Posted by Rosana Francescato
Where can you find a solar community with a shared mission, shared information, and shared resources — without even leaving your home or office? All that and more are packed into one quick hour a month at#SolarChat, a virtual networking opportunity hosted by Raina Russo.
#SolarChat is a Tweetup, or a Meetup conducted virtually over Twitter. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I attended my first #SolarChat in October 2012. What I found was a fun and exciting place to exchange ideas and information with solar enthusiasts everywhere — and even a place to meet new people.
Two years since its founding in November 2011, #SolarChat has become the cool party that everyone wants to get into. And all are welcome. This cool party consistently trends on Twitter, generating over 1500 tweets and an average of 4.5 million impressions each time.
The draw of #SolarChat
What’s behind #SolarChat? One woman and an inspiration. Raina Russo started #SolarChat after hearing a call to action at Solar Power International. Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, stressed the importance of making solar mainstream by educating the public through social media. Being a woman of action, Russo agreed heartily.
“Twitter provided a way to simultaneously accomplish a couple things that solar needed to accomplish: a way to have a brainstorming session in an open atmosphere, and an opportunity for networking,” Russo says.
Now, devoted #SolarChat followers like myself look forward eagerly to the next Tweetup for just that. It’s clearly working — #SolarChat keeps growing. “We always get new faces, and lots of core people are returning,” Russo says.
What makes #SolarChat compelling beyond the networking is its value as a source of information. Each Tweetup is organized around a subject of interest to solar professionals. Russo recruits expert panelists and tweets out a series of questions to be answered by them and by any attendee who wants to chime in. People can also ask questions.
Russo notes, “Our panelists bring a wide variety of perspectives and insight. We keep the conversation constructive and focused, while offering opportunities to learn and share ideas. The participants do benefit from this exposure, and at the same time, the solar industry social media voice and platform continues to grow stronger in the overall consumer awareness.”
It takes a village
Unsuccessful attempts to replicate #SolarChat have lacked its consistency, passion, and sheer tenacity. Russo, along with her colleague Gina LaGuardia, maintains a consistent presence, including a blog and LinkedIn — and, of course, Twitter — and provides recaps that call out the most cogent points.
She gets help moderating each Tweetup from Kendra Hubbard, another #SolarChat enthusiast. Hubbard remembers meeting Russo and thinking, “She gets it.”
Glenna Wiseman, who helps promote #SolarChat, echoes the sentiment. “When Raina started this she was ahead of the curve,” she says. “It’s a bigger force than any one of us — it’s a community that works. #SolarChat happens at prime time, so people have to feel it’s important, that there’s a benefit to this one hour of the day. People are saying they couldn’t find better use of their time – and these are very busy people.”
Russo and her team have attracted important voices: elected officials, solar executives, and researchers. Bringing it full circle from the initial inspiration, Rhone Resch himself has participated in #SolarChat during President Obama’s State of the Union address.
You can go to Twitter to find out about upcoming #SolarChats. And you can sign up here for a #SolarChat on January 29, 2014, about solar power and electric vehicles. Get ready for the quickest, most fun hour in your week!
Women as networkers
Given Twitter’s level playing field, all kinds of people participate in #SolarChat. That includes plenty of men. But women use social media, including Twitter, more than men, and we tend to be socially engaged and connected. So it seems fitting that it a woman started #SolarChat, and women are keeping it going.
It took a special kind of woman to make this happen. Russo built #SolarChat as a passion, not a business. Her motive was to make a difference. She says, “I saw a big black hole, and I had to fill it. As an engineer who’s passionate about solar, I was drawn to this obvious black hole.”
We can all take inspiration from seeing what she’s done to build #SolarChat from her initial vision of filling a need into the thriving community it is now. What “black hole” do you have the passion to fill? What’s your vision for how to make that happen?
Rosana Francescato is Director of Communications at Sunible.com, an online marketplace that’s radically simplifying the home solar buying experience. She’s on the board of Women in Cleantech and Sustainability and the steering committee of theLocal Clean Energy Alliance. She’s been the top individual fundraiser at the GRID Alternatives Bay Area Solarthon four years in a row.
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