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Is Social Media the new Chamber of Commerce?

I’ll probably catch some flack for the following observations, but in talking with some of my tweeps, I know I’m not alone.

Its that time of year – time to renew my local Chamber of Commerce membership. Before blindly writing a $300-$400 check and dropping it in the mail, I have to stop and think about why I want/need this membership, and what such an affiliation actually does for me.
Getting down to Business

After relocating to my adopted new home town, signing up for the local Chamber was the first business item on the agenda to jump-start my networking efforts. I wanted to belong to a club that was all business, all the time, and be able to make connections with like-minded folks who might be interested in working together. I went to a year’s worth of mixers, chatted a few folks up, but found that making business connections was rarely on the menu. Attendees pretty much drank the wine, ate the appetizers and said adieu until the next event. I could live with that, but I can do happy hour anywhere.

Ironically, hardly a mixer went by that I didn’t get invited to join another micro-biz networking group outside of the Chamber. I investigated a couple of these groups (don’t even get me started on BNI) but decided they were more of the same, so I moved on.

All the while, I’ve been engaging in social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, and meeting people in the local community (and nationwide, really) that were very enthusiastic about actually networking. Someone I met needed a software program trainer on the West Coast – I knew someone, and they connected successfully. I’m looking to expand my online marketing skills in the tourism and hospitality industries, and people I’ve met via Twitter have introduced me to some nice pieces of business in New England and back in Seattle.

Social Media membership dues = Sweat Equity
Just the sweat equity I’ve built up using social media has more than paid for my Chamber membership. And what does that membership actually lend to me? An online listing, discounted admissions to Chamber events and horribly designed digests, email marketing, and direct mail pieces (I’m a designer so have license to judge!) Don’t get me wrong, the folks at my local Chamber are very nice and have the best intentions at doing what a Chamber is ’supposed’ to do.

As far as networking in the digital age, Social Media is the new Chamber of Commerce. I’m putting my ‘money’ where the real connections are – in my social networking community.

Tweet-up anyone?