Last Friday a group of small business owners from across the 32 counties of Ireland descended on Birr, Co Offaly for the first All-Ireland SME Community Tweet-Up. It was an extraordinary event in many ways, not least because these people would never have come into contact had they not become involved in a Twitter community which we’ve come to know as #SMEcommunity – a wonderful display of how social media in Ireland can make business better.
For those unfamiliar with Twitter it can be a little difficult to grasp the concept, but I’d suggest you think of it as the world’s biggest chatroom. You can log on or off any given time and you’ll almost always find somebody to talk to, something of interest or the latest developing news stories. It moves quickly, but once you get used to it that’s very much part of the appeal too.
Anyway, back to last Friday the men and women who turned up – and there were over 100 of them – have gotten to know each other through twitter, via a very specific conversation thread known as #SMEcommunity (the hashtag being the differentiator for this stream of chat).
Last Friday saw The County Arms Hotel in Birr step up to the mark and offer our group a complimentary venue for the day (a hotel I’ll definitely be stopping by again, it’s very nice!). And we had the privilege of enjoying a couple of guest speakers, one of whom comes from within our own community.
MC for the day was Kehlan Kirwan of FocuSMEireland.com and The Small Business Show on ClareFM, who kept proceedings light but brisk and started off with George Mordaunt, author of Shepherd’s Pie and a man who availed of the credit on offer during the Celtic Tiger, only to come a cropper once the recession kicked in. George was extremely honest and has a refreshingly different approach to those in the banks that helped bring about the downturn in the economy, yet bother the regular guy on the street when they’re down on their luck. We’re guessing that by the next tweet-up, just about everybody in the room last Friday will have read his realistic account of how he coped with the rollercoaster life he’s endured these past few years.
Following George’s presentation we enjoyed a delicious lunch and the positivity in the dining room was palpable as over 100 small business owners chatted away to people who before that day had most likely not even known each other’s first name, or indeed of each other’s existence in many cases.
Our afternoon session started with an exciting announcement from Chris Gordon of Trophies Awards & Gifts – proof positive that people power and determination can get things done. But, until Chris makes an announcement on his site we’ll hold back from announcing his wonderful deal that will make a difference to a lot of businesses.
Next up we enjoyed a session with Vincent Byrne of Business Should Be Easy, who we’re quite the fan of here at The Marketing Shop (see a previous post he wrote for us here) as he’s got a simple but effective way of taking care of business in a way that will deliver results. Around the room business owners in industries as diverse as marketing, pig farming, woodcraft, accountancy, PR, training, IT, healthcare, financial advisors, app development, online memorials, web stores and more, listened and were guided by Vincent as he shared some pearls of wisdom with us – and a takeaway that no doubt most people will find really useful going forward.
Once Vincent had finished we opened the floor up to networking again and amazingly we can chat just as quickly as we tweet! In the background video interviews were conducted and these no doubt will prove a wonderful memory of the day – we’ll share a link once these go live.
You may ask what made this event any different to other networking event? Well, there are a number of areas that make it different to a more structured event arranged by an established association or authority;
- SME Community is entirely self-funded, there are no supports available other than the time contributed by the organisers, speakers and the generosity of the venue concerned.
- In excess of 1100 businesses follow this movement through social media, primarily twitter.
- It’s come to the attention of government, with Junior Minister John Perry making contact just before kick-off to wish us well and extend an invitation to the group’s representative to meet with him.
- Positivity, friendship and empathy are the key features that have made it work.
- Informality is the key, the community decide what suits so we don’t keep to an agenda
And we were quite delighted to see that such was the popularity of the event that we were trending on twitter i.e. one of the most popular topics at the time, at one time number three which was quite a feat in itself given there was a lot happening in the news at the time.
Ultimately for a conversation which started out on twitter, it’s become quite the example of how social media can make a difference. Effective use has enabled us forge business relationships, build friendships and grow a network of like-minded positive people, many of whom are dipping a toe into the world of self-employment or small business for the very first time. Without twitter these wonderful people would most likely not have come to know each other and would therefore have missed out on the opportunities that exist to work together and be coached or helped by their peers. After all, whatever the problem when you’ve got potentially 1100 businesses to talk to you’ll quite likely find a solution through #SMEcommunity quicker than you’d find it in Google!
Where do we go from here? Well, if the feedback from the group is anything to go by it’s onwards and upwards. With a number of other Tweet-Ups already lined up in the next couple of months and an invitation from a government minister, we’ve become a force to be reckoned with. And if you’re an SME who’s not yet on board what are you waiting for?