Some people think a chamber membership is all about networking and because of that they see it as obsolete. After all, you can just meet other business people online, right? Search on Facebook and a number of business groups will come up, many geared to a certain profession or business size.
Some of these groups are private so you have to apply to get in. A few even require you to answer questions and promise to play nicely with others. Upon acceptance, you can spend all day chatting it up with other like-minded business owners (for free!).
No need to join the chamber, right?
Saying that joining a Facebook group for business replaces the need for a chamber membership is like placing a nickel in your piggy bank and claiming to have a retirement account. Sure, the two are kind of similar but you’ll never get the same amount of return from that group as you will from a chamber membership. Here’s why.
With a chamber membership you get the following things you won’t get from a Facebook group:
1. A Connection with the Community and a Marketable Designation
The chamber is a well-respected community organization. Many people see it as similar to the Better Business Bureau. Your membership plaque or window cling tells customers that you are intending to be part of the community for a long time. Being a member of an online group is not a reputation builder.
2. Knowledgeable Help
With an online Facebook group, someone will ask a question, others will give their advice. This can be a wonderful experiment in crowd-sourced learning. However, it can also have its downside. While the group administrator may have asked a few questions when someone entered, most groups do not vet members. Anyone can offer advice, skilled/experienced or not. It’s difficult to tell the good from the bad.
Facebook also allows frequent contributors in the group to receive a designation next to their names. Be aware this just means they answer questions often. This does not indicate expertise of any kind just a willingness to jump into conversations and post.
3. Hands-on Learning Opportunities
The chamber offers hands-on learning opportunities as well as lunch and learns. For many people, it’s hard to learn by being told what to do. But seeing it or working on it on their own through the instruction of others, can help improve the learning experience. That’s why some chambers have created learning opportunities that include things like social media help and in-person website attention. Check with your local chamber to find out what sort of learning sessions it offers.
With Facebook groups, there’s a limit to the amount of information most people are willing to share. In-depth learning will likely occur elsewhere.
4. Ribbon Cuttings
When you open a new location for your business, hit a milestone anniversary or some other accomplishment, your Facebook group might send you some emoji balloons but the chamber will be there with a social media mention, perhaps an article, help on a press release, and/or a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate your time in business.
Your Facebook group may be exceptionally supportive and you may even feel like you have a group of online friends, but it’s likely that as supportive as these friends are, they are not lobbying on behalf of your community and business on a local, state, and national level. Your chamber is. Many businesses forget this valuable part of chamber work. While most businesses can’t afford their own lobbyist, they can afford chamber membership.
I’ve known a lot of people to get “burned” by something they shared on social media. If you need help on a delicate matter within your business, it’s likely you don’t want to splash it across a public forum, even if that forum is a “private group.” If you’re dealing with something sensitive and you need advice on next steps (like in the case of a termination, business bankruptcy or going-out-of-business situation) you don’t want to share that with the world. At the chamber, you can get the help you need or a reference to someone who can assist you without sharing it with the world. Chambers handle delicate situations all the time and they do so with discretion.
There’s nothing wrong with joining Facebook groups. They can be extremely helpful in hearing advice from people who may have gone through similar situations. But these memberships will never cover everything your chamber can do for your business. Still, there’s no reason to choose between one or the other. When it comes to business growth, multiple tools and investments are required, and chamber membership is an excellent one.
Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Writer’s Weekly. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and the Event Manager Blog.
She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.