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September 29, 2006

What Sue Said

Sue Pelletier left a comment on my original blogging post yesterday that deserves a spot front and center:

Blogging and reading blogs (and commenting and linking) has been a huge boon to me in my work as a magazine editor. Since so many associations also have magazines, I thought my experience might be relevant.

I have connected with people throughout the world, people I otherwise probably never would have known existed--the networking aspect is truly amazing in ways I never would have imagined until I started doing it. I have learned new ideas, had amazing conversations, found story ideas and people to talk with to flesh them out. I have gotten to know readers so much better, and they have gotten to know me (for what that's worth). Blogging puts a human face and human voice behind the impersonality of a large organization, and I think that makes a difference. The more members really get to know you and how you think, the more they care about what you and your organization does.

I love that ASAE and the Center got on the blogwagon, first with its show blogs and now with Acronym. What I've read in these blogs has helped me feel more connected to both the association and its members, and what's really going on in the association community.

I hope you get lots of responses to this! We need more stories about the positive aspects of blogging. My experience has been 100 percent positive, and after several years at it, I still haven't been fired. In fact, the powers-that-be appreciate the power of blogging, and the results that blogging has gotten for our organization, as well as for me personally. It's funny, but at conferences these days, I often get more comments about my blogs than I do about the magazines. A blog isn't some scary strange thing that oozes liability; it's just another way to connect people. Why wouldn't you want to do that?

Also, in my new quest to spread some good news about blogging, I found an article from bizreport.com last night about large companies using MySpace and other social networking sites for recruitment purposes: “It turns out that companies ranging from Microsoft to Starbucks to Deloitte to Intuit are finding good uses for [social networks] — both inside and outside their corporate firewalls.”

See...blogging can get you hired too!


September 28, 2006

Acronym blogger in the New York Times

One of our Acronym bloggers was featured in a Sept. 27 New York Times article about employee blogging by Matt Villand, "Blogging The Hand That Feeds You."

No, it wasn't me.

Here's the quote:

C. David Gammel, the president of High Context Consulting, a Web strategy consulting firm in Silver Spring, Md., said that employee blogs were worth encouraging, as long as companies devised individual policies about blogging and incorporated them into the employee handbook.

“Human resources departments should simply add blogging to the list of activities in which employees should be careful about how they represent the company,” he said.

And is it just me or does every article about employee blogging remind you also of those scare-tactic-laced after-school movies from the 70s? "One night, Linda was staring listlessly at the computer. She couldn't sleep. She had been thinking about it for some time, but she finally did it. She started a blog. She thought know one would know. It would just be her little secret. BUT SHE WAS WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! DON'T DO IT, LINDA. YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. GO BACK! YOU WILL BE FIRED! FIRED, I TELL YOU. REALLY. WE'RE NOT JOKING. STOP. RIGHT. NOW."

The funny part to me is that after they explore the handful of bloggers who did get fired for blogging about work and they have the lawyers chime in and say "Just Say No to Blogs," they generally conclude with "It's really just common sense - don't blog about anything you wouldn't want your boss to read." Which is very true. But in this strange new world of cell phones decked out with digital cameras and video capabilities - where clips can be posted on the Web in a nanosecond, where databases of political contributions can be searched without leaving your desk, where a Google search is the new screening process for dating and employment - I just find it odd that "blog" is the only scary word in the lexicon.

A Google search for "fired for blogging" brought back 73,300 results. A Google search for "promoted for blogging" brought back 147 and "hired for blogging" 324. I'm just saying it works both ways - and it's obvious to me that we need to work harder on uncovering the stories about the positive effects of blogging (for an association, for the individual blogger and for our industry in general).

I, for one, am going to do my part on making those search results equal. If you have had any positive experiences you would like to share about blogging or reading a blog - no matter how small - post a comment here or e-mail me directly at slea@mhanet.org. And I'm not just talking about new jobs and promotions - I'm talking about business contacts, sales and networking (an oft-overlooked aspect of blogging).

After all, I wouldn't even be writing this on the Acronym blog today if I had not begun blogging for the Mississippi Hospital Association two years ago.

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Research vs. intuition

Based on Andy's excellent comment to my post on my likes and dislikes of 7 Measures, I wanted to clarify that I am not antiresearch. Far from it actually.

Andy makes the point that the ideal scenario is a blending of research and intuition to make decisions. I think that's what I was trying to say, though I think perhaps not well enough. I think the relationship between the two is that research—things like membership surveys, reader surveys, and benchmarking surveys—should absolutely be performed and does provide valuable information, which, in turn, helps people form intuition. Many, many other things help form intuition, too. Some of the important things that come to mind are having conversations with members and other constituents (and then using those conversations to start more conversations with your staff or volunteers to see if they're hearing the same things); looking at the trends in the world around you, staying informed not just of the local, national, and international news (and please, go beyond U.S.-based sources for your international news), but of trends in marketing, technology, diversity and generational issues, economics, and yes (one of my personal weaknesses), even pop culture; and noticing how other organizations are changing.

Having said all that, I don't back down from my assertion that research should not directly inform decision making. Rather, research should be one factor considered in making decisions.

Andy also brings up the notion that research is now faster, more efficient, and less expensive than it used to be, all of which is true—kind of. The other side to that coin is that it is harder than ever to perform classic research that has statistical meaning. The scholarship on research is still coming to terms with the tools that are faster, more efficient, and less expensive. Do the tools introduce a bias into the results based on who is willing to use them? And if so, what is that bias and can you account for it? One small example that most people are familiar with is that phone surveying had been considered a pretty strong method of research assuming the rest of the research design was good. Now, with more and more people giving up landlines and going completely mobile and the prevalence of caller ID systems, there are starting to be questions about what biases are being introduced. These are things I geekily admit to being interested in (at the expense of pop culture). I don't know how it will evolve, but for right now, I treat fast & cheap research with about the same deference as focus groups. It can be a good source to help inform opinions, but as a statistical measure, I'd be skeptical.

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September 26, 2006

Managers Give Themselves Rave Reviews; Workers Beg to Differ

Image courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Nearly all managers (92 percent) consider themselves to be an excellent or good boss. However, the latest Hudson survey found that employees do not necessarily agree, as only 67 percent rate their managers favorably. In fact, ten percent of workers say their boss does a poor job, according to a survey of 1,854 U.S. workers by Rasmussen Reports LLC for Hudson, a staffing and outsourcing firm.

Robert Morgan, chief operating officer of Hudson Talent Management, a unit of Hudson Highland Group Inc., told Andrea Coombes of The Wall Street Journal that about 1/3 of managers are shocked by how employees rate them. Another 1/3 are pleasantly surprised. Only about 1/3 know what their scores will be. Morgan points out that this disconnect poses quite a threat to any company considering the known correlation of manager performance and overall performance.

Other interesting findings from the survey include:

  • One quarter (26 percent) of managers say they do not receive adequate training to handle their managerial responsibilities.
  • Of the 41 percent of employees who believe it is very or somewhat likely they would be offered their manager's job if he or she left the company, only half (54 percent) actually want it. That figure jumps to 65 percent for those making more than $75k annually.
  • Managers are less critical of their bosses' performance, with 73 percent indicating they do an excellent or good job compared to 63 percent of non-managers.

The Hudson managerial survey is based on a national poll of 1,854 U.S. workers conducted September 7-10, 2006. The margin of sampling error for a survey based on this number of interviews is approximately +/-2 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence. A more detailed data report is available at www.hudson-index.com.

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September 22, 2006

A Note on Comments

A quick FYI—in the constant battle against spam, we've had to ratchet up our comments filter. That means it's possible that your comment will get held in cue. We're checking the cue with regularity and publishing all nonspam, but it may take a few hours before your comment goes live. Apologies for the inconvenience, and we're studying alternatives.

For the geeks out there who care about such things—right now we're getting anywhere from 50 to 200 spam comments a day, about 5 to 10 percent of which are sliming their way through our spam filter.

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September 21, 2006

7 Measures Likes and Dislikes

I'm not really qualified—yet—to enter the conversation about whether 7 Measures of Success should be required CAE reading. I do try to keep up on my reading, however, and I can say that it's a book anyone who considers themself an association executive should read.

Like most important books, there are parts I agree with, and parts I don't. So here's one thing I love and one thing I hate in 7 Measures:

Love—Organizational adaptability is one of the seven measures. What it boils down to is a continuous process of assessing the environment in which your association operates and making changes based on it. It's about being decisive. It's about learning from failure. But more than anything, it's about having the courage to stop doing things that no longer work and the discipline to improve the things that do. Associations Now excerpted this part of the book in August.

Hate—There's a list of behaviors in the book that "remarkable" associations do and a list of counterparts to those behaviors. One of the behaviors of remarkable associations is that they "do their homework, through surveys, assessments, and evaluations, before launching or discontinuing a product or service." The counterpart: "rely more on intuition, assumptions, and chance to guide product development and improvement."

I believe surveys, assessments, and the like do provide valuable information, but the way that is written, it sounds like the advice is to not take an action until you've studied it extensively. No, no, no. That takes too long. And it leads to bad decisions. It's a minor part of the article, buried deep in this Washington Post article is the notion that advertising got severly dumbed down and uncreative thanks to prescreening in front of an audience. I'm a proponent of Tom Peters' advice, "Ready, fire, aim." Far from being a liability, intuition is how you spell success. Intuition and assumption (despite the cliche that assuming makes a you-know-what out of you know who) should not be equated with chance. Do your surveys and assessments, not to discover the answer to a specific question, but to better understand your constituents. If you study and know that data, your intuition will be better. As you gain experience in both knowing your members beyond how they rank something on a 5-point scale and in what your association is capable of doing, your intution will improve. And as you add to your network of peers and advisors, your intuition will improve.

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Now Playing on Newspaper Web Sites: Campaign '06 TV Spots

'Tis the season. For political ads, I mean.

And I think we can learn something from the newspapers' online presence this year too.

The big dailies like The Washington Post and The New York Times are creating databases of political ads. At The Washington Post's Mixed Messages section, you can view political ads by candidate, organization, state, party, type of race, issue and much more.

"If you are into political ads, you can just park there and watch," John Harris, national politics editor of the Post, told Joe Strup of Editor & Publisher. "You can see what the ads are and come to some conclusions."

In addition to the Web sites of candidates your association is following, another source for political ads online is YouTube. (A search for political ads brought back 502 entries, but many are obviously spoofs so review the ads closely before posting them on your Web site.)

We all have advocacy Web sites, but imagine a one-stop site for your association members to see every political ad connected to the issues you and your members care about.

I know I have now.


September 14, 2006

The marketing trap

I attended the Greater Washington Network's Communications Idea Swap earlier this week, which brought back a notion that's been mulling around in my head for a while.

At the swap, the discussion went to a place where we were talking about e-mail newsletters, then marketing in e-mail newsletters, and finally marketing e-mails. If you're like most membership organizations, you've probably had, oh, about 1,000 internal discussions about the amount of e-mail you send to your members. What gets me a little riled up is the notion that associations marketing their products and services are intruding on their members.

Don't get me wrong, I think many association members do look at such things as intrusions. But I think we need a shift in mindset. I prefer to think that associations need to "inform" members of the organization's products and services, not "market" product and services to members. I like to think of it in the context of working toward a desired outcome. The informing mindset furthers the mission of the organization, which is to deliver products and services that will improve members in some way. The marketing mindset has a desired outcome of putting butts in seats or eyeballs on publications or (insert your own measurement here).

In more practical terms, assume that by joining your association your members want to know about the products and services you offer. How do you do so in a way that most respects their time and participation? The answer is going to vary by organization, but I think it's unlikely to be dozens and dozens of e-mail notices. This is one of the times when traditional measurements—butts in seats, number of members, books sold—get in the way. Those are certainly important financial measures, and they can even help measure how effectively an association is serving its mission. We broadcast thousands and thousands of messages because they do increase these numbers. But I think we're overlooking the costs. When your members see you as little more than marketers of products and services, then your organization is heading in a dangerous direction.


September 12, 2006

14 FREE Online Tools Your Association Should Be Using Now

Acronym readers have added two more free online tools your association should be using now.

Mickie Rops added Google Alerts, which I know I should be using but have not as yet. I just added it to the ever-growing to-do list. Google Alerts are e-mail updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. You can monitor a news story, a competitor or an industry as quickly as when information is posted (or just once a week even). You could also monitor your association's name or the name of your chief executive officer and board members on the Web through Google Alerts.

John Doyle recommends GroupLoop.com for committee and board collaboration. GroupLoop provides a simple place for you to share and archive files, a central area for discussion and a calendar to manage your meetings. (It's free for up to 25 users. Once you get over that size, there are costs associated with its use.)

And while writing this, I remembered another free tool that I have used before - Writely. It's an online word processor that allows users to share documents and participate in online collaborations. You can edit your documents from anywhere (and let others edit them too). They are stored online. Best of all...it's free.

If you have other free online tools that you use that you think should be added to this list, leave a suggestion in the comments.

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