This is a common question for chambers –
Do chambers represent all businesses in the community or just those that pay their dues?
A member of the Chamber of Commerce Professionals Group on Facebook asked:
I have a question for everyone, especially those Chambers in very small towns.We are pushing the SHOP SMALL, SHOP LOCAL for our holiday season. I want to somehow promote All of the businesses in our tiny village of 1200 residents. We have 200 members with another 60 to 70 prospective members, in and around our valley. Without stepping on the toes of our paying membership, does anyone have suggestions on how to promote all businesses? (And then hopefully gain new members)
There are two ways to see this debate:
- If you publicize everyone, members won’t renew when they see nonmembers receiving the same publicity.
- If you publicize everyone, new people will be appreciative and want to be a part of your group.
While the old American Express slogan of Membership has its Privileges is very effective, it can also be short sighted. Chambers don’t need to create a “have’s” and “have not’s” based on membership. Nor should they give everything away to nonmembers.
There’s a way to offer some privileges, without all privileges of membership, to nonmembers. Frank has referred to the Velvet Rope theory before and it’s a sound one. Give outsiders a glimpse in to what’s going on beyond the velvet ropes of membership. Let them press their faces against the glass and take a peak. Don’t exclude them altogether. If you do, they won’t be aware of the amazing things that are going on at the chamber.
Software as a Service companies – particularly those in social media – do this well. Take Buffer, for example. I can have a free plan on this scheduler service and I can post my 5 or so posts a day, 7 days a week. If I want to do any fancy scheduling, I’m going to have to pay.
Most people wonder who would want to pay if they get it for free?.
But I don’t get it for free. I get some.
Buffer shows me new features, like the improved scheduling tab, in plain view. I click on it and it tells me it’s a premium service. I can’t access it but I can see how it works. I start thinking maybe I need the paid service.
Because it’s there, I can see it, but it’s just out of reach. That sort of enticement is very effective because it’s not like being hit with a sales call on a Monday. I get to look at it every time I log into Buffer.
How Do You Publicize Nonmembers in a Shop Local Campaign?
Take a lesson from Buffer. Give members top billing but publicize all businesses. Place member listings first, use a larger font, give them holly berries next to their names, etc. Find some way to differentiate your members but keep in mind you’re providing a valuable resource for the community, so nonmembers should be included as well.
If I’m a shopper who picks up your Shop Local business map and you’ve excluded several businesses, I’m going to wonder why. If I’m savvy enough to know it’s because they’re not chamber members, then I’ll wonder why these businesses haven’t joined. If I don’t understand it’s only a list of members, I’ll think you left them off in error. Either one of those is not a good view of the pro-business chamber.
With today’s trend of doing right by the audience, serving members in a narrow way is alienating. But don’t treat everyone the same. There should be a marked difference between the benefits of membership and non-membership but a Shop Local campaign is probably not it.
Guest post by Christina Green
Image credit: Norma Davey