August 15, 2012

Digital Event Engagement Manager: A New Role for Association Pros

The following is a guest post from Maggie McGary, online community and social media manager at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Last year, my first year attending ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, I was totally overwhelmed by the experience. This year, I was a little better prepared and went in with a game plan: Pick a session during each timeframe, then two backup sessions in case the first was full. I also spend so much time immersed in social media—learning, doing, speaking—that I thought my time would be best spent not attending any sessions dealing with social media.

At any rate, that's how I came to attend the Learning Lab "The Strategic Impact of Digital Events on Meetings," even though I'm not a meeting planner (currently; in past jobs I have done meeting management). As luck would have it, the session felt a lot like a social media session—a lot of talk about traditional versus new, with face-to-face meetings being the gold standard (like traditional communication media) and virtual or hybrid events the shiny new thing (like social media).

Lots of the same issues were addressed as are addressed in nearly every social media session: How do you get executive buy-in, how do you generate revenue from this new way of doing business, will this new way ruin the old, tried-and-true way we've always done meetings? As with social media, there are a few examples of associations who are already demonstrating success with virtual or hybrid meetings, but there still remains a lot of skepticism about moving into foreign territory.

What struck me most, though, was that I was sitting in a room full of seasoned meeting planners, many of whom are certified meeting professionals and have invested entire careers learning the business of running meetings. There I sat, a person who has spent the past four years in the business of online engagement, and it occurred to me that there's an entirely new field open to online community and social media managers: digital event engagement manager.

If the future of events is driving online engagement and being able to generate measurable results online in addition to, or instead of, face-to-face meetings, community management is at least as valuable a skillset as—if not more valuable than—meeting management. I wondered which education gap would be harder to fill—community manager retraining to learn meeting management, or meeting manager retraining to learn online community management? I also wondered who will fill that gap. Will fundamentals of online engagement and social media management be added to the list of things you need to know if you want to be a meeting manager, and, if so, will that be a new part of the certified meeting professional program? Or will community managers need to learn stuff like what's a BEO and which is a better seating setup for learning, hollow square or horseshoe?

Obviously, I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know this: Build it and they will come doesn't work for online communities, so it probably won't work for online events either. Meeting managers planning on adding digital meetings to their association's learning mix would be smart to start boning up on the fundamentals of online community management.

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May 18, 2012

ROI and concerns for association content curators

Diving into content curation for associations one more time. This is post number three on this topic in as many weeks, so I promise this will be the last for a while. Just a few other aspects of it worth examining.

ROI. The biggest return on investment for an association doing content curation may be intangible: bolstering your association's reputation as the best place (or at least one of the best places) to find high-quality knowledge and useful news in your specific field or industry. (This should sound familiar if you already publish a magazine, journal, newsletter, blog, etc.) Done well, this can lead to better recruitment, more engagement, and upticks in all the related products and services you offer that have real revenue attached (meetings, education, certifications, etc).

David Gammel summed it up well in a tweet yesterday (at right). If you're familiar with David's Engagement Acceleration Curve, you could plot content curation at the far left, near other content marketing and attention-driving strategies.

And like your traditional content, content curation could help boost revenue via advertising, but again this ought to be additive to the content you're already producing, not a replacement for it. If you find yourself going link crazy just to drive page views, take a look at newspapers to see how that's working out for them. And there are some other concerns with advertising next to other people's content, but more on that later.

These next few items are where content curation at an association gets more complicated than at an independent media outlet or as a solo practitioner on the web.

Diversity. Any good content curator will search a wide, diverse pool of perspectives and sources of knowledge (within a subject area, at least) and will also strive for diversity in the content he or she curates for the audience. That's just good sense for the community's general body of knowledge. But other diversity and inclusion considerations will factor in as well, such as highlighting new and underrepresented voices in the industry. This is a worthy goal for any association (and often an expressly stated one), but it might not always align perfectly with other measurements of content, so it's important for the association content curator to keep both goals in mind.

Influence. If your association is well positioned, your curation of others' content will be valuable exposure for those sources. Exposure that must not be doled out unevenly or haphazardly. An association curator's sources will often be paying members—and, specifically, paying supplier members who want to see their membership dues result in better exposure to the market. Ultimately, your responsibility lies in curating the best, most useful content for your audience, so it will help to have a clear definition of "best" and "useful" in case you hear from people who think you ought to be including their content in your curation.

Fair use. When you're dealing heavily in relaying other people's content, you run the risk of copyright infringement if you use it in inappropriate ways and without proper attribution. The rules of intellectual property law are sometimes fuzzy, but the simple mantras of "don't steal" and "give credit where credit is due" will generally steer you in the right direction. But these are doubly important for an association curator since so many sources are paying members. Even if you don't run afoul of copyright laws, could you upset members if they feel your association is taking advantage of their contributions? Possibly. Consider tools like Scoop.It, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Great tools for curating and sharing content easily. But what if you slapped some advertising on your Scoop.It page, next to all those handy links and teasers to other people's content? Some sources might not be as agreeable anymore.

If your association is curating content for your audience, I'd be interested to hear how your members are responding and how you're handling some of these issues. And if you missed the earlier posts on curation, here they are, plus one from last year:


May 14, 2012

A little curation on curation for associations

Two weeks ago I shared a few thoughts on how the concept of curation might work (or is working) in the retail industry, and I promised to dig a little deeper into curation in the association context. That post drew some interesting comments, so first I recommend going back and reading them.

That discussion got me thinking a lot about the topic, and so I spent some time reading what others have written about content curation already (which is quite a lot). In the interest of practicing what I preach (and in not restating what others have already said much better than I could), I decided to gather and share a handful of the most useful resources I've found on content curation:

Where to start if you're new to "curation":

On the actual job of curation:

On associations' role as content curators:

More curated info about curation:

After all that reading, I came to a couple conclusions that I think can also help you approach curation at your association:

Curation is a philosophy, not a tactic. If you take some time to read some or all of these articles, you'll find that "curation" takes on a lot of different meanings and forms, depending on who you talk to. You might find that frustrating, particularly if you're looking for how-do-I-do-it-today advice, but I think curation is best viewed as a philosophy rather than a tactic. I like Rohit Bhargava's definintion, because it encompasses any range of methods that accomplish the same goal: "finding, grouping, organizing, or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue."

You can apply that goal to just about any form of content that your association might produce, ranging from blogs and magazines to research and education. But make note of the wording: "the best and most relevant content," not "your best and most relevant content." That's the shift that associations have to make, from being the source of expertise to being the conveyer of expertise, regardless of the source. Viewed this way, curation is more of a new filter or lens through which to look at the things associations already do, rather than an entirely new source of value.

Real time vs. long tail. Of all the various forms that content curation can take, I see them mostly falling into one of two buckets, which I haven't seen clearly identified elsewhere:

  • Real-time curation. This is the ongoing, day-to-day form of curation. It's how you keep your members up to date. The subject area can be wide (as wide as your association's profession, perhaps), and the criteria for selection expand from "best" and "relevant" to also include "new." This form can appeal to a big audience, but it has a short shelf life, as it needs constant attention. Think "today's top news."
  • Long-tail curation. This is the long-term, highly specific form of curation. It's how you help your members dig deep into a topic. The subject area in each case is narrow, and the criteria for selection might be best described as "the absolute best" and "the most relevant." And the timeframe for selected content can go back for years, as long as the content stays relevant. This form appeals to a specific audience in each case, but it has a long shelf life. It could be maintained with only periodic updating. Think "Wikipedia."

Both of these forms can be valuable for associations to provide to their audiences, because they address two different user scenarios: the user who engages often to stay in touch, and the user who only comes to you when they have a specific problem to solve. (Of course, these aren't exclusive; a single person can engage with your association in both ways at different times.) But in either case, if your association is the place to easily find the best information and knowledge from throughout your profession, you'll keep those users (members or non) coming back.

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April 19, 2011

Report outlines network-centric practices for engaging communities

In case you haven't seen it yet, you should check out the new report, "Connected Citizens: The Power, Peril and Potential of Networks," from the Knight Foundation and Monitor Institute. It's an important read for any association executive looking to better understand how to navigate the new world of collective action.

The Knight Foundation's aim is toward broad social change, but the principles that the report outlines apply in any community-based context, which includes an association's members and industry at large.

The report opens by illustrating how network-centric practices are already creating new forms of social change in a group of projects the researchers examined, and it offers five practices that the authors see as pillars of future community engagement:

  1. Listening to and consulting the crowds: Actively listening to online conversations and openly asking for advice.
  2. Designing for serendipity: Creating environments, in person and online, where helpful connections can form.
  3. Bridging differences: Deliberately connecting people with different perspectives.
  4. Catalyzing mutual support: Helping people directly help each other.
  5. Providing handrails for collective action: Giving enough direction for individuals to take effective and coordinated action.

They also illustrate how these methods can be put into action to solve long-term challenges in new ways:


[From page 8 of the report, pasted here with permission. Click to enlarge.]

Last week, I pointed to some ideas about the belief in building systems and environments that enable positive but unpredictable results. In that case, the term cited was "shaping serendipity." I like that essentially the same term appears in the Knight report. It reinforces the idea that social change agents—or associations, in their own spaces—can effect change by facilitation rather than force. Social technologies are continuously making that dynamic more and more feasible and effective.

Further on, the Knight report proposes some potential future scenarios for 2015 and details ways that nonprofits can engage connected citizens and utilize the above network-centric practices. You can find the full report at

Looking at those five practices above, I'm curious what experience your association might have in engaging members in network-centric ways or what opportunities you see where you could do so in the future.


April 14, 2010

The next wave: semantic web

One more post from last week's Digital Now conference that I didn't get a chance to write while I was there.

For the second time in three years, the conference has brought in a speaker to talk about the "semantic web" and "semantic search," which are shaping up to be the next wave in internet structure and search and could have broad ripple effects. It could also be a huge boon for or threat to association website content, so it's worth learning about now as it emerges.

In my own plain English, semantic web and search are a form of internet data structure and search that do a far better job conveying and understanding the meaning of language than current tools do.

Right now, if you want to do research on tigers (the animal) on the internet, you'll have to sort through a lot of search results related to Tiger Woods, the Detroit Tigers, the Mac operating system, and so on. Semantic web structure and search use advanced metadata and search algorithms to deduce more nuanced meaning from text and return better search results. It can recognize that a web page that includes the word "tiger" and also the words "Asia," "feline," and "endangered," is much more likely to be relevant to your quest for info on tigers than a page with the word "golf" on it. They call it "semantic" because it aims to understand the meanings of words, rather than just the mere presence of them. It's an emerging field in which a lot of startups are developing technologies and tools (the one represented at Digital Now was TextDigger, by CEO Timothy Musgrove).

So anyway, how is this relevant to association work? Well, first check out what's been discussed recently about content curation and how it's a big tactical opportunity for associations. The argument is that associations (read: people who work or volunteer at associations) can fill the role of sorting through the avalanche of information on the web and delivering the most important stuff to their members. Semantic web and search are aiming to, essentially, automate this role by making it exponentially easier to classify and find information on the web.

Is this good or bad for associations? I'm really not sure. TextDigger, for instance, wants to provide content aggregation services, meaning you could leverage the power of semantic search to fill your website with highly targeted information and also sort through your own information in a highly specific way. But a lot of other companies out there could do the same thing without you. If semantic search tools elsewhere on the web gave people the power to find information relevant to them without having to turn to professional associations for expert filtering, that might spell trouble. (Heck, Google is already halfway there with its current form of search.)

We might be years away from semantic web and search becoming widely effective, but a lot of people are calling it "Web 3.0." And it wasn't all that long ago that what we now know as "Web 2.0" seemed far off, so this next wave is worth keeping an eye on.

I've probably done a poor job of explaining semantic web and search here, so you should check out more info if you're interested:

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April 9, 2010

Forget cause and effect

In various presentations, questions, and discussions at Digital Now, I've been seeing an interesting theme emerging: cause and effect are getting to be very, very difficult to pin down, and that's just something association leaders have to learn how to live with.

Some form of this question has come up several times in just a day and a half: "How do I monetize this?"

And the consistent answer has been, "Well, you don't really. You make your money elsewhere."

It came up in the session about free yesterday. It came up in a session about building online engagement today. Repeatedly, the answer to drawing financial gain from social media, publications, engagement, and many education efforts is now an indirect one. For example, you create a presence in several social media outlets, you engage with people, they build community around you, and then some of them might buy something from you. Or some of them might join your association. Or the ones who are already members become more likely to renew. Or you sell advertising to people who want to reach that market. You get the idea.

One panelist says we operate in "an ecosystem" where it's increasingly difficult to draw straight lines.

Another says he doesn't like the term ROI (return on investment) in social media; he prefers ROA: return on attention.

We touched on the indirect nature of returns on social media efforts back in November when I argued that social media evangelists have to talk to their CEOs about social media in dollar values. That was a healthy discussion, because translating social media into dollar value isn't easy, and that lack of direct cause-and-effect relationship is hard to sell to leaders or to boards.

It's why warning signs on electric fences work a lot better than warning labels on cigarette packs. The link between cause and effect in the former is a lot clearer (touch the fence, instant death) than the latter (smoke a lot, die of lung cancer 30 years from now).

Of course, you could see this all as a counterpoint to the message from Ian Ayres earlier today about the need for more statistical analysis to inform our decisions. Randomized testing is designed exactly to discern cause and effect. His point, though, is that it takes a lot of discipline and effort to track data, build samples, and test accurately, but it can indeed be done. Cause and effect, or at least strong correlations, can be discovered through data analysis.

And so maybe this isn't a counterpoint so much as it is a complement to the earlier post. As we acknowledge the increasingly complex ways in which business models for associations will work, we must grow more comfortable with a lack of direct cause-and-effect relationships. Or, if we must have those answers, our methods for connecting Point A and Point B must become more sophisticated as well.


August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

As always, I am proud to report that many associations have already sprung into action in response to the serious threat of Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 hurricane heading toward New Orleans, and the potential threat of Tropical Storm Hannah coming toward the Florida coast. Here are some of the actions associations are already taking:

· The Air Transit Association of America (ATA) has released a statement explaining evacuation processes for residents in the New Orleans area. You can read it here.

· The Humane Association, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, local and national food banks, and numerous faith-based community organizations have partnered in Nashville, Tennessee, to open shelters, distribute meals, and support evacuees from the hurricane.

· The American Red Cross is urging people in the potentially affected areas to register themselves its new Safe and Well Web site at, or call a loved one and ask them to register you. This online tool helps families and individuals notify loved ones that they are safe during an emergency. You also can read and link to the organization’s advice to evacuating families by going here.

· The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants is urging people in the affected areas to “financially prepare” for the hurricane, using its tip list, which includes the need for having plentiful cash on hand, documenting household goods and valuables, and gathering important documents.

· The National Association for Amateur Radio (ham radio folks) has developed guidelines for potential volunteers interested in responding to the hurricane emergency, warning them not to “self-deploy” and noting that the International Radio Emergency Support Coalition has been relaying reports online since Friday.

· The Texas Hotel & Lodging Association sent an alert to members last Thursday, repeating a local government estimate that 45,000 evacuees could arrive if Gustav hits Louisiana. Local restaurant associations and members have been stocking up as well.

· Social media also is coming into significant play in terms of sharing storm information, relaying community/government emergency operations, organizing nonprofit relief and assistance responses, checking on association members, monitoring local chapters/components, and rallying volunteers on standby.

· Bossier City Firefighters Association is working with the International Association of Fire Fighters to find housing for IAFF members evacuating the area. Like the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, many local associations have turned to their national associations and leaders for help—and emergency housing is just one such request. Others I’ve seen relate to transportation advice, pet care in the region, and reinforcing communication strategies.

· The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is actively tracking the storms on the Hurricane Preparedness section of its web site and has the latest NOAA and other weather updates, the status of various airports, an emergency preparedness checklist, and many more resources available to help members and the public stay abreast of rapidly changing weather conditions.

· Various electrical power associations are urging the public and businesses in the potential hurricane zones to review their virtual brochures on preparing for power outages and surges as a result of poor weather. Here’s one example from Coast Electric Power Association.

· A number of associations also are encouraging members to access the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Hurricane Preparedness page, which contains emergency plans for businesses and families, emergency supply lists, and background on hurricanes in general.

Thanks, y’all, for once again stepping up to make a real difference in the lives of both your members and the larger public. Please know that ASAE & The Center stand ready to assist you in your efforts!

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August 17, 2008

Social Net Two-Step


In pre-planning, I knew I wanted to take some time to attend a few of the Social Networking learning labs, but which ones? The Sunday post-lunch block offered two: "Continuing the Conversation – Implementing Social Networks" and "Incorporating New Media Into Your Communications Plans." Okay, I thought, the first was obviously going to address SN, but I wasn't sure about the second, so that helped me make up my mind.

I was wrong about both.

Continue reading "Social Net Two-Step" »


November 17, 2007

Evite Social (Planning) Media 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 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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August 12, 2007

More blogging tips from smart association bloggers

  • Keep up with other blog posts that mention your association (through Google Alerts, Technorati, etc.) and comment on those posts. The bloggers will be honored by your presence and will become your allies.
  • Decide on a posting schedule, and stick to it. Choose a schedule that's manageable -- quality is better than quantity.
  • Reinforce the idea that your blog is a discussion: If there is a smart comment, paste it into its own post, which will invite more interactivity.
  • To be an effective blog writer, read many blogs -- not just in your own area of interest, but more broadly as well.
  • Choose a voice and a topic, and stick to it. Your blog might be a personal reflection, or a news sharing vehicle, but it's hard for it to be both -- and your readers will notice when the voice isn't consistent.
  • Read your own archives – you might be surprised at what you find.
  • Your blog could include more than just text -- video, audio, photos. A great source for audio interviews are authors promoting their new books. And if you shoot photos of an event, send a link to the post with those photos to the people pictured in them. They are likely to send the link to others, and to comment.
  • Post idea: Read what your readers what to read and summarize it.
  • Know how many people come to your blog, and where they are coming from.
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June 28, 2007

Overcoming a cold start

Nick Senzee points to two great posts by Joshua Porter (Part I, Part II) on common problems that can overwhelm a new social web application. If your association has or ever will consider offering online social opportunities for your members—even listservers—both are definitely worth reading.

I’d like to draw your attention to one of the very first points Joshua makes, addressing the “cold start problem” (i.e., we built this great social networking site and no one uses it):

Strong social sites build value one user at a time. If one user finds value, then they’re much more likely to tell others or invite their friends. Strong sites don’t succeed by attracting “markets,” satisfying entire groups of people with a certain feature set. Instead, they succeed on a smaller level, really focusing on individuals and their immediate social network. Then they can branch outward.

Rather than starting that nifty new networking site and opening the door to your whole membership, maybe you should start with one group of early adopters. Bring them in as your partners. Ask their advice. Create something they value. And then have them invite other members to join, individually, personally. And then that second wave can also issue invitations. (This is not to say that it should stay by-invitation-only forever, of course.)

That kind of individual attention takes a lot of time—a big investment for small-staff groups in particular. But when we’re talking about social media, we’re really talking about people connecting with people, and personal attention can be a huge advantage in making that happen.

Think of it this way: Imagine a party with no host in an airplane hanger. There’s some great, fancy food, but it’s cold, it’s huge, and no one is introducing people to one another. Then imagine a party in cosy, warm space, with a friendly, engaging host who takes a newcomer by the hand, brings him or her over to a congenial group, and helps the newcomer join the conversation before greeting another new guest. Which party would you want to go to?

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March 9, 2007

MySpace is so last year

I just spoke with a friend of mine who is a youth leader in his church, and he happened to mention that he joined Facebook to better communicate with the teens he works with. Apparently, when he notified the youth group members via e-mail about upcoming events, no one would come. Turns out that the teens (at least at his church) aren’t checking e-mail anymore; to reach them, he needed to communicate with them through Facebook.

When asked if any of the teens were on MySpace, he scoffed, “No. MySpace is passé to them now.”

Associations interested in reaching out to young people might need to adjust their plans …

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February 20, 2007

Creating an Ideastorm

Via Shel Holtz’s blog, I came across something new Dell has launched that has great applicability to the association world.

Dell’s new Ideastorm site allows users to propose ideas for new products (or tweaks to existing products), vote for ideas they like with just the click of a “Promote” icon, and discuss ideas that are in play.

The best part (I think) is labeled “Ideas in Action”—where Dell intends to report how they are using the proposed ideas. Since Ideastorm is less than a week old, they don’t have anything in that space yet—but I think it will be critical in terms of keeping users involved. Compare this with a typical feedback cycle where a member or customer fills out a survey and possibly, months later, sees a newsletter article summarizing the survey results and a few sentences on how the results will be applied.

Could your members come up with a storm of ideas this way?

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February 7, 2007

The Advent of Ubiquitious Communication

A new study from comScore Networks analyzes behavioral differences and attitudes among key wireless consumer segments described as:

- The Cellular Generation - 18 to 24 year old young adults grew up with cell phone awareness, experiencing cell phones as a part of their everyday lives

- Transitioners - 25 to 34 year old cell phone users whose usage began to infiltrate everyday life during their teen years and early adulthood

- Adult Adopters - 35 years and older group that was not exposed to cell phone until adulthood, and tend to have the most functional view of cell phones, with many requiring just the basics and showing limited interest in emerging technologies

Serge Matta, senior vice president of comScore Telecommunications Solutions, tells the Center for Media Research: "During the past decade, cell phones have dramatically changed the communication habits of American consumers... As cell phones continue to evolve in terms of design, functionality, and features, it is vital that cell phone providers and manufacturers understand the differing needs and desires of these distinct consumer segments."

I would add cell phone providers, manufacturers AND associations.

I have heard much talk about how to connect with the younger folks entering the workforce. It generally revolves around how to market a meeting to that generation, how to sell a group in which half don't vote on the importance of advocacy, and what cool widgets to add to the Web site. Nothing about cell phones - the one thing, it seems, that somehow bonds all of those groups above.

Last year, we began offering advocacy alerts via cell phone - after I had a member comment that he would have been glad to call his legislator about our issue but he didn't get our action-alert e-mail until two days later. It hit me then that as great as our system was that could send out our alerts with a touch of button to thousands of people on our grassroots action list across the state within minutes - if they didn't read the e-mail until two days later, it didn't really matter. (It was a hard lesson learned the hard way. I shed a tear or two, I promise, for the fallibility of my cherished technology.)

I'm not saying that the ability to view alerts via cell phone has solved all my problems. Far from it. Not all members want to give me a cell phone number (even though I cross my heart and hope to die that I will never call them on their cell phone unless I really, really need to or if it's an advocacy matter of utmost importance that demands immediate attention where your hospital or our state will lose millions of dollars). It makes duplicate work for me, as I have to do the e-mail alert and then record a cell phone alert too (and it's harder to give instructions over a cell phone when members can't type in their zip code on a computer to find out who their legislators are).

But it made me start thinking differently. It made me start thinking about the services that could be pushed to a cell phone. And not all are expensive - some are even free. During our get-out-the-vote efforts for 2006 elections, we used a free service, txtvoter, to allow our members and their employees to begin the process to register to vote via cell phone. They even let us create a banner, free of charge, to post on blogs and Web sites. (Click here to see ours - look in the upper righthand corner.)

I felt like those two offerings were really just dipping my toe in the water - letting our staff and our members get used to the idea. (After all, it could just be another one of Shawn's crazy ideas.) Recently, I began investigating what other associations are offering in this area. Here are some great ideas from other associations to steal (or borrow, if you're squeamish):

- The Wisconsin Alumni Association offers cell phone backgrounds on their Web site. Great shots from around their campus...ready for your cell phone.

- The Dallas Mavericks, a member of the National Basketball Association, offers free ringtones to Cingular customers featuring the players and coach telling you to pick up your phone.

- The Canadian Diabetes Association recently began their Project Redialâ„¢ program - which allows diabetes advocates to donate their old cell phones to the association. In addition to promoting reuse and recycling, the program raises funds for diabetes research, education and advocacy. The American Lung Association of MIchigan held a similar cell phone drive.

How could your association use your members' cell phones to advance your mission? What are you doing now? Leave a comment here or e-mail me at

Read the press release about this study here or request a copy of the full report here.

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January 31, 2007

Building an issue “commons”

I wasn't able to attend Great Ideas, but this morning I came across an idea that I thought was a great one. In the spirit of the week, I wanted to share:

For whatever reason, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) has never been very involved in advocacy work. But now they’re thinking of changing that. So far, it seems some of that consideration process has followed fairly traditional lines—the board has formed an Advocacy Work Group to research and develop recommendations on how the association should move forward. Nothing I haven’t seen a number of times.

But they’ve also launched the IABC Advocacy Commons, a blog that offers IABC members a chance to hear what’s going on as it happens and provide input through the process. (Nonmembers can read and post as well.) According to the blog’s “About” page, “Discussions will center around ways to promote the visibility, vitality and value of the communication profession to non-communication audiences as well as how IABC and its members can address a broad spectrum of social, economic, ethical and professional issues.”

What a smart thing to do! I've observed a number of work groups established to discuss a particular issue and report back to an association board. My experience has always been that input from the general membership is requested—perhaps via e-mail, a newsletter article, and the association website—and some is received, but the comments don’t tend to directly address the information that the work group has on hand as it makes decisions. Why not post information and resources as the work group considers them, and let members have the opportunity to make truly informed and relevant comments—and point out other resources or perspectives that a small working group may not have readily available?

Admittedly, not every member will take the time to read or post on such a blog, but I would think that this kind of open and more transparent process would generate goodwill and buy-in among members with a strong interest in the issue at hand … and they’re the ones most likely to be vocal if they disagree with the final decisions of a task force.

I hope IABC’s Advocacy Commons is a great success. I look forward to seeing how their conversation progresses.


November 20, 2006

My answers to three questions

Jeff De Cagna asks three questions in a recent blog post. Here are my answers:

1. What are you learning about the future that excites you?

Though I hate the term, I'd have to say it's Web 2.0 and all that is emerging in social online connectivity. This is as profound a shift as having a world of reference information at your fingertips.

2. What are you learning about the future that concerns you?

I am concerned about the membership model of associations. Let's consider the 80/20 rule. While the percentages may not be right for your organization, I'd guess most associations have some kind of 80/20 split happening, where 20 percent of members make up 80 percent of the participation (it wouldn't surprise me a bit if many associations had a 90/10 rule; 10 percent of members make up 90 percent of participation). It used to be that the 80 percent not participating very much were still association joiners. I think the era of instant information has begun to change that. And the rise of Web 2.0 social connectivity lets people drift in and out of participation more easily than association membership does. I am also concerned that Web 2.0 social connectivity will peel off chunks of the 20 percent that do participate, as they can create their own environments when they formerly needed the association's logistical support.

3. Are you motivated more by the excitement or the concern?

Jeff makes this point about the last question: "If you’re motivated more by the concern, you probably prefer to play it safe. If you’re motivated by the excitement, you probably want to innovate."

My two answers seem to be intertwined quite a bit, but if I had to choose one, I'd guess it's my motivation around the concern that is fueling the excitement. Almost no one would rather be described as "safe" rather than "innovative," so I'm hoping that I'm an exception to his last statement. Many of my thoughts on the matter seem anything but safe—up to and including my own job security.

For example, I think one possible good and successful outcome to all of this might be forgetting the current notion of membership. I propose that the two traditional metrics we use to measure the success of membership are flawed. The two are number of members and retention rate. The metrics I care about have to include member participation. I don't care about the 80 percent. I'll take their dues dollars, but I'm much more interested in 20 percent of participators. The metrics that matter to me are the number of members participating and the retention of those participating. By casting my net narrowly on this 20 percent I think I lose a lot of the 80 percent. Obviously I'd expect this approach to transform some of the 80 percent into the engaged 20 percent, but I could only hope for a little of such growth.

The upside to this approach is you get more people more involved. I think content and quality improve, and the mission of serving the industry or profession is better served. The downside, of course, is that even though dues as a percent of total income has been declining for most associations for quite some time, dues is a huge chunk of revenue. I don't think the improved content and quality necessarily make up that revenue, either. As a result, a lot of products and services—and the people who manage them—that are developed to attract the 80 percent go away.

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November 17, 2006

An open forum

In recent entry on the Face2Face blog, Sue Pelletier links to several new websites that provide opportunities for any individual to post information, comments, or feedback about conferences and meetings—much like Amazon’s customer review system. Confabb is a good example if you’d like to check one out.

I would guess that most associations do some kind of attendee survey either during or after their major meetings. But it’s not likely that most associations will post those attendee comments for the world to see (except for the really good ones, which might make an appearance in future marketing materials).

What effect would it have if your association used Confabb or a similar system to solicit open feedback about a recent or upcoming meeting? Would it improve the experience for attendees? Would it allow you to proactively fix problems in an upcoming (or ongoing) event? Would it let you have real dialogue with attendees who had negative experiences, instead of just hearing about their concerns after the fact?


Traditionally, associations had a competitive advantage over commercial publishers because they represent both the content experts (authors) and the buyers (members). Plus, association publications could be road-tested and peer-reviewed, representing best practices if not the industry standard.

If that's your niche, hold on to your hat.

In case you missed the story in the Wall Street Journal Online edition earlier this week, London-based publisher Pearson is teaming up with Wharton and MIT's Sloan School to create a business book authored and edited by a "wiki" online community. More than 1,000 have already signed up.

The book will be called We Are Smarter Than Me. "One goal of the WeAreSmarter project," the online WSJ reports, "is to see how a wiki can organize and balance material provided by experts such as consultants and professors and managers who are using the techniques in their own business."

Like the nonprofit online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, this effort distills the wisdom of many, scrubbing out personal opinion through community-enforced rules.

Fans of James Surowiecki's 2004 best seller, The Wisdom of Crowds, will recognize the shift from forecasting to best practice.

Are you harnessing the wisdom of many to revolutionize your publication program?

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June 27, 2006

Attention Economy Unsession Reports

Ben Martin and I facilitated an unsession today on attention economics at the Marketing & Membership conference in Bethesda, MD. We had about 25 people in the room after lunch, yet it was a lively group! We have created this post as a place for attendees to add their notes and comments on what they took away from the session. Ben and I will also add our thoughts as the comment thread grows.

If you would like to learn more about unconferences (the model we used for the session) or attention economics (what we talked about), follow the links.

Update: Ben has posted some pics from the unsession on Flickr. Also, Jeff De Cagna has added some links in the comments to his notes from the discussion we had. Keep 'em coming folks!

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