SMC Savannah: Where History Meets the 21st Century

Historic Savannah, founded in 1733 as Georgia’s first city, is associated mostly with the past.  Tourists

flock to this “Hostess City of the South” to see what has been called the nation’s largest historical district.  

That this graceful historic gem has enthusiastically embraced the quintessentially 21st Century social media phenomenon is a testament to the adaptability of the city, or of social media, or both.

Social Media Club Savannah was founded in September of 2009 by Sloane Kelley, interactive strategy director at BFG Communications, with the help of some colleagues in the digital marketing arena.  The chapter meets in Seed Eco Lounge, a “green” bar in the midst of Savannah’s famous historic district.

“The lounge specializes in drinks made through sustainable processes and has furnishings made from reclaimed and/or recyclable materials,” says Kelley.  “So it sort of provides a bridge between old and new with its up-to-date A/V and WiFi facilities and its commitment to preservation.”


Small but motivated

The group started off small, but very strong and motivated.  By the summer of 2010 the chapter was ready to produce a Social Media Summer Camp geared toward social media novices.  Individual “camp” sessions were dedicated to specific platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.  The camp was extremely popular, eliciting a great response from the Savannah business community.  

Regular Social Media Club Savannah meetings are on the third Monday of the month, supported by a core group of a dozen people who are very active and very passionate about promoting social media applications and best practices.  They are joined each month by another 10 to 50 people who turn out for that particular meeting’s agenda.

Some meetings are informal user-group sessions with the focus on networking, peer support and problem solving.  Other meetings have a set topic and a speaker or workshop.

 The Feb. 21, 2011 meeting, for example, is taking a deeper dive into Facebook with a program entitled “I Have My Facebook Page—Now What?”  This session is being taught by Ian Leslie, a content development specialist who is one of the moving forces behind Fuse 843, a non-profit and networking group aimed at fostering a growing creative community across the border from Savannah in Beaufort County, S.C. 

The attendees are mostly proprietors of small businesses who are trying to figure out what they should be doing with social media.  Students make up a smaller and more fluctuating group.  Tourism is a big part of Savannah’s economy, so there is also a lot of participation by people from the Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau and the hospitality industry.


Organization:  Still informal

Kelley and about half of the core group are digital marketing professionals who live and breathe social media every day.  The other half are businesspeople of various types who are very passionate about the way that social media is transforming business. 

Like many Social Media Club chapters at this early stage of development, the chapter’s organization is informal.  Duties are shared among three of the core members:  Kelley and two of her BFG Communications colleagues.  Kelley is the founder and chairman; Hal Thomas handles a lot of the promotion and content gathering and creation; and Kevin Thompson is in charge of venue relations and finding sponsors to provide refreshments that augment the cash-bar arrangement with the Seed Eco Lounge.

Social Media Club Savannah has no chapter dues and doesn’t charge at the door for meetings.  “That model doesn’t work very well in Savannah,” remarks Kelley.  Instead, the club seeks out sponsors.  To date the main ones include Seed Eco Lounge and Kelley’s own company, BFG Communications, which has donated some design work, printing, and other services.

The club does encourage members to join the parent Social Media Club at the Professional level, and is working toward getting enough paid members to achieve Official Chapter status.  


Promotion:  Walking the (social media) walk

The chapter leaders don’t maintain an e-mail list or do e-mail blasts to announce meetings or otherwise promote the club.  Rather, they rely on social media—primarily a Facebook page and a Twitter account (@SMCSavannah)—for such promotions.

The social networks are augmented by the traditional grassroots networks of the members.  The club leverages Creative Coast, a local group that publishes an aggregated events calendar, and a number of organization-specific calendars.

“We post event announcements through these groups, and they help to get the word out,” reports Kelley. 

Despite these successes, driving awareness of the group remains the chapter’s biggest challenge.  One tactic is to partner with organizations that staging their own events.

For example, each November Kelley herself puts on a Geekend conference for digital creative types, and now involves the Social Media Club Savannah in it.  This past November Geekend featured keynote addresses by UnMarketing President Scott Stratten and Twitpic founder Noah Everett.

“The speakers are from all over the world, and about half the attendees are from outside the region, so the club got a lot of publicity through it,” says Kelley.  “We did a preview event this year and the press came out for it.”  In fact, the local media will now show up at some of the chapter’s events unbidden, after hearing about them through the grapevine. 

Social Media Club Savannah also sponsored an event in conjunction with O’Reilly’s inaugural Global Ignite Week in 2010.  Similar to speed dating, the Global Ignite format allots 5 minutes and 20 slides (advancing automatically every 15 seconds) to each speaker for the purpose of sharing ideas.  The Savannah area added nine speakers to the Global Ignite mix.

Advice to new chapters

  •  Reach out to local business groups, schools, etc.  Those organizations have been really helpful.  
  •  Watch your assumptions.  We didn’t think the tourist-type groups would be very useful, but they’ve been a huge  area for us.
  •   Get the word out by tapping into all the local calendars.  It means some extra leg work, but it pays off.  
  •   Reach out to the membership regularly.  We crowdsource the program content of future meetings by asking for  suggestions on Facebook.  We encourage them to share their hot buttons and key issues with us.