies.
This very organized approach is in keeping with the local culture, since Evansville, Ind., is a very together kind of place. The city of Evansville sits at a loop in the mighty Ohio River near the southern tip of the state, and is both a county seat and the hub of the Illinois-Indiana-Kentucky tri-state area.
Social Media Bragging Rights
Often referred to as “River City,” Evansville boasts Indiana’s first riverboat casino and two universities,
and has landed at or near the top of several recent best-U.S.-cities-to-live-in lists. And the city can now brag about having one of the best social media clubs, too.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though.
“Probably the biggest mistake we made was not immediately replacing steering committee members who weren’t stepping up to the plate,” states Nelson. “Now it’s fish or cut bait—we replace people right away.”
The steering committee is now able to plan meeting programs several months in advance, which has made “a huge difference” in the turnout at the chapter meetings, Nelson says.
Social Media Club Evansville provides all these programs for free; there are no chapter dues or admission fees. Members are encouraged to become paid members of the parent Social Media Club, and steering committee members are required to do so. The chapter also recruits local businesses to join at the corporate level.
Meeting Location and Format
The steering committee meets for lunch on the first Monday of the month, and the chapter meetings are the third Monday in the evening. The meetings run from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., starting with networking and club or member announcements, and a formal program that begins at 6:30.
The regular Social Media Club Evansville meetings are held at Rira, an Irish pub that has a stage, screen, and microphone in an upstairs room that is closed off for the club events. Usually the refreshments are Dutch treat, although interest from prospective sponsors is starting to pick up.
The meetings have attracted up to 120 attendees, but 35-40 is more typical. And Social Media Club Evansville hasn’t missed a monthly meeting yet—even the ones that fall on holidays or during terrible weather.
Social media guru Jason Falls came up from Louisville, Ky., to talk to the chapter on Presidents’ Day this year. And one of the chapter’s best-attended events occurred during a fierce ice storm, when the temperature dropped to -2 F. People still packed the facility to hear Erik Deckers, who co-authored Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy and helped Lacy write Twitter Marketing for Dummies. Deckers drove through the storm from Indianapolis, and Lacy came along to introduce him.
“Sweetups,” Hashtags, and Training Events
Social Media Club Evansville makes heavy use of Twitter and has its own Tweetup—affectionately called a SWeetup to indicate its geographical location in the southwestern part of the state. The moniker also fits the favored location of the gatherings—Grand Traverse Pie Company, a pie shop.
One of Evansville’s biggest social media claims to fame is its #tristatewx weather hashtag for Twitter. According to the National Weather Service, Evansville is the only metropolitan area that has a specific hashtag for local weather. Though not the originator of the hashtag, Social Media Club Evansville held a meeting commemorating its first anniversary. The event included a panel featuring representatives of the three TV stations that have local weather broadcasts. They were joined by a reporter from the local paper; a citizen journalist; and a representative of the National Weather Service.
“The stations all agreed to use this same hashtag, and they all came together on the panel,” recalls Nelson. “When it comes to severe weather, they decided, it’s not about competing for viewers, but rather about making sure viewers are safe.”
Ordinarily fiercely competitive, the different weather programs have only come together three times: Once to get a Doppler Radar Site for Evansville, once during a particularly devastating tornado, and for this event. Leveraging the success of #tristatewx, Social Media Club Evansville started a road conditions hashtag, #tristateroads, which instantly took off.
The club also stages training events focusing on specific social media platforms, including WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter. Provided for free as a service to the community—and as a promotion to build membership—they are held in meeting rooms at the local libraries, which have WiFi access for laptops. “We fill the rooms,” reports Nelson.
Chapter and Event Promotion
Social Media Club Evansville has a great web site, thanks to the efforts of steering committee member Andrew Epperson, a web developer at Lieberman Technologies. “He’s amazing,” interjects Nelson. Epperson, along with Piazza and Nelson, are the only three surviving members of the founding committee.
Club events are promoted via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. Additionally, Nelson plugs the meetings in “Social Connection”, a spot she has on a local TV station, and in various book reviews and other blogs she has written. The chapter leaders also seek cross-promotions with other local business organizations.
Nelson and the other Social Media Club Evansville leaders are themselves committed practitioners of social media. “People have to tweet me to tell me to check my e-mail,” Nelson laughs. Members of the steering committee are particularly active with Blog Indiana, and they promote the chapter through those connections.
Advice to New Chapters:
- Form a steering committee first, and have it meet regularly.
- All members of the steering committee should be actively using social media themselves.
- Don’t limit the steering committee to media professionals or people who are already proficient in social media; you need people with other business skills, and connections pointing in all directions.
- The chapter leaders should all be actively pursuing connections with traditional media and with high-profile people in the community.
- And don’t be afraid to ask for help from those connections.
“Also, don’t promote just your own events,” advises Nelson. “Promote other events going on in the community, like blood drives, and social media classes other organizations are doing. Be a valuable asset to your community in that way, and more people in your community will want to participate in your club.”