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The June Amplify luncheon, held June 28 at Windows on the River, featured remarks...

Networking Group Connects Northeast Ohio Tech Professionals to Brainstorm Internet-Driven Ideas

By Stephanie Davis  |  Photo by Jim Baron

Where can you go to find a social media director, web designer, programmer, and marketing manager all in the same room, determinedly seeking one another to exchange practical ideas? To witness such an intermingling of technology-driven professionals — both high- and entry-level — look no further than events hosted by the Cleveland Web Association, a nonprofit focused on leadership, networking, and education in NEO.

“Everyone is very open and willing to share ideas,” the association’s president, David Walker, says. “An entry-level programmer can talk with a CIO of a Fortune 500 Company. It’s a laidback crowd that’s very easy to interact and engage with.”

The Cleveland Web Association is actually an offshoot of the Cleveland Chapter of the Association of Internet Professionals — a group that dates to the mid-‘90s. AIP, from day one, zeroed in on those in the Internet industry responsible for creation, upkeep or facilitation of Internet-related content. In 1999 the AIP got a name change to what is now Web Association.

The Cleveland Web Association of today does not have members but is in the process of initiating a membership drive. Its database contains 1,500 names of Northeast Ohio individuals who have attended events recently.

“Anybody with a passion and interest in web development, design, marketing and management” is eligible to participate and even serve on the board, Walker says.

Walker, who is the president of Westlake-based PR/marketing agency Stevens Strategic Communications, assumed presidency of the association through active participation. Starting as a board member, he was involved when the former association president got a new job that required heavy travel, leading to his stepping down.

“At the time, I felt that the association was operating like a ship without a rudder. We were coming up with great ideas but were limited in ability to carry them out. I said I’d take on the presidency if everyone was OK with it. Without a vote, I was named president,”
he says.

Through his leadership, the association regularly hosts speaker-focused luncheons, which are attended by everyone from chief information officers and programmers to social media directors and SEO consultants — a “very eclectic audience,” Walker says.

Critical to the success of this association is how the wide variety of tech professionals, ranging in age from young millennials to Baby boomers, works together for common goals.

“The programmer has to work with the cyber security specialist. The web designer has to interact with the marketing team. The content developer collaborates with the social media director and so on. At our events, everybody can bump elbows and share points of view,” Walker says.

Myriad Internet industry folks are drawn to events by the caliber of speakers, according to Walker.

“We work extremely hard at bringing only the very best speakers to our events. We try to listen to the types of topics our audience wants to hear. And, we try to get relevant people, not just someone on a speaking circuit,” he says.

For example, he says the association recently had a speaker from Progressive Insurance talk about website security issues in light of recent credit card breaches such as the one involving Target.

At another event, Joe Pulizzi, an expert from the Content Marketing Institute, spoke about developing and disseminating quality content and how content marketing is impacting the way we communicate to customers. At another luncheon, James Krouse from IngenuityFest discussed how art and technology are changing Cleveland.

Hot topics have centered on SEO, content marketing, inbound marketing, and web design trends, Walker says.

The events are priced right as well, according to Walker, typically costing $25 for “a good speaker and good food.” Sometimes, as a bonus, as with CMI’s Pulizzi, attendees got a free book. “We really try to give you a good deal for your buck,” he says.

Aside from top-notch speakers, a great indicator that the association is reaching its audience is the effectiveness of its communication. When sending emails to its contacts database, the association gets an “amazing” 50 to 60 percent open rate on emails, which results in well-attended events, Walker says.

Building on its event-hosting strengths, the association recently formed an alliance with OHTec, the IT arm of the Council of Smaller Enterprises. Viewing the Cleveland Web Association as a good fit, OHTec, via COSE, opened its meeting space for the association to use for events.

Cleveland Web Association would like to forge more such alliances, according to Walker. “We are open to any alliance or partnership that would help digital marketing professionals advance their career goals and promote the industry in general,” he says.

Beyond partnerships, the association has plans to host after-work networking events, breakfast gatherings, and training seminars. Along those lines, Walker also would like to see the association build a greater budget to bring people in from larger cities, such as experts from New York or Boston.

In today’s world Walker can’t stress enough the importance of staying on top of rapidly changing technology.

“As digital marketing professionals, we need to be aware of these changing tides. By coming to Web Association events, you get to hear nationally recognized speakers discuss the latest trends and technology. And you can network and exchange ideas with a wide range of experts in your field.”

For more information: webassociation.org

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