When Social Media Charlotte first came on the scene, Twitter was relatively new, Instagram wasn’t even an idea – and you can forget about Snapchat.
Today all three are mainstream multi-billion-dollar businesses, and the social media marketing industry in Charlotte is thriving. Against that backdrop, the networking group that first brought Charlotte’s social media professionals together over breakfast is now planning a reboot.
After a nearly two-year hiatus, Social Media Charlotte is regrouping at a private event next week. In the coming months, Social Media Charlotte plans to bring back the popular breakfast and happy hour networking events that link the city’s online aficionados in real life.
The new organizers – Jason Yarborough, Corri Smith and Hailey Cobb – say they want to both reconnect the social media community and train the city’s smaller organizations in how to use social tools more effectively.
“With the social media scene growing the way that it’s growing, we need to learn how to work together,” Yarborough said.
The relaunch has been long anticipated in the social media marketing community. Several members have been able to point to the group as a huge boost to their careers.
“It definitely helped me to meet dozens, maybe even 100-plus people,” said April Smith, who runs social media marketing firm Social Ape Marketing. The company just had its three-year anniversary, and the connections she made helped bring her business.
‘In real life’ gatherings
Social Media Charlotte launched in 2008 as Web 2.0 was entering the public consciousness and social media marketing became a more popular career.
Initially, speakers would come from around the region to talk about their social media projects. Eventually, the group’s monthly breakfast meetings drew dozens of people and featured local experts discussing things like how to measure the return on investment of a social media campaign.
But most people who attended said the true value was in getting to know people “in real life” that they had previously only known via Twitter or other online channels. The group regularly got together after hours at a local bar for a beer and conversation.
“The biggest thing that it did for me was relationships,” said Rich Tucker, who is now director of social media at Command Partners in Charlotte. “Relationships with people that were like-minded and could see that social media would change business forever. That common belief made those relationships very strong.”
At the time Tucker worked in social media for CruiseDeals.com, a travel site. Through his Social Media Charlotte connections, Tucker said he organized two national social media conference-cruise hybrid trips, as well as two Twitter festivals to raise money for charity.
Relationships forged at Social Media Charlotte were also directly responsible for at least one business: Queen City Q, the popular uptown barbecue spot.
Craig Utt, a founding board member of the networking group, met his future business partner, Brian Meredith, through a pickup basketball group that spun off from Social Media Charlotte. In early 2012, three months after they started talking business ideas, the restaurant opened. Soon, Queen City Q was hosting networking breakfasts.
“All the social media is great, but without the face-to-face, nothing matters,” Utt said.
Under the new leadership, the group will likely host fewer morning breakfast gatherings and more after-work happy hour events to bring social media marketers together.
Yarborough said Social Media Charlotte is also planning more outreach to small businesses and nonprofits that are looking for guidance in how to boost their social media presence. One idea is a monthly one-hour roundtable where attendees can pepper a professional with their questions.
“There’s not really that place or that organization in Charlotte that’s helping the local scene out that much,” Yarborough said. “There’s still some small businesses in Charlotte who don’t really know what’s going on but are there because they feel like they should.”
The group also wants to hold one-off gatherings for nonprofits or restaurants or other industry groups to learn about best practices in their fields. And what could be a crowning event: A black-tie gala and awards show for the city’s best work in social media.
“We’re primed to create some great events,” Yarborough said.
Tucker, of Command Partners, said he’s looking forward to meeting people who are experts at newer social media platforms such as Snapchat and Vine – which were still in their infancy the last time Social Media Charlotte met.
“Because it hasn’t been around, my network has fallen off,” he said. “Social media’s changed a lot while the group has taken time off. There’s just a lot of new players in Charlotte that I’d like to meet – and this is the best way to do it.”
Social Media Charlotte
Breaking down today’s top social media platforms
Twitter: A microblogging service that allows you to post messages of 140 characters or less at a time. Businesses use the platform to have conversations with customers, spread news and keep up with their industry.
Facebook: This nearly ubiquitous social network allows both people and businesses to set up profiles and connect with people they know or want to keep up with. The platform is one of the biggest drivers of attention to company websites.
Instagram: The photo-sharing site is now under Facebook’s umbrella but has a younger audience. The service is especially popular among visual-heavy businesses like fashion designers, artists or boutique owners.
Snapchat: The disappearing message app is a newer entrant to the social media scene. Business owners can use it to show off their personality and build closer relationships with loyal customers.