Online social networks tied to tradtiional business: an early case study

Last year a colleague and I began to host a series of "Tech Strategies" Luncheon meetings in association with a highly successful Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the series was to provide free or low cost technology solutions for the small independent business owner. 

Topics included online social networking, wikis, google apps, widgets, and other free tools. The attendees were provided lunch and given an hours worth of free technical advice, mostly in the web marketing space. 

As of mid-September 2008 its too early in the game to call what I am experiencing a case study. I can share that the series is benefitted by the effects of "linkedin", "meetup.com", "Fast Pitch Networking" and "Fast Company.com" in a very real way.

This particular Chamber of Commerce features 1000 members or so and is one of the more mature Chambers of Commerce in the country. Their membership and demographics feature one of the most prosperous markets in the country as well. The age of the average Chamber member in this particular Chamber skews a little above the average I would suppose. The reason? The location of the Chamber and its area businesses. This becomes relevent in just a bit in case you are wondering.

This past week, I co-organized a session where Meetup.com was used as part of the invitation mechanism for the monthly "Chamber of Commerce" event. This is the fourth time I have used the Meetup.com business model and my expertise in its use to benefit a traditional business. I organize 4 different "Meetups" in the Meetup.com system. Included in my use of Meetup.com is an entrepreneur meetup, a "new in town" meetup, a cigar afficionado meetup, a forex meetup, and a new meetup associated with the Chamber's tech strategies luncheon series.

My colleague and co-organizer, Celeste Raines of CRTechPros.com provide speakers, facilitation, and expert administration over the event. It serves the Chamber, our clients, the members, and the speakers as well.

I have found that after one short year, the invitations for my Entrepreneur Meetup to attend the monthly event now lead to more attendees than the Chamber membership. Through the proper use of tying the Chamber's agenda to my entrepreneur meetup on meetup.com the Chamber is seeing 15 to 20 guests at each luncheon. They are now in a position to cross sell their memberships, features, and benefits. Each luncheon appeals to a slightly different group but teh overall consensus is that the marriage between and online social network and a purveyor of traditional business models is working extremely well. 

Another example of tying two disparate entities together involves a community bank promotion. Again the Meetup.com group or "meetup" in quesiton is my 300 plus member Nashville Entrepreneur Meetup. The bank in question made a commitment to the Women Owned Business Community by hosting a luncheon where a woman of local note and reputation was the keynote speaker. The luncheon content was highly entrepreneurial and the bank provided lunches to attendees as well as a drawing for tuition to the speakers entrepreneurial "incubator". The cap of 100 attendees was met within two weeks, much to the banks pleasure. When the speaker mentioned the October event to me, I asked if I couldn't invite the women in the Nashville Entrepreneur Meetup that I organize. She of course, said "Go for it" and I did. As of mid September, the October event has 40 RSVP's without any mention in the press by the bank. Why? The ladies in my entrepreneur group  were informed of the October luncheon and nearly 40 immediately RSVP'd on the first announcement. With another couple of automated announcements provided automatically from the software, the event may end up fully subscribed soley from my entrepreneur meetup group. The winners here include my friend, the bank, my lady entrepreneur group members, and the business community in general. 

Next steps and goals for me surround tying LinkedIn groups to local meetups to local tradtional businesses. The power of any online network should be about its potential to expand ones business. Without your willingness to reach out via email and phone, nothing will happen.

How does success happen? How does one manage to tie social networks to traditioinal business?

It is a process. It doesn't happen overnight. Relationship capitial has been built by providing programs, referrals, and expertise to the group. When my colleagues and I post something up in the way of an event or "Meetup" the group now knows that it will be a speaker or program that is worth attending. Has it always been the case? No. There have been a couple of less than stellar events. One just has to keep going. When trying to give something to others, you will always get an A for effort.

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