Getting Social in a Virtual World

1013globe

Emerging groups across New North allow professionals to network around use of social media

Story by Lee Marie Reinsch

I know social media is important – I hear about it all the time.

I should be using it more but I don’t have the time.

I don’t know how.

I don’t want to invest my time into it.

Sound familiar?

If any of these comments sound like they should be written in the imaginary cartoon bubble above your head, you might be a candidate for “social” social-media groups.

That’s right: Social media groups that actually meet in person. Like, for face time, not screen time.

Zach Pawlosky, who owns Candeo Creative in Oshkosh, helped found the group Social Hub after attempting to fill in the question marks for members of the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce.

“It took off more quickly than I ever imagined,” he said. “We found out there were a lot of chamber members in smaller companies that don’t have (social media) done internally who just wanted to ask questions,” he said. “They just needed a support group – like people with a drinking problem: they just wanted to get together and talk about it. That’s probably a terrible example.”

Terrible or not, it works. Sometimes we need a group of real human beings we can relate to, rather than static photo-grins and company logos. Enter social social-media groups.

Social meet-ya?

Social Hub is for beginners as well as those who are more adept at social media.

“It’s good for both: it’s an opportunity for people to share strategies, ideas, tactics, media and content, and it’s an opportunity for other users who want to learn more about this in a hands-on way,” Pawlosky said.

Attendees can bring their tablets and devices and get ready to learn. A panel discussion usually follows a short lesson.

“People can ask questions or voice concerns, and we teach and coach as we go along,” Pawlosky said.

Social Hub is open to anyone and meets the second Thursday of the month at the Oshkosh Chamber offices from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. It’s free for chamber members but $5 for non-members.

Night owls and morning larks

US Cellular Oshkosh store manager Liz Hebbe said she’s not a social media expert, but she is “a social person.”

So naturally, the networking she did with the Oshkosh Chamber and Oshkosh-based Blue Door Consulting went from Twitter characters to real-life characters.

“Tweetups were a way to have an atypical social networking event with business owners and the business community,” Hebbe said.

Tweetups are just like they sound – meet-ups that begin with an invitation through Twitter and culminate with real-life elbow-rubbing, and sometimes even some elbow bending.

“We had seen these used just on a very social basis, and we wanted to put them to work for business, but outside of the chamber,” Hebbe said.

Their Tweetups usually take place in the evenings at local hot spots.

“We wanted to create that club feel,” Hebbe said.

They’ve had some highly successful events that attracted people from around the area.

“They introduce each other, meet and greet, and people connect with potential clients,” she said.

The Night Owl Tweetups evolved into the Early Bird Social Media Breakfast, a slightly more formal and learning-focused version of the group.

“We found that there was still quite a bit of a stigma around using social media in your business,” Hebbe said. “We started the (Early Bird) group as a collaborative, free way to give back to the business community. The aim is, whether you are a nonprofit or a business, what can we share? Our focal point (with the morning group) is definitely the opportunity to engage and share information.”

Early Bird soon spread to Fond du Lac, and currently shoots for six sessions a year, switching off between Fond du Lac and Oshkosh. The gathering discusses topics like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, and how to use these tools to enhance business-to-business and business-to-customer relationships.

“Our very first (breakfast meeting) was on Pinterest, when Pinterest was starting to take off, and people didn’t understand how it could be relevant as a business tool,” Hebbe said. “That was huge for us.”

The Early Birds keep things relevant by asking attendees what they’re looking for in a social social-media group. “We ask, ‘What would help you? What would you like to hear?’ We’re bringing in speakers to share their story of the process they went through, what challenges they faced, where they are seeing success in their own businesses.”

Early Bird Social Media Breakfast’s next meeting focuses on “YouTube – Videos to Enhance Your Brand” and meets 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac campus. It’s free and open to the public.

Flapjacks and face time

The potential of social media hit Tommy Clifford four years ago when his son, Drew, was born. He tweeted during the birth and suddenly Wisconsin’s No. 1 Twitter user became locally famous: He made television news as well as St. Elizabeth Hospital history, and began getting requests to do public talks on social media.

“That’s when I understood the power of it,” Clifford said.

He’d always been a tech geek, but the response he received from his contacts on his son’s birth showed him that social media mixed with actual social events can enhance both.

By day, Clifford works as director of IT and digital development for HC Miller Co. in Green Bay. Outside of work, he belongs to three social media groups, but the one he’s most active with is the Appleton Blueberry Hill Social Media Breakfast Group, which meets every other Friday at 7 a.m.

“It’s like, ‘Let’s just meet, have pancakes and bacon,’ and that’s it, that’s how it started, so it’s completely nonthreatening,” Clifford said. “It’s completely inviting, because people are jacked up about doing that.”

The group’s been meeting twice monthly at Blueberry Hill since February of 2009.

“We met on Twitter; before that time, I hadn’t really met those people face to face, and now that we’ve met, I have newfound friends,” Clifford said  “You come sit, order, complain about your boss, or we talk about our iPads or our Kindles, or social media tools … or the social media blunder of the week. We have people who are really involved in social media, but some people aren’t. It’s just a great opportunity to chat with these people and talk shop.”

Social media is the string that binds them together, but the group’s composition is pretty diverse.

“We have tech people, IT people, entrepreneurs, big businessmen, small businessmen, stay-at-home moms. It runs the gamut,” Clifford said.

Santa has shown up. They’ve had birthday parties there. They’ve battled – and welcomed – Black Friday breakfast crowds.

“It’s just awesome, completely informal. People show up and it’s like, ‘What are you all about?’ ‘I’m looking for a job.’ ‘What do you do?’ We just talk and sometimes it’s more personal than professional, but if you build personal relationships, the professional will come,” Clifford said.

He said his social media groups have completely changed his life.

“I’ve found work this way, I’ve found relationships – everything I am is really based on my network, and it’s helped me.”

Many heads are better than one

Dana VanDen Heuvel is a firm believer in the wisdom of the crowd.

A group he helps facilitate – New North Social Media Breakfast Group – doesn’t keep a formal schedule but tries to base meetings on need and by taking pulses.

“We try to find something that is going to answer a key question that the audience has,” VanDen Heuvel said. “Like where do you turn when you have a question about social media? Do you call a consultant every time you have a question? No. Do you go on the Web? Sure, but how do you know who to trust? So it’s been great when all these people in the group can come to the table and say ‘You guys all ought to know this.’”

VanDen Heuvel says it’s better to get the advice from many people than to rely on one source.

“I am much more comfortable asking a group of 60 or so people, and leaving with a wealth of information, instead of an hour on the line with one person trolling for answers that I don’t even know are legit,” VanDen Heuvel said.

When Google+ first launched, over 100 people attended the New North Social Media group to find out how to use it. One recent session focused on how to cope with the confusion of having multiple platforms going at the same time, primarily by setting up accounts in advance and making a routine of posting and reviewing posts.

“It was such an eye-opening (session) that gave them some value,” VanDen Heuvel said. “They were like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know, one, that this (solution) existed, two, that it was OK to do this sort of routine and, three, that it could really work and help build your business.’”

VanDen Heuvel’s solution, incidentally, is a subscription tool called Buffer that he uses to post scheduled posts on multiple accounts in a quicker way than by doing it piecemeal throughout the week.

“It will look like ‘Oh my God, this guy is on LinkedIn consistently every day at 9 a.m.’ No, he’s not, he just found a lot of stuff he thought the audience will find interesting and used the tools wisely to have that presence,” VanDen Heuvel said. “You spent a few minutes doing it instead of every day going through this routine. You batch it up, you make it work for you – that’s the magic, the secret sauce.”

Social media relationships have something crucial in common with personal ones: To keep them alive, you have to consider others besides yourself.

“We’re open to revisiting topics and finding out what everyone wants to hear about,” Hebbe said of her group. “At the end of the day, it’s what social media is all about. When you use social media, it’s not so much about what you want to say as what does your audience want to hear from you.”

Lee Reinsch writes and edits from Green Bay.