One complaint often heard about Los Angeles—the nation’s largest city, geographically, with 469 square miles just within the city limits—is that “there’s no there there.” This conundrum has plagued city planners as they attempt to herd people onto public transit, and it also challenges the organizers of Social Media Club chapters.
Sally Falkow can tell you all about it firsthand.
A long-time accredited PR professional, Falkow was an early adopter of social media and digital PR. In August of 2006 she heard about the first Social Media Club meeting, and traveled to San Jose to attend it. Fired up, she started the Los Angeles chapter upon her return.
“But it was very early in the social media area, and Los Angeles is so spread out that it is hard to get people to come to meetings,” Falkow recalls. “We were rotating meetings around to spread out the commuting burden, but it was difficult.”
After a couple of years the Los Angeles chapter settled on meeting on the west side of town, and Falkow was faced with a brutal commute from Pasadena, a community east of Los Angeles.
“It was just too hard to get to the meetings from the San Gabriel Valley,” acknowledges Falkow. “People in the area started suggesting that we form an east-side chapter, so we launched Social Media Club San Gabriel Valley about two years ago.”
Meetings: Brown-bagging it
Unlike most Social Media Club chapters, Social Media Club San Gabriel Valley meets at lunch time (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), on the second Thursday of the month. “We surveyed people, and the lunch-time meeting option was the overwhelming choice,” Falkow says. The meetings are free and people bring a brown-bag lunch.
The meetings now take place at the Los Angeles County Business Technology Center, an incubator for high tech startups, which “adopted” Social Media Club San Gabriel Valley about a year ago. The Center’s management agreed to give the chapter a home, and Falkow liked the facility so much that she moved her own business’s office there.
The meetings attract 30-50 attendees, with small-business owners predominating. In contrast, the leadership team is made up primarily of media types, including Falkow, web designer Jo Lilore, PR professional Rebecca Mikkelsen, marketing professional Paula Johnson, and HR recruiting professional Anne Weber.
“We do get some web consultants and social media, marketing, and PR professionals, but we made a conscious effort to attract regular business people when we started the group,” explains Falkow. “We’ve built up a good core group of people that attend regularly.”
Meeting content: Keeping people learning
Social Media Club San Gabriel Valley tries to plan the meeting speakers six months out. Members of the leadership team speak occasionally, and one of the best meetings featured Lilore explaining Facebook’s big redesign earlier this year. Outside speakers include Dana Chinn, a member of USC’s journalism faculty who talked to the chapter about social media metrics.
“We try to keep the topics new and interesting so people keep learning,” says Falkow. “We really focus on education—showing businesses how to exploit social media—and have attracted some really good speakers.”
In general, SMC San Gabriel Valley prefers individual speakers to panels. “We would rather give one person the entire time, to really show people about something and how to use it,” says Falkow. They do put together panels occasionally, however, and used one in January this year to discuss the future of journalism. The panel featured Chinn, renowned local mommy blogger Jessica Gottlieb, and PasadenaNow.com editor and publisher James McPherson.
The chapter and its events are promoted via a Facebook page and a LinkedIn Group. The chapter also maintains an e-mail list for meeting notifications, which the Center blasts out to its member list, too. The Center also posts the meeting schedule, and for really special events the chapter and Center send a joint press release to the local news media.
Organization: Flexibility vs. structure
The five-member leadership team is not all that structured, but the individual team members do wear certain hats: membership, speaker procurement, promotions, and posting content to social media sites.
“Rebecca Mikkelsen was doing the content posting, and doing it very effectively,” reports Falkow. “In fact, a lot of the chapter’s growth was due to her efforts. But she needed to step down when her business really picked up, and we are trying to find a replacement.”
Like most volunteer-run organizations, Social Media Club San Gabriel Valley finds leadership turnover to be an ongoing challenge.
Advice to other chapters:
- To help reach the small businesses, join the local Chamber of Commerce.
- Send someone to the local PRSA and AMA meetings.
- But the big cheeses don’t go to those meetings, either. So get the top business reporter in town to write a story about how Social Media Club is helping businesses to understand the power of social media marketing.
- Above all, put a good team together, because you can’t do it yourself.