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August 29, 2006

Seth Godin on Associations (and Missions Without You)

Last year, I led a book group discussion of Seth Godin's All Marketers are Liars for ASAE's Emerging Leaders online group. I sent an e-mail to Seth telling him that I recommended his book to the group and asking him to answer a few questions for the group so I could relate the basic concept directly to associations. I, of course, never expected to hear back from the popular Mr. Godin. I was shocked when I received a reply back within 30 minutes.

The point of my questions to Mr. Godin was to get the group to realize that some of the things that associations have historically prided themselves on doing well - advocacy, grassroots mobilization, education, information - are threatened and can now be done by a small group of people with a lot of time on their hands. (Similar to David's take-away lesson from ASAE's Boston meeting.)

Have you ever joined an association?
once or twice

Professional, personal or trade? professional

If so, what stirred you to join? fear of being left out, desire to be part of the in crowd

Do you feel that the rise of self-made online communities and networks is a threat to the traditional association model? totally. I belong to hundreds of online interactions and zero associations

If small is the new big, what can associations do to make their big feel small? make promises and keep them, figure out how to create value outside of the traditional association promise, take intellectual risks, don't follow

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11 FREE Online Tools Your Association Should Be Using Now

In this day and age, small companies (and associations) can no longer whine that we don't have the budgets of our Goliath counterparts. The Web has, in a sense, created somewhat of an equal footing from the smallest to the largest of associations. Here are 11 FREE online tools that your association should be using now.

1. Blogger.com - Blogger.com is not perfect, but it is free. My first two Mississippi Hospital Association blogs - Operation Healthy Vote and Cover Mississippi - are on Blogger platforms. Once I saw that it worked and it was doable and it did in fact make my job easier, I switched to Typepad because it has categories and gave me more opportunities to customize the look of the blog. For $149 a year, I can create an unlimited number of blogs (under the same basic http address). And blogs aren't just for reaching out to your members or yelling from the electronic bully pulpit. Most associations could easily turn their weekly e-newsletter into a blog format. (People hear the word blog and think "ranting lunatics," but it is a publishing platform - no more, no less.) If you're worried about the change - whether it will work for your or not - do both. Send your e-newsletter out as usual and use the blog as an archive of the newsletter. (The material would then be searchable.)

2. Del.icio.us - Because of the tagging capabilities and the community aspect, it beats that long list of links on most Web sites (which even we still have). Here's mine.

3. Flickr - A free account allows you to upload 15 or so pictures. Pay a little more ($40, I think) and you can upload much more. You can tag photos, divide them into groups, search your photos only or all of them. Members who set up accounts also can count you as a "friend" and you can see all of their pictures too as they are added.

4. Topix.net - Search for information about your industry or your association that was reported in the last 24 hours. (You could become your own electronic clipping service, in other words.)

5. Rollyo.com - Search up to 25 sites of your choosing at the same time. For example, if you look on MHA's Rollyo page, I have a Hospital News search that searches all the major outlets for hospital news at one time. I also have a Health Policy search that searches through policy-oriented health sites. It can also be used for a quick, easy and free search engine for your own site.

6. Technorati.com - Start tagging all of the information you put online, whether in blog format or not, and it will be much easier for your members (and search engines) to find. You can also use it for research - as they track what 50 million blogs are saying. Topix.net for media, Technorati for blogs.

7. Txtvoter.org - Allow your members to register to vote via cell phone free of charge - and even personalize how they receive the e-mails (still free of charge).

8. FeedBlitz - Let members receive your information how they want it, when they want it, free of charge to you. Members can opt to receive your updates daily via e-mail. But only the ones who want it. So the ones who don't want it aren't deleting your information daily without reading it at all.

9. Skype - I admittedly have not used this yet, but I've heard that they have a free conference call feature. You can conference unlimited numbers - each of you just pays for the price of the phone call.

10. Wikipedia - At a minimum, associations should be making sure that entries pertinent to your industry and association have correct information. You can also supply new entries for topics pertinent to your field.

11. YouTube.com - Add video clips to your site without eating up your own bandwidth...or paying for it.

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August 28, 2006

Kickin' it back into gear

Now that ASAE & The Center's annual meeting is over and the Boston Blog is winding down, I thought it was about time to get Acronym rolling again.

First of all, if you have not already done so, do check out the Boston Blog. I'm about 75 percent through it, and it really does have some good stuff in there—whether you were at the meeting or not. Because they did such a good job covering the meeting, and because I had my nose buried while developing the Daily Now, I'll only do one post on the meeting—sometime in the next few days.

Right now, however, I want to call attention to "5 to See" over in the right-hand column. Rather than have a very long blog roll, we put up five to check out with the notion to change it every so often. We'll be changing them soon, but before we did, I wanted to point out some of the interesting things on those blogs. So, here's my favorite post from the last week or so for each of the current "5 to See":

TomPeters! -- "It Depends on What the Meaning of 'Is' Is." I had to choose this one because it's probably my favorite line from the Clintonian era. It also encapsulates quintessential Peters to me: do something to shake it up.

The Long Tail -- "Peter Moore on Long Tail Gaming." Ostensibly it's about gaming. Take the seven points out of the gaming context, however, and you'll see some pretty powerful stuff.

Brand Autopsy -- "Businesses Gotta Be Confident." Brand Autopsy is a target-rich environment for a posting such as this. I chose this one, I think, because of an article that will appear in the October issue of Associations Now on associations facing attacks from techno-enabled malcontents.

Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Archtects -- "Kids Nowadays." These lists are always entertaining but, more importantly, drive home generational differences.

Loose Wire -- "An End to the Anonymity of Trash?" Yes, Big Brother's muscles are growing quite strong.

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August 22, 2006

Mission Without You

I'm at ASAE & the Center's annual meeting this week. I've been having lots of conversations with friends and colleagues around topics that could all generally be filed under the Web 2.0 banner (since it's such a mushy definition). The conversations and environment of the meeting have clarified something for me about the potential impact of empowering individuals and small groups to have much greater impact via the Web.

In short: people can now pursue the mission of an association, with or without them, by connecting, organizing and acting via the Web. The national association is no longer a pre-requisite for pursuit of the mission.

To highly web-savvy people this probably sounds like a bit of a non-sequitor but it creates a fundamental identity crisis for associations. What is the role of the association if your members can pursue your mission without you and do so just as effectively, if not more so, in some cases?

I do not believe this spells the end of associations. Too many people have been burned on predicting that one. :) But I do believe it provides new opportunities to facilitate the mission and purpose of your association in a much broader context than simply through the direct operations of the association.

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August 14, 2006

"20,000 aging journalists" and your association's online communications strategy

The newspaper industry is all abuzz today with the news that the Columbia Journalism Review has slashed its online budget to fund a direct mail campaign for its print edition. Screams of cutting off its head to spite its face ensued - especially from those who were slashed right out of jobs. I was reading David Hirschman's coverage of the cuts in Editor & Publisher - at an emotional distance, just interesting stuff. But it hit me how close to home this hits for most associations when I got to this paragraph:

By shifting resources to the print edition of the magazine, CJR is essentially saying that it would rather serve the 20,000 aging journalists who still like to get a paper edition in their mailboxes (and attract a few more perhaps), than continue or expand the dynamic, globally accessible product Lovelady has created over the past year and a half.

Whenever someone contacts me for advice on how to bring more communications online, the first question they always ask is, What about the print pieces? The questioner rightly assumes that this is going to create double work - he's going to be doing an online publication and a dead-tree edition too. I then have to admit that this is generally true (at least in my case).

Columbia Journalism School dean Nick Lemann, in a recent New Yorker article analyzing the growing influence of the Web and citizen journalism, stated: "As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away." Then he cut his own online budget by 45%.

Why? Lemann explained in a statement that "everybody in journalism knows, [the Web] does not yet produce revenues commensurate with its quality."

Hirschman doesn't buy that argument - and neither do the thousands of companies spending millions of dollars on online ads each year. He points out that even The New York Times has diverted monies from direct mail campaigns to online behavioral targeting.

Hirschman ends his article with another statement directly applicable to associations: "In 2006 you can't rescue floundering print products by relying on more print."

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August 13, 2006

The No Fly Annual Meeting

The news this past week has me thinking about what the association world would be like if business travel as we know it ends.

Seems far fetched, and I hope it is, but the UK has begun to ban electronics from carry-on luggage on their flights. How many of you are confident that a checked laptop will make it to your destination unscathed? Or even arrive? I know of people who are contemplating going to London via Paris and the Chunnel in order to avoid UK flight restrictions. Such draconian measures seem likely to depress business and other travel.

If these trends continue and spread, I can see business travel by air drying up significantly. The first things to be cut in that kind of travel-unfriendly environment are often non-essential meetings, which basically defines the association event.

How could you hold an annual meeting or convention in that environment? One though I've had is that you could convene simultaneous local meetings within drive distance of a majority of your membership. Each locality would recruit their own concurrent speakers. The national organization could provide keynotes via satellite, a common web site, virtual exhibit hall and supplemental online community space for attendees around the country to interact and network. It would have to be a different economic model, of course, but the current one would not survive the death of air travel.

I am interested in what you think about this idea or other options under the assumption that business air travel might be severely restricted for an extended period of time. How might associations innovate around this kind of challenge?

(Update: News this morning says that laptops are being allowed back onto UK flights.)

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August 8, 2006

SHRM’s 2006-07 Workplace Trends: Yikes!

I just read the Society for Human Resource Management's 2006-07 Workplace Forecast, and I have to say, I didn’t walk away with a warm, cuddly feeling. While many of the themes are not new, taken together they paint a fairly scary picture of what’s happening in the American workplace.

As author Jennifer Schramm says, “many trends indicate a potential rise in employees’ feelings of insecurity through more intense global competition for jobs, more individuals without access to health insurance and fears about data security and identity theft and the vulnerability of technology to attack or disaster.”

The top workplace trends overall for 2006-07 are:

1. Rising health care costs.
2. Increased use of outsourcing (offshoring) of jobs to other countries.
3. Threat of increased health care/medical costs on the economic competitiveness of the United States.
4. Increased demand for work/life balance.
5. Retirement of large numbers of baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1964) around the same time.
6. New attitudes toward aging and retirement as baby boomers reach retirement age.
7. Rise in the number of individuals and families without health insurance.
8. Increase in identity theft.
9. Work intensification as employers try to increase productivity with fewer employees.
10. Vulnerability of technology to attack or disaster.

The full report is available through the SHRM website.

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August 7, 2006

Breaking down barriers to thought and action

Newton Holt wrote the cover story for the August issue of Associations Now, “A Healthy Lack of Discipline.” I asked him if he ran across any other examples of cross-discipline thinking that readers might find interesting. Here is his response:

“If it worked with Reese’s cups (who put their peanut butter in my chocolate?), then, naturally, a multidisciplinary mindset ought to work for creating advanced thought and new knowledge, right? Well, of course it’s not that simple, but the same sort of playfulness (I’m not going to call it 'daring' or 'courage'—everything is 'daring' or 'courageous' these days, right down to, at least according to one reviewer, the really awful CD I just regrettably bought) that tempts you to mix peanut butter and chocolate just to see what will happen is what makes the work of the ‘multidisciplinary masters’ I profiled so fascinating and, more important, groundbreaking. Here’s a look at three more examples of multidisciplinary alchemy I’ve run across in the past few weeks.

“Religion and science reconcile. Up until age 27, Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project that mapped the entire genetic structure of human beings, was a staunch atheist. But as a young doctor, he found himself impressed by how some of his most critical patients persevered with the aid of their faith. That led to a fateful meeting with a Methodist minister, who introduced Collins to the work of Christian philosopher, author, and critic C.S. Lewis (who is perhaps best known for Chronicles of Narnia). Now, at 56, Collins has combined his disciplined scientific genius with his passion for evangelical Christianity—an interesting combination. He currently is focusing on reopening the ‘age-old debate between science and religion.’ His book The Language of God will publish in September—find out more in a London Times article.

“Chemical cuisine. The May 2006 issue of Wired featured a profile of Chicago chef Grant Achatz. Why? Because Acahtz’s kitchen looks more like a sci-fi laboratory than it does a typical kitchen. At his restaurant, Alinea, he uses lab equipment and industrial preservatives to prepare such weird (but reportedly good) dishes as a supercold applewood-flavored ice cream. He also, like many chefs, sees food as art and has prepared, along with his colleagues, some very intricate, laser-precise delicacies.

“(Non)physician, heal thyself. Finally, there’s a story about someone who for good reason would rather not be named. It shows how refusing to keep yourself confined to any specialized area of thought is not only ignorant but potentially deadly. After years and years of ‘mystery’ symptoms and misdiagnoses, an association executive with a potentially life-threatening disorder was fed up. This association executive also happens to be an avid fan of all things medical. So after misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, failed treatment after failed treatment, she said, ‘You know what? Screw this. If doctors can be good at golf without being Ernie Els, then I can be good at medicine without being C. Everett Koop.’ She pored over Web sites, books, and newsgroups until she came across a set of symptoms—rare symptoms—that rang way too familiar. ‘One of my doctors had written off Charcot-Marie-Tooth [a rare genetic disorder] a few years ago, but I knew. I knew, but I didn’t trust myself, because I’m a nonphysician.’ What was her diagnosis? You guessed it: Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

“The last example is the one that strikes me the most. There’s the world ‘out there,’ the ‘real world,’ and the ‘neighborhood.’ The people whose multidisciplinary prowess I had looked at in the article were ‘out there’ (i.e., university researchers) or ‘real world’ (i.e., applied in the workplace). But to see multidisciplinary thinking in action—right there, in the ‘neighborhood’—and in a way that was potentially life saving really proved its validity to me.”

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August 3, 2006

Long Tail wagging the dog?

Thank God for people like Jeff De Cagna who elevate the level of discourse in the association community beyond the simple concepts. In comments posted to this blog, Jeff suggests that association executives need to fully consider the ramifications for our organizations of an emerging economic theory called the Long Tail, not just dismiss it out of hand. I read the article written by Jamie Notter and Jeff when it first hit Associations Now back in February 2006 and posted a few thoughts about it back then. In the time since I jotted down those thoughts, I've considered this more fully, and in my view, the Long Tail doesn't translate well to associations for these four reasons:

1. In order for the economics of the Long Tail to be fully realized, there has to be a sufficient number of consumers to take advantage of the myriad products and services being offered. I would venture to guess that an association would need an audience of about 100,000 or more in order to begin to see results from a Long Tail strategy. Pragmatically, associations' audiences are their members, and I concede that every association has the opportunity to sell to nonmembers as well.

2. Related to the first point, the Long Tail can't be fully harnessed unless there is a sufficient diversity within an audience. The blessing (and the curse) of associations is that our audiences are very homogeneous groups. How diverse can our Long Tail products and services really be if we want to sell them to an audience with relatively similar needs?

3. Association executives are accountable to their organizations' tax exempt missions or purposes. Any association executive that wants to pursue a long tail strategy will have to determine if such activity falls within the scope of their association's objectives. The task of developing a diverse line of products to satisfy a Long Tail strategy may very well fail this test.

4. The Long Tail seems to run contrary to another economic principle that seems to work quite well for associations. It's the principle outlined in books like Blue Ocean Strategy and Purple Cow. Do something remarkable and something that no one else is doing, and charge a lot of money for it. This is a strategy that, in my mind, stands a far better chance of generating a high rate of return than a Long Tail strategy.

Even if your evaluation of the Long Tail strategy suggests that your association should pursue it, there's still the problem of actually developing the thousands of products to fill your inventory. Who will do it?

Staff? How many staff would it take to develop thousands of new products and services? And aren't we all struggling with what programs to cut?

Volunteers? Are you finding enough committed volunteers to undertake projects like these?

Will your association become a reseller of other companies' products?

There is lower-hanging fruit out there. More targeted segmentation, better member service, more innovative products and services that carry a higher value and a higher profit. If you want my advice, go after those.

And here's a deep thought: The association industry itself is the long tail.

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Collaboration as a Member Benefit

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role associations might play in helping our members work collaboratively. My thought is this: what if we could instantly connect members who are working on similar projects or that have similar needs or interests, and then provide an environment and a set of tools for them to collaborate on finding solutions?

Today, the corporate sector is using collaboration among employees, customers, and partners to drive innovation and to enhance speed to market. Web 2.0, which moves the web from a communications medium to a collaborative environment, is one of the most talked about trends in technology today. Companies are exploring new ways to let employees build on and collaborated with each other’s discoveries. And more and more products and services are being co-created with customers, leading to a practice that trendwatch.com calls “customer made.”

At the same time, many of the technologies that have opened up new possibilities for collaborative work (such as wikis, blogs, folksonomies, social bookmarking, and instant messaging), are easy to use and widely available. While most started as consumer applications on the web, they have migrated into the corporate world and are increasing becoming business tools in the same way that Excel and Word are.Already, these technologies are changing the ways in which many companies do work.

These ideas and technologies haven’t seemed to have much of an effect on associations yet, but they should. I think they open up a great opportunity for us to provide real value to our members.

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August 2, 2006

Getting Away From It All - And Bringing It All With You

I'm in Orlando this week on vacation.

At first, I swore to myself I wasn't even going to take a computer with me on vacation. Just my Blackberry, which I would check at night, after a day on the rides. Of course, things are such at work where that was not possible. The laptop came on vacation too. (I promise I am going to have a vacation too - don't worry.)

But it makes me feel good to know that I am not alone, according to the latest Voice of the Traveler survey by the Travel Industry Association and Synovate. According to the survey:

  • Cell phones (86%) and digital cameras (67%) topped the list of most popular technologies Americans take with them on leisure trips
  • 24% bring their laptops
  • 21% bring CD players
  • 11% bring an iPod or MP3 player (I always have my iPod and my digital camera in my purse)

Of those who visit the Internet while on vacation:

  • 18% use it to stay connected with family and friends while traveling
  • 16% use it to find places to visit and things to do
  • 15% choose accommodations based on the availability of wireless or high-speed Internet
  • 10% use it because they like to stay in touch with the office AND
  • 9% use it because they have no choice but to stay in touch with the office

So how about you? How many did work on vacation this year? How many were good and actually left it behind?

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August 1, 2006

Who defines a movement?

Rob Walker is the engaging writer of the "Consumed" column in The New York Times. His article in Sunday's magazine is a highly engaging read that looks at developing the idea of brand from an unusual perspective. There is one (and only one, in my opinion) less than brilliant passage -- not bad considering the article clocks in at almost 7,500 words. But when I think about the article, the passage is what I think about:

"A-Ron sees himself as part of a 'movement,' a brand underground. And maybe there is something going on here that can't simply be dismissed just because of the apparent disconnect between the idea ofa 'brand' and the idea of an 'underground.' After all, subcultures aren't defined by outsiders passing judgment; they are defined by participants."

It is precisely the outsiders passing judgment that defines the subculture. The participants are taking the actions that are being judged, but by definition most of us are not in a particular subculture, so how we see it very much defines it.

Perhaps it is an insignificant little quibble, but to me it's a classic branding blunder. Your brand is not what you say it is, it is what others think it is. We like to talk about the extraordinary reach and power of associations. While I don't deny that, I also think as a sector we have some extremely tough branding issues to overcome. When was the last time you heard someone describe special interests as empowering the people? No, special interests -- according to the general public -- are blights that have developed in the course of American democracy. There is truth to both sides of that argument, though I would guess the public sees it overwhelmingly in one direction.

When it comes to branding, the same is true for your profession or industry or hobby or cause. What you think you are doesn't matter; you are defined in your market by what others think of you.

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The Long Tail: Embracing Subtle Shades of Gray

Alerted by reader Lenora G. Knapp, Ph.D., from Knapp & Associates, of a Wall Street Journal article critical of Chris Anderson's The Long Tail -- a new book that has been favorably mentioned on this site, I asked Jeff De Cagna, who coauthored "Associations in the Age of the Long Tail" in the February 2006 issue of Associations Now to craft a response. Here's what Jeff had to say:

"In a recent WSJ article, Lee Gomes offers a strong critique of The Long Tail, the influential new book written by WIRED Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson explaining the emergence of a marketplace of niches that is undermining the economics of a hits-driven media and entertainment culture. According to Anderson, the Long Tail phenomenon recognizes that not everyone is interested only in the top-selling books, movies or music. There is a considerable diversity of interests in the modern-day reading, listening and viewing audience, not to mention many enterprising content creators who use more powerful tools and technologies to develop the kind of genuine content variety that they and others want. (Just take a look at what’s happening at YouTube if you’re not sure this is true!) Google and other search engines, as well as peer recommendations and other filtering tools, simplify the process of finding such niche content, making it more economical and, quite possibly, more profitable to serve these very small markets. Amazon.com and Netflix, among other businesses, have benefited from the Long Tail effect and Chris Anderson’s original article, blog and book have become fodder for new thinking about content-based business models in the early 21st century

"We’re delighted to leave the detailed response to the Gomes article to Chris, who has already posted to his blog on this topic. We strongly encourage you to read what he has written. But in the February 2006 issue of Associations Now, Jamie Notter and I published an article about the implications of the Long Tail concept for associations, and we think this is an important moment to share a few words of concern about the state of our profession’s approach to new ideas, as well as some encouragement to association innovators who are as intrigued by Long Tail possibilities as we are.

"Our primary worry is that a handful of critical articles about the Long Tail will be enough to forever ruin any possibility for genuine discourse around this very powerful idea in the association community. The backlash may be inevitable but the response of association leaders is not. From our vantage point, however, association executives appear to be more interested than ever before in getting the absolute right answers to highly complex business problems. Tried-and-true solutions and so-called “best practices” seem to dominate every conversation, and the window for exploring promising or untested concepts seems to be narrowing with each passing day. You might say that something of a “short tail” has developed in the intellectual evolution of our profession. Indeed, we may operate today as a hits-driven marketplace interested only in proven ideas that are sure to work, even though such certainty is nothing more than an illusion in today’s operating environment. We no longer live in a world with very many black and white answers. All of us need to do more to get comfortable with many subtle shades of gray.

"So instead of ignoring or withdrawing from the debate about the deeper meaning of the Long Tail for associations, we challenge all association leaders to actively engage in it. We strongly believe that the Long Tail offers associations the chance to realize their full potential both strategically and financially. We don’t pretend to have all of the answers about how to tap into that potential, but we’re certain that great ideas to do that will emerge from the kind of rich and thoughtful dialogue to which we know the association community has traditionally aspired. And to our kindred spirits, the association innovators, who share our fascination with what the Long Tail can teach us, we urge you to sustain your personal commitment to pushing new ideas by internalizing the words of Albert Einstein, who we quote in the article, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” It is certainly one of our mantras for genuine association leadership today and going forward, and it should be one of yours as well."

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