What’s love got to do with it?
Quite a lot, when we’re talking about the fortunes of Social Media Club Salt Lake City. The chapter is benefiting from the considerable talents and experience of Next 140 co-owner John Hopkins (@johnrhopkins), and all because he chased a love interest—now his wife—to this unique Great Basin metropolis in 2009.
A co-founder of Virginia’s highly successful Social Media Club Richmond, Hopkins timed his visits to his then-fiancée to coincide with the Salt Lake City chapter’s monthly meetings. The club was floundering a bit after a very well received initial launch in January of 2009, and Hopkins figured he could transfer what he learned in Richmond to Salt Lake City.
“The Richmond club was doing some amazing things,” reports Hopkins.” “We were selling out all our events. It’s definitely a different dynamic here in Salt Lake City.”
When Hopkins stepped into the program director role for Social Media Club Salt Lake City, he quickly found what I have learned through writing this chapter news column: Things that work in one community don’t necessarily work in another.
Also, trying to run an organization staffed by nothing but volunteers is a lot like herding cats. Volunteers often underestimate the time commitment they are making, and life often gets in the way.
I can certainly relate to that. In this economy, when paying clients say “Jump,” I immediately respond, “How high?” I’ll even jump pretty high for prospective clients. But meanwhile club programs have to be planned, speakers and sponsors and meeting sites have to be procured, meetings have to be promoted, and membership lists have to be managed.
To this end, Hopkins has recruited new people into some of the leadership roles and is trying to restructure Social Media Club Salt Lake City’s organization.
“The structure here has been very hierarchical, with the Program Director at the top, and everyone looking to one person,” says Hopkins. “In contrast, the Richmond chapter’s structure was totally flat. I’d like to make that happen here.”
The leadership team now includes Hopkins as Program Director; a treasurer; and individuals in charge of sponsorship, membership, programming, and promotions.
Charging for Value
The club and its events are promoted through Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail blasts via MailChimp.com to a list that now numbers about 300. There was a chapter web site as well, but it was built with a lot of custom back-end programming, and was too difficult to maintain as the responsibilities for doing so changed hands a few times.
Social Media Club Salt Lake City holds its regular meetings on the third Thursday of the month. Originally they were all evening events, but Salt Lake City is a very family-oriented place, and too many people objected. The meetings now rotate among breakfast, lunch, and dinner events, and typically attract about 40 participants.
The meeting locations change from month to month, and might be in a restaurant or at a business that has agreed act as host. Admission was initially free, but now the club charges a fee.
“When things are free, there is a perception that they aren’t worth anything,” advises Hopkins. “Also, you can’t predict the size of an event, because when it’s free there tends to be a lot more no-shows from among the RSVPs.”
Social Media Club Salt Lake City uses EventBrite.com to pre-register people for the monthly meetings, typically charging $8 to $15 depending on the venue. The fee includes a meal that is sometimes subsidized by sponsor support, and promotional group rates are offered to help get people talking about the event.
Education is the key component
Small businesses and social media professionals make up the bulk of the membership, augmented by representatives of large enterprises, non-profits, and education. “We’re starting to see a lot of new faces,” reports Hopkins. “That’s good—you get an echo chamber effect if it’s the same people all the time.”
The chapter closed out 2010 with an “open mike night” meeting format. It morphed unexpectedly into a panel discussion featuring three power users the chapter leaders had seeded the audience with. The impromptu program was a great success.
More often, the meetings include a formal presentation. At a recent lunch meeting, for example, local LinkedIn guru Rick Galan (@RickGalan) showed attendees how to use LinkedIn for a lot more than job search. A few months ago there was a classroom-style meeting about WordPress. Hopkins would like to see Social Media Club Salt Lake City “break out of the echo chamber” and expand this educational component.
“We’d like to get the small businesses in here and help them to learn. And we want to stage a design-a-thon event, picking a local non-profit and putting together a social media presence and marketing/engagement strategy for it. We’d be giving back to the community while helping those contributing to build a professional name and reputation. And it’s newsworthy, so it can raise awareness of the club and what we are doing.”
A $50-per-plate Utah Social Media Awards banquet in November of 2009 also added to the club’s stature, while helping to fill its coffers. Entries were submitted online, and then judged by a panel from the club. The chapter would like to make it an annual event and get some big-name media professionals to serve as judges. “We don’t want to crowdsource the judging, because then it would just be a popularity contest,” Hopkins explains.
The club does crowdsource the program content of the meetings a bit, though, using the UserVoice.com platform.
Advice to new SMC chapters:
- Charge for every event. Don’t devalue your program content by giving it away for free.
- Promote every event to the max, using social media channels, e-mail, and local events calendars.
- Start events on time, and always deliver on what you say you are going to do.
- Keep talking the events up, and encourage the leadership team and the entire membership to do likewise.
- Make sure each person on the leadership team knows what his or her responsibilities are. If a particular job is too much for one individual, have two share that seat.
- Don’t put a lot of custom programming into the back end of web sites and other online components. As people come and go, it will get confusing. Keep it simple.
“And don’t assume you can use the path another chapter took to success as your roadmap,” sums up Hopkins. “The dynamics of the two groups may be very different.”