SMC New Hampshire: A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

If you are struggling with your Social Media Club chapter after some early success, take heart: False starts are a recurring theme as I talk to clubs around the globe.

Social Media Club New Hampshire is one of the latest Phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes stories. The chapter was reinvigorated in November 2010 after a lull of about four months, recharging itself with an updated website and refocused meetings.

The change came after the previous chapter president suddenly took a job in Washington, D.C., and left the state.  He had been driving
the club, and it took some time for the new leader, Jason Boucher, to step into the void and come up with a new plan.

“We are focusing more on speakers and education at our meetings now,” Boucher says.   In its initial incarnation the club had focused on best practices and standards, and was trying to provide a public service by helping local non-profits get going with social media and Internet marketing.  

“The idea was to help them build or change websites, establish a social media presence, and get social media campaigns going,” Boucher recalls.  It was very ambitious, and the chapter struggled to get member volunteers with the right mix of skills together at once.  “We still want to provide this service, but it’s on the back burner while we regroup and rebuild our core membership.  Then we would like to make one of these ‘design-a-thons’ an annual project.”

Dealing with geography

Boucher also set up a monthly meeting schedule that accommodates New Hampshire’s somewhat unique population distribution. It is the nation’s seventh-smallest state, geographically, with a population that is concentrated along the southern border with Massachusetts, where it functions partly as a state-tax-free Boston suburb/exurb.

Boucher is based in Portsmouth, as was his predecessor. The city is situated along New Hampshire’s seven miles of Atlantic seafront (known as the “e-Coast” because of its high-tech focus) and is 40 minutes by train from Boston. Previously, the meetings tended to be in Portsmouth, but now they rotate regularly among Portsmouth, the state capital of Concord, and Manchester, the state’s largest city.       

“We held our first new-era meeting in Manchester,” reports Boucher.  “About 45 showed up, and we got positive feedback about not making the local people drive to Portsmouth all the time.”       

Experience has shown that Thursday evenings get the best turnout in New Hampshire, so the club meets on either the first or last Thursday of the month.  The next meeting is back in Manchester, on May 5, at the downtown Radisson Hotel, which is donating the space and WiFi connection.

Sponsors:  Piece it together 

The chapter meets at a local hotel or conference center, or at a facility donated by a sponsor.  Boucher is an IT specialist at the University of New Hampshire in Portsmouth-adjacent Durham, and some of the meetings use campus facilities.

Such sponsor support is critical, since there are no chapter dues.

“We don’t have a lot of big-sponsor candidates in the area, so we piece together our support.  We often get the meeting space from one sponsor, and the A/V equipment loan or rental from a second one, and the refreshments from a third.”

The chapter leaders put out sponsor requests on Facebook and Twitter, asking members for recommendations, and then Boucher follows up.  Sponsor logos are put on the club’s web site and/or the Eventbrite invitations for the meetings.

Members and meetings 

Social Media Club New Hampshire has built up a mailing list of about 150 people, who get regular emails announcing meetings or other club-related activities.  The meetings are also publicized on the chapter’s web site and Facebook page and via Twitter.  Additionally, the Eventbrite invitations are designated public, so anyone who finds them can register.                                                                                   

The club membership is split among representatives of big companies, state employees, and small-business owners.  It includes professionals of all kinds, and Boucher reckons that about 40 percent are in media.

The club’s inaugural event was held in March 2010 and drew as many as 175 people, but that number included many who were simply curious or learning about social media for the first time.  Attendance is now in the 40-45 range, with a core of 15 regulars who come to almost every meeting, regardless of location.

Boucher is aided by marketer and social media enthusiast Brian DeKoning and social media consultant Sandra Rand.  DeKoning is one of the holdovers from the previous Social Media Club New Hampshire leadership, and his company, Vital Design, remains a sponsor of the group.  But Boucher—like his predecessor—is still doing the lion’s share of the work on top of his full time day job at the university.  Long-term, this is demonstrably untenable, so the plan is to form a formal board, with specific people in charge of specific tasks.

The meetings typically start at 6 p.m., with the first half hour devoted to networking and noshing. The formal meeting starts at 6:30, with individual introductions from the attendees, followed by announcements regarding club business, local social media events, and social media news in general.  Then there is a formal presentation by a speaker or speakers.

In March, Walter Elly—Foursquare co-founder, MicroArts whiz kid, and local tech star—headlined a meeting focused on location-based services.  

The May 5 meeting will feature presentations from innovation consulting firm Kalypso and The Manchester Monarchs, a local professional hockey team.  Amy Kenly, director of social media and analyst programs at Kalypso, will talk about personal and corporate brands and how they coexist.  Nicole Vailas, promotions & marketing manager for The Manchester Monarchs, is addressing the use of social media marketing in the professional sports world.

Advice to other chapters:

  • Keep every door open, and don’t assume too much. Help can come from unexpected places.
  • Branding is important, so don’t just use Facebook and Twitter.  Have a web site.
  • Find attendees’ followers, follow them, and let this extended social network know you are looking for speakers and sponsors.
  • Talk about the club to everyone.
  • Ask questions.  No one is a social media expert—it changes too fast.  We all need to learn constantly from others.
  • Don’t expect too much from volunteer commitment. You’ll get a lot of no-shows and no-deliveries, so be prepared to make adjustments on the fly.