The Internet, Online Chamber of Commerce - in the New Media Economy
The thought struck us last year, and again lately (with the rapid uptick in social media-driven local business economic development advocacy activities) - that a new (or extended) breed of "Chamber of Commerce" may be developing - the "Online Chamber of Commerce" or "New/Social Media Chamber of Commerce".
Sure, many traditional Chamber of Commerce institutions around the country are beginning to leverage social/new media to help attract, retain and empower their membership...but there exists a "business divide" in this model, in the form of paid membership requirements.
Most Chambers of Commerce require an annual membership fee for businesses and their representatives to participate - this covers in-person meeting venue costs, organization operating expenses, etc. Many Chambers offer "sliding scale" membership fees, i.e. reduced rates for smaller businesses; however, this fee hurdle in many cases is simply one that a lot of small businesses (in particular) can't afford or choose not to invest in. Therefore, such a Chamber may not truly and fully represent the interests of the entire business community, and its stakeholders.
There are, however, facets and benefits of typical Chamber membership that are more and more often able to be achieved through the use of online, public, free (or much lower cost) Internet new media - open to all. Online business networking, fund raising and information-sharing, for example. This sort of activity also may bring with it far more useful online promotion and marketing benefits than typical Chambers are able to deliver. (In our research, most Chambers in the DC region, for example, do not offer members the advantages of optimizing their online directory listings for search visibility, nor do they offer members opportunities for free promotion via contributory discussions, for example hosting a membership-generated "business articles" forum ).
Online, public, self-regulated groups have also proven adept in many ways, at achieving collective mass for purchase power, government advocacy and political influence - much like any Chamber of Commerce.
What does the future Chamber of Commerce look like, in this era of New Media and grass roots civil AND business advocacy? Does it evolve to embrace New Media, in a way that reduces expenses and opens the "tent", or does it focus, and establish a "business liaison network" with other grassroots (and free) off/online business advocacy groups?