The site of one of the earliest European settlements in the New World (1564), what is now Jacksonville was alternately a French, British, and Spanish colony before joining the United States in 1821 and taking the name of the young nation’s seventh president.
Blockaded and battered during the Civil War, Jacksonville then suffered through Reconstruction before becoming the first Florida winter venue for the Northern elite. However, Yellow Fever epidemics and the extension of the railroads pushed the wintering wealthy farther down the Florida coast, and then the Great Fire of 1901 burned much of the city to the ground.
Undaunted, Jacksonville had a brief run as the “Winter Film Capital of the World” in the 1910s when the New York-based movie industry, attracted by the warm climate and exotic locations, established a local colony of silent film studios. By the time the film industry migrated to Hollywood in the 1920s, Jacksonville had become a major banking and insurance center, and its deep-water port would eventually attract some big naval bases and the logistics industry.
The vegetation-friendly climate has also turned Jacksonville into a major golfing mecca—one of the factors that brought Social Media Club Jacksonville founder Lauren Teague from Corvallis, Ore. in 2008. Now the PGA Tour’s Manager of Social Media, Teague had started following social media in her first job out of college as a communications specialist at Corvallis-based Brass Media.
“When I got to Jacksonville I started looking for a group of like-minded social media enthusiasts, but there wasn’t anything,” recalls Teague. She spent about 6 months building a local network, and then approached Kristie Wells about founding a Social Media Club chapter in Jacksonville.
Laying the foundation
In November 2008 Beyer used Twitter to announce an informational meeting. About a dozen people showed up, including marketing guru Jason Sadler (@iwearyourshirt) and web designer and marketing professional Stacey Steiner. Led by Teague and Steiner, the group put together an organizational framework and got Josh Hallet (@hyku) to come up from Orlando and speak at the chapter’s first formal meeting in January 2009. Social Media Club Jacksonville has met almost every month since.
The meetings typically attract 30 to 40 attendees, who have ranged from agency people and marketing professionals with decades of experience to students and individuals using social media for purely social reasons. However, from the outset Social Media Club Jacksonville was not targeting people who needed help getting started with social media.
“We wanted to bring together people who get social media and want to share their knowledge and exchange ideas with those who are interested in learning more,” explains Teague. “Our members are mostly social media professionals or those who use social media personally, who want to increase their effectiveness.”
The chapter and its events are promoted via Facebook, Twitter (@SMCJAX), and iContact e-mail blasts. People pre-register for meetings on EventBrite, which captures their contact information so it can be exported into the iContact list.
Keeping things fresh
There is no set meeting day, though events tend to take place in the third week of the month. The precise date and format are dictated by the available speakers and content. The location also varies from month to month, and finding appropriate meeting places is the chapter’s biggest challenge.
“We like to move the venue around to keep things fresh,” says Steiner. “People don’t want to go to the same location all the time, and we want to spread the travel burden around.” In geographic terms, Jacksonville is the largest city in the contiguous 48 states, covering 874.3 square miles.
The preferred venue is a restaurant with appropriate meeting space that provides food and drink specials in exchange for some free promotion. The events are free to the attendees, who are encouraged to become Professional members of the parent Social Media Club. One of goals the leadership has set for this year is passing the 10-paid-members mark and achieving Official Chapter status.
Filling the right local niche
Jacksonville has a strong social media industry the chapter can tap for speakers and panels. “Jacksonville is the smallest big town I’ve ever been to,” states Steiner. “Everyone seems to know everyone, and there are big PR and marketing communities that do social media events from time to time. So we have to always ask ourselves how we make our events special.”
Topics that have been particularly popular include
- The legal issues surrounding social media
- The synergies between video, social search, and SEO
- Food and social media, with local restaurant owners & food bloggers
- The business of blogging—working with businesses and brands
Beyond the regular monthly meetings, Social Media Club Jacksonville is producing a conference the Jacksonville American Marketing Association this fall and considering other activities.
“We would like to begin a locally focused Twitter chat, a blogging unconference, and perhaps other events that tap into the emerging social media trends,” says Steiner. The chapter would also like to create local social media awards that are handed out at an annual event.
Social Media Club Jacksonville’s organization has evolved considerably since its inception. Teague and Steiner had been running the chapter by themselves initially, but it got to be too much. About
a year ago they put together a steering committee whose members have specific responsibilities.
“We look for two different types of people,” adds Steiner. “Those with the skills to produce the monthly events, and forward-thinking types who focus on strategy.”
The leadership team has worked hard to develop good relations with the local chapters of other professional organizations, including the American Advertising Federation, American Marketing Association, IABC, and PRSA.
“When these professional organizations do events about social media, they look to Social Media Club Jacksonville as a resource,” states Teague. “They understand we are trying support and complement them, not compete with them.” These organizations have an annual cross-group mixer, and they now include Social Media Club Jacksonville as a peer.
Advice to other chapters:
- Don’t think you can run the chapter all by yourself, or perhaps with one other person. Even the best-laid plans are going to blow up occasionally, and you need a whole team to have your back.
- Build a diverse committee and then listen to the members. They have a lot to contribute—unique ideas, experiences, and networks you can leverage.
- Also engage and leverage resources in your local community. Align your chapter with other professional groups, and serve as a resource for them. Make sure you are seen as a reliable group full of valuable expertise.
- Plan ahead. Work at least 3 months in advance on your events, and delegate specific tasks to specific committee members. Then make sure everyone stays on point.
- Social media is a rapidly moving target, and a lot of new chapters experience false starts. If you do fail initially, try again until you make it work.
- This stuff is social, so be sure to have fun with it. Some of the best events are unstructured happy hours in which people share experiences and knowledge spontaneously. Building an offline community is very important in this increasingly virtual world.