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Sunday, 01 July 2012 23:27

Networking groups expand to embrace tech influences

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Networking groups expand to embrace tech influences Courtesy of Derek DeVries
GRAND RAPIDS — Some traditional business networking groups in West Michigan have been retooling to embrace a rapidly growing membership segment: technology professionals. 

Certainly, the West Michigan Chapter of the American Marketing Association has expanded its traditional recruiting to include, for instance, experts in social media marketing, said outgoing chapter president Sheri Stetson-Compton, field sales senior marketing manager at Herman Miller.

"We center on marketing issues, but marketing issues involve a lot of technology," she said. "During this past year, we had different speakers who spoke on social media, diagnostics on electronic communications, and marketing for small business to help them understand the role of technology. We also had a session on more traditional marketing topics around brand building online."

The West Michigan AMA chapter hosts luncheon events every month except during July and August. The next year's program starts in September. Stetson-Compton said her group typically draws about 70 people its luncheon programs. However, a recent session on social media featuring a prominent blogger drew 125 attendees, she said.

Another more traditional business networking group, the West Michigan Chapter of Public Relations Society of America, has also been reaching out to technologists in West Michigan.

"The majority of our programming has something to do with social media and technology," said Derek DeVries, communications technology manager for Grand Rapids Community College. DeVries is on the West Michigan PRSA communications committee.

He said the requirement for people to join PRSA was that they had to spend more than 50 percent of their work time on public relations. But nationally, PRSA also created a technology section to do active outreach to technology professionals, who maybe don't meet the 50 percent rule.

In West Michigan, during the five years DeVries has been on the board, PRSA has followed the national lead and started recruiting technologists. West Michigan PRSA is exploring as well the possibility of doing joint programs with pure technology networking groups, such as aimWest.

"I definitely see a need to reach out to these folks to bring their ideas to our members," DeVries said.

Formerly ConnecTech West, aimWest is one of 10 chapters statewide managed by Automation Alley in Troy. ConnecTech's expenses were underwritten by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. But when the MEDC stopped funding technology network development a few years ago, Automation Alley pulled the plug on ConnecTech. aimWest remains the only active former member, albeit under its new name.

Douglas Kelly, president of aimWest and managing partner of Evolve Solutions, said his group has begun sharpening its focus to provide more niche technology events.

"We're offering more and smaller events focused on technology, innovation and social media marketing, rather than having giant events like we did in the past," Kelly said.

The change began last fall.

One of those giant events was featuring Keith Brophy, CEO of IdeoMed, who for more than a decade has offered his technology predictions. For several years, Brophy's event was attended by 300 or more people and was often held at big venues such as DeVos Place and Grand Valley State University's downtown campus. This year, Brophy's Tech Outlook was a much smaller program at a downtown restaurant where he spoke in a "theater in the round" setting to an audience of less than 100 people. Today, aimWest still claims about 300 members.

By contrast, Linked Up Grand Rapids boosts 10,000 members in West Michigan. The group, on the LinkedIn social media site, has been managed since its inception four years ago by Michael Yoder, a social media consultant in Grand Rapids. He said his group is now the biggest business networking group on LinkedIn in the state. About 90 percent of his membership is from greater Grand Rapids. The rest hail from Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Lansing.

More than a year ago, Yoder shifted from big quarterly face-to-face get-togethers to small training sessions limited to 25 participants. The monthly events start at 5 p.m., so he's dubbed his group "525." In these sessions, he provides coaching on various aspects of social media marketing. The Grand Rapids 525 event became so successful that Yoder said he expanded them to Kalamazoo about six months ago.

"I'm trying to give back to the business community," Yoder said. "Many of our members are involved in technology in some way."

He still does his quarterly "big" meeting, though. The summer mixer is scheduled for 6-9 p.m.on July 11 at Quaker Steak & Lube in Kentwood. More information is available at linkedupgr.ning.com/events.

Mike Brennan is senior technology writer at MiBiz. His day job is editor and publisher of MITechNews.com

 

Read 778 times Last modified on Sunday, 29 July 2012 22:12
Mike Brennan

Senior Writer

mbrennan@mibiz.com

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