Silicon Beach: Interview with Social Media Club Founder Chris Heuer
Chris Heuer is the cofounder of Social Media Club, along with his wife, Kristie Wells. Founded in 2006, Social Media Club is for anyone who is passionate about creating and consuming media. The organization's slogan, "If you get it, share it," is the driving force behind each club, where people gather to share knowledge about social media, technology, and related topics. There are 72 local chapters in nine countries around the world, and it continues to grow.
Though based in San Francisco, 40-year-old Heuer is originally a Miami boy, having moved to Miami from Chicago when he was 7. He graduated from Palmetto Senior High, went away to college, spent his summers here, and came back to work in the 305 before he settled elsewhere.
The idea for Social Media Club began brewing in the '90s during the early Silicon Beach days, when Heuer cofounded a web development company in South Beach. Guru Communications built web applications and websites, including the first version of Sobe.com.
Heuer was in South Florida this week to speak at the inaugural meeting of Social Media Club Palm Beach County. Riptide spent some time on the phone with the affable Heuer, whose enthusiasm about social media is nothing short of infectious.
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New Times: What inspired you to start SMC?
Chris Heuer: Many experiences have inspired me, but the idea started back around 1995 with my web development agency in South Beach. In those days, we were charging far less than other big-shot companies to build websites. I was a young kid entrepreneur and I thought I knew everything. I'd point a finger at ad guys and tell them: You just don't get it." It was a very combative atmosphere. Then one day I realized that I could help them learn, and that turned my attitude around.
NT: Once your attitude shifted, what did you do about it?
Heuer: I watched the rise of the dot-com era and started thinking about how important it is to be a good netizen. We desperately needed more media literacy. In the late 1990s, I was part of an online consortium of Internet professionals. We shared ideas among ourselves, which made me realize there was a vast digital divide between those who knew things and those who didn't. So at first, we rented an office space at Miami Beach City Hall to train people on really basic stuff, like how to click links.
NT: When did Social Media Club start to become a reality?
Heuer: I went to the first BarCamp in 2005 and saw all the sharing going on among geeks in real time. There was open access to information, and I had the opportunity to meet so many great people. I realized then that participation was the new form of marketing. It was people -- not the technology -- that actually mattered.
NT: Social Media Club's slogan says, "If you get it, share it." What if you don't get it?
Heuer: Social Media Club is about socializing information and helping people "get it." The human element makes it valuable. I really believe everybody can grow and prosper through social media literacy. We're very fortunate that other people have also seen the need to share ideas and best practices.
I'm most proud of the "If you get it, share it" idea. The idea of sharing has really touched people and grown organically over time. That came from the heart and captures my values about living that openness and transparency.
NT: How do you feel about South Florida's social media community today? We now have two club chapters, one covering South Florida and the other Palm Beach County.
Heuer: One of the reasons I moved away is because businesses used to see the Internet as a fad, so there was little economic development. But what's happening today in South Florida is terrific. Alex de Carvalho, the South Florida chapter founder, has done a great job of building communities down here.
It's only natural for Social Media Club to splinter in the tri-county area. The distance thing between Miami-Dade and West Palm Beach makes it harder for people to get together. But we can find ways to work together. We're going to have a lot stronger community.
NT: What's in store for Social Media Club?
Heuer: We've reached a point of critical mass, and we've done that by letting go of the brand. We have free and paid memberships now. Our goal is to provide value to society as a whole as well as to professions in the private, government, and nonprofit sectors.
A new member site is coming up with some additional helpful services. We're also putting a little more formal structure into our operation scheme so we can serve people more efficiently. We really want to seriously invest in our mission of media literacy for all, eventually offering accessible workshops and classes.
NT: You also have another company. How does it fit into the grand scheme of all things Chris Heuer?
Heuer: At this point, I describe myself as a creative catalyst for Adhocnium.com. I'm all about creating change, embracing technology, and doing things slightly differently. I want to leave people enriched, not depleted. I take a holistic approach when helping companies through training, event production, teaching gigs, and speaking engagements. I really like the concept of creating positive change that benefits everyone.
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