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Friday, July 17, 2009

SML Chamber joins the world of social networking

Special to Laker Weekly
   The SML Chamber of Commerce has been using social-networking sites such as Facebook to help keep the public informed about what's going on at the lake, and to sell tickets to Chamber events.

KAREN DILLON

Special to Laker Weekly The SML Chamber of Commerce has been using social-networking sites such as Facebook to help keep the public informed about what's going on at the lake, and to sell tickets to Chamber events.

The message came across my computer screen in a short burst of less than 140 characters: "Last Week to Save $7 -- Special Early Bird Ticket Prices for the SML Wine Festival (9/26-27) til July 10."

For the past couple of months, the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce has been communicating its lake news through social media outlets Twitter and Facebook and, according to Annette Stamus, the Chamber's marketing and communications director, it's been a fun ride that seems to be gaining momentum.

"I think they're great tools," said Stamus of Twitter and Facebook. "They're great for everybody to use and it does make a difference. I don't see it going away anytime soon."

The Chamber now has about 85 friends on Facebook and almost double that number of followers on Twitter. Most of the friends on Facebook are locals or people who have ties to the lake. Twitter followers tend to be from across the United States, said Stamus.

The Chamber posts event-related notices as well as marketing and promotional items including video clips the Chamber has produced that tout the lake's various amenities.

Many of the wall posts on the Chamber's Facebook page also are the same messages that have been posted on Twitter. The short, 140-character messages, also known as "tweets," have paid off, said Stamus. She's even seen and been contacted by others who have "re-tweeted" the Chamber's messages to their own followers, which creates a viral effect.

"People have direct messaged me who've seen our messages out in California and even as far away as Ireland and England," said Stamus.

Closer to home, the Chamber has seen a boost in online ticket sales for the upcoming Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival.

"We've definitely seen more people going on the Internet to get tickets to the Wine Festival," said Stamus, who spent nearly three decades working for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke before joining the Chamber in March.

But it may be too soon to tell how these social media sites equate into tourism dollars. For now, Stamus said the Chamber plans to forge ahead on the social media front.

"I feel like we're still in the infant stages," said Stamus, who added she's seen an increase in traffic to the chamber's Web site since linking up with Twitter and Facebook.

"I'm hoping this will continue to keep us on an upward trend," she added. "Younger people tend to think of social media before they think of [looking us up on] the Web site."

Stamus searched to see if there were other chambers of commerce on Twitter and discovered the SML Chamber was one of only about 17 in the world on Twitter. On Facebook, the SML Chamber joins the Vinton and Roanoke chambers.

"I hope that means we're on the forefront," she said.

What was most helpful to Stamus as she embarked on the social-media journey was the Social Media 101 course offered by the chamber in conjunction with Virginia Western Community College.

The Social Media 101 course is being offered again next month -- starting Aug. 25 -- and runs for two weeks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Trinity Ecumenical Parish. The cost is $105 per person for Chamber members. Participants also can earn one college credit upon completion of the course.

Social media, said Stamus, is changing the way chambers and other businesses market their products and services to consumers.

"I think it revolutionizes business as far as marketing and communications are concerned," she said.

To become a follower of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/smlchamber and to become a fan of the chamber on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/home.php?#/smlchamber?hiq=chamber.

For more information about the social media workshop, call the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce at 721-1203.