Texas is bigger than most of the globe’s nations, with a scale that makes the 30-odd miles between Dallas and Fort Worth seem almost meaningless. The two cities actually form one contiguous metropolitan area that shares one of the world’s biggest and busiest airports. So Stephanie Scott was a little startled when leaders of Social Media Club Dallas flatly rejected her suggestion that the chapter hold some of its events in Fort Worth.
“Start your own chapter in Fort Worth,” they told her. After a bit of reflection, she did just that.
Scott joined forces with fellow social media professional Corey Lark, and they launched Social Media Club Fort Worth in July of 2010.
Lark was already pulling Scott and some other local social media power users into a monthly happy hour gathering where they could brainstorm and share ideas. This informal mastermind group was absorbed into Social Media Club Fort Worth, and became the basis of tweetups that augment the group’s formal meetings.
“We generally have two meetings a month—one of the tweetups, and a more formal meeting with a speaker or panel,” explains Lark. “There is no set day of the month for either, so that the chapter can accommodate different schedules.”
Leveraging local contacts
The chapter leaders leverage their local contacts to come up with speakers, and keep an eye out for social media gurus who come to town on book tours or other business. The March meeting featured Jonathan Pierce, director of social media at American Airlines, and the May headliner is Kevin Newsum, a local community director for Yelp.com.
One of their best meetings to date was last August, when more than 80 people turned out to hear Chris Baccus, executive director of digital and social media at AT&T, talk about mobile social media. AT&T sponsored the event, held at the Fort Worth Club, and company representatives were on hand to let attendees play with all the latest gadgets.
“It was very interactive, with great refreshments and plenty of space to mingle,” recalls Scott.
Social Media Club Fort Worth is looking for more corporate sponsors to host similar meetings. Meanwhile, most of the formal meetings, like the tweetups, are held in bar-type venues.
Bartering expertise for venues
The chapter leaders have had a lot of success bartering the group’s collective expertise for meeting space and refreshments. They find new bars and restaurants and offer to help them generate some social media buzz for their businesses.
“We help get the word out, and the attendees usually buy more food and drinks before or after the meetings,” says Lark. “If you are good to your venues, they will want you back. Ours do.”
Interestingly, it is the informal tweetup meetings that attract most of the new members—perhaps because people find them less intimidating. Once a quarter, one of the tweetups is replaced with a “crowdsourced event” that is driven entirely by attendee questions. People sit in a circle and have a conversation, guided by moderators. Sometimes there is a set topic—the last one focused on monitoring and analytics—and sometimes there isn’t.
Attendance at most meetings ranges from 40 to 60 people, who comprise a diverse group. There are in-house social media professionals from big companies, agency types, people who work for non-profits, and even representatives of the local museums and opera. Small businesses are in the minority, and tend to be attracted primarily to the very informational events.
Social Media Club Fort Worth takes a cross-channel approach to marketing. Meetings are promoted via a MailChimp e-mail list, Facebook, Twitter (@SMCFortWorth, #SMCFW), and the chapter’s website. These channels drive people to an Eventbrite page where they can pre-register. The tweetups are free, but the chapter charges $10 to $20 for the formal meetings.
The fee amount depends on what it includes, such as beverages, food, a copy of the speaker’s book, etc. Money left over after paying the event costs is being used to buy audiovisual equipment and other supplies, so the chapter leaders don’t have to scramble around borrowing and begging for things.
Scott and Lark initially did most of the organizational work themselves, but it quickly got to be too much. They are now part of a leadership team of nine people who meet the first Monday of each month to deal with club business and plan upcoming events. Team roles include a secretary, a treasurer, and a committee that pursues sponsors.
“But mostly, everyone just pitches in,” reports Lark. “It’s important to have a team of people with the same mission and vision, to provide a sustainable foundation. You don’t want to have too much riding on one or two people.”
Other advice to chapters:
- Vary the topic, venue, and target audience to accommodate more people and keep members more engaged.
- Establish organizational protocols covering the tools you are using, how your e-mail list will be built/maintained/used, how money will be handled, etc. You need that structure to support growth.
- Practice what you preach: Use social media to find and connect with potential speakers and opportunities.
- Tweeting really works. Create a hashtag members can use to continue the meeting conversations.
- Stay focused. Don’t splinter up by creating more social forums than you and your team can manage.
- Plan events as far ahead as is practical, and don’t serve too much alcohol at them.
- Avoid becoming a clique of social media professionals. Always welcome in new people.
“Be a community of learning,” concludes Lark. “Our chapter does have a core of expert social media types, and seeing this creative community emerge has been one of the most exciting aspects of our whole social media club experience. We knew the potential was out there, and we helped bring together a whole that is worth a lot more than the sum of its parts.”
Image Credit: SMC Ft. Worth