This morning I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in a landmark Twitter event with BNI Croydon (@BNICroydon). After heavy snow today, members of the Croydon BNI Chapter were unable to attend their weekly Wednesday morning meeting and decided to hold a “Tweet Meet” instead.

BNI is a worldwide networking organisation with thousands of Chapters all over the world where tens and thousands of members meet each week. Only one business from each sector can join a Chapter so you’re never competing for business within your own group. Once you are a member of a BNI Chapter, you may visit other Chapters providing the Chapter Director gives their prior agreement that you won’t be stepping on another member’s toes. The meetings follow a structure so whichever group you attend, you know what the order of events will be. I’ve got to be honest here but I’m a very new member of BNI. I joined the Redhill/Reigate Chapter recently and I knew from my first meeting that I wanted to be a part of it. Everyone I’ve met has been great and Croydon were no different. Rowdy maybe, but friendly!

Once the decision was taken to cancel this morning’s meeting, one of the Chapter members Maud Alleyne who runs thebestof Croydon and Bromley (@MaudAlleyne) proposed that the meeting be held via Twitter instead. In order to achieve this, several new users were introduced to Twitter and given a quick tutorial last night on how to use it. Maud notified all the attendees of the hashtag to use (#BNICroydon) on every message so that we could all follow the proceedings.

6.30am saw us gradually beginning to gather on Twitter with several of the group bringing breakfast too. I was starving as I kept reading about hot buttered toast and the traditional BNI cooked breakfast would have gone down a treat! Word had got around that we had a guest from BNI Arizona (hello @deseyner) and that the Founder of BNI Ivan Misner (@IvanMisner) had asked to see the transcript from our Tweet Meet (the time difference meant he couldn’t join us live) so we we had all donned our best pyjamas for the event. Shabbir Halai (@shabbirhalai) is the Chapter Director and he kicked the meeting off soon after 7am.

The standard format was followed so after the introductions and committee slots we begun the 60 second slots. As usual Shabbir went first and then members and finally visitors took their turns. Each slot was introduced by Shabbir and the 60 seconds was extended to 120 seconds to allow for typing speed. It was interesting for me to meet the members of BNI Croydon and to see what businesses they ran and the types of clients they were looking for. This part of the meeting did become slightly disorganised when one of the members tweeted their 60 seconds without using the hashtag so we couldn’t see her. I tried to rescue the situation by re-tweeting her posts and adding the hashtag, but in doing so, interrupted another member’s 60 seconds and got told off (sorry Brigitte!) Then Shabbir reached his tweet limit and had to swap profiles to continue but eventually we all did get to say who we are, what we did and how we could help others.  The referrals section was completed via email to keep the details confidential but all totals were passed to Shabbir to tally as would usually happen. The meeting closed at 8.50am at which point we all went off to grab a coffee and start work after tweeting our goodbyes.

It will be interesting to hear the total of business that passed between members today. The media will be full of pessimism stating how much business has been lost nationwide as a result of the snow, so it will be great to show how this meeting bucked the trend. As the whole transcript is publically viewable on Twitter via #BNICroydon we could also see some business relationships forming which lead to referrals for members BECAUSE of the snow!

I want to thank Shabbir for allowing me to join the meeting and for doing such a great job despite being relatively new to Twitter himself. Maud, thank you for organising the Tweet Meet – it was inspired and hopefully a trend setting event for BNI. Another thank you to all the members who were present at this morning’s Tweet Meet for being so friendly and making me welcome. BNI is the original and the best face to face networking organisation and after today we can say BNI is also the most forward thinking of them all!

We have shown today just what social media can achieve for you. Without Twitter, this meeting would not have been possible and every business should take full advantage of what the social networking platforms can help you achieve. You may have missed this meeting, but don’t miss out on the benefits of social media networking completely! Your customers are here – are you?

You can also follow me on Twitter (@VeronicaPullen)

UPDATE 2nd December 2010: This event has received some great promotion. Nigel Botterill (Founder of thebestof) has written about it today. You can read his post here