Visit any Chamber of Commerce website and you will likely find statements of purpose that include economic development, member benefits, local business promotion, community building, and similar claims.
As a digital strategist, I’m interested in how these purposes are being supported through social and digital channels. You know – on line, and accessible through mobile devices and all the other technology that society uses to get the information that’s important to them.
I’m discovering that if social and digital channels are being used by Chambers at all, they are not making them a priority. Chambers seem to be staying in their comfort zones of ribbon cuttings, banner ads on their own websites, business directories, and decals and flyers to display on your storefront windows.
I’m not saying that these things aren’t important, because they certainly are. I’m saying that if a digital strategy was in place, all of these member benefits could be . . . well . . . more beneficial.
How digital is being used by Chambers and local businesses
In a word, digital channels are “underutilized.” Why? My theory is that business owners and chamber leadership have not caught up with the times. The most blatant indication is the lack of budgets. I haven’t found a chamber yet that has a budget for educating chamber members (or leadership) about the use of digital strategies. There are no budgets for creating digital strategies. There are no budgets that indicate any recognition that digital should be considered a serious form of communication.
“But, wait!,” you say. “Every Chamber website displays badges for their social channels.”
Yes, that’s true, for the most part. That is how I know that those channels are being underutilized. In most cases, when I click through, I find that the social site has been set up, but is not being used; or worse, it’s being misused.
Misused? Yes. Most of the channels I’ve looked at are being used to blast and advertise. Sadly, there is very little engagement whatsoever. From the perspective of an onlooker, I get the impression that the channels are being misunderstood as just one more means for pushing information. It would seem that the content creators have no idea that pushing information on social channels is a good way to offend your audience.
How digital could be used by Chambers and local businesses
As a benefit to members, Chambers could provide:
- A digital audit of local businesses to identify gaps and opportunities in their strategy.
- Workshops and education on how to use these channels to support, engage and socialize (not advertise!!!!)
- A leadership position* that informs and encourages local businesses to recognize the value of digital communication as a modern means for operating a business.
- A commitment to create effective messaging** on digital channels that showcases the local appeal of members’ businesses (not their ads!!!!)
- Pre-made lists on digital channels that include all Chamber members using those channels. E.g., Lists on Facebook and Twitter; Circles on Google, Playlists on YouTube – then shared with their members, with instruction on how to use them.
Local businesses could:
- Use their social channels to:
- Connect with other businesses in the neighborhood
- Engage and socialize – not advertise!!!!
- Convey and display what they are, first and foremost: a member of the LOCAL community.
- Recognize the value of digital neighborhoods as a means for supporting each other – as businesses, as neighbors, as local consumers.
- Take advantage of their free Google maps listing, by claiming it, branding it, and monitoring and responding to reviews.
- Accept the fact that digital is not going away, and the cost of it (time, and/or hired talent) should be a budgeted item, part of the cost of doing business in the 21st Century.
- Contribute to the economic growth of their town or city by doing any or all of the above.
Bringing your LOCAL appeal to your ONLINE presence™
Each Chamber and each community has unique character and appeal. There is no prescriptive list of tactics that will serve everyone’s needs. I present these lists to increase awareness of the possibilities . . . and of the opportunities that are being ignored.
If you lead or belong to a Chamber of Commerce that is exercising a best practice related to digital, please add a comment below. If you would like an analysis of your Chamber’s digital health, please contact me. I have developed a process for identifying your champions, leveraging immediate opportunities, and developing a plan that will help you deliver the most benefit to your members.
* A cursory review of chambers’ board of directors’ use of digital channels for their own businesses indicates a lack of understanding and adoption.
** Effective messaging is strategic in nature; meant to engage, entertain and/or inform. It should have a clear objective, be consistent, and not look like an advertisement!!!!