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November 30, 2007

My Web 2.0 Lawnmowers

As social media month at Acronym comes to a close, I have a question for you. Do you have AES? Association Executive Syndrome? Here are the symptoms:

1. Working your aft-region off all day and seemingly never getting to the first thing on your to-do list.
2. Leaving the office at the end of the day and wondering what the heck you really accomplished.
3. Occasional but acute feelings of dissatisfaction that you have nothing tangible to show for your work.

If you're like me, you may experience these symptoms from time to time. How do I deal with AES? Two words: yard work.

There's something very satisfying about toiling in the soil. Just few hours with lawn and garden tools, the fresh outdoor air, and the results - a nice, neat, well-shorn patch of green grass - is enough to satisfy my anthropological yearning to have something tangible to show for my labor.

For years during the fall, I would go out with a rake and tarp and meticulously gather up the leaves for a few hours. Then I realized that while the work itself was therapeutic, the results were more satisfying. I also realized I could do that raking quicker with a more effective tool. So I bought a lawnmower with a grass catcher to vacuum up the leaves. Same result. Half the time.

I always use this lawnmower story to introduce the presentation embedded below. In it, you'll discover 25 social media/web 2.0 tools to help you work more efficiently with volunteers and engage your members in the web's gathering places. Same result. Half the time. Best of all, unlike my fancy lawnmower, most of them are absolutely free. Download handouts for this presentation.

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Educating Members and Staff about Social Media

The very thought of having to learn something new – especially if it involves technology – is off-putting for many. I remember the days when I trained members on how to use the association’s website. For some, it was the first time they learned what a mouse was. I learned by experience that to learn something new you need some sort of motivation. Many years ago, that motivation was simply – hey, there’s this new world wide web-thingy, maybe I should check it out!

But now, with the rapid deployment of web tools it can seem futile to try to keep pace. Why bother with blogs? No one takes them seriously. Who cares about wikis? We’ve collaborated for years without them. I don’t need an RSS feed. I know how to find information when I need it.

So how can you encourage members and staff to try out some of these new technologies when they simply do not have the motivation to do so? My answer has been to find a low-cost, low-effort solution, deploy it with minimum hoopla and find a few people who are interested in learning more about it. Stay positive, keep expectations to a minimum, and remind everyone what it means to be out in front, to set the pace for expectations.

We launched a conference blog for the first time this year. I knew I was in for a challenge when I asked our planning committee if they read blogs and not a soul raised a hand. Some asked what a blog was. These are accomplished, highly-educated folks. I even showed them other associations’ conference blogs. They didn’t actively oppose the idea, they just didn’t have a clue about what we might accomplish with such a blog. I managed to scrape up a few volunteers who agreed to try writing a post.

Ultimately, we had a few member-contributed posts, but not many. And we didn’t have many page views either. But we did learn a few lessons along the way. To continue our educational process, earlier this week I made a presentation to our volunteer leadership about our first experience with the blog. I focused on how we succeeded – by creating a new opportunity for member engagement. I talked about the value of the information that was shared on the blog. I invited one of the guest authors to talk about her experience.

Then, I made recommendations for how we might build upon our experiences – by boosting our marketing efforts, by adding pictures, by encouraging and supporting posting onsite at the meeting. Those ideas are probably pretty obvious to many of you, but they would have seemed like pie in the sky to our leadership if I had launched the idea of a conference blog with such ambitious goals. Our leadership welcomed the ideas and one member even commented to me later that he thought we were heading in the right direction – acknowledging that he and his peers might not be the perfect audience, but that if we are to engage future members we need to get started now.

When you want to start something that is so foreign to the audience you are trying to reach, you have to start with the basics, just like learning the letters of the alphabet before learning to read. Often when we are fluent with an idea or concept, it’s easy to overwhelm those who aren’t as experienced. Understand what motivates your audience, start small, keep expectations realistic and know that you can build quickly – those are my keys to integrating the use of social media into the mainstream of our association communication methodologies.

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November 29, 2007

Lessons from the jungle

Social media is all about collaboration—making meaningful connections online.

That’s all fine and good, but despite the abundance of cheap or free web 2.0 tools, moving your association into the social media space can be costly and certainly time consuming, so where’s the payoff?

Don’t be fooled. Social media might be all about collaboration, but one of the things that collaboration leads to is commerce.

I’m going to look at several different social media parts of a single online retailer that I like. Sure, it’s the Mother of All Online Retailers, but just because they’re ginormous and have a huge R&D department, it doesn’t mean that us little guys can’t learn a trick or two from them.

amazon%20rank.jpg

That’s the Amazon sales rank. Everybody likes lists. Search for ASAE & The Center’s own Association Law Handbook and you’ll see it’s ranked in the 1.9 millions.

amazon%20tags.jpg

Here users apply a subject—they call it a tag—to the item. This is a collective wisdom tool, enabling users to find other items they might think are interesting based on terms other users have used to tag other publications.

amazon%20raters.jpg

Now say you’ve read Freakonomics and Andrew S. Weber who wrote a review of it captures everything you liked about the book. Follow the link to his Amazon page where you can read all of his reviews, possibly finding other books to enjoy or avoid.

amazon%20list.jpg

Still not finding what you need? You can see that Freakonomics is on a few different lists that people have created. Follow the link to Brianne Carnack’s “My Homegrown MBA” list to see the books she’d put on her syllabus. You can also search people’s lists.

I know -- even if you have 100,000 members, you don't come close to the critical mass that Amazon has. But you also don't have 1.9 million products either. It only takes a few for these tools--or something similar to them--to be useful for you. And once a few people make a few lists and start to gain a little professional notoriety as a result, more will follow.

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“The Membership” Doesn’t Exist and Other Thoughts

Recently, Scott Briscoe wrote a thought-provoking membership article “Should you be serving or leading your members?” As we think about the future of associations, the wants and needs of membership deserve critical consideration. Hopefully some of our respected marketing and membership folks will weigh in, since they have important insights. Here are some thoughts which I hope will further discussion:

Thought 1: “The membership” is a myth. We can’t generalize about membership. If “the membership” means a homogenous, unified, like-minded body, then it doesn’t exist anymore than “the electorate” or “the consumer” exists. What exist are various member, electorate and consumer segments. Each segment has its own common or shared interests or aspirations. For example, there are association members whose primary interest is expanded knowledge. Among the electorate are red-dog Republicans. And there are consumers for whom “green” is more than a color. Point is, while these are important segments, they hardly represent the entire spectrum. Success in membership and marketing depends on identifying and understanding your markets and the voices of the customer. Membership success, like the success in any market, is seldom achieved by thinking and treating everyone like they are a size 6.

Thought 2: Volunteer vision frequently is a 12-month window. Our active volunteer members often see things in short term, annual perspectives, particularly if they have a one year leadership position. Governing boards, even with 3-year terms, often have difficulty focusing attention beyond one year at a time. The “project oriented” Millennials may have an even shorter attention span. So this leaves the staff to see and deal with the longer term strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the association—if is to be done at all. Since volunteers often define success as 12 months of smooth sailing (no problems please), is it any wonder that the natural tendency is for volunteers to focus on (this year’s) wants rather than (longer term) needs? Beyond membership, how do you suppose the 12-month window influences successful strategy, operational execution over time and other cross-enterprise and intra-enterprise performance?

Thought 3: Traditional models may not match emerging membership challenge. My association model will hardly surprise long-time observers of associations. Many older associations, like mine, were founded for “higher purposes” (ASME was founded in 1880 for public safety, property protection and growth/access to the engineering body of knowledge). We tend to be about engineering, not engineers. Our thinking for 127 years has generally been that what is good for engineering is good for engineers and others with technology interests.

We have a culture where volunteers “mature” their leadership by volunteering for increasingly more responsible roles, over extended time periods. Our members self organize into common interest groups, often working together for many years, to build and share knowledge, community and advocacy. I regularly give out 15, 20 and 30 year pins to staff. We are a fine organization with great traditions.

As a global association, in a rapidly changing world, we are increasingly required to be an agile, innovative and performance-oriented enterprise. Here’s the emerging challenge: Members and volunteers who may: 1) be primarily motivated by their individual, personal interests; 2) have less disposable time, resources and patience for “leadership ladders” and extended, time-consuming volunteer commitments; and 3) identify with their peer interest group rather than the enterprise. Can the challenge be successfully resolved in the old, traditional membership models? What’s the definition of insanity: doing what you’ve always done, the way you always have, and thinking you’ll get new and different results?

Where are the new membership markets, voices and models? How do we reconcile wants and needs?

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November 28, 2007

Fun and games

In an interesting twist, an epidemiologist used an in-game epidemic that spread throughout World of Warcraft (a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, for those unfamiliar with WoW) to study how epidemics might spread in the real world. Alerted to the "Corrupted Blood" epidemic in World of Warcraft by one of her students, the epidemiologist observed what took place and was inspired to add new factors to her own computed-generated epidemic models.

Most of the discussion of gaming that I've heard recently in the association and business worlds has centered around education--how can we use games to help our members or customers learn? I haven't seen much conversation about the flip side of this, which the epidemiologist in the linked article grasped so quickly--how can we learn about our members by seeing how they play games?

Which actually leads to another interesting social media application that we haven't discussed yet this month: online prediction markets. Basically, these are stock markets of ideas. At the Hollywood Stock Exchange, you can trade on the success of actors and the movies they star in; the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business operates real-money prediction markets focusing on politics and economics.

Could a prediction market for your profession or industry be a game that your members could both enjoy and take seriously? And what could you learn from seeing them participate?

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November 27, 2007

Taking It from the Streets: Learning from the Disenfranchised

The man was eyeing me patiently as he stood by the Metro escalator with his stack of newspapers in hand, waiting for me to get close enough for a word. “Paper?” he asked politely. I was about to shake my head. I’d seen the newspaper, Street Sense, being sold for $1 apiece on corners throughout Washington, DC, and had bought one only once before. I couldn’t remember any impression, so I thought I’d save the buck.

Then I glimpsed the tagline: “Where the Washington area’s poor and homeless earn and give their two cents.” The man didn’t push; he simply stood at a careful distance, showing me the cover page: “No Vet Left Behind: Many Homeless Vets Unaware of Aid.” “Dalai Lama Reaches Out to Women’s Shelter.” He smiled tentatively, and I traded him dollar for paper.

On the inside cover were the most interesting stories of all—how Street Sense came to be and the “code of conduct” (which I had just seen in partial action) under which its vendors and organization operate. Written and produced primarily by volunteers and the homeless themselves, the paper contains news, poetry, artwork and powerful stories of a side of society familiar to too many but recognized by too few.

Originally, several local volunteers asked the National Coalition for the Homeless to launch a street newspaper to raise awareness of community poverty and provide a worthwhile product that the homeless could sell with dignity for income and career training. In 2003, the organization finally did, spinning it off into its own nonprofit corporation in March 2005. Its vendor base grew, too, and it now offers 50 homeless men and women a chance to earn money and self-respect by selling the biweekly publication and even subscriptions.

Twenty-five other cities—among them Boston, Chicago, Montreal and Nashville--offer street newspapers, many of them high quality enough to be recognized by politicians, major corporations and celebrities. Often run seemingly on spare change and advocating “radical transparency,” these publications actually are “innovative social businesses and grassroot projects” whose Web sites use the latest in social media—gritty blogs, wikis, virtual literary workshops accessed through public library computers--to further spread their messages about the plight of the homeless and what people can do to help.

One example is a YouTube video (halting, unfortunately) created by documentary filmmaker Amy Sedgwick about the Seattle-based street paper, Real Change. It embodies what its executive director, Tim Harris, describes as “what's transformational about Real Change.”

According to the North American Street Newspaper Association and Scotland-based International Network of Street Papers, which jointly run the Street News Service, “Street papers … provide editorial voices missing from mainstream media by including consistent reporting on poverty, as well as the writing and visual arts of economically disenfranchised people.”

As the association community begins moving from conversation to action in determining its collective and individual roles in social responsibility, tapping into the non-traditional knowledge sources of the disenfranchised—indeed, opening our minds and re-examining our likely biases toward these information sources—is more relevant and necessary than ever.

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Hanging Up Your Brand

I was in Hallmark at Tysons Corner last night and on the wall covered with ornaments that sing, move, spin, blink, talk, crack jokes and wield festive light sabers was a brand I recognized immediately: UNICEF. How many people worldwide must recognize its colorful trademarked globe encircled by children holding hands?

It made me ponder the power of a brand that makes people feel so positive and happy that they want to hang it on their Christmas tree. Look at the booming business that Starbucks does with its annual line of “perk-y” ornaments. Hershey, too. And Coca-Cola, Disney and many more.

As I unpacked my own decorations that night, I saw ornaments issued by my church, my children’s schools and—I admit it—Starbucks. Not one ornament represented any of the myriad associations to which I have belonged for years, none for the organizations that have most influenced my professional and personal life.

Now, I don’t expect associations to leap into action and start mass-producing holiday décor, but it would be interesting to ask ourselves if we were 100% confident that if we did, our members would (1) recognize our brand right away, and (2) feel warm and fuzzy enough about it to consider showcasing us among the items they hold most dear.


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November 26, 2007

Social media and ethics

The Internet began to raise new ethical issues early in its development, and similar ethical questions are springing up around social media. Sure, on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog, but is it ethical to claim you’re someone you’re not?

What about ghostwriting? It has a long history in association publications—but is it OK to ghostwrite your CEO or volunteer president’s blog entries?

What about privacy and use of personal information? If a member posts a question on their Facebook page, is it fair to target them for related marketing messages?

What about advertising and sponsorship? Banner ads aren’t anything new. But what if an advertiser offers to pay for you to attend an event and you blog about it?

What about accuracy checks? Blogs are often seen as awash in unverified, unsourced “facts” and accusations, and in some blogs, that’s certainly true. What are your obligations (especially if you’re not a professional journalist) to make sure what you’re writing is correct?

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association has done some nice work in this area, with a “practical ethics toolkit” intended to help organizations develop ethical guidelines for marketing in the Web 2.0 arena. The WOMMA code of ethics, which centers around honest and respect, is also worth a read—and worth considering for adoption in your association’s own social media efforts.

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November 25, 2007

Covert Operations and Social Media—How You Too Can Be a Double Agent

The following is a guest post from Caron Mason, web communications specialist with the American Industrial Hygiene AssociationL

I have a secret plan—well, maybe it isn’t so secret now that I am sharing it with everyone who reads Acronym. But my secret is worth exposing because it helps illustrate something: social media can have a secondary purpose for your association—just as it has a secondary purpose for me.

In an earlier Acronym entry, I mentioned how I write, ad hoc, for the ASAE & the Center’s Associapedia wiki. Well, here’s my little secret: I am preparing to take the CAE exam and the entries I am writing for the wiki reflect the different domains I am studying. They are in essence, self-assigned homework that helps reinforce what I am reading.

Pretty sneaky of me, right? Well, maybe it is not so much sneaky as it is another tool for me to grow my career. I just wish I had time to write more entries.

So what does the association get out of this other than some nice wiki entries?

If you have members that volunteer, are proactive, and are trying to better their association, wouldn’t you see them as potential leaders? You can mine those names you see appearing again and again in your social media to not only create a list of volunteers (as I mentioned in my other entry) but also create a list of possible future leaders.

You can then use that information to reach out to those budding leaders—maybe match them up with current leadership in such a way that you create an informal mentoring program. Or if your list is long, reach out in more reserved ways—but still reach out. Big steps or little steps, you can use social media as an online incubation chamber to help foster and grow new leadership in your organization.

My guess is there is a lot of potential behind social media that goes beyond the obvious of creating content for your website, increasing your Google ranking, and providing products and services to your members. I would be interested to hear other, indirect consequences of using social media (both positive and negative). What insight do you have to share?

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November 24, 2007

Monetizing social networking? More questions than answers…

Is it just me or does the concept of monetizing social networking feel almost counterintuitive? Nevertheless, from a practical standpoint, don’t we have a responsibility to be considering how these sites and applications can be monetized? Does the ROI stem solely from the increased engagement of members over their lifetime and the associated increased value that usually comes with increased engagement? Can these sites and applications be more directly linked to increases in membership or non-dues revenue? Is there a monetizing 2.0 on the horizon that breaks the traditional revenue generating molds of ads, sponsorships, dues, or products (physical or virtual)?

Without creativity in how we monetize these sites and applications, are we going to end up with RSS streams ‘brought to you by’ and advertiser AJAX but no deeper or meaningful way to create or generate ROI? What approaches have you seen that speak to how we can monetize these sites and applications? Are there lessons we can learn from the market penetration of Donor’s Choose and how they’re leveraging new media tools to get their message out and raise money for their cause? Is there a Long Tail model out there that can only be leveraged successfully by 2.0 or social media types? Or, is there something to the old Seth Godin post ‘Doing it for free’ or his more recent Thanksgiving post?

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November 23, 2007

A blogging state of mind

Perla Ni at Tactial Philanthropy and Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project have both recently tackled the "why blog?" question--as Perla puts it in her post, "Does blogging substitute for real action?" I've been thinking about it too, based on some comments I've heard recently from people who said, in a nutshell, that they see blogs as just a bunch of people talking to themselves.

In my case, the answer to "why blog?" was, originally, 'Because it's my job." But I've definitely gotten a lot out of it along the way. I'll just share a few of the main reasons why:

- Blogging polishes your writing skills. Admittedly, I'm a communicator by profession, in addition to being an association professional. But I've always been amazed how much you benefit professionally by writing clearly and compellingly. I think any association professional could use the discipline and practice of regular blogging to polish and sharpen his or her writing skills--and then use those improved skills in many other aspects of his or her work.

- Blogging makes you think about things a little differently. Because I'm always on the lookout for potential blogging topics, I often find myself trying to look beneath the surface of my work in a way that I wouldn't be if I didn't have a blog to feed. It stretches my thinking in a new way--exercise for the brain.

- Blogging engages you in the conversation. In any association, members who just pay their dues and receive a few mailings are going to relate to the organization differently than active volunteers. Blogging is the same way; as someone who is participating by writing, I relate to social media in an entirely different way than I did when I was just reading blogs. I get more out of what I read, and I've had the opportunity to speak directly with other bloggers who have taught me a great deal.

For the other association bloggers out there--I'd love to hear how you've benefited from your time as a blogger. Drop a comment (or a link to a post in your own blog) to share your thoughts!

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November 22, 2007

But will it really change anything?

Acronym isn’t the only blog discussing social media; recently, two Harvard Business blogs tackled the subject. Tom Davenport argues that Facebook and MySpace won’t change the workplace, while Charlene Li says that your company needs to be on Facebook.

Both are worth a read, but I was particularly interested in Davenport’s post, since (based on the title) I thought I’d probably disagree with some or all of his argument (and we all know how Scott feels about that!). Davenport’s title is actually a little misleading, since he spends the first four-fifths of the post acknowledging the ways Web 2.0 is changing things—“these technologies are revolutionizing innovation-based industries” and “power has definitely moved to the consumer,” to use his words.

But, he says, this doesn’t mean anything will change within the workplace:

“But are there analogous trends within companies? I don’t see them. Since employers pay employees, that gives them a certain power to start with. And while employees may trust other employees more than their senior management bosses, they are usually reluctant to say so publicly. Employees don’t even fully control the content in their own emails (with widespread email surveillance and those embarrassing brand signatures many employees are forced to use), much less the overall messages that their companies send out into the world. In general, I wouldn’t say the power held by employees has increased much in recent times, and with the decline of unions, the rise of the imperial CEO, etc., it would be easier to argue the opposite position.”

Here’s where he and I disagree. He’s absolutely right that there are companies where employees are relatively powerless. But over time, even if those particular CEOs or management teams refuse to allow for change, the employees themselves will come to expect it. People aren’t going to spend their time outside of the office enjoying their status as newly empowered consumers and then come into the office and forget all about that empowerment. When someone is used to engagement and interactivity in one part of their life, they’ll expect it elsewhere. So if those imperial CEOs refuse to change, they’ll find that they are emperors with no subjects, as their employees refuse to stay.

What do you think? Will Web 2.0 change the workplace? Has it changed your association?

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November 21, 2007

More Ways for Associations to Use Wikis

The following is a guest post from Jen Miller, vice president for client relations at Susquehanna Technologies:

6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Why do we do it that way? Where can I find…? How do you…? These are all questions members and staff ask at one time or another. Putting it all in a Wiki means everyone gets the same answers and, with everyone contributing, the answers are not only consistent but more complete.

7. Reference lists – Wikis are great for creating and maintaining lists. Preferred vendors (or those to avoid), Chapters, and related organizations all lend themselves to Wikis.

8. Knowledge base – Vast amounts of institutional knowledge reside in the heads of your staff and members. Give them a topic and ask them to put everything they know about it into a Wiki.

9. Documenting processes – Information such as when and how to upload a press release to the Web site, how to complete an expense report, what are the promotion codes for various events or items for sale online.

10. Documenting online campaigns – If you use Google Adwords to help drive non-member traffic to your site or promote items and events, you probably tinker quite a bit with the content of your ads to get them just right. Documenting what you changed, when you changed it, and why it was changed can be valuable information to other members of your staff.

11. For presentations – Instead of creating presentations in PowerPoint, consider putting them into a Wiki. They are stored for posterity, can be easily updated to reflect new information and don’t require emailing a file around for others to read.

12. Brainstorming – Great ideas rarely come to you when you are sitting in a room full of people trying to think up great ideas. With a brainstorming Wiki everyone can add their ideas on the fly this works great for planning conferences (themes, locations, dates) or planning articles (topics, outlines, links to related articles). In fact we created a Wiki to brainstorm ideas for this blog!

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November 20, 2007

Ways for Associations to Utilize Wikis

The following is a guest post from Jen Miller, vice president for client relations at Susquehanna Technologies:

Most people have heard of Wikis and by now know that the word “Wiki” comes from the Hawaiian language and means fast. What many people don’t know is that Wiki technology has many uses to make people and organizations more efficient at communicating and working together. The most recognized Wiki today is Wikipedia, a free, online competitor to traditional encyclopedias such as World Book and Brittanica. As a result, Wikis have become synonymous with an encyclopedia or dictionary. We often find that our customers like the idea of being able to create Wikis but don’t how best to use them. With that in mind we have put together some ideas of how association staff and members can best utilize Wikis.

1. Collaborating on content – writing articles, news releases, and position papers are examples of documents for which many people may provide input. While formatting is not a Wiki strength getting the content down before reformatting is easily accomplished with a Wiki.

2. Project management & communication - Tracking email communications within a team can be tedious. By placing information in a Wiki, everyone, including team members who join in the middle of the project, can read everything that has transpired. It also eliminates the “reply all” function that often clogs inboxes.

3. Organizing meetings & events – Agendas, meeting minutes, and parking lot items are all great to put on a Wiki. Those who attended can make sure that everything is documented. Those that did not can go to a single source for what they missed.

4. Providing information for annual meeting attendees – Setting up a Wiki is a great way to allow staff and members who are heading out of town for a conference to share information and tips on such things as airline deals and hotel reviews. It is also a great way to provide a list of recommended restaurants, sites to see or things for spouses to do during the conference.

5. Ad-hoc manuals or how-to documentation – Every organization has that one person that knows how to un-jam the copier or print envelopes or do a mail merge. When she is out whom do you turn to? Putting this info in a Wiki avoids reliance on any one person to keep Ops running smoothly.

More Ways to use a Wiki – coming soon….

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November 19, 2007

Please Don't Forget to Market!

The following is a guest post from C. David Gammel, CAE, of High Context Consulting. David also blogs at the High Context blog, as well as the We Have Always Done It That Way blog:

When I look at many association social media web sites, I notice that they often do not provide lead-ins to other events, products or services that the association offers. I'm not talking about the posts on a blog, for example, but the site that is wrapped around it. If you have a wiki site that supported your last annual meeting, have you bothered to go back and provide nice advertisements for your next event, with links to information? Chances are that someone interested in content at last years event might possibly be interested in this year. Be sure to provide them a vehicle to get to your current offerings.

This may sound simple or obvious but it is very important. This isn't just marketing for your own benefit. You are offering additional value to the people who are attracted to your social media content. Make sure you are taking care of everyone by marketing relevant products and services on these sites.

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November 18, 2007

Can Social Networking Strategies Help with Global Growth Strategies?

In July ComScore released data showcasing the exponential year-over-year growth in adoption of key social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace from outside the US.

Of course, the data could be improved by knowing how this global audience is engaging around these sites and what drove the increase. However, it still seems safe to assume that as we develop social networking strategies, we should consider how they could be more inclusive of our global strategies—and vice versa. It also is interesting to consider the cultural implications of looking at social networking through the lens of globalization. What would be needed from a cultural, rather than technical, perspective to make sites appeal to a global audience? (Shel Israel's ongoing study for SAP, including numerous interviews with social media proponents from around the world, is a good place to start learning more.)

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November 17, 2007

Evite Social (Planning) Media

Evite.com is a a social-planning website for creating, sending, and managing on-line invitations. It's free, supported by advertising, and owned by Barry Diller's media conglomerate, IAC.

Time and postage challenged, I used Evite.com earlier this month to get out invitations to our holiday open house. Turns out that I had email addresses for all but ten of the people I wanted to invite so the whole exercise took me something under an hour to set up and launch.

The most difficult decisions involved design--you can customize but I chose a template from a selection of 1960s retro hipster options. The second big decision was choosing the style of RSVP--I went with California surfer "Are you coming or what?" With the options being: Totally-yes. Whatever-maybe. Bummer-no.

The best part of the experience so far is that this odd collection of friends who only see each other once a year at our annual festival now have access to each other year round. In Evite, you see who's invited and who's confirmed. You get the details on your cell phone or PDA, including maps and directions. And, with a quick reply you can quickly rsvp. (Yes, you can actually get people in Washington to RSVP if you make it easy.) Guests also know know what others have volunteered to bring pot luck.

Isn't this what an association event should feel like? Content owners--advisory committees or annointed content experts--throw a party and invite everyone they know. To pull it off, everyone is asked to bring something, and the hosts create a list of what's needed. (In Evite, you can collect money via credit card or PayPal.)

Everyone who gets an invitation to participate notes who has responded, and can even invite additional guests within the parameters that the host sets up. People can anticipate the event and look for friends, and the party continues long after with photo swapping and follow up emails.

We collect checks for a favorite charity from those who want to bring something but are baking-impaired. Last year, we raised 25% of the cost of clinic for a tiny orphanage for Tibetan children that a friend supports. With Evite, I can close the loop with this year's donors and pass on photos.

Social media eliminates the obstacles of time, distance, and cost to connect people together. Seems like it also removes barriers between members to find each other, to collaborate, to share experience. Sure it can be misused, but isn't that true of all communication technologies?


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November 16, 2007

Social media and you

We’ve been talking a lot this month about social media and associations as organizations. Let’s change the focus a little, and make it all about you.

Harvard Business Review’s June 2007 issue featured a case study about a young executive enthusiastically applying for a new job; her prospects are (possibly—the case study ends without a final decision) torpedoed by an old news article found by a Google search. For a young professional reading the article, it can come across as a cautionary tale—bad things about you could be found online, and they can keep you from getting that dream job.

I’ve actually blogged about the idea of the “permanent resume” subject before, but my thinking has evolved since I originally wrote about it. It’s possible to look at a case study like the one in HBR and think that it’s scary—that old MySpace page (or what have you) coming back to haunt you so easily. But I’ve decided to think of it as empowering, because you can control your online identity in a such a wonderfully direct way.

Sure, you can’t magically delete all potentially negative mentions of you that appear online. But you can launch a blog. You can participate in a wiki. You can join Facebook or LinkedIn or what have you, answer questions and ask them, and get your voice out there. The more actively you participate, the more you can craft your personal brand to be what you want it to be.

I think Tom Peters was right, back in the early 1990s, when he wrote about the power of “Brand You.” And now, social media creates exponentially more opportunities to show others who we really are.

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November 15, 2007

Not Such A Great Idea

The beauty of belonging to ASAE and the Center is that we can be on the receiving end of any number of things you would never do to your members. I am serious. It's my favorite learning laboratory. Years ago, ASAE served fish from kiosks on the exhibit hall floor. Can you imagine? But what a delightful, crazy thing to try! At a different meeting, I was handed a personal VIP agenda, summarizing the events I had said I wanted to attend, printed out on a slip sheet that could fold up and fit behind my name badge. So cool. Never saw it again, but I loved it.

I strongly support the idea of an association of meeting planners and promoters experimenting on its own members. How can any of us experience the next new thing in real time if we don't risk making some mistakes?

So, in case you missed it, I thought I would mention a really bad idea being used to promote the December 9 Great Ideas Conference. I got one of those hideous automated phone messages from someone who is alledgedly speaking at next month's event. At dinner time. Makes my skin crawl just writing this.

So let's celebrate this bonehead move and remember--NEVER DO THIS TO YOUR MEMBERS.

Why? Great Ideas, like M&T in its infancy, was touted as the anti-hospitality event, a marketplace of ideas not fam-trips. It was for the hard-to-impress.

Clearly, you would not want to destroy that image with a sleazeball, intrusive, and annoying promotional ploy. In case there was some question, this experience is the best way to learn this lesson. So once again, we can all thank ASAE and the Center for going the extra mile.

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Who is your social media superstar?

This week I have been attending the National Association of REALTORS annual conference. Not only is this the largest conference I've ever attended, I'm going to hazard a guess that this conference has the highest percentage of social media users of any conference I've ever been to.

I'm proud report that a Virginia REALTOR, Daniel Rothamel, has emerged as something of a social media superstar over the past few months, and I believe he has cemented his reputation as the real estate industry's social media guru over the course of the NAR conference this week. The remarkable thing is that he has done this without even taking the stage at a single general or breakout session. He has, however, created his own stage by...

1. organizing a BloggerCon with the help of NAR staff (facebook login required),
2. live microblogging sessions using Twitter,
3. uploading videos shot with a cell phone, and
4. recording audio reviews of sessions and conference happenings by cell phone.

You might be asking, "why he is doing this?" Daniel has no apparent vested interest to do so, but it's an irrelevant question. The fact is that he is doing it. The relevant question is: Is there a Daniel in your membership? You may not have a social media superstar yet, but with about one out of ten Americans writing or commenting on blogs, the answer is yes you do, even if she or he has yet to emerge.

Here are some other relevant questions: Are you aware of their efforts, calling attention to their efforts, or assisting his or her efforts?

There are very good reasons to do all of the above, not the least of which is that being friendly with social media superstars can help you spread the message about the good work your association is doing by tapping into the wide reach that they have.

Today, find your social media superstar(s), and call or e-mail them.

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November 14, 2007

Contrary viewpoints

Maddie Grant of diary of a reluctant blogger fame (and also a regular commenter on Acronym) wrote about the latest issue of Associations Now on her blog—thank you for the compliments and the criticisms.

More importantly, her post outlines a philosophy she has, and I was struck by how different she and I are. I never would have guessed, because I think anybody reading her blog and my posts here on Acronym would think we have pretty similar outlooks, definitely on associations and more generally about good leadership and management.

Her philosophy?

I will admit I could not bring myself to read the anti-Web 2.0 article by Andrew Keen. I like to tell people that I don't want to be a critic - critics criticise. That's not my job - I'm the anti-critic, the enthusiast, the evangelist. If I don't really think much of something, I prefer to say nothing about it. And usually, others will also say nothing about it, and better stuff will rise to the top. But regardless, I'm not in a place where I can read the negativity in Keen's article and pull anything meaningful out of it. Instead, it will just piss me off.

I love reading and hearing commentary that is contrary to what I believe. There's a catch—it has to be thoughtful and respectful, not angry or sensational. The thought of a philosophy that squashes ideological debate is completely foreign to me. Far from "better stuff" rising "to the top," I think it would crush creativity. Decisions made in such an environment would be sheltered decisions. So, apologies to Maddie, but I have to advocate the opposite of what she says in her post--find the smartest people you can who disagree with you and engage them in debate. Your convictions will be stronger and you will be better equipped to make and explain your decisions as a result. And if it gets you a little pissed off, well, passion is good.

Obviously my philosophy is demonstrated in Associations Now with the decision to put Keen's "beware of social media" article on the cover of the issue that has an entire supplement devoted to social media.

I take heart that Maddie did end that part of the post with "So I'll wait to read that later." I think you may be surprised if you do. Dana Theus on the Member-to-Member.com blog wrote about Keen's piece:

"I was definitely impressed with his thesis and argument in the Association Now article..."

So, Maddie, a few lines from the article itself as an attempt to prod you to read it sooner rather than later...

"If Web 2.0 technologies enable anyone to publish anything on the internet, then the very raison-d'etre of associations is undermined; after all, once anyone can join an association, then it no longer is one."

"So, yes, association leaders, defend your lonely forts! ...Don't be ashamed by the educational accomplishments, the meritocratic exclusivity, the hard-earned authority of your associations. Don't lower your drawbridge to the undercredentialed and overopinionated masses." And then later...

"I'm not convinced that defending one's lonely fort against technological progress is the most sensible advice.... Like it or not, social media is a reality—probably the reality in today's increasingly techno-saturated culture."

"Blogs don't kill culture. Bloggers kill culture."

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November 13, 2007

Using Web 2.0 for Feedback

The following is a guest post from Wes Trochlil, president, Effective Database Management, LLC, who also blogs at the EDM Blogsite:

I have a confession to make: I never respond to surveys. Even though I survey my own customers, and have helped my clients conduct surveys, I never respond to surveys myself. (Well, that’s not quite true; if the survey is one question, I’ll respond.) The simple fact is, I hate responding to surveys; I think they’re a waste of my time and are generally designed to provide answers the questioner is looking for, rather than getting at some deeper “truth.”

One of the great advantages of some web 2.0 tools (e.g., blogs, wikis) are that they allow you to get feedback from your members and customers without really /asking/ for feedback. And the reality is, you’ll get better, more accurate, and more honest feedback through these tools than you would from “standard” surveys.

Consider the Dell blog. This blog is used for the “typical” blog activities: telling readers what Dell is up to, in a variety of areas. But because the blog allows for comments, it also serves as a feedback mechanism. For example, on one post talking about how Dell is adding ratings and reviews to their web pages (another feedback mechanism, by the way), one comment says “I really like what Dell is doing now... everything is customer oriented.” A second poster responds “If they cared so much about the customer then why is it that we're still waiting for information on the Latitude XT?” Here is feedback that Dell can use. And if the poster is a registered user, Dell can contact him or her directly with an answer to the query.

And speaking of knowing the commenter, with many web 2.0 tools, you can link the users back to their profile within your association management system. This way you can keep track of those individuals who care enough to comment or provided feedback, which will help identify the mavens, evangelists, and future leaders of your association.

Think about the ways you’re asking for feedback now, and how you can use web 2.0 tools to expand the pool of feedback you’re receiving.

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Should you be serving or leading your members?

We interrupt this social media month with an off-topic post...

Should your association provide what your members want or what they need? Others may disagree, but I think this is essentially the same question as does your association serve its members or lead them?

The copout answer to both questions is that associations need to do both. It’s a copout because I believe an organization can only be focused on one or the other (or, I guess neither, but that’s a different matter). There’s obviously some gray area and one side likely always spills into the other, but I think if an organization doesn’t focus on one or the other then the best it can hope for is mediocrity at both.

I’m pretty passionate about where I think associations should be: They should be on the lead/need side, not the want/serve side. To oversimplify why I think that way, I’m going to pull from my communications experience. An article that finishes a sentence that starts with “How to…” is the want/serve side, whereas an article that finishes a question that starts “What if…” is the lead/need side.

I’m not belittling the how-to articles. I just think that in the past associations were absolutely necessary to answer the how-to questions. I think it’s less important now because the online universe will almost always have more information and be a more efficient source either to find or, in the case of social media and online collaboration, to create the how-to answers.

Implications?

Boards, committees, task forces, ad hoc groups, special industry group leaders—collectively all the leaders of an organization should be asking “what if” questions and working on “what if” answers.

An organization’s paid staff should be more than administrators; they should be participants in these discussions. Too many associations build a wall between the thinking and the doing.

Guess what paid staff? This is no cakewalk. You become obligated to develop more than passing interest in or marginal knowledge of what your members do. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t really break down so neatly into how tos and what ifs. As staff, you need to have some kind of radar that will help you distinguish between the two and push volunteers to work on the latter.

You know one of the seven measures (similar to one of the ways Collins says “great” companies distinguish themselves from “good” ones) is to be data driven. I love the principle but I hate how it’s described in 7 Measures and what it means to most people. Don’t use data to figure out what members want or how to serve them; use it as part of the discussion about what they need and how the organization can lead the profession/industry/interest forward.

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November 12, 2007

Fight the fear of criticism

A lot of the questions I've heard from association professionals about social media have boiled down to something fairly simple: "But what if they say bad things about us?" What if we put up a blog, for example, and members post comments that are negative--or even nasty--about the association?

Now, I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of member criticism. (I'm sure nearly all association professionals do.) It's never fun, although it's often instructional once you get past the initial emotional reaction. But is your association allowing fear of criticism to drive its approach to social media?

One of the best responses I've seen to this issue appears in an article in this month's Associations Now supplement on social media. Writer Stephen Pelletier spoke with a number of smart people about what associations should do when considering their social media strategy. One of them had this to say:

“It’s hard to open yourself up to what may be potentially criticism,” says Jonathon D. Colman, senior manager of digital marketing at The Nature Conservancy. “Not everyone is going to love that great story that you just posted, and some of them may say bad things about it or about you—in a public space. And that’s really scary.”

Many nonprofits, Colman observes, fall prey to an urge to say, “Oh, but what about the review? Or what about running this by the board first?” The antidote to that thinking is one that association CEOs may not want to hear—that to some extent you have to relinquish absolute control of the message and risk the occasional slam, because the benefits of social networking make that tradeoff one worth making.

Rather than cave to potential naysayers, Colman suggests, the way to think about Web 2.0 is like this: “Instead of empowering the three percent of people out there who don’t like you and want to say something bad about you, you’re empowering the 97 percent who do love you, love your mission, love what you’re doing, and want to say great things about you. You’re empowering them to have that voice, which I think at the end of the day is much more of a win.”

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November 11, 2007

Wake up! It’s not about you, it’s about them.

To kick off the new week, the following is a guest post from Cecilia Satovich, director of business development for Results Direct:

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s the rationale that social media won’t work for your association because you, personally, would never use it. At the heart of that perspective may be your experience as a baby boomer.

Here’s a brief review of boomer technology history…. in 1967, handheld calculators were invented; in 1972, the first word processor and first video game (Pong) were invented; and in 1979 cell phones were invented (big and clunky – remember those?).

By contrast, the net generation experienced a very different era of technological improvements at a young age. Everything these kids grew up with was an improvement on the aforementioned technologies. Here are some of the technology experiences of the net generation: home computers, email, Internet, chat rooms, Yahoo, Google, and even small, affordable cell phones all happened and became popular before the average netgen was 16.

Be honest - did you use these inventions to do homework and play with your friends? Or did you use these to do your job?

My point is that boomers experienced the same changes and approached them differently. Since boomers were 20-30 in the 80’s and 90’s, for them, email, the Internet, and cell phones became tools for work. For netgen, it became about network.

But “people like to network in person,” you say. Yes. Yes, we do like to network in person. But are your members sending their youngest employees to your annual event? Are your membership and annual meeting fees low enough for a person in the early stage or mid-management years of their career to afford it on their own?

If the answer to those two questions is “no” or “I’m not sure”, then I have to ask, what are you doing to offer netgen members the opportunity to meet one another?

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November 10, 2007

Cross-cultural connections -- kind of

Social media is about social connectivity, and while English may be the de facto language of business, language can be a severe restraint in making connections with different cultures. This post points to a tool that is nothing short of amazing. Not surprisingly, it comes from Google: the Google Translator.

With this tool a user puts in your Web site and chooses from 11 different languages to translate the page into. In three seconds or so, the page appears, but it’s been translated into the chosen language. To test the service, we performed rigorous, extensive research, which consisted of one staff person fluent in Spanish and another who does pretty good with German looking at translated Acronym pages. This extensive research led to the conclusion that “it does a pretty good job.” One example of the confusion they saw: The post “If you can’t beat them, join them” was translated as “If you can’t hit them, join them.”

In case you don’t trust this extensive research, the Wall Street Journal had an article (creepy article, if you ask me, as it talks about how Ford relies on machine translation for translating assembly procedures for its international assembly plants—they say it’s “not perfect” but it’s “good enough”… Good enough? Yikes, I’d rather they be closer to perfect if I drove a Ford.) and ars technica has an in-depth blog post looking at a Spanish translation.

Oh, and, of course, there’s associated widgets. Here's one. If you can find a place for this monstrosity of a widget icon, you can show people that your site is instantly translatable into other languages.

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November 9, 2007

Accessibility and Web 2.0

The recent ruling in the California class action suit against Target Corp., in which individuals claimed the discount retailer's website was inaccessible to the blind, has me wondering what accessibility looks like in a 2.0 world. Does this imply that podcasts should come with a transcript? What about the potential unintended consequences of super-cool AJAX on accessibility? Do we not make pages as user friendly for wider population because it can cause problems for a few? Weren’t we moving towards the accessible web just a second ago? Did that train take a left turn I managed to miss?

In my quest for more information, I came across an article from the American Foundation for the Blind which deals with whether or not the big social networking sites are accessible to the visually impaired. The article finds that most of the sites do a fair job of presenting content and functionality in an accessible format—with the exception of CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart; in other words, the annoying letter sequences you have to retype to create accounts, post comments, buy tickets, etc.).

The article found that most of the big social networking sites, with the exception of Linked In, use these when having new accounts created. This, as the article points out, prevents those using screen readers from creating accounts without assistance.

Honestly, it never occurred to me how inaccessible CAPTCHAs are. I saw them as a great way to reduce fake accounts and prevent spam from getting posted to the web.

It makes me wonder what other accessibility roadblocks are right in front of us that we might not be seeing in web 2.0 sites and applications.

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Appreciative Inquiry: A First Experience

For those of us most comforted by orderly task lists and “here’s-how” learning, an exposure to the messy work process involved with the business methodology known as appreciative inquiry can be, frankly, exhausting and a tad overwhelming. It also can be insightful, motivational, fun and—dare I write—even intimate, regardless of the number of folks in the room.

That’s a good thing since there were more than 60 together on October 29 and 30—all of them members of the Design Team for the Global Summit of Social Responsibility, being convened by ASAE & The Center on April 30-May 1, 2008. Although few of us had any experience with the four stages of appreciative inquiry, we believed this strengths-based approach could be the best tool for co-creating what we hope will be a pioneering and innovative event that will strengthen member organizations and measurably benefit the world. No small task for any business strategy!

Mercifully, we had the best help possible—David Cooperrider, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University, the actual developer of AI and a guy who has worked with everyone from IDEO to the American Red Cross to the United Nations. David explained how AI works and started us down a “discovery” path of personal Q&A interviewing that helped us identify our own strengths, perspectives and visions. As a group, we picked our way through AI’s process of adopting a “systems of the whole” philosophy to ensure that every possible type of stakeholder would be involved in the summit and its design. We broke into smaller teams that brainstormed and asked more questions on a particular topic (summit title and tasks, pre-summit research, etc.) to help everyone envision (or “dream” as the methodology describes) and later refine (“design” or plan and prioritize) just how we might jointly pull off such a powerful effort. Now we’re at the “destiny” or “deliver” stage, during which we start to implement the design.

Several volunteers from each team have stepped up to provide additional advice to staffers as we break down the takeaways from the design meeting into tangible work tasks. Huge thanks, y’all! And thanks, too, to David, the iCohere squad and the rest of the association professionals and business partners who devoted two days to the face-to-face process and many more hours communicating online. We’ve all been using a cool new Web site established by iCohere just for this team for now, and posting has been thoughtful and steady. Although we’re not always sure what we’re doing, people seem to really want to make AI work for this important initiative. Having participated in so many other types of business approaches, I’m excited to try something fresh to help unify our diverse sector, and I’ll keep you posted as we progress. Meanwhile, here’s the official press release, but I wanted to share a more personal viewpoint with you via the blog.

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Giving Back When You’re Going Crazy

“Don't overreach. Pick just a few causes that really mean something to you,” advises longtime Washington, DC newscaster Andrea Roane to busy professionals who want to give back to their communities but are extremely time-pressed. “I try to help with the arts, because I was an arts educator; breast cancer awareness, because I am a woman and that fact alone puts me at risk for breast cancer; [and] Buddy Check 9 [a breast cancer prevention program]. And it's OK to say no. You can't do it all. Don't try!”

As someone who just guiltily dropped three volunteer activities that I had done for years, I took comfort in those words from one of our four new winners of ASAE & The Center’s In Honor of Women Awards. Presented Wednesday, November 7, at the JW Marriott in DC, the awards recognize exceptional female professionals who are high-achieving leaders with substantial influence on their surrounding communities.

I wondered how Andrea had narrowed down her many charitable options to focus on breast cancer prevention and learned that it was because of something associations been told repeatedly in our constant quest for volunteers: She was asked. More specifically, she was asked by her former news director to initiate the Buddy Check 9 project 14 years ago. On the ninth of each month (hey, that’s today!), Andrea urges her viewers to team with a friend or family member to do the National Cancer Institute's 3-step breast examination early detection program.

Thousands of people have done so, which has led to some unexpected personal and professional benefits for Andrea. “Professionally, my work through Buddy Check 9 has earned me local and national recognition for reporting and community service,” Andrea says. “Personally, having a woman or man call and tell me that my reporting or a speech I made advocating women take charge of their health saved their life is so gratifying.”

She recommends that other organizations interested in social responsibility and community outreach look to the Buddy Check 9 model as a starting point. “We are modeled after a program at the Gannett-owned sister station in Jacksonville, Florida,” Andrea explains. “It was a much-needed initiative in the DC metro area, because of the high breast cancer mortality rates of minority women. We just started telling survivor stories, profiling physicians and researchers, and updating the latest technological advancements, so it's a never-ending story. Also, I am amazed at the people who still don't know their risk factors and the importance of prevention and early detection in the fight against all cancers. Until everyone hears and understands the message, there will be a need for Buddy Check.”

She urges organizations to “look at the community in which you work--what are the needs of the people [whom] you want to choose your product? Food drives? Toys for Tots? Kidney walks?--and go from there.”

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November 8, 2007

Associations using social media

As Tyler mentioned in his post earlier today, “social media” can be perceived as a “frivolous” term, too “buzzy” or too faddish. But in fact, there are a lot of associations using social media right now—even if they didn’t think of it in that way when they originally launched their new online member directory, wiki, podcast, or Second Life presence.

Andy Steggles spent a lot of time speaking with other association execs about their experiences—good and bad—with implementing Web 2.0 initiatives at their organizations. In this month’s social media supplement, he shares what he learned.

(In addition to Andy’s article, another great place to look for examples of associations wading into the social media pond is a wiki launched by Jeff De Cagna. He and his fellow wiki contributors have found more than 100 examples you can be inspired by.)

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What's in a social name?

Jeff Cobb, in a comment on my previous post, lamented the "social media" moniker in the association industry, suggesting that it is perceived as a frivolous term. My boss, Russ Magnuson, feels it's "overly broad".

For the sake of discussion, what are some other terms that might distinguish the concept's application in the association sphere from its casual use in the world at large? Assuming it doesn't want to be too buzzy, does a simple approach like "online networking" give it more legitimacy without being too ordinary? Or does it need to be more provocative, like "contagious communication" or something. I'm afraid I'm not being very helpful in coming up with better terms, so I look forward to your comments and ideas!

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November 7, 2007

Measuring Web 2.0 ROI

One of the biggest bugaboos for many communications plans is measurement. How will we know if our communications efforts really worked? How can we prove to the board that the investment was worth it?

With Web 2.0, there’s a similar concern—especially for organizations considering a major investment in IT infrastructure to support a social media initiative.

In this month’s social media supplement, David Gammel takes a look at ways that associations can measure the return on a Web 2.0 investment. As he admits in the article, measurement for regular websites is still being refined; measurement for social media initiatives is at an even earlier stage of development. But there are ways to look at what you’re doing with Web 2.0 and decide if those efforts are helping to achieve your goals. David has some good advice to share.

As part of his research for the article, David interviewed Jeremiah Owyang, a social media analyst with Forrester Research with a lot of ideas about measuring engagement, subjective vs. objective measures, and more. Of course, the article David wrote couldn’t include everything Jeremiah had to say, so for those of you who would like to hear more of Jeremiah’s thoughts, an audiotaped version of the interview is available for your listening pleasure.

What is your association doing to measure its Web 2.0 efforts? What metrics should associations be using? What aren’t we measuring that we should?

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We got your social media right here!

In honor of social media month, the kind folks in ASAE & The Center’s Knowledge Initiatives department have added a very cool widget to Acronym. If you look down at the bottom of this post, you’ll see a little icon that says “Bookmark.” To many of you, its meaning will be immediately clear, but for folks who may not have used a similar widget before, I wanted to provide a little extra information.

This icon is intended to facilitate the sharing of Acronym posts through social bookmarking and rating sites—communities where members share links to online articles, blogs, websites, photos, or other materials that they find to be useful or interesting. (Wikipedia has a more detailed explanation, if you're interested in more information.) If you hold your mouse over the icon below or click on it, you’ll see a list of options for sharing and recommending an Acronym post through services such as del.icio.us (a social bookmarking site), Digg (a content sharing and rating site), StumbleUpon (similar to Digg, a site where members share good websites they’ve “stumbled upon,”), and more. You can also use this widget to add posts to your Facebook profile, your Twitter page, or even your personal browser bookmarks.

(On a side note, I had no idea how many different social bookmarking options there were. Our widget has 35 of them listed!)

ASAE & The Center has also added this widget to the models and samples pages on our website, so you can share and recommend content there as well. If you see a post you find particularly valuable, we hope you will share it with others through this new widget. And if you have any questions at all about how the widget works, feel free to drop a comment or e-mail us.

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Quick click: Defining leadership

This post has nothing to do with social media month, but I wanted to make sure Acronym readers saw a wonderful post by Rosetta Thurman at the Perspectives From the Pipeline blog. Rosetta shares a definition of leadership that I had never seen before: “The capacity of a system to sense and shape its future.”

I really like that this definition emphasizes that leadership is part of a system—a greater whole—and not just invested in one person. Sometimes we get so caught up in building our own abilities as individual leaders that we forget to think of leadership as something created by the whole organization. And if you think of leadership in that way, it opens up a new way of looking at your association—especially in terms of member involvement and contribution to the strategy of the organization. Members can help to sense and shape the future just as much as staff (and vice versa). How can we facilitate a process of sensing and shaping that all of those involved in the organization can contribute to?

So maybe this post does have something to do with social media month after all …

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November 6, 2007

The Naked Org

One of the Web2.0 fears we often hear about is the loss of control. Control over brand. Control over PR messaging. Control over content. Etc, etc. The fallacy in all of this, of course, is that we never really had control to begin with - and with social media, indeed, we have even less control (as defined by the old guard, anyway).

A seminal work on this concept was the Cluetrain Manifesto. A real call to arms for a new way to engage with customers/stakeholders. And, it was released way back in the pre-Web2.0 stone age of 1999! Go buy the book now (or download the free version at least). Part of their message is that everyone is already talking about you and so you might as well get engaged in the conversation. That is, you have no hope of controlling the chaos itself, but you might as well control your reaction/participation with the chaos...

Robert Scoble's Naked Conversations follows along the same lines, though is somewhat more blog specific. Even the more encyclopedic Wikinomics gets into the philosophical side of "naked" interactions, distributed engagement, etc, before diving into tactics and tools.

Further, Wired's March 07 cover story on "radical transparency" in the corporate world was inspiring. Though, sadly, the association community is way behind - in part due to our sluggish rate of change.

Heck, I was literally called a jackass and an idiot on live national news. Certainly, not part of our organizational talking points/plan... First thing I did was post the video feed to my blog... It's a long story, but I definitely came out on top ;)

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November 5, 2007

Attracting new volunteers with social media

The following is a guest post from Caron Mason, web communications specialist with the American Industrial Hygiene Association:

Social media is a great way to get new volunteers to bubble up in your association. I know from personal experience. After all, it’s how ASAE & The Center drew me in. Reflecting on my experience as a volunteer, I have some tips that I think you will find useful. But first, a little background to demonstrate how I came to these tips:

When the call came for ASAE & The Center volunteers, I was interested, but I wanted to get my toes wet before doing a double back flip into the deep waters of volunteerism. So I signed up as an “ad hoc” volunteer and a few months later I accepted a request to write a pre-launch entry for the Associapedia wiki.

Writing for the wiki is a great experience for me. I am a web communications specialist at my association and working online is something that I am very comfortable doing. As an added bonus, contributing from my home at night or on the weekend is fulfilling, since finding time to volunteer while juggling career, a young family, and a personal life can be a challenge.

Amy Hissrich, the contact for the wiki, is phenomenal. Anytime I need help, she is there. That degree of customer service inspires me to keep going and write more entries.

And I would be leaving something out if I didn’t say the recognition from peers wasn’t inspiring as well. I am not saying I wouldn’t write if my name didn’t appear at the bottom of the page, but it is an added bonus.

As I write this blog entry, I realize that ASAE & The Center has now drawn me in deeper—pretty clever of them. My contributions to the wiki were small, but it was enough that ASAE & The Center now has the name of a member who actively participates and who they know is a good resource for other volunteer projects.

So here is my list of lessons learned/tips from a volunteer’s perspective.

- Surface new volunteers by offering a new way for members to participate in the association through social media.
- Support your social media volunteers in order to keep the project moving smoothly.
- Give recognition to volunteers for their efforts: It is important to keeping them motivated.
- Use your social media for data mining. It’s a great way to get a meaningful list of names of potential/future volunteers to foster.

Do you have any additional tips or ideas to share?

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November 4, 2007

Interview with Michael Wesch

In a post a few days ago, I pointed to the video “The Machine Is Us/Ing Us,” by Kansas State University professor and cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. Professor Wesch was kind enough to speak with me for the Associations Now supplement on social media, and I was fascinated to learn why he originally began to study Web 2.0 and social media—although I didn’t end up having the space to share this particular story in the print edition of the supplement:

According to Wesch, he had the opportunity to observe the transition from an oral culture to a print-based culture while living in and studying a particular village in New Guinea. As he described it, when he arrived in the village, disputes were settled through face-to-face interactions—huge meetings where everyone would come together and decide the best solution to the problem at hand. But around 2001-2002, the village where he was living began to integrate with the political and legal system of the larger nation—including a written law book, formal legal procedures, and all of the related written documents that implies.

Wesch observed the changes that took place as this transition began. And later, he wondered what effects the transfer of discourse and debate from print into the digital realm would have on U.S. culture (and the culture of other countries experiencing the same thing).

In the interview in this month’s social media supplement, Wesch describes what he’s found so far in his studies of online culture and Web 2.0, including his thoughts on the inherent biases of social media and the role of authenticity in online discourse. Do you agree with his findings so far? Disagree? Let us know what you think!

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November 3, 2007

Some great social media resources

Although Jeff Cobb mentioned this in a comment on Tyler's Relevance 2.0 post, I wanted to make sure folks who don't necessarily check every comment thread would see the link he shared to a wealth of Web 2.0/Learning 2.0 resources that he's collected through del.icio.us. He includes links to materials on podcasting, slidesharing, social bookmarking, and more.

Jeff's del.icio.us pages are very useful, but I also think they're an example worth emulating. At your next education event, could a collection of useful links be made available in del.icio.us--and then added to by attendees? Could you encourage your members to use certain tags when they post materials online, to make it easy to find materials other members have posted to share? Neither of these thoughts are original (I know Jeffrey Cufaude has mentioned them before, and I'm sure others have too) but I don't think they've gained wide purchase either, at least not in the association realm.

Not sure what del.icio.us is, or unfamiliar with the idea of social bookmarking? There's a great short video available from CommonCraft that can explain it all.

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November 2, 2007

If you can't beat them, join them.

Wikipedia is one of the Web's busiest sites. It is a hugely powerful resource, not only to bloggers like me, but to anyone looking for quick and easy access to information on just about any subject you can imagine. But there are still people out there who doubt Wikipedia's accuracy, and quite a few of them work in the academy. Indeed, many colleges and universities have banned the use of Wikipedia as a source that students can cite in their papers.

But at least one university professor is taking a different stance when it comes to Wikipedia. TechDirt blogger Mike Masnick reports that University of Washington-Bothell professor Martha Groom has her students write new Wikipedia entries or substantially edit existing articles as an alternative to submitting semester-ending papers.

What a great idea! Not only do Professor Groom's students contribute to building a more robust set of resources that others can use, but they learn how to present their arguments from a neutral perspective, which is what Wikipedia's article standards demand.

This could be a good model for your association. Consider collaborating with an academic member who is willing to have his or her students edit, update or expand Wikipedia articles that directly relate to the knowledge base of your profession or industry. Of course, you first will need to identify a professor who isn't a reflexive Wikipedia-hater!

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Relevance 2.0

The New New Internet Conference was held yesterday at Reston Town Center, where keynotes were offered both by Ted Leonsis, Vice Chairman Emeritus of AOL and Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. Social media discussions were in force, with speakers offering opinions on which trends would conquer and which would fade. It's time to admit that social networking can't get more mainstream than it is. With roughly half the Internet population holding accounts on sites like MySpace and Facebook, no one should feel that it's either too complicated or not relevant enough to engage in.

I've heard some of my older friends claim that they just don't understand why they would log on to Facebook. Have you ever been to a party, I ask? Of course, they reply. Do you enjoy trading stories, getting to know different sides of people, letting off steam with friends, I continue? Of course, they reply, more exasperated this time. That's what Facebook is about! But underneath it, you're maintaining connections, strengthening your network and solidifying your brand.

Maybe you don't need convincing because you're reading this blog. Old news, you say, I use this stuff. Ok, so what are the arguments for implementing social media on an association Web site, and what are its uses?


  • Blogs: Set up a CEO blog and ensure members can reply with comments. This will support the customer-service culture and allow others to see your CEO in a new light.

  • Forums: Create discussion forums and shared workspaces on the site exclusive to volunteers to show they're valued and heard.

  • Wikis: Support your Communities of Practice by enabling the collaborative documentation of industry best practices.


That's just a start, I'm sure you can contribute more. The association's power comes in its facilitation of member-to-member interaction, independent of the organization's direct participation. Social media are today's most effective virtual platforms to realizing this potential.

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November 1, 2007

Welcome to social media month!

This month on Acronym, we’re taking a close look at social media, online collaboration, and Web 2.0—tying into a special supplement that ASAE & The Center members will be receiving alongside this month’s Associations Now. We’d like to encourage the association community to grapple a bit with social media and its implications for our profession. As Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing said in a post not too long ago, “Content isn’t king; conversation is.” And the new technologies and platforms now available—MySpace and Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, blogs and wikis and more—are all predicated on the idea that people don’t just want to post information, they want to talk about it with like-minded (and sometimes not so like-minded) people. What does that mean for associations? And how are associations already interacting with social media?

A number of association professionals (and others with an interest in social media) have agreed to provide guest posts to share their perspective, and of course your regular Acronym bloggers will be chiming in as well. We hope to get your perspective in comments—feel free to say what’s on your mind!

Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, lays out a lot of the major issues surrounding Web 2.0 in a short video called “The Machine Is Us/ing Us.” Take a look. What do you think of the video? Is Wesch correct in his assessment, or is he way off?









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3 Reasons Why We Don’t Stop Doing Anything

In homage to Scott’s post from a few days ago, here are some reasons why associations can be so bad at dropping projects or programs, even long past their expiration date:

1. Even the smallest program can have deeply invested boosters. A particular program or committee may only matter to 10 people out of your membership. But it’s a problem when they’re 10 people who know how to work the board—or, in some cases, people with significant tenure in the association. It’s very difficult to upset a member when said member is Past President Smith, who wrote the book on your industry and whose word carries enormous clout.

2. You hear from people who are upset, not people who don’t care. Your small program may not have many boosters, but chances are that members who aren’t boosters aren’t angry so much as indifferent (or even ignorant of its existence). So you’ll only get irate phone calls when you cancel the program. And, unfortunately, the new program you could create with the resources freed up by ending the old one doesn’t yet have any devoted constituents.

3. Organizational inertia overcomes you. A big money-loser tends to get noticed, of course. But many unsuccessful programs aren’t unsuccessful in a very noticeable way—they just go about their business, not being particularly valuable. It’s only when you think of what could have been done with that $5,000 or $10,000 multiplied over the last three to five years that you realize the opportunity costs that mediocre program has incurred.

As Scott noted in his post, we have to try to do new things. One way to do that is to clear the decks to create some space, time, and resources for new projects and programs. Try looking around and seeing what could be cleared from your association’s plate—and see how you can get the small group that’s devoted to the dying program excited about helping to launch the new program.

If you can’t, be sure that you (and your board) are prepared to stick to your guns when the angry phone calls come in—because it’s incredibly disheartening to go through the process of cutting a program only to bring it back again under pressure.

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