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Southwest Florida chapter regrouping in 2011

Sometimes, it’s just too easy.  You hold a planning meeting, come up with some great ideas, and set things in motion.  A lot of market momentum and public thirst for information help keep it going—for a while.  But things eventually settle down, and you need to build a more solid and sustainable operational foundation.

That’s been the experience of Social Media Club Southwest Florida, on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“In March of 2009, some people who were doing Tweetups held a planning meeting, formed a steering committee, and launched the local chapter in July,” recalls Gail Lamarche, a steering committee member who is director of marketing for Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A.,  a big Ft. Myers law firm.  “There was a great turnout—organizations like the City of Ft. Myers and Goodwill of Southwest Florida were represented—and the club really took off.”

The chapter quickly settled on a fixed venue and time, meeting at a Ft. Myers airport hotel in the evenings from 5:30 to 7:30 on the third Tuesday of the month.  Meetings typically pulled in 75 to 100 people.

The meetings were promoted on the club’s web site and Facebook page, and through the individual social networks of the steering committee members.  Eventbrite was used to pre-register attendees and capture e-mail addresses, and the membership list soon topped 300.  It included a lot of PR and media professionals, as well as local business owners and some enterprise and government representatives.  


Time to reboot

However, as with most human endeavor, the 80/20 rule applied:  Most of the work was being done by a few of the steering committee members, and it got to be too much.  After a successful meeting in November 2010 that also collected Toys for Tots from the membership, the chapter went dark in December for the holidays—and stayed that way. 

But social media is indispensible to business today, and business in Florida is particularly bad.  Florida vies with Nevada for the state that has taken the worst hit from the real estate market meltdown, and much of the local economy had been based on real estate development.

A social media club can play a critical role in such an economy, literally helping people get and stay in business.

Recognizing this, several senior members of Social Media Club Southwest Florida are regrouping.  They met recently and are looking for new blood—the right kind of professionals, who also have the time and interest and energy.

“We need to get things going before we lose all the momentum we have built,” sums up Lamarche.  And the chapter certainly has some remarkable successes to build upon.


Targeted panels strike the right chords 

Social Media Club of Southwest Florida finds that the panel format works very well.  One panel consisted of local businesses sharing their social media marketing strategies and tactics.  The stars were a retired couple who turned the wife’s talent for baking into a Simply Cupcakes bakery in Naples.  “The shop has more than 10,000 Facebook fans, and it’s the cutest little example of what a bit of entrepreneurship mixed with social media can do,” says Lamarche.

Another meeting had a “Taste of the Town” theme, with local restaurants sampling their fares and talking about their use of social media.

In September 2009 the club helped spearhead a Twestival Local event that featured social media guru Chris Brogan.  The beneficiary was Pace Center for Girls of Lee County, a local charity providing services to girls aged 12 to 18 who are at risk.  

The most popular meeting—attracting about 125 people—offered a media panel with a newspaper and radio and TV stations represented.  Social Media Club Southwest Florida partnered with the Miami chapter to get some of the speakers.

The second most popular meeting applied a speed dating model to social media learning.  A subject-matter expert fro the steering committee was positioned at each table, and the attendees moved from table to table at regular intervals.  A professor from Florida Gulf Coast University brought brought some of his students for their edification.

Another panel focused on social media in the boardroom, and attracted lawyers and CEOs to the meeting.  Panel members discussed their companies’ use of social media, addressing concerns about employee use of social media, how to implement social media policies, and managing online reputations.   The panel included the CEO of the Ft. Myers soup kitchen, which has done an exceptional job of using social media for local community building. 

Among other standout events are one held in conjunction with the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and featuring social media strategist Carlos Cardona; and a “Social Media and Higher Education” meeting held at Florida Gulf Coast University in partnership with Matt Chamberlain.


Partnerships are key

Such partnerships are a recurring factor among the past successes of Social Media Club of Southwest Florida, and a strategy that the chapter is basing its future on.

Before suspending meetings, club members began supporting and promoting a conference being staged by the Horizon Council , a regional economic development advisory board tasked with attracting  businesses to Southwest Florida.  The resulting hands-on “Business Social on Social Media” is scheduled for April 12 at the Barbara B. Mann Performance Hall in Fort Myers.

Lamarche and fellow Social Media Club Southwest Florida steering committee member Dean Piccirillo are on the communications task force, and see the conference as a great opportunity to re-launch Social Media Club Southwest Florida.

Advice for other chapters 

While education is the primary mission, people shouldn’t underestimate the networking value of Social Media Club chapters, cautions Lamarche.  “A visitor from Boston stumbled across the first meeting of Social Media Club of Southwest Florida, introduced herself to other attendees, met up with a local business owner who offered her a job, and relocated.” 

Other tips from Lamarche include: 

  •  Form a steering committee with energized, forward thinkers—people who really want to participate and are  passionate about the club’s mission.  Avoid people who just want to add the position to their resumes.  
  •  Partner with other business organizations, and target specific meetings for those kinds of professionals.
  •  Keep the lowest common denominator in mind.  Levels of social media experience differ at each meeting, but the  mix virtually always includes some beginners.  If discussions and presentations are too technical, you will lose a  lot of people.

Above all, Lamarche concludes, focus on providing value that helps people build businesses.