Connecting Online Social Efforts to Offline Meetup Fun
As a marketer, where do you put your offline “geo-targeted” efforts? A college film club, a local Alliance Française, a Chamber of Commerce, Singles Clubs? As you hone in on your intended demographic, you may have already or will one day find that Meetup.com can complement an online social media campaign. It continues to surprise us as to how many people overlook this fascinating resource to not only build brand awareness but even bring people together in the real world. This is of special interest to those marketing offline events. Upon a recent visit to an old ally at Southern California Outdoor Adventurers, Media Needle’s Bernard Yin was inspired to talk with founder Chris Ashford about his strategy and experience.
B: Chris, please tell me what social media platform has served you best and why? Maybe offer a quick example or anecdote. I know of you as a result of Meetup.com which makes a lot of sense to me because your community is all about outings and activities. Feel free to elaborate on how this has worked out for you.
C: Meetup.com has been a tremendous platform for SCOA and we have leveraged as much as their API allows. SCOA’s focus is all about being outdoors and active. Meetup’s is “Doing something” – the similarities enabled us to crowd source. With eyeballs, we built a crew and executed on some amazing activities.
One trip we spent 10 days in the Yucatan swimming with whale sharks, learning about sea turtles, checking out amazing crocodiles and living as fishermen! We stepped up our local game with sea kayaking and spear fishing, which were unique to the pool of people served through Meetup. The old saying if you build it they will come was true in this setting. Two years after starting from scratch we had 2,000+ members. Once we had the numbers, we understood there was an opportunity to engage outdoor equipment manufacturers for sponsorship. At the time, Meetup.com was eyeing this space – and would not provide analytics to us! It was never our intention to build a web presence and community but due to the lack of the tools required to have a conversation with potential sponsors we had to. I can remember speaking with a large snowboard manufacturer who contacted us with an opportunity for sponsorship, Their first question? “What kind of traffic are you getting?” From that moment on our relationship with Meetup.com changed. Why were we paying for a service that served up Google Ads on the content we produced and a service we had to pay for? While we were trying to differentiate, they were advertising similar focused groups on our home page.
While we still leverage Meetup’s sourcing capabilities and some of their content our online focus is our 5,000 strong community of adventures. We chunk out 120 – 170 page views a month, 1.5-2M hits/month and about 2000 uniques. Some of your readers may say that’s it, why are they excited over those numbers? Keep in mind we are laser beamed focused on people in the SoCal region. We think more impressive is the 40+ events per month we host. During our busier months we reach 150-200 real live people. It is the latter that we look to capitalize with equipment manufacturers.
Think about it – Burton Snowboards spends millions on marketing to get customers but how much are they spending to keep them? Once they buy the snowboard, what brings them back for the jacket and hoodie? SCOA provides a laser beamed channel to active outdoor people hungry for adventure and product knowledge. Our customer loyalty programs are ready and just need a little push to get going.
It is an education process. We have hit the larger accounts but all they say is – ‘talk to us when you reach 10,000’. The small mom and pops typically do not have a marketing budget or the sophistication to take advantage of our services. But we keep working it everyday. We will find the happy medium.
B: Do you see a shift of any sort in how social media, technology and communications overall might affect SOCA in the next year or two or is “business as usual” the modus operandi for SOCA for the foreseeable future?
C: In order to stay ahead, SCOA will have to keep evolving. The Meetup.com pool is saturated with outdoor adventure groups. Differentiating ourselves is crucial. We are in the process of working some collaborations with Mountain High (http://www.mthigh.com/) and Adventure Link (http://www.adventurelink.com/). Their content and our social networks will increase awareness and ultimately bring activity. How much will depend on growing our Twitter and FB reach. For organizations our size – small – it isn’t enough to just have one. They all need to be connected and focused on specific goals. Our collabs for 2012 will provide unique contests and adventure content we think our members will get excited about and get outside – the win/win for everybody.
B: I am impressed by what you have achieved, what are some of the goals of SOCA? What is the “next level” in other words.
C: Thanks for the kudos. It has been a ridiculous workload and we were lucky, every step of the way we had competent, capable people around to execute. On the one hand, friendships, relationships are important to nurture. Ultimately you are talking about trust. On the other, the Internet is the great disrupter – as long as you keep it fresh and interesting people hang around and momentum grows. Skip a beat and lose momentum, it takes an inordinate effort to get it back.
B: Has the SCOA experience offered any insights of a “bigger picture” that you care to share?
C: Ultimately, marketing and advertising will be centered around your network’s recommendations. I have clicked on many the Facebook ad that has my friends’ recommendation by it. Recommendations are everything. At SCOA, we strive to provide a professional and well-run organization. We strive to work with other well-run and professional organizations. Hopefully our members recognize that and stay with us and spend their hard earned dollars with us!
B: Thanks Chris. You really hit the nail on the head with “SCOA provides a laser beamed channel to active outdoor people hungry for adventure and product knowledge.” and I feel this applies to most Meetup communities in general. We may circle back with further questions or thoughts to throw around.
Note: SCOA currently has Columbia Clothing as one of their sponsors.