I was privileged to have been the President & CEO of a county Chamber of Commerce in the 6th largest county of the 95 counties in Tennessee from 2008 to 2011. I had worked with this Chamber for nearly eight years. Initially, I donated my business services, web site development, and search engine optimization expertise to get them on the virtual map. After all, I’d been doing this for businesses since 1993 and they desperately needed the help. This led to becoming more involved as a member of their “Diplomat & Ambassador” program for almost three years, serving on the Board of Directors for another nearly three years, and then ultimately accepting the position of President & CEO.
I’d accepted this position just as the economy officially crumbled. Businesses were downsizing. Small businesses were being forced to close their doors. Those who remained in business were cutting back on everything… including chamber membership. Major industries and chamber supporters were cutting back monetarily and being far less generous than they’d been in previous years when it came to sponsoring events and supporting chamber functions. Membership had dropped prior to this time because many business owners felt that the Chamber wasn’t doing enough to help their business and didn’t see the value in chamber membership so they’d chosen not to renew.
I, however, had an “Ace” up my sleeve called “Social Media”. Immediately I started both a Facebook Fan Page (as it was called at the time) and a Twitter account for this Chamber. I linked the two together. I began posting anything and everything. I created photo albums for each business we did a ribbon cutting and grand opening for… which included contact info for the businesses and links to their websites and/or Facebook pages on each photo. I spotlighted those businesses who contributed financially to the success of our programs and events. I used various Facebook tools and apps to create additional “Tabs” to promote “Facebook Fan Pages” for every Chamber member who had a Facebook page for their business or organization. I held contests to create an environment where people were engaging with each other. I shamelessly promoted our Facebook page and our Twitter presence. Within the first few months we had more than 500 “fans” (as they were called at the time) on Facebook and nearly 600 followers on Twitter. This, in a technologically challenged region, where the general population spent little time on the Internet, high-speed Internet service was sparse, so those who DID access the Internet were forced to use dial-up service.
During my first year as CEO, many businesses owners who had previously given up on the Chamber came back and rejoined the Chamber! Many existing Chamber members didn’t want to lose that visibility so when it came time to renew, they did! It was “forward thinking” that helped us get through what’s now considered one of the worst economic times since the Great Depression.
IF, as a Chamber, you’re not using AT LEAST these five Social Media tools: “Facebook”, “Twitter”, “LinkedIn”, “Foursquare”, and “YouTube”, you’re letting your members down, you’re missing out on Chamber member retention opportunities, and… just as important, you’re missing out on opportunities for additional “non-dues revenue”!
Before you start however, there are several key items that you need to consider. I’ve listed a few of them below.
- There’s a correct way to put these pages and these accounts online so that they’ll find top spots in the search engines.
- There’s a proper way to link these accounts together so you don’t have to manage each one individually.
- There are rules and regulations associated with how these tools should be used.
- There are effective and ineffective ways to “engage” with your audience.
- Doing ANY of these things incorrectly will only result in frustration and failure.
Today, the combination of nearly twenty years of Internet technology expertise, along with my eight years working with the Chamber has put me in a unique situation. I understand the financial struggles Chambers face. I know the hoops that Chamber CEO’s and Directors must jump through to get things accomplished. I understand the myths that people, in general, have when it comes to what a Chamber does and the purpose that it serves. I know that a high percentage of business owners don’t appreciate, nor do they seem to care about what the Chamber does to advocate on their behalf. I know what businesses want and need.
“Social Media” has opened up a whole new set of doors. When these tools are used CORRECTLY and EFFECTIVELY, they WILL help you obtain new members, retain existing members, and improve your financial bottom line.
It’s time for you, as a Chamber Executive, to start taking these tools seriously. You don’t have time to play around and experiment with them. Doing so will only waste your time, set you back, and do irreversible damage. Contact me today and let’s get started!
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