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May 6, 2011

Setting meaningful goals for community building

Per my previous post about my interest in the community-building sessions at MMCC, I'm adding a second set of thoughts here about a different question: How do you set goals for something as emotionally based as "community?"

Sure, my colleague Chris Wood, director of ASAE's Convene Green Alliance (CGA) for sustainable meeting planners, and I could just look at CGA program attendance, newsletters published, registered members, and business partners attracted, but we want to consider goals around value, the quality of the relationships in the community, the relevance of the knowledge shared, and the "ROE" (return on engagement, as so many MMCC speakers referenced), too.

"The challenge [with community building] is to do it at a methodical, measured pace and to introduce one piece at a time," advised Ray van Hilst of Vanguard Technology when I asked him his thoughts. Ray wins my "good sport award" for stepping in at the last minute to fill the shoes of an ill Chris Bonney, supporting Andy Steggles and Joe Flowers in a crackin'-good session about community-building/social networking trouble-shooting.

"Just say 'we're adding a feature to the website,' rather than 'building a social network' to avoid any anxiety within the group, he continued. "Remember, it's quality, not quantity" [that counts most when evaluating a community]. So often numbers and expectations are unrealistic."

Still, if a numerical goal must be established for "community" in a work plan or to satisfy higher ups, he recommends looking at the levels of engagement or percentage of participation in some of your other key activities--maybe in your webinars or at your annual meeting--versus your overall membership size, and "approaching a possible number like that."

Thus, if 20% of your members attend your conference, you might set a goal of developing an engaged community of around 20%.

"Take a look at everything else you're doing [and the respective participation percentages], and ask yourself, 'Would we consider ourselves successful if we did the same thing with our community?' Then you can manage that expectation issue," he advised.

Interesting idea. What do other folks think?

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May 4, 2011

A Top Ten list from MMCC/Springtime

Last week, I attended both the ASAE Membership, Marketing, & Communications conference as well as Springtime. I'd imagine most people don't go to both of these (unless they need the hours), as they're basically focused on different audiences. But as someone in a (very) small association, I do both meeting planning and marketing for my association.

So, for those who were not able to attend, I thought I'd do my top 10 takeaways -- both "formally presented" and personally realized.

In no particular order:

-Twitter is amazing. I spoke on a webinar recently in which I said I was not a fan of Twitter but did it "because I have to". MMCC changed my mind - by virtue of the #mmccon hashtag that ASAE urged us social networking types to use during the conference, I was able to not only connect with a large group of my peers at the conference, but also get the best tidbits of ALL of the concurrent sessions I was missing.

-Even content leaders can learn from their own session. I was on the panel for an Association Career Path session at MMCC and while it was "character building" to present, I was amazed at how much I learned from the other panelists, Sue Holzer and Peter O'Neil.

-Mentoring relationships should not be forced. The best mentorship relationships are the ones you "luck upon" yourselves, even if you've never formally admitted to one another that you're a mentor/mentee. Less awkward and obligation-based!

-Providing incentives to members to join/register doesn't have to mean giving the milk away for free. Incentivizing can be anything -- from priority seating to a shout out in a newsletter. And it helps fill your room blocks/meet your budgets earlier!

-The iPad? Also amazing. I was able to arrange my notes easily and quietly (no clicky keyboards on that puppy). I bought it as a toy but it truly proved itself to be a valuable business asset last week.

-Find a way to provide membership/communications values to your members' employees. Knowing someone's administrative assistant by name is a good thing. Send them a holiday card just like you would your actual members -- if they have an emotional connection to your association, the mail you send their boss is more likely to make it on their desk.

-I need to get my CAE!

-This is so simple, yet we don't do it -- segment your surveys. When we all have so many different types of members (credentialed vs. non-credentialed, executive vs. administrative, experienced vs. new to the industry, etc), why are we asking them the exact same questions and analyzing them the exact same way?

-My favorite sentence I heard at MMCC was "Failing to plan means planning to fail". Put in non-cutesy-words, make sure that you have a road map for all of your projects. Have a retention communications plan, regularly look at your strategic plan, plan your week in advance.. everything should have a plan. As long as it's attainable and realistic, it's worth the time it takes because it will save you time (and resources) later.

-Offer to help other people in your office when you need a break. Even if helping someone stuff envelopes "isn't your job", it's still a small mental break from your own task, and that person is likely to help YOU stuff envelopes later when THEY need a break. Sweet!

And perhaps a #11: Blog your takeaways so you can refer back to them later...

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April 27, 2011

Tweets from #MMCCon 2011, part 2

Day two of ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference saw a continued flood of knowledge and insight for association professionals via the #MMCCon hashtag on Twitter. Some highlights are featured below; find the full hashtag stream here.

Stop saying "social media" to members. Marketers say that, people say Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. #mmcconWed Apr 27 15:12:51 via TweetDeck

#mmccon- first 2 steps to mobile success: ask why, then for whom? Great for board to ponder when they say "let's get on Facebook!"Wed Apr 27 19:05:09 via Twitter for iPhone

If your members can't remember your web address are they truly engaged in your assoc? perhaps theres a bigger problem #MMCCon lf4Wed Apr 27 17:38:25 via TweetDeck

Keep in mind criticizing someone's writing is like telling them they have ugly children / via @ceciliasepp #mmccon ls3Wed Apr 27 17:14:06 via ÃœberSocial

Get in local news. Regional watches local. National watches regional. Get points on the board. @tvondeak #MMCcon ls2Wed Apr 27 15:19:46 via HootSuite

Tip: Memorize your username character count to ensure RT space. RT @theSusanWright: #MMCCon Tweet less than 140 characters.Wed Apr 27 14:45:41 via Seesmic for Android

Next time you email blast your members, include their mbrshp expiration date in the message. Tip I heard at #MMCconWed Apr 27 15:38:45 via TweetDeck

Spelling counts! It shows you care #MMCCon la3Wed Apr 27 17:56:10 via Twitter for iPad

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Stop using open rates now

At the MMC Conference, I heard the term "open rate" several times. It's a statistic that really grates on me. It has one teeny tiny use, and it's not at all what it sounds like it should be.

First, it's necessary to understand how open rates are tracked. You, or your email server, have to embed a tiny, usually transparent image into each email. To see the images in an HTML email, your client retrieves the image from the sender's server. Counting the number of times the image is retrieved divided by the number of emails sent that don't bounce back gives you the open rate.

The problem with this approach: users can turn off images. If someone opens your message but does not view the images, you will never know they opened it. And here's the hammer: what's the top business email client? Outlook. Default is for images not to load. Default view is also with a preview pane.

How else do people access their email? On their mobile device. In almost all cases, the default is that images do not load.

There are other problems, too, as the message preview option in some clients can also distort the number in the other direction.

So when you have an open rate of 30 percent, that does not mean that 30 percent looked at the message. Most likely, more people looked at it than that, what is absolutely clear is that you just don't know, unless you do everything in images and do not use text in your emails at all. (Such a decision will give you more accurate statistics, of course the rather nasty tradeoff is that you ensure your message doesn't reach as many people.)

So what is the use of the statistic? Not much really. If you send out a similar message every week, a newsletter for example, and you alter something about it, say you write a snazzy subject, you can tell if that has some impact on the people you send it to. If you go from 30 percent to 40 percent, it tells you that the new way to do subject lines probably gets your message seen by more people.

But that's about it. I don't even think you should use it as a trending statistic. For example, let's say a year ago you averaged a 30 percent open rate, but that rate has slowly declined so that over the last few months you've only averaged 25 percent. By itself that is not cause for concern. It might mean that your recipients have begun reading more email on mobile devices, which are less likely to retrieve the images than other email clients. Instead, you should rely on secondary measures. If you see that drop in open rate, and in every email you advertise a different book, and you're seeing that you're selling fewer books that are marketed in this way than previously, then you may want to rethink the emails to try to devise ways to make them more interesting to open (while also looking for other causes).

So please, stop using this outdated statistic. You want to know if your emails are working? Include links unique to the email, and see if you entice people to click. Or give a unique code for people to use when making a registration or purchase.

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Rosabeth Moss Kanter Urges CEOs to Learn from the Royal Wedding

I'm a longtime fan of Harvard University's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and she pulls through for me again with her latest HBR blog post titled "Why CEOs Should Watch the Royal Wedding."

I had wondered how I could put a business spin on England's bigger-than-the-2012-Olympics event tomorrow, but I've also been thinking more about yesterday's sessions at the MM&C conference. Now Kanter has shown me the way.

In case you're unclear, we're talking about the ballyhooed nuptials of England's Prince William to Kate Middleton, which may manage to pull our ally out of its economic slump by the sheer scale of the event's marketplace of commemorative plates, mugs, apparel, towels, and everything else imaginable.

Kanter calls the global uproar--an estimated 2 billion people are expected to watch--"one more example of the coming of the experience economy, in which people pay for the chance to participate at particular times (Farmville, anyone?), and expenditures on goods and services come in bundles tied to particular events."

Specifically, she identifies three "strategic insights" more relevant to CEOs than the color of the Queen's hat, and here I paraphrase and urge you to read her full explanations:

First, the selling of so-called "soft stuff"--happiness, unity, shared experience, ritual, meaning, and tradition--can touch customers and members in a way that brings them running with their wallets open. "The joy factor ... is a better business theme to emphasize than the fear factor," Kanter notes.

Second, take the experience and share it on many levels, using many media methods and tying it to causes that matter to your customers. In other words, excel at brand management. While most news outlets have joined in the ruckus and are broadcasting the event live worldwide, Kanter points out that even the usually reserved royal PR propers are working Web 2.0 tools with vigor.

You'll be able to catch livestreaming on the Royal Wedding website, tweeting at the Clarence House royal wedding Twitter feed, and blogging by St. James Palace.

Panicked that you forgot to send the couple a "prezzie?" No worries. These "modern royals" are into cause as much as many other we've-already-got-what-we-need-thanks couples today--they're urging well-wishers to donate to a charity in their honor in lieu of gifts.

Third, be aware that not all attention to your events is necessarily good. Here, Kanter warns that big do's "focus attention not only on the message but on the cost of getting out the message, which can undercut the message."

I can see that's true. With an unverifiable but widely estimated pricetag of around $30 million, the Kate-and-William wedding did prompt my British in-laws to make a passing remark about the number of poor people who could be fed and clothed for that amount. And who among associations hasn't heard the occasional complaint that a nonprofit event shouldn't be so showy or expensive (as defined in their terms, anyway)?

As we've examined the latest trends and skills needed to rock the marketing and communications worlds this week during the MM&C conference, we've seen loads of good and bad examples from the association community and the corporate world.

And to me, the lesson that still reigns supreme--whether promoting a worldwide event or evoking genuine emotions and actions through good storytelling--is that content remains king.

Kanter doesn't say that straight out, but "soft" or "hard," stripped to bullet points or gussied up for a global showcase, tailor-made content is the core value to our customers and members.

I'll try to remember that while eating scones and sipping tea from the commemorative cup sent by my mother-in-law while I watch a 5 a.m. pre-wedding show likely focused on Kate's possible dress designer and the royal glass carriage.

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Empowerment starts with getting out of the way

Josh Bernoff

The title of Josh Bernoff's latest book is Empowered, so it's no surprise that that idea emerged as a theme this morning at ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference with Bernoff, senior VP of idea development at Forrester Research, delivering the opening general session. To be honest, I didn't expect the learning lab I attended next to have much connection to empowerment, but I was pleasantly surprised that it did.

Bernoff (pictured above) told a story of his experience being helped by Best Buy's Twelpforce and explained how the company organized itself around empowering any employee, not just those in customer-service centers, to help customers with questions. He called these empowered employees HEROes (an acronym for Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operative) and asked attendees if their organizations were giving their HEROes room to act.

In some organizations, "rogue" employees are resourceful in that they use emerging technologies to accomplish tasks but don't feel empowered to use them toward business objectives. Bernoff cited research that says one in five employees at nonprofits fall in the "rogue" category, a higher rate than in for-profit organizations. In other words, fewer nonprofit employees feel empowered to find innovative ways to do their work.

Bernoff also encouraged associations to deliver customer service through customer collaboration. "Peer-to-peer communication is more important than top-down communication," he said. (Find Bernoff's slides here.)

The learning lab "Delivering the Hits: Using PR to Tell Your Story and Change Minds" immediately followed the general session. Todd Von Deak, CAE, and Brendon Shank from the Society of Hospital Medicine told the audience of their success in telling their members' stories to the media. Storytelling was the major theme. "Good stories will find their way to coverage. Bad stories are just bad stories," Von Deak said.

The key to telling good stories? Focus on your association's members, not your association. Good professional stories aren't much different from good children's stories—they both feature characters, challenges, and results—but "your organization is not the best character in your stories," Shank said. "Nor is the CEO," Von Deak added. They argued that a story or quote from a volunteer or member will be far more compelling than one from a company spokesperson.

And thus the theme of empowerment came up again. In both sessions, Bernoff, Von Deak, and Shank urged association leaders to get out of the way, to let their staff and members shine through. The type of association professionals hearing that message at MMCC—the director-level types focused on marketing, membership, and communications—are the ones most likely to understand this idea, but they'll face the challenge of taking that message back to their bosses and colleagues.

For more insights from MMCC, check out http://mmccon.org or follow on Twitter via the #MMCCon hashtag.

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When is it time to go?

Careers Paths in Association Management Panel.jpg

A couple brief thoughts from the early riser session, "Career Paths in Association Management" at the Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference: One interesting question was how do you know when you've been at place long enough?

Here's a brief synopsis of how each panelist answered the question:

Peter O'Neil, CAE, executive director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association: "I think leaving an organization can be one of the best experiences you can have. It's a growth opportunity, but ultimately it's a fine line--sometimes you just know when you're done.

Susan Sedory Holzer, CAE, executive director of Society of Interventional Radiology: "I would add that it's important to go to an organization where the members do something that you care about, that helping them do their work better is something you can take pride in."

Lauren Hefner, director, membership, marketing & communication of Laboratory Products Association: "I think it's important, particularly for people early in their association careers, not to leave because you're title chasing. Don't take a job just because it will look good on your resume."

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April 26, 2011

Scenes from the First Day at MMC Conference

Here are some photos from ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference. See more on the Flickr Group (and please add your own photos from the conference to the group).

General Session.jpg

Daniel Simons.jpg

Registration.jpg

Von Deak.jpg

MMCC session.jpg

Brand session.jpg

Gecko.jpg

Exhibit with iPad.jpg

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Tweets from #MMCCon 2011

A bunch of association communicators get together at a conference and—no surprise—they communicate prodigiously. The #MMCCon hashtag on Twitter was busy today as attendees at ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference relayed wisdom from the presentations and conversations. Below is just a sample of what you can find on the full hashtag stream.

We're so confident in our preferences that we'll make up reasons why, @profsimons at #MMCcon gs1.Tue Apr 26 13:55:55 via Twitter for Android

For meeting attendees, know their budget cycle. Tie campaign to these dates. Good tip. #MMCCon lc3Tue Apr 26 17:29:22 via Twitter for iPad

disagree with: "wait for the members to lead you" with social media. members look to you to lead. stay ahead of trends. #MMCcon lb3Tue Apr 26 14:58:44 via HootSuite

Photos on websites need to demonstrate interaction, not talking heads. Need to tell a story relevant to the content on the page lc3 #mmcconTue Apr 26 17:54:29 via TweetChat

If you have a small budget, focus on doing a few things well instead of over-saturating all networks poorly. #mmccon lc3Tue Apr 26 17:26:19 via TweetDeck

I keep forgetting how valuable data is in association work. #MMCConTue Apr 26 21:03:19 via Twitter for iPhone

With the rising power of individuals, enabled by social media, are institutional membership associations still relevant? #mmcconTue Apr 26 21:00:46 via Twitter for iPhone

Members who do not renew may not be saying no, they may be saying not now. #mmccon lc4Tue Apr 26 18:46:23 via TweetDeck

All stakeholder relationships today are at least partly digital. #MMCCon lg2Tue Apr 26 20:03:19 via Twitterrific

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SEO: No home runs here, just a whole lot of tee ball

From a marketing and communications standpoint, there is perhaps nothing more important than ensuring your association is at or near the top of the list of search results when people are searching on terms relevant to your industry, profession, or interest. I've read the articles and been to training on search engine optimization (SEO) like lots and lots of other folks. I was drawn into a session here at the Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference by its title: "From Page 55 to Page 1: One Association's Journey Out of the Google Abyss."

It's the story of how the Society of Hospital Medicine, and specifically, what they did after they learned that their job board--a new product they had high hopes for in terms of outreach and revenue--did not show up on the first page of Google results even though competing job sites did. And it wasn't on the second. Or third. They had to hit "more results" a total of (you guessed it) 55 times.

Alarmed they studied the issue and implemented strategies to improve, not only the new product, but the way the entire website would show on Google and Bing and other sites. What they discussed is not any different than what you'd read about or learn about in other SEO sessions. It's examining the language you use, some backend HTML stuff, and getting reputable, strong sites to link to your site. What they really learned is that it takes a strategy and a lot of effort, and it's continuous. They have some good, interesting tools they used that can be helpful to associations. (I'll follow up with them, give me a couple weeks and I'll update this post, ideally, with a link to a sample or two.)

But Todd Von Deak, CAE, the VP of operations and general manager of SHM, summarized the main point several times: "Don't look for the home run. Play tee ball instead." His point, it takes a lot of little things, all wrapped up in ongoing processes to jump 54 pages in Google. They talked about getting marketing and web staff on the same page as being critical--and I'd add all communications and content people. To successfully get to and stay at the top of search results requires the cooperation of anyone who has direct access to put things on your site to use the right terms and build pages in the right way. It sounds easy and simple, but it takes amazing discipline to pull it off.

They also reiterated a favorite theme of mine, which is that the most important part is getting highly rated sites to link to your site. The top way to do this, obviously, is to have good content--to put good, linkable material on your site. I've always tended to downplay the second way to get this done, which is to try to actively manage it. Basically, the strategy here is to assess who would be a good reputable site on which a link would be beneficial for your organization, and actively try to get them to do it. I always thought such a strategy would never pay off, but I'm not so sure anymore. For one, there are more influencers than there used to be, and identifying them is easier than before. Social media has changed this game, and even when you look at traditional media sources, they are doing tons of social media activities. And second, yes, it's still a lot of work and may not yield a lot of links, but search results are so important, why not put resources on it? Everything an organization decides to do, continue doing, etc., is a resource decision, and there are few things that are going to rate higher in importance than being at the top of search results.

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Encourage questioning

Daniel SimonsMarketers and communicators know the difficulty in getting others to think differently. Often, the target audience is external: potential members, customers, the press, legislators, and so on. However, in the opening general session and a morning learning lab at ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference today, attendees learned some lessons on helping those closer in—colleagues and volunteer leaders—to think differently.

Daniel Simons (pictured at right), coauthor of The Invisible Gorilla, And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, illustrated the many ways in which we assume—wrongly—that what we see is what we get and that the way we think is the way others around us think. He shared the somewhat famous selective attention test video that gave his book its name, and he urged association professionals to "break the systems" that they're used to in order to discover new ideas. Normal human beings often fail to notice the unexpected and are only aware of their own minds' fallibility when they are confronted with hard evidence of it, he said. In other words, you don't know what you don't know.

Simons gave audience members the ability and awareness to question their assumptions, but returning to the office and encouraging colleagues to test their assumptions may be a difficult task. I followed up with Simon for advice, and he recommended sharing an exercise like the video above with colleagues to at least open their minds to the need to question assumptions. He said the toughest challenge comes with questioning causes that we all assign to events. "People infer causal relationships," he said. When X happens, "it's natural to want to find a cause."

This context proved to be handy knowledge entering a learning lab titled "Have You Killed Your Sacred Zombie Cow Today?" immediately after the general session. C. David Gammel, CAE, executive director of the Entomological Society of America, shared some strategies for stopping old programs or processes that are no longer valuable. A common example is a management process for which the condition that caused it no longer exists, yet the process continues. In this case, Gammel recommended challenging that cause and bringing to light that it has changed or stopped. Again, data or hard evidence can help make the case.

Simons also discussed "the curse of knowledge," by which we assume that others know what we know. The key to breaking that curse, he said, is to put yourself in the same frame of reference as your colleagues or members (or whomever you're trying to persuade). Only then will you be able to understand what perspectives they have and what causes they're inferring and thus be able to challenge them.

For more insights from MMCC, check out http://mmccon.org or follow on Twitter via the #MMCCon hashtag.

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