Building a community is not an easy task, but it is one that many people are working to do every day, both online and off. No one person or organization can “own” a community, but they can be an important part of one and contribute to its success. The Houston Social Media Breakfast meets monthly and is completely free. People buy their own breakfast off of a special menu. There are about 100 people who attend each breakfast, which is capacity for the restaurant. Here are five lessons we have learned over the past four years as we have built a vibrant social media community in Houston, Texas.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out
When I moved to Houston in 2008, I knew almost no one. There were four people who went out of their way to welcome me, including Marc Nathan, Sandra Fernandez, Ed Schipul and Jennifer Texada. One afternoon, over a lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen, Jennifer and I decided to start a chapter of the Social Media Breakfast in Houston (#SMBHOU). We reached out to the people I mentioned above, along with a few others we knew might be interested. Not everyone is willing to put in the work to build a community, but almost everyone is willing to help out. You just have to ask.
- Choose a Real Life Location People Know and Love
In May 2009, we had our first meeting at the then-famous (JR Cohen) Coffee Groundz in midtown. Abut 20 people attended that first meeting, and these people made up this nascent community that has grown to over 1,800 on Facebook and 700 email subscribers, which translates to an attendance of about 100 people every month. One of our biggest challenges for this online/offline community was finding a place to meet. We quickly outgrew Coffee Groundz (now closed) and moved to Te House of Tea, and finally landed at Canopy Houston. Always, we found our new location through a community member. Make sure you let your community lead you, and make sure you take the community from merely online to the real world. This crossover builds a strong foundation.
Patio at Coffee Groundz Te House of Tea Canopy Houston
- Don’t Try to Own the Community
The most important part of the community, and what I believe keeps it valuable and interesting for people, is that it really has nothing to do with one person or company. While me and my company Zoetica have been dedicated to keeping #SMBHOU afloat, it wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of each and every person in the community. Without them it would be a failure. As it stands, #SMBHOU is one of the most vibrant places in Houston to learn about and connect with successful influencers about how to use social media.
Meeting in the drive-thru a Coffee Groundz
- Thank the People Along the Way
So many people have helped along the way, too many to name here, but notably are Marie Angell, Brian Cohen, Melissa Darragh, Aimee Woodall and Michele Price – as well as those people who helped me early on and have continued to support the effort (See “Don’t be Afraid to Reach Out”). The bottom line is to think about ways to highlight these people in the community and thank them for their help.
Brian, Kami, Sandra MaryBeth, Aimee Marie
- Be Sure to Deliver Quality Content Every Time
One of the things we did early on is to deliver the kind of content that was interesting to the advanced social media practitioner. We made sure not to feature anything that we wouldn't be interested in ourselves. We also didn’t parade the same people up over and over again or feature people just because they were part of the “in” crowd. We have had very few repeat speakers, and when we have, we have made sure it is on a different subject in which the person is an expert. We also don’t usually have standard PowerPoint driven presentations either, instead we have conversations. It has been a winning strategy. I have included a sample of our most recent event below. In this one we talked about how Bloggers and Brands can work together. Thanks to one of the speakers, Fred Goodall from Mocha Dad, we have a Google Hangout on Air recording of this event. See, community at work! You can read more about the program on the event page.
Notice I never said, “Be a really popular and well-known figure in your community.” Again, I knew exactly FOUR people when I moved to Houston.
Bloggers and Brands: Finding the Perfect Pairing
Read the hashtag stream for this event, and all of the other events run by #SMBHOU here (filter by date and look at May 10, 2013)