August 3, 2012

The gray area of transparency

Social media can make an association board meeting messy. Just ask the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Debate is stirring in journalism circles online over its decision to ban the live tweeting of its board meeting.

Here's the quandry: It wasn't a board member tweeting, nor was it a reporter from an external news organization. It was a student reporter for UNITY News, the in-house news operation for the UNITY 2012 Conference, which brings together an alliance of identity-specific journalism associations and is where the board meeting was being held.

I don't know if the reporter was technically a member of NAHJ, but let's assume she was. How does an association board properly handle the challenge of live media at its meetings?

For board members: Regarding board members themselves, I've written here before that I think the answer is education about what must remain confidential and about how and why live tweeting can interfere with effective board decision making. (At the very least, a tweeting board member is a distracted board member.) But I'd stop short of an outright ban.

For outside press: In the case of reporters from outside publications, the answer is simple, as an association (generally) doesn't have an obligation to open its affairs to the public. Tell them they can read the press release.

For at-large members: But it's the area in between that's gray, when an at-large member wants to attend a board meeting and communicate proceedings to members in real time. At-large members have a legitimate claim to be made aware of their association's governance proceedings, but an association board has a legitimate need to conduct its meetings in an environment that enables candid discussion and debate.

As Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre pointed out, "The reason to have a board is to select representatives to discuss and agree on policy in a way that would be too time-consuming and inefficient in a plenary of the membership. Minute-by-minute reporting would tend to turn a board meeting into something like a plenary."

That's an argument that probably makes a lot of sense to an association executive or anyone who, like John, has served on a nonprofit board, but it likely won't resonate with members rallying in the name of transparency. A decision to close the doors or ban media should not be taken lightly.

Those of you out there who have faced this situation at your associations: How have you handled it? Where is the line drawn? How do you strike a balance between transparency and effective board business?

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June 8, 2012

Is Polling Still Worth It?

I feel like I've been buried in poll numbers even more than usual, from Wisconsin governor recall results to public confidence in the economy to American Idol. But are polls really trustworthy anymore, when you have one-third of the public living cell-phone-only and most of the rest using caller ID on land-lines to help them avoid any surveys, even when they support the cause or campaign (guilty as charged!)?

Because so many associations poll members and potential members on everything from dues raises to advocacy positions, I turned to the man who knows more than almost anyone about the veracity and challenges of accurate polling: Bill McInturff, co-founder & partner, Public Opinion Strategies.

Bill, who is speaking today as part of the "Decision 2012" General Session at the ASAE Financial and Business Operations Conference, leads--along with partner Peter D. Hart--the largest polling company in the country, Public Opinion Strategies. The firm handles polling for NBC News/Wall Street Journal and works closely on polling challenges with the two primary industry associations, the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASR) and American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

"You can believe poll results but still have dwindling confidence," he told me. "There's no question that with the glut of polling, credibility is a little lower, because people are hearing wider, more diverse results of what different polls are saying. And there's no question that the basic confidence they have in polling is very different than it was 20 to 40 years ago. They're certainly asking more questions about methodology.

Despite those troubles, "if it's done correctly, it's still broadly accurate," Bill says. "It's still the best way to collect customer and other information about public opinion, and people don't tire of needing that information."
It will cost them more, though, to get it. According to Bill, the price of polling has risen for three reasons: (1) "federal laws and mandates dictate that you cannot use auto-dialers for cell phone numbers--you have to call cell phones by hand; (2) cooperation rates are much lower, so you have to call more people to get a completed survey; and (3) you have to collect the data ... using increased labor costs."

To better ensure poll veracity, Bill--who was the lead pollster for John McCain during the latter's 2008 presidential bid--advises associations to "be good consumers and make sure you go through a discussion with the pollster about methodology," asking about compensation rates for cell-phone-only or other respondents, how the "convenience factor" of women answering the phone more than men is handled, and how the data have been weighted and by how much.

I'll be writing a second blog post shortly that shares Bill's responses on whether associations can trust that the viewpoints of respondents reflect those of non-respondents as well, the potential for social media to offer new surveying opportunities, and more. I invite comments about your own association's successes or challenges when polling. And maybe you can snag Bill after the session to get more of his input, too. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your insights so generously at this busy time!


May 24, 2012

Guarding Your Message

I was listening to a communications specialist who was at ASAE's Membership, Marketing, and Communications Conference yesterday, and she was confiding a message-gone-wrong story at her association.

In her case, members had given immediate and highly vocal feedback that they believed a certain call for an advocacy action by the organization and its membership had strayed from or even "betrayed" its core mission, thus alienating and confusing important donors and leaders.

It reminded me of the Komen Foundation controversy regarding pulled funds for Planned Parenthood programs, as well as comments by political strategist James Carville, whom I had interviewed recently about the art of smart messaging. (Carville will be a General Session speaker with Republican strategist Karl Rove in August at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, so look for interviews with him and Rove in an upcoming Associations Now spread.)

"That debacle was an enormous and, as far as I can tell, unanticipated glitch," Carville said as we wondered why organizations still make serious communication mistakes, even with high-priced PR firms advising them. "Their overall messaging and the pink ribbon were brilliant. That became so identifiable that they were about women's health, and ... they had a real positive outfit. But then they came across as if they were some kind of political advocacy group, and that was particularly damaging. That was a glitch where they did something that was inconsistent with their overall messaging."

Carville talked about the need to vehemently "protect your message with everything you do."

"That's why I always add the dynamic of culture," he said, adding that the key elements of your primary message must be deeply embedded across your organization and lived by everyone on staff 24/7. "Where Komen, as a good example, went off track was that women's health wasn't put first; politics or ideology was put first," or at least appeared that way. That clearly had donors and supporters feeling profoundly betrayed, and I personally wonder how long it might take for Komen to recover, if indeed it can rebuild the lost trust through believable messaging and actions.

I'm interested in whether other associations or nonprofits have opinions of why and when associations mess up their messaging and are forced to execute crisis communication interventions. Feel free to share here and to sanitize players as needed for the sake of discussion.


April 18, 2012

Earth Day Offers Visibility, Fun, Engagement

It's Earth Day this Sunday and National Volunteer Month for a few weeks more, so loads of associations and their member companies and professionals are organizing, educating, celebrating, volunteering, and just plain participating in this worldwide effort to bolster environmental conservation.

Here's a snapshot of what some are doing or already have done--and it's not too late to join in yourself!

Start by downloading the free Earth Day 2012 Toolkit , where you can also learn about and be inspired by "A Billion Acts of Green," the world's largest environmental service campaign. And if you're in DC, you may want to check out the massive party scene happening at the National Mall rally and concerts either in person or online (live-streaming at

Sounds like some more partying will go on over at the 2012 Mighty Kindness Earth Day Hootenanny on April 22 organized by the Kentucky Chiropractic Association. The fun is combined with a more serious purpose: promoting a new state license "Go Green with Chiropractic" plate that aims "to elevate the chiropractic industry and its environmentally friendly nature in Kentucky" and raise some money as well.

The Eco-Dentistry Association will host its first tweetchat for dental industry professionals and consumers worldwide "to discuss the essentials of a high-tech, wellness based, and successful green dental practice."

The American Bar Association's Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) in sponsoring the One Million Trees Project-Right Tree for the Right Place at the Right Time nationwide public service project. Started in March 2009, the project "calls on ABA members to contribute to the goal of planting one million trees across the United States by 2014 - both by planting trees themselves and by contributing to the partnering tree organizations." It also is promoting nominations for the 2012 ABA Award for Excellence in Environmental, Energy, and Resources Stewardship.

Entertainment Cruises is partnering with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has partnered with Entertainment Cruises to offer an Earth Day brunch cruise to enjoy Washington, DC, views while learning from the NAAEE about green energy, environmental initiatives and its upcoming conference.

More than 1,000 volunteers of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) are engaging in 10 signature Earth Day projects from prairie re-vegetation to exotic plant species removal on public lands across the U.S. on April 14 and 21. These events have some powerful sponsors, including American Eagle Outfitters, ARAMARK, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Exelon Foundation, Johnson Controls, Sony, and Southwest Airlines.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has released the First Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative, which details how the consumer electronics industry has dramatically increased its recycling in 2011 and advanced the goals set by the eCycling Leadership Initiative (also called the Billion Pound Challenge). For instance, participants of the initiative arranged for the responsible recycling of 460 million pounds of consumer electronics, a 53% increase over the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010. The number of recycling drop-off locations for consumers also was bolstered from to nearly 7,500 from just over 5,000 a year ago. And CEA launched to educate consumers about eCycling and energy consumption. By entering a ZIP code, anyone can locate the closest responsible recycling opportunity sponsored by the CE industry and/or third-party certified recycler. The initiative aims to increase electronics recycling to one billion pounds annually by 2016 and providing transparent metrics on eCycling efforts. A billion pounds of unrecycled waste electronics would fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium.

The American Medical Student Association and Medical Alumni Association at Temple University are planting seeds and preparing a "Medicinal and Edible Learning Garden" and education event to discuss natural medicinal remedies.

The National Parks and Recreation Association is urging people to take advantage of waived entrance fees at U.S. national parks from April 21 to April 29 during National Park Week. Download your free Owner's Guide to America's National Parks. I know a few associations that are planning staff picnics and hikes at local parks and Great Falls National Park in sync with this promotional event.

The New York City Association of Hotel Concierges (NYCAHC) and its affiliate members will celebrate MillionTreesNYC at a "Dig In for Earth Day" tree-planting event May 5 in partnership with Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks and New York Restoration Project. Since the program's inception in 2007, thousands of New Yorkers have helped plant over 400,000 trees, with NYCAHC planting more than 2,000 of them.

American Forests' easy online calculator and offsetting options make it easy to offset your home or car pollution (I offset my minivan's emissions for about $17 last year through AF). Earth Day Network also offers an eco-calculator.

Whatever you do, just consider doing something green this weekend and join your colleagues in making the planet a bit healthier for us all!

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March 27, 2012

Tweets from #ideas12, day 2

Another day at the 2012 Great Ideas Conference provided countless thought-provoking tweets with the #ideas12 hashtag. Here is a sampling of what you can find on the full hashtag stream.


March 26, 2012

Tweets from #ideas12, day 1

The #ideas12 hashtag on Twitter was hard at work yesterday as attendees converged on Colorado Springs, Colorado for the 2012 Great Ideas Conference. Below is a sample of the insight and wisdom you can find on the full hashtag stream.


December 7, 2011

Three Takeaways from David Nour


David Nour, author of Return on Impact (published by ASAE's Association Management Press), covered a lot of ground during his lunchtime presentation today at the Technology Conference and Expo. But three points in particular struck me as I listened to him speak. Nour is a fan of the provocative question, so we'll do this in question form:

1. Why are you thinking of social media as little more than a customer-service tool? "Letting the tool determing your social strategy is like letting the tail wag the dog," Nour said at the very beginning of his talk. By that, he meant that too often organizations establish Twitter and Facebook presences and call that a social-media strategy. A true social strategy, Nour argued, is one that uses the behaviors of members on social media as an opportunity to move from one-to-many relationships to one-one-relationships. Though associations are good at gathering demographic data, he said, they need to improve at gathering psychographic data.

2. How good are you at telling your association's story? Nour presented a powerful video from the nonprofit Charity: Water, which helps deliver drinkable water to developing countries. Though social media plays a critical role in its fundraising, Nour said, that was never mentioned during the video. Instead, stories about how it met its mission are put up front. How many associations are good at explaining its mission to members (and potential members) without gunking it up with jargon or explicit calls to purchase? "Charity: Water has become incredible storytellers to show what the impact is," Nour said.

3. What makes you think members will stick around? While writing Return on Impact, Nour interviewed dozens of association leaders, and one of the questions he asked them is, "How are your members better off because they're your members?" The question is meant to force people to think about how member-centric their work is, because members are increasingly demanding more of their associations, and increasingly willing to take their business elsewhere. "Your association is going to go through a Yelp-ification," he said, referring to the community-review site. How does your association need to change when you know that practically every member interaction you have will be publicly scrutinized?

That's just what hit me. How about you?

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November 21, 2011

Analyze Social to Tell a More Compelling Story

The following is a guest post from David Nour, managing partner of The Nour Group, Inc., author of the forthcoming Return on Impact—Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships (ASAE, 2012), and general-session speaker at ASAE's 2011 Technology Conference & Expo.

Does your association leadership get the bigger sense of social? Not just social networking or media—"doing" social such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube—but becoming a social organization?

There is a Persian story that goes something like this: A group of villagers is weaving a basket together. A wise man walks by and asks them what they are doing. The first says, "I am pushing one straw against another." The second says, "I am making a basket." The third answers, "I'm helping a man carry food to feed his family."

Though they were all three working on the same project, they each saw their jobs very differently. How do your staff, members, or volunteer leaders see their role in social? Is it as the same mundane pushing of one woven strip against another, or do they see a little bigger than that—which is the basket itself—or do they see a purpose for why they are doing what they are doing?

The difference is that the last villager was engaged. Social analytics allow astute organizations to listen more intently to capture and share amazing stories of those who are engaged in the mission of the organization and the impact they create daily.

According to Forrester Research, every year more than 500 billion consumer opinions are shared online. The secret of monetizing these highly connected relationships for any organization is finding the right individuals and engaging them to talk about the right things in the right places. Those opinions, often internalized through stories, are affecting talent acquisition, revenue growth, and emotional loyalty and are making the advocates who write them highly influential, since they have the ability to shape thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors.

If a brand can be defined as a vision delivered, social analytics is the barometer of how well that vision is, in fact, being delivered, implemented, and applied to solving business challenges or taking advantage of market opportunities.

Metrics should measure against agreed-upon objectives and values and help to correct your course along the way--more like a dial you turn up or down than a switch you turn on or off. Here is the problem: The overemphasis on social media tools—propagated by a cottage industry of vendors and platforms, once-a-week conferences, and fly-by-night consultants and their glorified blogs—is the tail wagging the dog. Too often organizations allow the tools to dictate rather than define what to measure.

So how does an organization tell more compelling and interesting stories from its social-analytics capabilities?

Social analytics should help organizations begin to humanize business operations and tear down silos between internal teams. By designing and implementing listening platforms, the organization can uncover insights and create more meaningful and influential relationships. The narrative from online interactions fuels connected relationships. Great storytelling by organizations about the benefits they've been able to create for a broad range of stakeholders—from highly empowered employees to engaged members and loyal customers, to supportive investors and media advocates—consistently sets them apart.

Word of mouth is the gift that keeps on giving and when it comes to connected relationships; advocates attract and influence other advocates. Beyond promoting products or services, conversations between individuals about an organization can be incredibly insightful, but only if the organization is savvy enough to listen and not interrupt, interject, defend, position, or posture. You must simply listen, learn, and translate experiences into compelling narratives. Connected people who become advocates talk about the organization, even when the organization isn't listening. Connected relationships are trusted amongst their peers and within their microcommunities, as they aid and influence others down their individual decision journeys. Although the reach of one connected relationship may be minimal, as an aggregate, the total reach can have a strong business impact on any organization.

Social analytics can help an organization emphasize authenticity. In our current low-trust environment, true passion is contagious and genuine connections create influential cause and effect. Results of generosity are not just communicated; with social analytics, they're amplified.

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November 15, 2011

What's a Weak Tie Worth?

Call it a bad habit: Too often, we think of "habit" as a four-letter word, a thing we're morally obligated to shake off, like smoking or celebrity-gossip websites. (I conquered the former about six years ago; my battle with the latter continues.) So I was struck by a recent Slate piece, written by management experts Chip and Dan Heath and bearing the Slate-ishly counterintuitive headline, "Four Excellent Habits."

The piece lays out four lessons, largely drawn from the world of sociology, that have the potential to improve your career or business. The tips might be familiar to readers of their most recent book, Switch, but it's worth reading as a refresher. (And if you haven't read Switch, you can check out a Q&A Associations Now conducted with them last year.)

The third lesson the Heaths address in the article has been much-discussed in the past year or so. It has to do with the term "the strength of weak ties," a phrase coined by sociologist Mark Granovetter to explain why distant acquaintences often are better resources for job hunters than close friends and family. Long theory short, those acquaintances are the repositories of job tips that you likely would never hear about in your immediate social circle. Weak ties are indisputably powerful on the job hunt: As the Heaths point out, "in about 83 percent of the cases, the critical job lead came from a weak tie."

But does the "weak ties" concept scale? Are weak ties worth pursuing if you're trying to expand your organization's membership, running for office—or, say, trying to topple a government? Malcolm Gladwell expressed skepticism about that last point earlier this year when he considered the role of social media in the Arab Spring protests: "The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency," he wrote. "But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism."

Gladwell caught flak for diminishing the value of social media, but I see his point—there is only so much that two weak ties are willing to give each other. Need me to provide a job tip or a bit of advice? Sure. Need me to drop everything and join your revolution? Well, a skeptic may ask, what's in it for me? What connects both cases is that the weak tie is asked to make a decision: How much information and assistance am I willing to provide to people I don't know very well?

That's what makes weak ties relevant to associations. It strikes me that many organizations are very good at slicing and dicing their demographics—understanding their members' age groups, incomes, job roles, and general interests. Associations can target-market well. But it's a trickier business to build connections to "weak ties"—drawing on the less-engaged member, or the person who should be a member but isn't, even for the kind of occasional requests for assistance that a job-hunter might ask for. Is it possible for weak ties become strong ones? Or are organizations destined to be stuck in the 1-9-90 model of engagement, where a small minority of engaged members sets direction for the whole?

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September 7, 2011

An Anniversary No One Will Forget: Associations Vary in 9/11 Treatment

So many associations are gearing up to share tributes, assess their industry's progress, and conduct community service projects in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that it's impractical to list them all. That said, I do want to share some of the tools, communication efforts, and creative projects in case some organizations are still pondering what their staff or members might want to do:

Created a microsite of resources. The American Psychological Association (APA) has set up a microsite with resources to "help people cope and build resistance" during the emotional days around 9/11.

Partnered for a TV special/podcast/on-demand show. APA also partnered with "Nick News With Linda Ellerbee" to co-develop a TV report called "What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001," which ran September 1 and is available on iTunes as a free podcast and in Nickelodeon's video-on-demand offerings throughout the month. A related discussion guide helps parents and teachers talk to kids about the tragedy and tough emotions.

Developed a so-called "impact kit" for reporters--a compilation of stats, resources, and trained commentators who can discuss an event from the perspective of its impact on an industry, profession, or locality. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has organized materials around terrorism and insurance to aid reporters covering the 10th anniversary, including prepping its board president for media interviews and promoting I.I.I.'s white paper on "terrorism risk and insurance." A strong quote in its press release will likely get good response from media: "The 9/11 attack was the largest payout in the history of insurance until Hurricane Katrina in 2005," says President Robert Hartwig said. "Insurers became the nation's economic 'first responders,' and as construction progresses on the site of the former World Trade Center, insurance claims dollars continue to play an essential and highly visible role in rebuilding lower Manhattan while also mitigating the overall economic impact of the 9/11 attack."

Conducted a 9/11-related study. A good example was released this week by CoreNet Global, an association of corporate real estate and workplace professionals. The study concludes that 9/11 "had a permanent effect on the workplace," in part by accelerating the trend toward "distributed work" conducted by workers in multiple locations. "The focus on risk management as an intrinsic strategic planning and management function also grew stronger," according to the association. "Business disruption planning became a common element for many corporate workplace and asset managers as a result of 9/11," says spokesperson Richard Kadzis. "Elements of this planning include mobile work plans for employees, facility collocation policies, redundant facilities, energy back up, business continuity plans, and off-site data storage."

Combined old-time traditional communication tools with social media tools to promote public service. The Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has launched a billboard and Internet campaign called "Remember Through Service" to mark the day by highlighting the service of Michigan Muslims to the nation and to "provide an accurate depiction of how Muslims contribute to the broader society." Individuals highlighted include a doctor who was a first responder to Ground Zero, a Detroit police officer, an assistant prosecuting attorney, an assistant principal in an Ohio public school, a Vietnam veteran, and a volunteer doctor at a free medical clinic. You can see the billboards here[LINK TO] and related YouTube videos[LINK TO].

Volunteered like crazy. The goal is more than 50 million--that's the magic number for how many volunteers the government, community partners, and others hope to engage in community service projects such as park cleanups, mentoring, and food drives. Any organization still interested in community service projects can go to for a list of opportunities.


August 8, 2011

To believe or not to believe?

The following is a guest post from Jeffrey Cufaude, president and CEO, Ideas Architects. Follow Jeffrey on Twitter @jcufaude.

How do you determine credibility?

This was the question on my mind after participating in an invitation-only session on Monday with author David Nour. David has been working with the ASAE Foundation on research and a new book, Return on Impact: Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships.

During some fairly passionate exchanges among the association executives in attendance, the online community's credibility was challenged compared to the association's credibility: "How can you trust what you read from a blogger?" Or "Just because someone has lots of followers doesn't mean they know what they are talking about." Difference of opinion on this topic seemed to vary by both generations and social media usage.

Here's the thing: we've always had connected relationships and we've always turned to our connections for advice. John Seely Brown wrote about this more than 10 years ago in his book, The Social Life of Information, in which he observed Xerox copy repair personnel calling coworkers for insight rather than turning to the company's training manual. We can just connect differently now, and that is disrupted the traditional ways in which information has been exchanged and knowledge has been created.

But credibility was an issue long before Twitter was created and will continue to be long after the next new technology emerges. When you sit in a session at this very meeting and hear a colleague share her take on a particular issue or a peer do a presentation, you filter their assertions for credibility based on whatever criteria you choose to apply. How is that so different than reading a blog post or a Tweet and assessing its validity? After all, we didn't peer review their registration forms for the Annual Meeting to only let in vetted association executives whose every opinion can be treated as universal truth.

So yes, credibility is critical individually, organizationally, and as an association community. But to out-of-hand dismiss the information and the connections created via social media could be an incredible slight and put your own credibility at risk in the eyes of some of the very people you may be trying to engage.

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June 6, 2011

There are no ribbons in cyberspace

Conventions are so easy. Everyone is wearing a badge. You get their name and where they're from. And there are usually ribbons that tell you whether they are a member or non-member, a practitioner within the profession or an industry partner who supplies them, and what credentials they've earned.

But there is no one to assign ribbons in cyberspace. Each individual user decides for him or herself which communities they feel a part of, and how much information about themselves they share with others. They have much greater latitude to create the persona they present to the world.

I am not talking about people adopting an intentionally misleading online persona or masquerading as something they are not.

But when @jag interjects a comment into the stream of tweets about the constitutional analysis presented by the keynote speaker at the American Bar Association convention, I can't assume @jag is an attorney. I don't know whether @jag has any relevant experience or education that qualifies him to render an opinion on this topic. I often don't even know whether @jag is a he or a she. The only thing I can judge is the quality of his (or her) message.

In some ways, that's a good thing. It forces the ideas expressed to stand or fall on their own merit, without bias or prejudgments about who is stating them.

But even when the words are clear, without any context, I can't always be sure I am properly understanding exactly what a tweeter means by them. My members, who are officers of the court, mean something entirely different when they talk about the record of what happened in the courtroom than a journalist who is covering the trial. One isn't right and the other wrong. But whether the record you are referring to is accurate, fair, adequate or reliable depends a lot on who you are and where your interests lie.

If I am willing to invest some effort, I might be able to work some of this out if there is enough information in their public profiles. But not always. And even if I am willing to devote the effort to find out enough about where a comment is coming from to form a context that will allow me to form a judgment on it, other more passive consumers of online info don't.

It is almost enough to make me nostalgic for name badges and all those ridiculous ribbons.

But now that I mention it, those ribbons weren't all that reliable as indicators of validity either.

A reasonable degree of skepticism is warranted, whether the stranger spouting an opinion is in your face at the convention coffee break or appears anonymously on your iPhone. Social networking has increased the ease of commerce in ideas AND the importance of applying informed, critical judgments to them.

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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?


May 4, 2011

Getting "Elders" to Engage in Community-building

I've been reviewing my notes and conversation from MMCC last week and ran into a good community-building example described by Joe Flowers, who has spent three years as community manager at the 5,000-member National Association of Dental Plans, a trade group.

I had asked Joe for suggestions about how to entice the most senior, most experienced members of an organization to actively participate in an association community when they might be feeling like they already have a strong enough professional network and often "don't learn much" from education sessions, publications, list servs, or conferences anymore.

Joe responded that NADP had tackled the dilemma by "educating our members that their entire staff could be part of any [association] conversation," rather than just one or two individuals. He learned that his older members were concerned about the quality of the professionals who would be leading their companies once they had retired or moved on.

Joe e-mailed volunteer groups with specific numerical goals aimed at boosting the community, asking volunteer members to send an association e-mail to 10-15 people at all levels of their workplace each month. The e-mails invited these individuals to share opinions, attend association events, and sample NADP content. They also included specific and easy sign-in instructions so they could try out what membership might feel like. Joe then "let it snowball from there."

It did, although NAPD "took a hit" when it switched to a better platform that not everyone immediately embraced. "They went back into their shell a bit, but now they're coming out again" because they miss what they gained as an active community member, Joe laughed.

His job has been particularly tricky because members are highly competitive. But by focusing community discussions on research studies, legislation, and committee work while avoiding product-oriented subjects, companies were not nervous about having lower-level staff involved and often found common ground.

When discussions lagged, Joe seeded the site with provocative data, restarted popular conversations from the past, asked for comments to a document, or collected suggested messages that members wanted the CEO to make in his next media interview.

As a result, "we've seen a steady increase [in the community's engagement], and we've pulled data showing about a 10% increase in website traffic each month, and even a 45% increase one month." The month before NAPD launched its community strategy, its site attracted 1,000 unique visitors, Joe noted. Five months later it's at 10,000 and has "a lot more engagement points now, too."

Those are impressive numbers. I wish Joe well in his new PR job, which starts tomorrow in California, but am sure that his oversight of NADP's community will be missed. Meanwhile, I'm going to look for similar good examples of inclusive communities that appear to excite members of all professional levels.


May 2, 2011

Rosetta Stone for Twitter

What Twitter needs is a version of Rosetta Stone for those of us trying to learn to speak the language.

I have been investing some time recently experimenting with Twitter during live educational events, trying to learn by doing what value the technology can add to the learning experience. I have found that the Twitter traffic during a seminar tends to fall into two categories: there is the virtual equivalent of passing notes in class ("What was he thinking when he chose that tie?" "Where in the food court can I find a good steak and cheese sandwich for lunch?"); then there is the substantive: the serious effort to capture content so it can be shared with others (including those not physically present).

I've learned to just ignore the former as so much useless background noise and focus on the latter. It is utterly beyond me why anyone would waste their time and attention on the sometimes infantile chatter that fills the Twitters-sphere during a session. But it is going to go on anyway and getting annoyed by it just grants it permission to interfere with your own purposes. If you don't find it useful, don't get irritated: just ignore it.

Because your content-based attention to Twitter will be rewarded. I have found some of the tweets generated by others in the room during a conference or seminar really do capture insights from the program in sometimes very compelling ways. I have, more than once, copied particularly brilliant tweets into my own notes from the seminar after the fact.
But as far as actually generating tweets during a conference, I am a complete failure. I am and always have been an obsessive note taker: even the most slender of seminar content is good for a page or two, or for a mind map. Taking notes helps me to focus on and capture the most pertinent takeaways from a session. But I find the effort needed to reduce an insight to 140 characters too distracting. The means (Twitter) interferes with the end (knowledge capture and transfer). I get too busy trying to find the shorthand to express the speaker's previous thought to follow what he or she is actually saying next. I fall behind. For me, composing and sending tweets alienates and removes me from the educational experience, rather than increasing my engagement in it.

Maybe it will be different for you. But for the time being, I will leave the real-time translation of educational content into Twitter to folks more fluent than me. And enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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April 27, 2011

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.


April 14, 2011

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Imagine my shock when I fired up my computer and discovered that a brand new association had been formed in direct competition with my own. Not only did it exactly mirror the menu of product and services NCRA offers so closely that they might have copied it straight off of our homepage, but a quick search of its membership list suggested that it already had thousands of supporters, including my entire board of directors.

But not so fast...

To be fair, the website never explicitly claimed the individuals listed on their site were actually "members." They just linked to a public directory from someone else's legal services website--a directory listing many hundreds of court reporters.

There is a (probably apocryphal) story that Alexander Graham Bell never had a telephone in his home or office. He wondered why he should expose himself to interruptions from "any idiot with a finger to dial with," or words to that effect.

In today's world, any idiot can put up a website and call it an association. Anyone can scribble out a little quiz and call it a certification. Anyone can start a blog, recruit two or three friends to comment approvingly on each new entry (or even invent some alternate, online personas and do it themselves), and claim to speak as the conscience of the industry, the profession, the nation, or whatever.

But if you peek behind the curtain, as Dorothy did, you discover that, like the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, there is less to the story than meets the eye.

The Internet has eliminated all barriers to catalyzing collaborative action. That's a good thing. But the Internet has also made it easier than ever to create an illusion of substance.

If anything, virtual associations that DO offer substantive value are even more damaged by sham organizations than traditional associations. A brick and mortar association at least has a mailing address to differentiate itself from the pretenders. But the need to demonstrate validity and credibility has never been more important--or more difficult--for associations of all forms.

Many of my members wanted us to demand that this new "association" take the site down or demand that they substantiate the claims made. I'm not sure anyone has the right to expect the site sponsor to do so. It's an open market: caveat emptor! It's up to my association to actually deliver on its promise and for the consumer to decide who is providing true value.

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April 4, 2011

My Twitter confession

On Monday I created a Twitter profile. You might be thinking I'm behind. It's true. I confess to resisting. I wouldn't do it even when my employer started tweeting.

All these communities and email accounts - I didn't want one more site to have to log in to, another password to remember, another type of notification to create a folder for and then not read for two weeks. My 19-year-old brother just created a political community and invited me to join. Nope. Not doing it.

I'm just not convinced that I have to be that connected.

So why did I decide to join Twitter? ASAE's Component Relations section has monthly virtual lunches. I like to sign up as soon as I get the notification. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to work through even a virtual lunch. This month's promo said, "Join the discussion using #CRPLunch on Twitter." I'm sure it says it every month. But this time it made me think, "If I miss it again, I can go on Twitter and see what I missed." The lunch was on Tuesday.

There I was -- a bright and shiny newbie. I uploaded my photo, created a bio that was too long, edited it. Still too long. Edited it again. Three more words had to go! Finally done. Figured out how to follow NJSCPA. Now what is this whole "hashtag" thing? Was I supposed to follow it? I searched for it and Peggy Hoffman's name came up. She was past chair of the Component Relations Section, comments on the listserve a lot, commented on one of my Acronym posts - so, I followed her, assuming that would get me the event discussion. (I hear you laughing at me!) Later, I was alerted that Peggy was following me. Cool. I hadn't even tweeted yet.

On Tuesday, I connected to the lunch and opened Twitter. Where was the discussion? Where was Peggy? I searched for #CRPLunch. Ahh, there it was. I saved the search. I didn't tweet anything to the discussion. I thought I'd screw it up.
It was a great lunch, and I found the tweets to be a great way to record ideas as they happen. And I didn't have to keep tedious notes.

Someone I don't know followed me this morning. Do I keep it all professional or throw in some personal stuff? I still haven't tweeted. I guess I'll figure it all out and come up with something to say, edit it, and finally hit Tweet.

I'd love to hear your Twitter story - why you signed up and how it's valuable to you. And, Peggy, I'll still be following you!

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March 30, 2011

Us vs. Them

Not too long ago, I lost my temper on the Acronym blog. I shouldn't have. It never advances dialogue. It didn't help.

What set me off was a blog post in the "I've got social media ... who needs an association?" genre. The posting itself was no doubt sincere, and it wasn't as arrogant or doctrinaire as other examples from the genre that I could cite. I unfairly vented on the poster when what really bugged me, and has been bugging me for a long time, wasn't anything he explicitly said. Rather, it is a notion that I have seen flourish in online forums, a notion that assumes social media makes traditional associations obsolete.

My vent came across as "nothing good in the way of collaborative, real-world impact can happen outside of the traditional association model." It wasn't what I meant, and certainly not what I believe. But there it was. It provoked the predictable response accusing me of denying the power of social media to serve as a platform for concrete action and making excuses for the failure of traditional "brick and mortar" associations, which have lost all relevance in today's digital world.

So let me correct any impression I may have given that I am anti-social media or a defender of the status quo in associations. Social networking has changed associations in major ways. Associations that might have been coasting along on their prior reputations have been challenged to deliver real value and create new and more open opportunities for member engagement, because if the emperor has no clothes, the web will make that apparent immediately. Social networking has created whole new capacities for service, action, and involvement.

But I still maintain that the idea that either form (virtual or physical) of associative activities is unnecessary and disappearing (or ought to) does a disservice to both types of community. It isn't a case of "either/or." The proper conjunction is "and." Virtual and traditional aren't mutually exclusive. Both elements bring something unique and valuable to the constituency they share. And together they achieve synergies that add member value that is beyond what either could achieve separately.

There are certainly examples that could be identified of utterly failed traditional associations and equally unproductive social networking initiatives (the space outside the red lines in the diagram below). There are probably examples that could be cited of associations having real impact and delivering real value without any significant virtual component, as well as examples of purely virtual movements that are changing the world in significant ways (the green and yellow spaces between the red lines). But there is a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, where virtual and traditional overlaps. That's where we ought to be focusing.

Us vs Them.jpg

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The Great Divide

I recently attended a presentation by Bob Wendover from the Center for Generational Studies on communicating between generations. It was a very odd experience, as the entire room was filled with "Generation Xers" (those born from the 1960s-1981) and "Baby Boomers" (those from 1940-1960). I was the only "Millenial" in the room, the group of people born between 1982 and 1999.

The presentation made me realize that we focus way too much on the generational "divides". Why? Because the presentation discussed how attention-deficit, impulsive, and unprofessional "Millenials" are. But really, I'm on the cusp, being born in 1982. I've been taught how to write a professional business letter. I remember life before the Internet. My See-N-Say had a string cord, my Slinky was metal, and my Easy-Bake Oven actually baked.

But yet formal "generational" divides lump me into a class with people such as my 14-year-old cousin, who despite living down the street from me only communicates with me via Facebook status messages and abbreviated chat-speak text messages. He asks his friends if they want to hang out.. and despite them living down the street, what he means is "let's play Xbox from our respective homes while talking on the phone". He and I have pretty much nothing in common at all.

The reason I share this is to warn you NOT to look too much into age or generation stereotyping. After all, our grandparents are joining Facebook, and my mom has an iPhone while my husband can hardly text message. Be sure you're communicating in every way with every member, instead of making generalizations based on age. You know what they say about assumptions.

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March 3, 2011

Three Ways to Connect Your Social Media Outposts

Facebook, Twitter, your website, forums, newsletters, and so on: How do these pieces fit together?  Here are three easy ways to connect your community and improve your online strategy.

  • Cross-post on a regular basis. Your outposts are one big media organism that wants to be fed. Is there a great discussion on your Facebook page? Link to it from Twitter. Is there a thought-provoking article in your last e-newsletter? Post it with a discussion question on your favorite forum. The trick is to have a 360-degree view of all of your content. For every piece of content you release, ask yourself, how can this be repurposed, and where? Before you know it, your community will start buzzing, and your number of engaged members will increase.
  • Designate a staff member. The core of the disjointed social media problem is usually behind the scenes; no one knows what's happening. You don't need to hire a whole new position or create a staffing bottleneck through your webmaster, simply appoint someone in your marketing or communications department who is responsible for monitoring your social media outposts. Over time, this person will gain the ability to see the big picture of what is happening on all platforms and keep the rest of the staff informed accordingly. He or she does not need to be responsible for content generation or even be the sole poster to the outposts, but you need someone around to say, "Maybe we shouldn't post four times to Facebook today; our market is saturated," or "Someone asked a question about this great topic over on LinkedIn; we should send them over to the discussion happening on Facebook."
  • Simplify your presence.  The natural social media tendency is to fill up as much space on as many platforms as possible. While you may increase your association's footprint, this tactic is usually counterproductive. Instead of having a separate Facebook page for every special interest group or an official page on each obscure networking site, manage a few outposts really well. When associations develop too many outposts, connecting them together becomes an unnecessary burden. Identify where you members are most likely to engage with you, and invest your resources there.

Sara L. Wood is manager of digital communications at the National Court Reporters Association in Vienna, Virginia. She is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2012 and her Twitter handle is @SaraLWood.

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Ready or Not, Here They Come: Boomers in Social Networking

Ready or not, generations X and Y, here come the Baby Boomers straight into the world of social networking! You can either prepare your association for them or not (and then experience the heartache of a lost demographic).

You've read the headlines, and despite what your internal readership surveys might say, it's probably a safe bet that even if you work at an association with a more mature membership you're still going to need to get ready for the next wave of social-media users.

The number of Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1960) using social media increased by 88 percent in the last year. Almost half of all Boomers are now on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking service. And according to a recent Pew Study, the group of social media users age 65 and older has grown 100 percent; a much faster rate than those stereotypically thought of as being "connected online."

So what does this tell us young professionals in the association community? Get ready for some social-media outreach to your older audience, even if you think your core demographic isn't on Facebook or Twitter yet. Because they will be, and soon!

According to an ASAE survey, 57 percent of associations are already involved in some type of social media outreach. Awesome! But if you're part of the 43 percent who aren't there yet, start working on your strategy now, and be prepared to make your case for social media to your president or board members, because despite age being a deterring factor for nearly half of users online, it's not going to stay this way forever. Don't believe me? Check out what AARP, the authority on mature audiences, has to say about Boomers online:

Have you already garnered a huge following of older adults on Twitter, or created an active community of engaged users for your more mature members? Share those tips and best practices, and help your fellow association professionals learn from your experience!

Chrisi West is web content manager at Military Officers Association of America in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2011.

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January 10, 2011

Imagining association doomsday (or not)

I wrote the bulk of this post in December but sat on it until after the holidays. In light of the discussion spurred by Joe Flowers' post about not renewing with ASAE and Scott's follow-up post about social media changing the future for associations, I'm glad I waited.

Anyway, some other online discussions that actually preceded Joe's post already had me wondering what the world would look like without associations. Frankly, I have a hard time picturing it, but that might just be because I'm not very imaginative. In addition to the posts ensuing from Joe Flowers' post (which Scott is compiling as they arise), also see:

  • On ASAE's Executive Management listserver, in response to a request for guidance about starting a membership organization, Steve Townsend posted a lengthy message about the challenges that the membership model faces today. "If we all had the option of starting from scratch ... we might explore other alternatives to that model," he says.
  • Eric Lanke, CAE, wrote last month that members of associations greatly underestimate the true costs of the services associations provide.
  • Back in October, Diane James, CAE, wrote an excellent post here on Acronym asking why associations haven't adopted new business models, despite an apparent consensus that the traditional association model is doomed.
  • Also last month, Jeff Hurt asked how associations will transition from push economies to pull economies.

The question we all seem to be struggling with is, more or less, "It's getting so easy for people to self-organize and to find what they want for free, why would people need associations in the future?" But Eric Lanke's post struck a particular chord with me, on which I'd like to expand here.

I'm not convinced that free stuff and self-organized groups (the internet's two-pronged menace) would fill the void that associations would leave if they disappeared tomorrow. (Poof!) The question that's always stuck in my mind is, "Where's the business model?"

Here's what I mean by that: if self-organized groups were to inherit the Earth, how will they (or who else will) pull off the most resource-intensive services that associations currently provide? Things like conferences, advocacy, and certification. Despite the forward march of technology, the value of all of these is still quite high. I've just never been able to make the leap in my mind from self-formed groups to large-scale products and services. When a group of like-minded people finds it can no longer bear the burden of serving itself through the goodwill of volunteers, it hires a staff to manage these things, and it turns to bundled or unbundled fees to support that overhead. At its very basic, isn't that how every association gets its start?

Don't mistake this for an argument against the need for change, though. I'm with you. We all need to evolve. But rather I put this forth as a challenge: Paint the scenario in which what associations do today is fully replaced by emerging social dynamics and new business models tomorrow.

We've fidgeted over business-model innovation for associations for a while; let's red-team it and create the anti-association business model. Then maybe we can learn from it. So, please, tell me: what does association doomsday look like?

[Sidenote: Lisa Junker, CAE, got this started in her "A World Without Associations" vignette in the "Visions for the Future of Associations" feature from the January 2010 issue of Associations Now. The only reason she wrote that essay herself, though, is because she couldn't find anyone else to write it. Here's a new chance to step up, people.]

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December 15, 2010

If you build it, will they come?

"We built a community/online presence/networking application - but our members don't use it."

I've heard it several times through the course of the 2010 Technology Conference, to that point that it sounds like it could be a systemic problem. So I went to a couple of leading suppliers in the online community platform space on the exhibit hall floor and asked them to tell me about the characteristics of their best implementations.

From Andy Steggles at Higher Logic, I learned:

Probably one of the most important things is to autosubscribe your members. You have to be smart about it and approach it in way that's not going to tick them off, but opt-out is going to be more successful than opt-in.

Another point is pretty ubiquitous for any project: establish your goals. You're going to set up a community differently if your goal is to raise awareness of something than if your goal is to provide member value.

He also talked about limiting and defining the groups. If you're an organization with 100 local chapters, does it make sense to set up a different discussion group for each geographic region when every discussion would be on similar topics?

A final notion is one of taking risks and being creative in the strategy you employ. He reported that the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics is one of Higher Logic's more successful implementations. A primary goal for them was adding value, which would generally mean building a wall for members to enjoy exclusive access to high-quality content. The approach they took, however, was the opposite. Open up the content so anyone can access it, but you needed to register to participate. It was a huge success for SCCE, increasing awareness, prestige, and generating significant membership growth.

From Elizabeth Baranik at NFi Studios, I learned:

You need to know your successful communication channels--what is it that your members respond to? Is it email marketing, newsletters/magazines (print or online), Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the other social media platforms? You need to know the channels that will lead to people joining your network.

You also need to be relentless. You don't need to spend tons of time, perhaps 5 hours a week, but you do need to be consistent. One of NFi's successful clients is the Florida Society of Association Executives, and the reason is continuing, fun, engaging messages for members to get involved in the community. In this regard, it helps to have a project owner, someone who is taking responsibility for developing a working a plan of consistently promoting the community to members.

Finally, she talked about being smart about the launch of the community. If you have an annual meeting where a large contingent of your members are present, create an experience at the meeting where people will wonder what is going on and will want to join the community.

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December 14, 2010

The Air Force Blog Assessment flow chart

It's been used as an example in at least three sessions at the Technology Conference today. Here it is:



November 22, 2010

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom

It's bulb planting time. You buy these brown objects that look like misshapen shallots, put them in the ground, wait until the spring, and ...Voila! Bunches of amazing colored blooms all over. There's an obvious analogy here about sowing seeds for the future and planning a colorful garden. What are we doing now that will yield something better in six months? I'm convinced the bigger challenge is how messy are we willing to get to make it happen? Unlike those bulbs, our challenges don't lie dormant for months and suddenly burst into colorful landscapes.

I recall in one association we prided ourselves on creating a "well-oiled machine." You know: no real glitches, smooth services, everything meets expectations. Technology upgrades anticipate the next market curves and drop onto our system running exactly how the vendor showed us in the demo. Members read each and every email we send, and they eagerly await our every communication. (OK, so I exaggerate a tad.) We made great strides toward that "Jiffy Lube" goal but it didn't happen without disruption. The dilemma was to negotiate how much mess was tolerable to achieve the changes?... how much of the well-oiled machine is allowed to squeak while staff and volunteers are busily re-tooling, re-organizing, replacing, downsizing, and upgrading? Fundamentally, our model was that we essentially controlled the structure and the pace of change.

Earlier this week I was listening to a presentation by Clay Shirky on leveraging social media for charitable cause organizations. The audience wrestled with the notion that struggling organizations with too few staff could unleash a donor base to spread the word about the organization, reach donors and attract media far faster now than with conventional communications. It can seem overwhelming - especially when we already wear so many hats and now think about adding hats for tweets, friending and blogging. How riskier is it to sow a few seeds and pretty much get out of the way?

We're in the flat world now. Not the one with the map that kept explorers in check, but the one that has lifted the veil and the firewall. What hasn't been zapped has been "apped. "With new tools are new opportunities. What keeps me up at night is not whether we intellectually understand's whether we can mobilize our organizations to embrace and lead rather than succumb to fear that the current environment is too scary for bold action or be afraid of what would happen if members really exercised their power.

If there's a silver lining in the economic roller coaster, it may be that we realize things aren't going back to the way they neither can we. If we team up with enough 20- somethings with no pre-Internet/pre-smart phone memory, we may get there. Entrenched behavior is completely changing because it can. Our fee- for- service -with- the- opportunity -to- comment model isn't participation. Our members are posting stuff everywhere and generating content at a pace we can't keep up with. But are they doing it in our organizations? (It should be more liberating, but I suspect there's enough Type A in most of us that we're avoiding this as long as we can.)

Give me the hand trowel, the hose, and the garden gloves. And throw in a sample of people with passion for planting. Make sure there are enough tools for everyone. Are we really that afraid that some squash might show up among the hyacinths? Half the fun is in choosing the colors, designing the beds. The other half is in the mud pies.

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November 1, 2010

Open Community is your people

I'm pleased to post this guest post from Maddie Grant & Lindy Dreyer on their new book Open Community (we're honored to be the first post on the tour!). Be sure to follow the tour as it heads to a lot of the really great blogs we're lucky enough to have in the association space.

OC_badge_booktour.pngAcronym is the first stop on the virtual book tour Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. This post is Lindy's take on the open community concept and why it's important.

For association executives, community is old hat. It's what we do. It's central to our work. And yet, for some reason (actually a lot of reasons) what we know about community isn't always translating well to building community online. Maddie and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web--from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff and members, to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that's just the beginning. It's easy to get bogged down in the newness and the detail, and miss the bigger picture--not the 10,000-foot bigger picture, but the "just high enough to make practical sense" bigger picture.

So we started writing the book, and the idea that kept popping up is the concept of open community. We added the definition of open community on Associapedia, but here's the gist. Your open community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online.

To be clear, the open community concept is not about building an online community platform or internal, private social network. That could be one tactic in your arsenal, but one of the most important first steps toward building community online is accepting that your open community is out there, not just on your website. Your stakeholders are connecting on their own terms in the social spaces where they spend the most time, and you need to be where they are. Sometimes, rather than hosting every conversation and leading every initiative, your organization can (and should) simply be present as a supportive participant.

It's really important that your association figures out how to connect with and support your open community, because if you don't, someone else will. I know that's not news to you Acronym readers, but it bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating, again.

How is your association building community online? What's your strategy for connecting with and supporting your open community? Is it working?


June 1, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch

Over the next few months, my association will venture into the great known. We will boldly go where millions have gone before, and we will stumble and perhaps fall. And in the end, we hope we will be a smidgen wiser and better off than we were before.

I speak of a new content and social networking website we have been hungrily planning, conniving, ghoulishly hoarding close to our breast, for over a year. And you will experience the final development and launch of this site with us, if you DARE!

Here is what I will attempt to do here at Acronym:

- Describe our web strategy and planning process without putting you to sleep.

- Update you on things that are a major pain in our you-know-what.

- Tell you about our partnership strategy, and how it cut our expenses in half.

- Show you all this cool diagram-thing I had our graphic designer create to illustrate our philosophy of Content, Communication, and Community, and explain why I quoted Spock.

- Our logo design process, which was maybe one of the more painful things I've experienced in a long time--I won't even tell you about choosing a URL, as I still have PTSD from it, I think.

- Talk to you about how we dealt with some normal defenses and challenges to the project from board/volunteers/ourselves.

Now, my association isn't the first or the last to go through this kind of experience. I'd like to hear from you. What cautionary tales do you have to share from past website launches? Building a new online community? What questions would you like to see me write about in this series of posts? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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May 6, 2010

Quick clicks: Thursdays with zombies

Good morning, and welcome to this week's Quick Clicks!

- Quite possibly the best thing I've ever seen: David Gammel unveils a wonderful cartoon on the Orgpreneur blog. Go see it. Don't worry, we'll wait.

- Laura Otten at the Nonprofit University Blog has a beautiful post on the many people who looked to her father as a mentor.

- A challenging post from Joe Gerstandt on what inclusion really looks like ("Inclusion is not giving everyone a trophy.")

- Shelly Alcorn has strong feelings about the importance of net neutrality for associations and nonprofits.

- Chris Bonney argues that the power of free is in the mind of the giver, not the recipient.

- Carol-Anne Moutinho at the Association Resource Centre blog considers what reverse innovation might look like in nonprofits.

- Jamie Notter is thinking through some very interesting ideas about cultivating strategy without traditional strategic planning.

- Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog ponders some potential implications of corporate social responsibility for the association sector.

- I continue to love Jeffrey Cufaude's "Wednesday What If" posts. This week, he encourages us to consider what our members would miss the most if it were eliminated.

- Peggy Hoffman considers ways to make chapters and components more effective.

- Jeff Hurt has a few suggestions for ways to encourage active attendee participation in learning sessions--even from folks who might not initially love the idea.

- Some helpful case study posts: Scott Billey at Associations Live on lessons learned from their first webinar, and Maggie McGary on what she learned on the way to 20,000 Facebook fans. (I guess technically now they're "likers," but as an editor I oppose that word.)


April 19, 2010

What's the value of eleventy zillion tweets?

The Library of Congress made some waves last week with its announcement that it will archive every Twitter tweet, EVER.

Maggie McGary at mizz information chimed in on this: "... to be able to get hashtagged tweets from past events or promotions? Heck yes I want them!"

Shannon Otto over at the Splash blog offered her thoughts, too: "Now, I don't really think future scholars are going to be interested in some of the trite things I share on my own Twitter account, but taken as a whole, our collective tweets are probably fascinating."

I've been on Twitter for about a year now, but count me in the "skeptical" column in regard to how much value can be derived from a large archive of tweets. Or, to be more precise, I'm skeptical that the power to derive that value is within the reach of associations.

I was involved in an effort here last year to classify tweets from the 2009 Annual Meeting. It was incredibly daunting, to say the least, and I'm not sure we got the ROI we wanted on it (though the process was a good learning experience, for sure). And last week, an attendee at the Digital Now conference (Dan Scheeler, whom some of you may know) made a nice spreadsheet with every tweet that had the #diginow hashtag. I applaud Dan's effort, and I wanted to be able to do something with the list of tweets (nearly 2,700 of them), but I was at a complete loss, totally overwhelmed.

My suspicion is that Shannon is on the right track in saying that the value might lie in "our collective tweets." Four years ago, right after I moved to Washington, DC, I went to an art exhibit where an artist had printed the headline of every A1 top story from every issue of The New York Times since 1900 (or maybe even earlier), end on end, line after line. It filled two eight-foot canvasses. Each headline had a color background that corresponded to the topic of the story. Standing back from the canvas, you could see how topics emerged and faded over time (Cold War, gas crisis, the internet, etc.) or spiked around certain events (Pearl Harbor, JFK assassination, 9/11, etc.). I remember thinking, "Wow, this is neat," but that's about as much value as I could find from it.

And that's the way I see a large bank of tweets. It's like turning on a recorder in a room with 100 people where 25 different conversations are going on (b/c that's basically what tweets are, just in electronic format). I'm not sure I want that information. If anyone can find a way to analyze that information, it's someone like the Library of Congress, or Google, or some other data analysis firm with vast resources.

But until then, is archiving all those tweets more trouble than it's worth? My gut feeling is yes.

A basic truth about Twitter, though, is that it's such a malleable tool that everyone finds it valuable for a different reason. Maybe I'm just missing something. If any of you association social media types out there have some good, practical suggestions here, let us know.

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February 25, 2010

Quick Clicks: Home runs

Welcome to another edition of Quick Clicks. Thanks to all the association bloggers who give us so much great stuff to link to!

- On the SmartBlog Insights blog, Rebecca Leaman wonders whether it still makes sense for nonprofits to attempt to drive traffic back to a single website "home base." Her question started a great discussion in comments.

- Andy Sernovitz has some thought-provoking comments on how you can take advantage of changing customer expectations (even if they might seem threatening at first glace).

- Jeffrey Cufaude has started a new series of blog posts he's calling "Wednesday What Ifs?". So far, he's tackled paying for dues and other programs and services in multi-year increments, giving implicit rather than explicit permission, and focusing on consistent quality rather than on the big breakthrough.

- Cindy Butts responds to some recent Acronym posts with her thoughts on the pursuit of perfection.

- Kevin Whorton has a great post at the College of Association Marketing blog on the surprising disconnect between the words and actions of one focus group.

- Jeff Hurt has great advice for pumping up the networking potential of your face-to-face events.

- If you're an "emerging leader" and you've ever thought, "When do I just emerge already?" Rosetta Thurman has a post for you.

- Shelly Alcorn at the Association Subculture blog has launched an interesting series of posts applying the rubric from Jim Collins' new book "How the Mighty Fall" to associations.

- Six is apparently a big number this week: A guest post by Mack Collier on Lauren Fernandez's LAF blog shares six truths of building successful online communities, and Aimee Stern shares six great ideas she got at a recent Super Swap.

- The Nonprofit University blog has some thoughts on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and its implications for nonprofit organizations.

- David Patt has some interesting observations about behavorial differences he's seen with older and younger colleagues. What do you think?

- Jeff Cobb at the Hedgehog & Fox blog has four questions whose answers might predict your future success. (And at his other blog, Mission to Learn, he has a post I loved on learning lessons he's gleaned from watching his toddler.)

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February 8, 2010

Quick clicks: Snowy day edition

This is a bit of a catch-up edition of Quick Clicks, so it's a little longer than usual. But if you're in the DC area (or elsewhere) and snowed in, what better time to catch up on your reading?

First, I'd like to welcome to several new association blogs:

- Aaron Wolowiec, a former Acronym blogger, has launched his own blog at An early standout post: Exposing the silo effect.

- Karen Tucker Thomas recently began the CEO Solutions blog. Early standout: Board orientation or board development.

- Management Solutions Plus brings us The Common Thread blog, featuring a number of staff, including well-known association blogger Jamie Notter. Early standout: Enquiring minds want to know how and why, by Angela Pike.

- If you follow any of the ASAE & The Center listservers, you're surely familiar with Vinay Kumar; he now has a blog of his own, too. Early standout: The Ferrari, the race, the pit-stop.

- If you have an interest in legal issues related to associations, check out Mark Alcon's new Association Law Blog. An early standout post: top 10 signs of a dysfunctional board.

Several existing blogs and bloggers are putting together interesting new series:

- The Vanguard Technology blog has begun a new "5 Questions" series, where they'll be asking five questions of an association professional doing innovative things with technology. This first interview (presented primarily in podcast form) focuses on why email marketing matters more than ever.

- DelCor has begun a weekly "Social Media Sweet Spot" show on Ustream, hosted by KiKi L'Italien.

- The SocialFish blog is hosting a series of interviews with association social media managers.

Many other association bloggers have had interesting things to say in recent weeks:

- Maddie Grant shared a thought-provoking post from Bruce Butterfield on lessons associations can learn from the struggles of the newspaper industry. Kevin Holland responded with his thoughts on what is missing from that comparison. Both posts inspired very interesting comment discussions.

- Elsewhere, Kevin Holland had a great discussion with Matt Baehr about aggregation as a value proposition for associations.

- Shelly Alcorn shares her take on the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case.

- Joe Gerstandt has a thoughtful post on opportunities he sees for local SHRM chapters to advance the cause of diversity and inclusion. I think his ideas could be applicable to a lot of other associations, too.

- Jeff Hurt shares a meeting planner's perspective on conference housing and attrition.

- Jeff De Cagna shares his five key words for 2010.

- Ellen Behrens argues that many of our current work practices are unhealthy for both ourselves and our organizations.

- Judith Lindenau shares her "A list" advice for association membership recruitment and retention.

- Maggie McGary is starting a list of association and nonprofit community managers.

- Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog shares a first draft of principles of innovation for the association community.

- Sue Pelletier responds to one possible model for the future of work and speculates on how associations might fit in.

- Tony Rossell has a simple method you can use to calculate where your membership numbers are headed.

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January 13, 2010

Associations, Nonprofits Begin Haitian Earthquake Response

As they have so many times in the past, associations and nonprofits around the world are moving rapidly to help the hard-hit communities in and near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, after a severe earthquake measuring 7.0 quake apparently flattened much of the area late January 12.

With communications impaired, electricity out, and roads blocked by fallen debris from collapsed buildings and homes, organizations were struggling both to track down local staff and members, and to assess how best to assist the densely populated, impoverished region that appears devastated.

Here’s a round-up of some association and nonprofit efforts and news underway:

Within hours of the quake, local Haitian teams of the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières were reporting that damage to their Port-au-Prince medical center and other facilities is “significant” as are injuries to staff, patients, and incoming residents. Additional staff are being deployed immediately.

World Vision International, a nonprofit that helps the poor, said on its Web site that staff in Haiti are trying to assess the damage and configure a response plan, but some workers are struggling just to leave their building because of aftershocks and damage that continue to send walls and building materials into the streets.

The American Red Cross, World Vision International, Oxfam, numerous faith-based relief services, and myriad other disaster relief charities have already set up emergency funds—many of them linked to mobile phone text giving--and e-mailed urgent donation appeals to millions of supporters.

Save the Children’s Ian Rodgers, who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, quickly became the eyes and ears for many media around the globe stymied by the lack of working communication technology and lack of access to the area.

Social media is again playing a riveting role in revealing the extent of the disaster, as well as the types of real-time decision-making occuring onsite and in offices far afield by nonprofit staff and government officials. Twitter updates from charities, federal and international agencies, and others have been running throughout the night as news and photos have slowly leaked out. While no association-uploaded videos related to humanitarian efforts is on YouTube yet, several groups expressed hope they would soon have footage or videotaped interviews to post shortly.

Many professional and trade associations have created global disaster relief funds in the past 10 years and are likely to tap them now, saying they want first to see what primary needs emerge.

Expressing fears about safety, shifting needs, and inadequate information from the hit region, none of the aid charities are accepting outside volunteers at the moment while the groups try to get their own trained staff onsite. Indeed, some are trying to get staff and members out of the Port-au-Prince area while aftershocks remain so strong.


January 8, 2010

Having the social media talk with your board

If you thought a "governance" theme for this month meant we'd get away from social media topics, you were wrong. Seems like social media touches everything now, like it or not, and we've found at least one way to tie it to governance.

Are any of your board members or volunteer leaders on Twitter? Do any of them have their own blogs? Does the prospect of one of them blogging about your latest board meeting make you a little queasy?

Blogging or tweeting about a board meeting isn't automatically a bad thing. If that volunteer has a dedicated following among other members, it can help generate wider engagement around the direction of the association. But, even though every board meeting is ideally transparent, many of us would agree that board meeting discussions could be taken out of context or misconstrued rather easily. Just read the reaction to Kristin Clarke's post last month about video broadcasting board meetings.

I don't think the answer to this concern is too complicated, though. You can't ignore it and hope it will go away, but you also can't forbid your board members and volunteers from talking about their service via social media either (at least not without alienating them, and they might still do it anyway). So, take the middle road: encourage them to blog or tweet responsibly.

There's likely no need to elevate this to a written policy; rather, just have a little talk with your volunteer leaders about their use of social media and remind them of the often sensitive nature of board and committee discussions (and also outright confidential info, like legal matters, of course). Chances are, you cover this when talking to them about various aspects of their fiduciary duty as board members, so your best option may be to simply include social media communication in that discussion, as well.

Maybe this is a no-brainer, but as social media continues to permeate our various methods of communicating, it's worth a few minutes of thought. Keep it in mind for your next board orientation.

Any of you CEOs out there care to share how you address social media with your boards and volunteers?

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November 25, 2009

Can this relationship be saved?

I was working on a post on social media and association governance for this afternoon, but then I saw a link that David Gammel kindly shared on Twitter and I decided to switch gears.

If you haven't seen it yet, researcher Danah Boyd recently posted a painfully honest and introspective look at her experience as a presenter whose talk was upstaged by a social media backchannel. (Interestingly enough, her talk was on "Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information Through Social Media.")

As associations are increasingly embracing social media as a complement to live meeting formats, this situation is going to arise. It may have already happened at your association.

Some speakers will have a natural ability to smoothly integrate backchannel communications into their talks. Maddie Grant recently talked about some ideas here. But not every speaker will be as prepared as Maddie. We, as conference and event organizers, owe it to all of them--both the naturals and the newbies--to help them handle such situations positively.

What can associations do to make it easier for speakers and the backchannel to live together in harmony? What changes will need to be made to how we prepare and support our speakers to make more positive interactions possible?

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November 20, 2009

Social media staffing: Are we doing it wrong?

Sometimes, when you start a blog post, you can be overcome by events—or at least overcome by other bloggers. I recently started writing a post inspired by Lynn Morton's comments about a recent spate of turnover among association social media managers. Since then, Maggie McGary, Maddie Grant, and David Gammel have all added their thoughts.

For me, the recent turnover brings back memories of working in a Northern-Virginia-based association in the late 1990s. We couldn't keep an IT manager on staff to save our lives. Someone would start, and two months later, they'd have a great offer from , and HR would be putting out the job announcement again.

But there's a difference between the turnover we faced in our IT manager position then and turnover in social media positions now. The way my former association was structured, the IT manager job was primarily internal-facing and technical; he or she focused on the day to day "keep the computers up and running" aspects of IT. When the position turned over, it was tough. But our IT strategy overall wasn't derailed, because our IT director was still there and still moving it forward.

Social media positions, however, are outward-facing by their very nature. And they're personal. When someone interacts with you on Twitter or Facebook, they're typically interacting with you as an individual human being. As they get to know you, they'll invest in you as a person. So when a social media position turns over, it's very noticeable to the members and stakeholders who interacted with him or her.

Maggie, Maddie, and Lynn's posts all address some of the reasons why we might be seeing turnover in social media positions right now. What concerns me most is the structural aspects of such turnover. Are associations structuring social media jobs in such a way that they’re doomed to churn?

Sometimes there are good reasons to create a job that will turn over regularly. Some great entry level positions are designed to be opportunities for bright people who will learn for a year or two and then move on to bigger things.

But social media jobs are such a direct connection between staff person and member that it seems counterproductive to structure them as one-year learning opportunities. Members will notice turnover there much more than they might notice turnover elsewhere in the organization. (Believe me—I changed jobs more than a year ago and I still hear from members who just noticed that my title’s different in the magazine masthead.)

I’m worried that members could become gun shy, and less willing to engage, given regular turnover in their social media contacts. They might start to question what's "going on" in your organization to cause so many people to leave.

As we’re all figuring out what social media in associations will look like moving forward, it's worthwhile for associations to also consider the implications of their staff structure. If you decide to actually staff social media, is there value in building such positions in a way that is attractive enough for an employee to stay around for a while? If there is value there, what would such an attractive position look like?

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November 18, 2009

A reminder for social media enthusiasts at associations

In some ways, Mark Golden, CAE, beat me to the punch for this post when he commented last week on Scott's recap of the Social Media Workshop. He raised some concerns about the value of Twitter and the helpfulness of those who love it (and he started a great conversation; it's long, but it's worth your time). For context, Mark is an association CEO, and thinking about his perspective reinforced this idea in my mind:

When a person fails to understand or agree with an idea that you've explained, it doesn't mean that person is unenlightened. It means you did a bad job explaining it, so try again.

Of course, this applies to social media proponents explaining social media to association leaders. When I interviewed Charlene Li for the June issue of Associations Now, one comment stood out to me:

I think the biggest problem with ... the people who understand the technologies is that they don't understand the association goals. They're so focused on what social media can do overall, but they're not specific in terms of how it can help the association. So it's not incumbent on the organization changing its mind. It's incumbent on the evangelists to position the technology as to how it can help the organization. [...] I get the evangelists coming to me because I'm one of them and they'll say, "My boss just doesn't get it!" And I say, "No, it's you! You don't get it! You're the problem!"

The emphasis above is mine. I'd take it one step further, though, and call it "how it can help the association make more money." Like it or not, this is always a part of the equation.

I can't speak directly for Mark Golden or any CEO, but I'm willing to guess a CEO's perspective is affected by the need to drive revenue for the association, because that's the CEO's job. It's easy, though, for social media users at associations to forget this, because thinking about money generally isn't their job.

Neither perspective is inherently good or bad. That's just how each person's brain is wired. (Quite literally. Read this Q&A with author Charles Jacobs for more about the science of mental perspectives. Also long but worth reading if you want to learn about persuasion.)

So, for all of the social media evangelists out there, remember this: to a CEO who runs a business (even a nonprofit business), benefits like knowledge sharing, collaboration, discussion, and engagement don't mean much more than "pretty flowers and butterflies" until you attach real, direct dollar values to them. So shape your arguments that way. Yes, that can be a big challenge, but it's a dynamic that isn't going to change anytime soon.

Also, one more thought about "how it can help the organization." Take note of Charlene's phrasing. She didn't say "how it can prevent the organization from imminent doom." Make your arguments positive. In other words, tell the CEO how social media can make life better for the association, now how it can merely help the association avoid failure.

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November 13, 2009

Quick clicks: Ideas and excellence

Welcome to this week's round of Quick Clicks. Lots of good ideas:

- To tie into our social media theme for this month, a link to an interesting interview with "digital ethnographer" Michael Wesch (creator of the "Web 2.0: The Machine Is Us/ing Us" video) on the dark side of social media and the future of the web.

- If social media is making you feel overwhelmed (raise your hand!), Rex Hammock has a prayer for you.

- Rosabeth Moss Kanter blogs on the Harvard Business Publishing site about the power of the "15 minute competitive advantage."

- Seth Godin encourages you to remember to ask "why."

- Joe Gerstandt was inspired by Veteran's Day to write about what he learned about leadership from the Marine Corps.

- Are you a manager that cares enough? Rajesh Setty has nine questions to ask yourself to find out. Elsewhere, Bob Sutton lists 21 things great bosses believe and do to encourage innovation.

- More for managers: The Digital Now blog encourages you to lead with the latest brain research in mind.

- At the Associations Live blog, Kathy Johnson warns you not to let unfulfilled or unexpressed expectations ruin your relationship with your board.

- Some good economy-related posts: The SignatureI blog lists eight factors involved in building a results-driven culture in the down economy; the Plexus Consulting Group blog has examples of associtations using the recession to "trim down and muscle up"; and on the Hourglass Blog, Eric Lanke has a fantastic in-depth post on how the different generations may be responding to the current economy.

- The Aptify CEO blog has some musings on how to predict if trial members will convert, renew, and engage.

- On the Association Puzzle blog, Cecilia Sepp and several commenters have advice for new association professionals.

- Short meetings are a good thing, right? Not always, says David Patt.

- Tony Rossell shares some advice on how you can structure your organization around the value you offer.

- I'm linking to this to see if Joe Rominiecki will try to come behind me and delete the link: On the Splash blog, Mark Sedgley uses the Yankees as a model to describe how you can create a environment of excellence.


A million members typing on a million typewriters

If you're a bit mystified by the term crowdsourcing, don't worry, you're not alone. Ever since Jeff Howe coined the term in 2006, its meaning and value have been debated. And since his appearance at the 2009 Association Technology Conference & Expo, curiosity and experimentation with the model have spread within the association sector, as well.

But again, what exactly is crowdsourcing, and what isn't? I'd like to help settle some confusion by saying this: that question doesn't really matter.

Howe's definition goes like this:

Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

Of course, the vagueness of "job" and "undefined, generally large group" have led to a lot of debate, such as Dan Woods's column in September at He wrote that "crowds don't innovate – individuals do":

There is no crowd in crowdsourcing. There are only virtuosos, usually uniquely talented, highly trained people who have worked for decades in a field. [...] The crowd has nothing to do with it. The crowd solves nothing, creates nothing.[...] [I]ndividuals motivated by obsession, competition, money or all three apply their individual talent to creating a solution.

Oddly, Woods both reveals a truth and misses the point at the same time. Yes, crowds don't innovate; there is no hive mind. Individuals each think and innovate on their own. But if those individual virtuosos aren't in your crowd, then they won't be of any help to you. So make your crowd bigger.

And that's the bottom line. Crowdsourcing isn't so much a model as it is just a thought experiment, much akin to the infinite monkey theorem, which says that if you have a million monkeys typing random letters on a million typewriters from now till eternity, eventually they'll happen to type the full text of a William Shakespeare play.

Of course, the actual monkey scenario is absurd (in fact, someone sort of tried it once, and it didn't go well), but the point is that, with greater numbers, basic math says the likelihood of great things happening increases.

And so it goes with crowdsourcing. It doesn't matter what is or isn't crowdsourcing. Is 50 people a crowd? Is 1,000 people a crowd? Is every single one of your members, whatever number that is, a crowd? Sure, just about anything could be deemed crowdsourcing, as long as it means involving more people than you did before.

More people means two things:

  • Better potential quality: A greater volume and diversity of ideas contributed toward the development, evaluation, and execution of a task equals a greater likelihood or degree of success.
  • Member engagement: A greater number of members who are involved in a task or project, even in small ways, equals a broader level of engagement and all the good things it leads to.

Crowdsourcing is a buzzword now because Web 2.0 tools, whichever you choose, have lowered the barriers to large-crowd involvement. Getting 200 members to share their opinions and ideas in 1989 meant either physically gathering them in one place or hours of telephone calls, reams of faxes, and immense file drawers of careful documentation. In 2009, it can be as easy as setting up a central online wiki or even a simple online discussion board.

Of course, there are still bounds to the degree of feasibility for any given crowd size, but it's up to you to determine what's manageable within your association's capabilities. But if you can involve more people, you might as well. And that's crowdsourcing.

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November 9, 2009

Some quick analysis from recent social media events

ASAE & The Center recently conducted its Social Media Workshop to a sold out group of association executives. The intended audience were those people and organizations at an entry-level with regard to social media. You can read a couple of accounts from session providers on their blogs (Elizabeth Engel’s and Maddie Grant’s), and, for as long as it lasts, you can see what people tweeted who used the event’s hashtag: #smw09.

I also recently gave a one-day presentation to a collection of state association execs geared to about the same level. Here are three quick takeaways from these sessions and my take on them:

People are struggling with the notion that these tools, and Twitter in particular, can add significant value to their organizations. It’s the “what-do-I-care-what-you-had-for-breakfast” argument. Even ardent Twitter supporters will allow that there’s a ton of drivel in the Twitterverse. As a real-time news source, though, Twitter is unparalleled. It’s hard to imagine an industry or profession that won’t at some time be in a place where real-time news is important. In addition, Twitter’s connective capabilities are finding a niche in face-to-face meetings, both between live participants and people following from a distance.

Organizations don’t have the time to do much in social media. The truth is, time will always be a value judgment—it’s not about the time it takes, it’s about how much value can be expected by spending the time in social media versus spending the time on some other activity. Association execs seem to want a nice, neat solution to this, but there isn’t one. Oh, there are time savers once you’ve gotten into the tools and decided how you want to use each of them. But the bottom line to this one is you can decide that social media is not as important as other things and neglect it. Or you can decide it is important and put the resources behind it. Obviously I believe the latter. An important consideration is that it’s ok—even preferred—to start small. Start monitoring, move into light participation, and see where it takes you.

Finally, risk—both legal and public perception—remains a hot button issue. My take on this one is a two-parter. For legal risk, I think it comes down to barriers to access. The more legal controls you exercise, the harder you are making it for people to participate. Each organization needs to decide its risk tolerance and act accordingly. (My caveat: the higher the barrier the more likely you are to fail at social media.) The other part refers to those who do not want to give dissenters a megaphone to intensify their criticisms. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this argument. First of all, if they are passionate and their criticisms are communicated well (valid or not), then they already have a megaphone. In addition, I think transparency practices are essential for strong organization, and if you’re transparent about the decisions your organization makes, then you have no reason to fear criticisms. It’s far better to confront it with transparency.

Anybody who attend the workshop want to add or append? Or any of you state veterinary execs I talked to? Would love to hear your take on things.

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November 6, 2009

Quick Clicks: The quotable edition

Welcome to your first November Quick Clicks post! Here's some quoteable and noteable posts from the past week or so:

- The Digital Now blog reminds us that "the fish out of water has no other fish to contend with."

- Shelly Alcorn tells it like it is: "You are not Stuart Smalley and darn it, some people are NOT going to like you."

- "We followed the best advice we found and marched confidently forward … right into failure." Get the full story from Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog.

- Jamie Notter asks, "As a leader, do you know if you are truly willing to trust your people?" Elsewhere, Judith Lindenau writes on building the bond of trust between staff and members.

- Two association bloggers were recently quoted by CNN. Bruce Hammond blogs about the experience and clarifies a few things.

- The Nonprofit University blog asks, "So how's that recovery treating you?"

- If you missed Joe Rominiecki's recent post on the crazy idea of allowing first-year members to attend your meetings for free, there is some great discussion going on in the comments. One standout for me: Joe says, "I believe every member who joins an association and isn't meaningfully engaged is simply a missed opportunity."

- On a related note, Mark Buzan offers some ideas for keeping association members interested and active.

- "It’s not the inability to move quickly that hampers associations, it’s the unwillingness to do anything outside of the status quo," posits Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog.

- "What's your Apollo program?" Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog wants to know.

- Chris Bonney at the Vanguard Technology blog has five reasons why playing it safe is a bad idea.

- Deirdre Reid asks where the balance is between managing staff time wisely and providing member service on demand.

- The SignatureI blog has a fascinating "vision of excellence" for association learning and invites you to add to it.

- Aptify's CEO blog has some interesting suggestions for data points associations can collect that correlate to member renewability. (Is "renewability" a word? Do I lose editor points if it's not? Hmmm.)

- Ellen Behrens at the aLearning blog wonders if association learning is lagging behind other sectors.


November 5, 2009

Oh, boy! Another blog post about social media!

In case you missed it, November started this week, and a new month means a new themed series of posts here on Acronym. (No, we didn't do a theme in October. We know.)

This month's theme: social media.

I can hear you all groaning now. But wait! Before you stop reading, let me assure you: we here at Acronym are well aware that social media has been blogged about to infinity and back in the past 2-3 years, and we know that the last thing you need from us is just more "rah-rah social media" banter.

So, we have planned the month's posts with one goal in mind: to go beyond what's already been said about social media as it relates to associations. That's it. If we've already read it somewhere else, we won't be simply rehashing it here. It's a lofty goal, but we're going for it. If we miss, then please say so in the comments.

Here's a preview of some of what's in store:

  • A look at how associations have progressed with social media in the last two years. (Why two years? Because November 2007 was our first social media month.)
  • Why social media staffing at associations could be a big mess for several years.
  • Why part of our collective trouble with social media is because associations aren't funny.
  • How social media is changing governance at associations.
  • A better definition of crowdsourcing, because it means a lot of different things to different people.

We'll also work in some thoughts, perspectives, and wisdom shared today and tomorrow at ASAE & The Center's Social Media Workshop. If you're not there, you can follow discussion on Twitter via the hashtag: #smw09.

So, please stay tuned (or browsed? or clicked?) to Acronym this month. We hope you'll find the series thought provoking and discussion worthy (share your ideas in the comments, of course!). For now, I leave you with this, "The Stupidest Article About Social Media Ever." We'll do our best to not sound too much like that.

[Also, on a semi-related note, remember that December will be our "big ideas" month, and we're still taking suggestions for potential "What if?" topics to cover. For more info, read the "Think big" post and add more ideas in the comments there. The ones that other readers have posted so far are a fun read in and of themselves, too.]


October 26, 2009

Quick clicks: Risky business

Friday's Quick Clicks is now Monday morning Quick Clicks--my apologies for the delay! Here's some reading to kick off your week:

- Leslie White, who has written some great guest posts for other association bloggers in recent months, has started her own blog, Risky Chronicles. Her first post is all about risk strategy and polar bears.

- Jeff De Cagna has some strong words about what relevance is not.

- Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog suggests a simple exercise to determine the value you offer to your members.

- Jeff Hurt issues a call for next-generation conference and membership revenue models.

- Michael McCurry has some ideas for how to plan for attrition (or attendance growth) in today's economy.

- David Gammel suggests that growth is a trap associations need to watch out for.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel points to an interesting "FutureLab" experiment Independent Sector is currently undertaking.

- Has your professional development budget been cut? Rosetta Thurman summarizes 11 tips for do-it-yourself professional development.

- Erik Schonher at the Experts in Membership Marketing blog has some tips from a "master strategist" whose association has grown its membership despite the economy.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfish blog shares some draft social media guidelines; at the Bamboo Project blog, Michele Martin shares another example of such guidelines, focused around "admirable use" of social media.

- Joan Eisenstodt wants to know if you know how your audience learns.

- David Patt responds to Acronym blogger Joe Rominiecki's post on "blowing it up and starting over." (On a somewhat related note, Lindy Dreyer has a great post about ending the quest for perfection.)


October 16, 2009

Comfort with chaos

On her blog earlier this week, Lindy Dreyer shares a piece of advice about control: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Meanwhile, Wes Trochlil makes a similar point about data collection. He says, "It's not reasonable or useful to try to collect all types of data from all of your members and customers."

And Peter Bregman at Harvard Business argues that the best way to create change is to focus on changing one thing, not an entire system. His advice: "...[T]ake the time up front to figure out the one and only thing that will have the highest impact and then focus 100% of [your] effort on that one thing."

I really liked these thoughts (you should go read all three posts), because they allude to something we often forget: Planet Earth is a chaotic place. It's made up of unpredictable environments filled with unpredictable humans who create unpredictable systems. Life is so much easier when you get comfortable with that chaos. Pick the sliver you can effectively influence, and then let the rest go.

And so I would suggest a slightly different but equally important way to phrase Lindy's advice above: "Don't get so caught up in trying to control everything that you miss your chance to control something."

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Quick clicks: Where's my crystal ball?

It's time for your weekly round of quick clicks from the association blogging community and elsewhere. Enjoy!

- The Signature i blog has a great post describing four ways to think about the future, and advice to help you upgrade your futures thinking. Elsewhere, Kevin Holland has some predictions for the future of associations. (And so do several commenters on Brian Birch's recent Acronym post with his predictions for 2010.)

- Jamie Notter says that the future of organizations lies in being human.

- On the SocialFish blog, Lindy Dreyer writes about the power of clarity.

- Michael LoBue at Association Voices is deleting his Twitter account, but Eric Lenke at the Hourglass Blog speaks up for texting in church (and possibly at education events, as well).

- Bob Sutton shares his top 10 flawed management assumptions.

- The Vanguard Technology blog recently interviewed Greg Hill of the Kansas Dental Association on how his association has become a "multimedia powerhouse."

- KiKi L'Italien posts 10 things she learned at her association's recent conference, while Becky Hadley at the Drake & Company blog posts about attending her association's conference for the first time.

- Jeff Hurt has some research to share pointing to the benefits of virtual education. Ellen Behrens, meanwhile, writes about the differences between training and mentoring.

- Short but sweet: Peggy Hoffman posts the 12th post in her series of truths about volunteering.


October 9, 2009

Quick clicks: Swarmball!

Ready for the long weekend? For that matter, is it a long weekend for you? Either way, here's some reading to reflect on:

- Two more association bloggers replied to the Generation X meme that began last week: Kevin Holland and David Patt.

- The Digital Now conference's blog has collected some classic CEO quotes for you.

- Wes Trochlil drew some important lessons for your association from his daughter's last soccer game (I'll admit, I'm linking to this in part for the opportunity to use the word "swarmball").

- Frank Fortin writes in praise of the forgotten power of email.

- The SocialFish blog recently posted a white paper analyzing white label online community vendors.

- David Patt has 15 tips for meeting planners working with older members or audiences.

- Jakub Nielsen's latest "Alertbox" column has some fascinating information on a user's experience on a website from the first 0.1 second to his or her first year as a customer, and even further out in time than that.

- Erik Casey has an interesting post on the importance of making your member communications relevant, while the IMG Associations blog has a related post on making them applicable.

- Marsha Rhea at the SignatureI blog discusses change leadership from the perspective of those most impacted by the change in question.

- Shelly Alcorn's Association Subculture blog argues that associations need to become experience brokers.

- Jeffrey Cufaude describes various staff members' approaches to innovation using an on-ramp as a metaphor (making me nervous for my commute home tonight!).

- Is it a bad thing to have a superstar community manager on your staff? This post from the Museum 2.0 blog says yes.


October 8, 2009

My Top 5 Things to Remember in 2010 as an Association Professional

As we move into a new decade, what are the most important things we can focus on in our profession? Here are my top five:

1) Priorities Over Majorities: Most people aren’t great at naturally prioritizing, and the majority of the people you know will focus on everything but the most important thing (because the important thing is always the hardest thing). We association professionals should get really good at prioritizing everything quickly, including emails, workload, educational programming, and volunteers. Oftentimes this will be challenging, as many will focus on things that aren’t that important long-term. For an example in educational programming prioritization, check out our Prioritized Educational Agenda.

2) Control Technology or It’ll Control You: When evaluating any new technology for your association, from a pencil to Twitter to a new website, always ask: Where will this be in 5 or 10 years? What part of our strategic plan or mission will this technology help us deliver? This exercise can help us navigate the increasingly complex balance between doing what is new and cool, and doing what makes the most sense for the organization and its members. In other words, don’t let technology drive your decisions; implement decisions with technology.

3) "It’s the Content, Stupid": Over and over, people have come to the realization that quality, accurate information and education always trumps flair--flair should support and entice, not serve as the foundation to our educational and event planning. Our world is becoming inundated with cookie-cutter speakers doing cookie-cutter presentations, and cookie-cutter websites and social networks. How do we develop better, more specific content and provide time for people to learn? Every person has the capacity to grow when they are challenged by someone they respect; how do we challenge our members while maintaining and increasing their respect for the association?

4) Partner to Prosper: In a global world, we must get better at sharing and partnering. Associations bring people together because there is strength in numbers; do we live by our own mantra? No association should see another association as a direct competitor.

5) This Social Network Will Self-Destruct: Over time, new things become old ... be prepared for social networking apathy. Some people are getting tired of Facebook or spending less time on such applications, and many people use social networking casually and aren’t that engaged in it. Most people still value in-person interaction and community, or associations would be long-gone by now. Don’t get me wrong, some social networks online are valuable and 2.0 technology is great, but I would argue that many social networks will lose value over time, unless they offer something more than just putting a hit out on your friends in Mafia Wars. Where will all of these networks be in 5 years? Check out this interesting article from Wired Times in 2004.

Please share your thoughts, or share your own Top 5 for 2010!

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September 22, 2009

Member value is the easy answer. Too easy.

How do you know what your members value?

A lot of the membership discussion has centered around this elusive idea. The general thinking is, dues-paying membership as a model isn’t broken, it’s just evolving. The secret sauce for associations is finding and delivering what people value, for which they will be happy to fork over their dues payment.

Which leaves me with the question, how do you know what your members value? Maybe some research – both quantitative and qualitative – can provide some answers. Certainly what people actually purchase is indicative. But this retort in the membership debate smells like people justifying status quo to me, and perhaps even something more dangerous. One association trap is that an organization will realize that a number of people would value “x,” so they add “x” to their list of member benefits, but nothing is taken off. X becomes Y becomes Z and then back around to the top of the alphabet, and all of a sudden, you’re servicing 5 or 10 or 20 niche markets under the umbrella of membership. This is not a sustainable model.

Here is where I agree with the argument: if you are going to expect to receive dues, you are going to have to deliver something that people value. But I augment that with two things: first, you need to be narrow and focused in the definition of what your organization does. I think this has a lot of implications for associations, namely smaller staffs and decentralized control. The chase for ever-growing membership rolls gives way to the chase for ever-deeper engagement with the members attracted to your narrow focus.

Second, if peer networking, information, collective action, or affiliation are significant parts of your value proposition, then you need to take a critical analysis of your situation; it is quite possible the social web is changing people’s expectations and values in these areas.


September 18, 2009

Internet users focus on content over community

The Online Publishers Association has released the results of a six-year study of where Internet users spend most of their time—and it appears to be good news for associations.

"Internet users continue to spend a majority of their time with Content sites, up from 34% of total time spent in 2003 to 42% in 2009, a 24% increase," says OPA. The analysis of its Internet Activity Index (IAI), a monthly gauge of the time being spent with Commerce, Communications, Community, Content and Search, shows that "while consumers may be spending significant time with Community sites, it’s coming at the expense of their time with Communication sites whose core capabilities are email and Instant Messaging."

OPA President Pam Horan points out that among the major shifts detected in the past six year is the tremendous "emergence of Community," but "Content is still king."

This finding may temporarily comfort competitive-weary organizations—for now anyway--that worry people will become too caught up in Facebook and other social media sites to spend much time in the heart of most association sites—their knowledge centers. That said, there’s no denying that blogs, Twitter and Facebook are funneling knowledge in new and exciting ways to our members. To me, the "Community or Content" question likely is changing rapidly to "Community and Content," and aren’t both of those what differentiates associations from the chaotic Internet madness swirling around?


September 14, 2009

Why should members join?

The discussion on membership has started off well, with lots of good back-and-forth comments from last week’s post.

Jeffrey Cufaude from Idea Architects has been particularly active, so much that I asked him to write a post for later in the month. We also engaged in an exchange in which Jeffrey says that perhaps the question associations should be seeking to answer is not, Why should someone join? Rather, the appropriate question is, Why should someone have to join? (NOTE: updated with emphasis on the right word. Sorry about that!)

The point I think he’s making (and I’d bet he’ll clarify in comments if needed) is similar to the point of my original post last week. I’d guess most associations have an answer to that question. The point is, it is entirely possible, if not likely, that the answer is subject to erosion. That’s particularly true when the answer involves community or information.

A lot of the comments have been about the value an organization offers, and others about the membership being a primary target market. I’ll have some additional thoughts about these things soon, but I’m curious about how Acronym readers would answer Jeffrey’s question: Why should someone have to join your organization? My follow-up questions: What effect does the changing ease of networking and information gathering enabled by the social web? If none, how have you inoculated yourself from these impacts?

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September 9, 2009

RIP: Membership?




Did you hear that?

That’s the membership model that associations have used for the past century and longer. Someone sees a group of people that have a common interest – for the sake of most Acronym readers, that common interest is an industry or a profession – and they affiliate by filling a membership app and writing a check.

I am firmly in the camp that this model is dying. I believe that the nature of the way people affiliate, and what they expect to get out of it, is changing. And this isn’t new—it’s been going on for decades, but I’ll come back to that.

This month in Acronym, we’ll be exploring this question: what is the future of association membership? What factors affect the membership model? How is it affected?

The debate is not about answering the question, “is dues-paying membership changing?” No one would argue with the idea that it is changing. The question is this: is the model evolving or dying?

To me it’s clear. Perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, when it was abundantly evident that the trend for associations was away from dues revenue and to other things, I could have entertained the idea that the model was just evolving. But the rise of the social web over the last 5 or 6 years is absolutely changing how people affiliate with those of like mind. The number of people or businesses willing to chuck over a significant dues offering every year is going to shrink.

What does this mean for associations? Well, I have some ideas, and I’ll put them in two or three posts in the next three weeks. We’ll also be talking to others with ideas of what that means, and still others who disagree entirely. We’d like your contributions, too. Any of you with your own blogs, we’d love to see you address these questions – and of course, we love comments on Acronym. Let us know what you think… challenge us, enliven the discussion, enrich our understanding! When it makes sense, we’ll take a comment thread and turn it into a post.

Membership and dues. With the exception of being mission-driven, there’s probably not anything more fundamental to the association model, and it’s in peril… or is it?

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September 1, 2009

Using Social Media Volunteers Creatively

While I was reading about the National Business Travel Association’s recent updates to the NBTA Corporate Social Responsibility Toolkit and its offsetting of carbon emissions of its August 2009 conference, I saw that—a popular nonprofit that arranges and advocates offsets for organizations—was advertising for “social media volunteers.” Rather than the usual request that members who use social media serve as viral marketers, volunteers were being invited to “help set the record straight about offsets,” because “there’s a lot of misinformation on offsets in social media.”

I like that whole concept of virtual volunteers with multiple purposes, and though it seems obvious to add this concept to an association’s array of volunteer opportunities, I haven’t seen many other organizations that do so. Okay, maybe they have easily downloadable widgets and logos, but an actual specific purpose like serving as a rapid-response team member for misinformation? Not really.

What other ways could social media volunteers be actively engaged? I'm talking about a real strategy, one integrating into your overall volunteer management strategy and practices. Are you offering enough options for volunteers to leverage these tools in ways that appeal to them, not just to address our needs? Have you thought about holding a tweetfest, for instance, on getting your message out? Do you have ideas on whether or how Facebook users could, as a group, be galvanized into a new type of volunteer corps? Who else is using social media volunteers who may have "lessons learned" and advice?


August 24, 2009

Facebook fundraising: Feeding America shows good taste

Using social media for fundraising—it was a topic that sparked a lot of conversation among associations and nonprofits during last week’s Annual Meeting in Toronto, with everyone wanting to know which organizations have had luck, which have not and why, and which campaigns are underway as pilots.

A few first-adopter organizations always spring to mind when I hear someone ask the how-do-I-do-this question, including the nonprofit Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest), which has such a creative array of supporters that it is always on the forefront of innovative fundraising techniques and events.

Its latest endeavor is on Facebook and involves the unusual duo of Hellmann’s and Best Foods Mayonnaise with musician Billy Ray Cyrus in a “virtual Sandwich Swap ‘n Share” program to celebrate the upcoming new school year and “childhood rituals” like trading lunchbox munchies.

The fundraiser is fun and trendy. For each sandwich created on the company’s Facebook page, Hellmann's and Best Foods donates seven lunches to Feeding America and enters the participant in a sweepstakes for a $250 grocery gift certificate. And here’s the viral part: For every friend on Facebook that the participant shares a sandwich with, Hellmann's donates seven more lunches—up to 700,000 lunches total. Someone even wins a trip backstage at a Cyrus concert to officially swap sandwiches with the famous father-of-Miley.


Feeding America and Hellmann’s are quick to explain that seven lunches equals a dollar donation to the charity. But by using Facebook to engage customers and charitable supporters in a feel-good fundraiser that virtually uses its product (a fundraiser that doesn’t cost the customer a dime, by the way), the company and its brand gain much more buzz and recognition than they would by simply writing a $100,000 check to Feeding America, as does the charity.

Fundraising with social media tools takes a lot of thought and planning, but the results can further cement relationships with major donors, engrain your brand in new places, excite your supporters, and generate media interest. And if you raise some money in the process, well, hooray!


August 21, 2009

Why association marketing stinks

"You need to share with people what they want to hear, not what you want to shout at them."

That was said by Charlene Li in her general session at the annual meeting. If you have just a moment, skip down to the bottom of this post and watch the 2 minute, 41-second video from the last Marketing & Membership Conference.

I used to hold the opinion that just about everyone in an organization was part marketer. I'm ready to abandon that now. Oh, I still believe in the sentiment, but there doesn't appear to be any real change on the horizon. Associations are still supremely guilty of shouting out what they want their public to hear, rather than entering into dialog and informing. The term marketing has a bad connotation—it is the shouting, the blah, blah blah, the interruption, and it all wreaks of desperation. So now I'm ready to jettison the term. Just lose it from the vocabulary. While we're at it, if there is any product or service that needs marketing, then get rid of that, too.

It's time to stop thinking about marketing, replacing it with informing and engaging in dialog. It's what our members want from us. They didn't join to be marketed to; they didn't join to be sold to. They joined to be part of community. If you need more marketing than that, it's time to rethink what you're doing.

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August 18, 2009

Silencing dissent weakens your brand

A theme I’ve heard over and over from keynotes to thought leaders to hallway conversations is the idea of control. It’s a recurring fear I hear almost every time I speak to association execs about social media—they are scared of the possibility that online engagement will go places the organization doesn’t want it to go.

I’d guess most people reading this blog have pretty much the same answer: They’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well be a part of it. That’s true, if anybody has anything to say, they’ll say it in a way that can be noticed. If somebody notices and they agree, it can magnify. You want to know about it, and you want to be sure that your message is out there as you deem appropriate.

But that’s the old answer. Now, thanks to Mr. Clay Shirky and his Q&A in the Social Engagement Lounge, here’s the new answer: Trying to cut off or silence dissent weakens your brand. Make it known what you stand for (you have to back that up, of course), and that’s all you need do. Those who share that value will stand with you, and if there is energetic and earnest debate, everyone will be better because of it.

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What is not related to "social media"?

Here we are at the final day of ASAE 2009 in Toronto and one is overwhelmed with the amount of interest, and confusion, about social media and its impact on associations. The exhibit floor in the technology section is evidence not only of the intense interest in all things social media, but also the emergence of new solutions and companies in this sector.

A lot of the information on social media is aimed to help people understand the basics of what social media is and initial approaches. Other sessions have been able to go more into detail and share actionable information and resources.

However, one over-riding theme through all of the presentations and the discussions was just how important it is for organizations to develop a strategy for social media if they hope to really leverage the new tools and applications.

Another "elephant in the room" is about measurement and ROI. Sure, you might have thousands of "fans" on Facebook or hordes of "followers" on Twitter, but how are you managing your organizations brand message and reputation; how are you monetizing or measuring these platforms?

It is obvious that we are all at the front end of the social media revolution and that the initial strategies; i.e. using public social networks alone as the primary social media approach, are not going to deliver the kinds of sustainable results we need.

A solid strategy, use of multiple channels and the ability to manage your brand and quality of experience on a private social network while raising awareness in the public space seems to be where associations need to go to be more successful with social media.

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August 17, 2009

“Social is a way of being”

I attended Jeff De Cagna’s session, Associations Next: Serious Questions for 2010 and Beyond this afternoon. Whenever I have the opportunity, I make it a point of attending Jeff’s presentations, which are always insightful and thought-provoking. I find that the questions he raises linger with me long after the conference is over and typically prompt rich discussions with my colleagues. This afternoon’s session was no exception.

After stepping us through a series of 6 questions that get at the heart of what it means to associate, govern, and innovate in the web-enabled 21st century, he asked us to spend 10 minutes brainstorming radically different approaches to our association work. What would make the biggest potential impact, even if it meant making our CEOs, boards, and even ourselves very uncomfortable?

Several of the suggestions that came back were so intriguing, I thought I’d share a few of them here:

- One table suggested making membership completely free (we don’t control the network any longer, so why try to make it into a commodity?). Charge a fair-market price for the professional content that is currently packaged with membership and remove the barriers to the conversation. Then the members of our networks who are truly engaged and truly do contribute to the conversation will be able to join without barriers, making the conversation richer for all. (Any association that has opted for open, publicly accessible social media groups understands the value of this free association and not trying so hard to control the message or limit the participants.)

- Another table suggested crowdsourcing our next annual meetings. Empower the community to make the best decisions on its own behalf and deliver a meeting that is exactly what our attendees want. (NTEN, an association I’ve long admired, successfully structures its annual meeting this way, and their conference is consistently an audience favorite.)

- Another group suggested making board service based not on fixed terms, but on best ideas. Decide who remains on the board based upon record of service, innovation, and follow through. Those who aren’t contributing to the conversation could be voted off the island, a la Survivor. (I happened to be sitting in this session with the president of our board, and this suggestion was major fodder for conversation back at the hotel tonight!)

My brain is still buzzing with these ideas and Jeff’s many good questions, and I can’t wait to get back to my own association to continue this conversation with the rest of my team. How could a radically different ISTE better support and shape the conversation for our members and other educators?

What radical idea will you bring back to your organization at the end of this week? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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August 11, 2009

What does Social Media have to do with "International"?

As we prepare to go to Toronoto for ASAE's annual meeting, you might want to ponder what Social Media has to do with "International"? In talking with associations these days, most are focused on learning how to leverage social media or at least to get started in using social media tools for their association.

At the same time, a good number of associations have recognized that international markets represent one of the best real opportunities for their association to develop and grow.

However, very few have recognized the connection between these two very different but highly complimentary topics.

By its nature, social media as an Internet based platform for open communication and networking, is ideally suited to be used for international outreach and connecting. It has several very distinct advantages:

1. It is extremely cost effective and relatively easy to put in place.

2. The benefit to the user is in the ability to connect and network therefore the social media network delivers the benefit from the user community to its members directly.

3. It allows you to aggregate a critical mass of members and prospects even if you are only able to attract a relatively small number per country but from many different countries.

4. More people are becoming familiar with and using social media tools every day so there is less of a learning curve to get people to join.

5. It is a great first step to offering online education and training, leading to in-person live events, leading to membership or other more meaningful engagement with your international audience.

Want to learn more? There will be a session at Toronto on "Using Social Networks for International Expansion" held in room 803AB held on Sunday, 16 August from 1:30 - 2:45. This will include information and examples of using social media for international growth that has relevance for anyone wanting to grow their association, home and abroad. Hope to see you there!


July 31, 2009

Quick clicks: Almost August

All kinds of good stuff in the association blogworld this week!

Jeff De Cagna is in the process of creating a map of the development of the association blogging community. If you're a blogger, you can fill out his short survey (it only took me about a minute).

Management guru Tom Peters spoke to the American Hospital Association about the importance of effective leadership, and he shares the questions he asked them on his blog.

Deirdre Reid at Reid All About It (have I mentioned that I love the name of her blog?) captures some legal trends associations need to keep an eye on.

The Association Management Group's blog has some thoughts on updating your bylaws. And while you're at it, Rebecca Leaman has some ideas for how you can also create a more powerful mission statement.

Stuart Meyer at the Association 2020 blog thinks the "distracted generation" will become very engaged with associations (read this post for his list of "the three strangest places I've seen kids texting," if nothing else).

Jeffrey Cufaude makes a powerful point by switching the order of two little words.

Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog has nine tips for communicating with your community members in a text-based format--as many of us in associations do.

Lynn Morton at the Social Networking for Association Professionals blog loves her job.

Lauren Fernandez wonders how and when PR professionals should express their opinions in a public way. Her comments may be aimed at PR folks, but the questions she raises certainly apply to any of us who might be considered "representatives" of our associations.

Ann Oliveri at the Zen of Associations blog shares some interesting information on the psychology of change management.

Bruce Hammond made it back alive from his annual conference, and he has some thoughts on the importance of face to face learning experiences.


July 24, 2009

Are you making it easy for your members to volunteer?

It’s safe to say that many (if not most) associations are struggling with two realities these days: attracting younger members and engaging members as volunteers. The old understandings about joining an association and serving in a committee or leadership structure aren’t foregone conclusions the way they once were. This is particularly true for younger workers who want flexibility, recognition, and interesting work from the get go, and may not instantly “get” the value proposition that a professional association brings.

We know that volunteers are more likely to renew, attend annual meetings, and engage more deeply with our organizations, so we have a vested interest in structuring successful volunteer programs. But what are we doing to respond to these new realities? Though many associations have made concerted efforts to attract younger, more diverse volunteers through outreach and marketing campaigns, the single thing that could make the biggest impact may be thinking differently about the volunteer opportunities we offer.

ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer describes typical barriers to volunteering, among them: inconvenient location, not offering short-term assignments, the volunteer opportunity costing the volunteer money (due to travel or other unreimbursed expenses), and not offering virtual opportunities.

Think about your own association’s typical volunteer roles, and answer the following questions:

• Are most of our volunteer opportunities within multiyear committee or officer structures?
• Do we require face-to-face travel or engagement for the majority of our roles?
• How many project-based or short-term assignments are available?
• Do we offer virtual, asynchronous ways to volunteer?

A solution that addresses many of these barriers may lie in your association’s social media strategy. There are numerous ways that short-term, virtual, convenient assignments can be crafted within the tools you’re already using to build community or communicate. Here are a few options that have worked well for us:

• Leading month-long book club discussions on our wiki or Ning
• Serving as organizational “docents” in Second Life
• Greeting new members of our Ning every few days for a month
• Short-term guest blogging
• Offering an informal “UStream” live event about a particular topic

All of these options allowed us to tap into our members’ expertise and provided opportunities that were exciting and rewarding. In some cases, these short-term assignments have been the gateway for a particular volunteer to serve in longer term volunteer assignments (such as a Special Interest Group officer or board committee member). In all cases, it brought the member closer to our organization, fulfilled an identified need, and diversified our volunteer pool.

What are some ways that you are creating opportunities that make it easy for your members to volunteer?

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July 22, 2009

A Sample Blog for Media

I like the pressroom blog created by the American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs to help journalists identify the most important research published in ACS’ 34 journals. It has beautiful images, a straightforward and often a tad humorous writing, and a helpful column sharing recent tweets from the organization’s Twitter streams. Take a peak if you’re considering what a press blog might do for your communications strategy.


July 17, 2009

Quick clicks: Feeling lucky?

There's lots of great stuff to link to around the association blogging world this week!

Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog says that being an active member of an association can be your lucky charm.

There's been a lot of idea sharing and well, buzz, around last week's Buzz 2009 conference: Maddie Grant has a good roundup here.

A guest post on the Nonprofit University blog has 10 things to love, and 10 things to hate, about nonprofit boards.

The DigitalNow blog suggests trying to see your association through "member tinted glasses."

Matt Baehr at the BlogClump blog writes about the hierarchy of change in associations, and how trying to make start change at the wrong level of the hierarchy can be an exercise in frustration.

Cecilia Sepp at the Association Puzzle blog wants to create a vacation policy for the 21st century. What would you want to see in there?

Web strategy analyst Jeremiah Owyang has an interesting post listing the five organizations allow their employees to participate in the social web, and what they say about the organization in question.

Word-of-mouth guru Andy Sernovitz links to a presentation from PepsiCo on how they're moving into social media, which might be of particular interest to associations that, like PepsiCo, are in the early stages of engagement with the social web.

The Wild Apricot blog explores what to do if your Twitter hashtag and another group's hashtag happen to be the same.

Chris Bonney at the Vanguard Technology blog argues that you can't build a great website by committee.

Ann Oliveri at the Zen of Associations blog muses about how associations can better tap into the brainpower of their past volunteer leaders.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog argues that the future of association publishing lies in focusing on the member.


July 3, 2009

Quick clicks: Virtual fireworks only

For those of you in the United States, have a great holiday weekend! Here's some reading material to take with you:

Jamie Notter challenges associations to try for truth.

Bruce Hammond shares his experience on "the other side"--as a volunteer--and the lessons he sees for associations.

Tony Rossell is hosting an interesting discussion on incentives and membership recruitment. Elsewhere, Ellen Behrens at the aLearning blog is also thinking about incentives and how to make them effective.

Ann Oliveri at the Zen of Associations blog has some ideas about how to better engage association employees.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog asks whether trade associations can be truly global.

NTEN's blog lists 10 disruptive technologies your organization should be thinking about.

Michele Martin has a helpful post on making social media and learning more accessible to people with disabilities.

Peggy Hoffman shares an interesting picture of how a for-profit company is interacting with and engaging its customer community.

Harvard Business's Conversation Starter blog has a recent post on three ways to make conferences better. It's interesting to see what someone outside the association field sees as radical suggestions to improve conferences and meetings.

Here's an idea you can easily apply in your work: the Signal vs. Noise blog suggests that changing your writing instrument might help you focus on the big picture.


July 2, 2009

Don't play defense

It's hard to take criticism--I'll be the first to admit it. Just recently, my predecessor (and fellow blogger) Scott Briscoe and I sat down to talk about a recent issue of Associations Now, so that he could give me some honest feedback about what he liked and didn't like (at my request). It was really generous of him to share his time and thoughts with me--but it was also really difficult to sit and listen about the many ways that issue fell short of my ideal.

I've been thinking about criticism lately, because I've been seeing organizations wrestle with how to handle it when they're criticized in a public space. Most recently I read with interest a blog post by Mark Athitakis, one of my colleagues on the magazine, about a well-known author's response to a negative review of her most recent book. Let's just say she didn't take the criticism well.

I don't know that I have a Grand Unification Theory of how to handle criticism, but I do think one thing is key: Don't get defensive. As painful as criticism may be, and as wrong-headed as you may feel it is, if you get defensive, it comes across--and it comes across poorly.

Defensiveness also effectively prevents you from gleaning whatever lessons the criticism may offer. Maybe the critic just doesn't understand your association's new service offering--but clearly you should take a look at your communications efforts if the purpose of your new service is unclear. Maybe the critic just wasn't the right person for that format of education--but clearly you should look at ways to make other options or learning formats available.

And in the end, if you find yourself about to fire off a defensive email, blog comment, or Twitter rant, remind yourself that your critic is actually giving you a gift--the gift of time and brainpower. Even if you just don't agree with the criticism, the opportunity to engage with someone who's willing to take the time to share thoughts about your association, event, product, or service is worthwhile.

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June 25, 2009

Good marketing or just deceptive?

I have recently become aware of organizations (associations and for-profit organizations) reaching out to popular bloggers in their industries asking them to endorse/promote a product, service, or event. This has really got me wondering about morals and ethics and how social media plays into these two areas that are truly critical for an association to maintain.

Here is an almost actual example......The meetings department of the ABC Association is struggling to reach their attendance goals for their annual conference, despite several new features planned for the conference that should be of great value to their members. Their marketing budget was also cut, so they are thinking of creative ways to get people to attend. To really start some buzz and not spend a lot of money, the meetings marketing manager contacts several industry bloggers and personally asks them to post something about the conference on their blogs. Over the next couple of weeks information on the conference starts to show up on many of the blogs written by people the meetings manager has reached out to personally. The posts are very similar and nowhere does it say that the information was posted because the association reached out to the author and asked for it to be mentioned.

All I keep hearing is that one of the keys to being successful in social media is to be authentic and then your audience will spread your message for you. That means you need to be honest, truthful and ethical in what you do in these areas. To me what the association did in the example above flies right in the face of authenticity. I agree that it is a very smart marketing tactic but is getting an endorsement without a disclaimer saying the mention was requested really the best way to promote something? Isn't it slightly, if not completely, devious and underhanded? What would happen if word got out this was done? Would the reputations of both the meetings marketing manager and the bloggers be tarnished?

What is your opinion? Is this just good marketing or is it, for good reasons or not, something that should be reserved for other marketing mechanisms? Please reply with your thoughts or suggestions on how an organization could do something like this but still have full disclosure.

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June 19, 2009

Quick clicks: No whammies!

Some links for weekend reading:

- David Gammel argues for benevolent dictatorships, at least when it comes to website design.

- Blue Avocado has an interesting article on the portrayal of nonprofits in popular culture, with a number of comments providing additional examples. (Although I can't think of many pop culture references to professional or trade associations. Can anyone else think of some?)

- Tony Rossell imagines what he'd do if he was building an entirely new membership marketing program from the ground up.

- The Nonprofit University blog talks about survival, sustainability, and the differences between the two.

- Frank Fortin was inspired by Jim Collins' new book.

- The Busy Event blog shares what your exhibitors, attendees, and sponsors are thinking--and not telling you.

- The Vanguard Technology blog has four reasons why mobile matters to associations.

- Jeff De Cagna has a podcast interview with Alan Webber, co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine and author of the new book Rules of Thumb: 52 Principles for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self.

- Cindy Butts reminds us all to be kind.

- Ken Zielske at the Association Media blog asks if your association has a "whammy bar"--something really cool that sets it apart. (Clearly I don't know guitars, because all I could think about as I read the post was that 1980s game show where the contestants would yell "No whammies!")

- Peggy Hoffman asks, "What's the difference between social networks and communities?"


June 12, 2009

Quick clicks: You live, you learn

In honor of our "future of learning" theme this month, the first links in this week's list are learning related:

Jeff Cobb shares his own definition of learning in a recent post on the Mission to Learn blog. Do you agree? Disagree?

Cindy Butts of the AE on the Verge blog shares the story of an association educating its members through weekly quizzes on Twitter.

Interested in improving your presentation skills, or helping you association's presenters improve theirs? Jeffrey Cufaude has started a series of posts about "powerful presentations." Here's the first three posts.

The Associationrat blogger describes instituting a code of core values in his/her department.

Judith Lindenau at the Off Stage blog has a great post on transparency in associations.

Does your association want to build an audience or a community? Chris Brogan nails the distinction.

On the Socialfishing blog, Maddie Grant posted a few weeks ago to ask, "How can associations be more like Google?" More recently, two great comments have been posted in response to her question.

Pay very close attention to second-year members who don't renew, advises Marilyn Rutkowski in a recent post on The Forum Effect.

I've wondered in the past why some organizations don't allow telecommuting, and finally, an article answers my question (at least in part); the Dear Association Leader blog has more.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog wonders if association publishers might have a leg up on for-profit publishers in the current economy.

Beth Kanter posted an interesting list of nonprofit CEOs who are active on Twitter. (The list is expanded greatly in the comments to her post.)


June 8, 2009

Social networking and choices

As we all become inundated with information on the why and how of social networking, (the choices: should we become LinkedIn, join Twitter, or find ourselves on Facebook), and hearing what we can gain from our time online, I realize that I must now look at my own time and make some personal decisions. When online, am I using social networking as a personal or professional tool? Do I want to share what I’m doing at work or on my home-based business while on Twitter? How much time can I spare from the many other chores I should be working on to stay connected?

After joining Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook I was like many of you and spent far too much time eavesdropping on others. I occasionally posted a message about what I was doing, sometimes even taking time to ask or answer questions and chat with others online, but generally, I was an outsider watching others post. Now, I find I’m ready to make some of the decisions that determine if Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are a benefit or a detriment to my daily life. I’ve analyzed the people I “follow” on Twitter and realized that many don’t interest me. I simply don’t want to read the daily inspirational quotes they pass on. I am working to change those that I follow and see if my interest grows. I find I benefit most from LinkedIn by reading the group discussions that take place and occasionally joining in and sharing my views. I also have determined to keep Facebook for personal use and will use it to keep in touch with family and friends.

With this basic outline I can now move forward, adding social networking to my day at my discretion. I plan to talk with my association about making a Social Networking Business Plan soon, to see if we should be utilizing its potential to benefit or reach our members, and I’ll keep reading the articles that cover the why’s and how’s to give me clarity on the subject. Have you had to face these same issues in your daily routine? How did you deal with the time, the question of personal and professional use, and the use of these online tools for yourself?

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June 4, 2009

Is National Geographic Society’s Social Media Strategy Helping Their Image?

The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association is pointing members to an excellent analysis of the National Geographic Society’s social media strategy. Evaluated by Lisa Braziel of a company called Ignite Social Media, the extensive piece highlights the best takeaways for other organizations, such as wise use of those little tabs on Facebook pages. It’s interesting reading and a fair critique for folks seeking great models to consider.


May 29, 2009

Quick clicks: Straight talk

Happy Friday! Here is your weekly roundup of interesting posts from the association blogging community and elsewhere.

Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog asks if you’re still the right person for your job.

In a guest post on the Socialfishing blog, Leslie White offers some straight talk about risk—specifically, the risk of lost opportunities, specifically relating to social media (although what she has to say can certainly be applied elsewhere).

The Signal to Noise blog has some equally straight talk about planning: “The only plan you should make is to plan on improvising.”

Wes Trochlil points out what I’m going to call the “office kitchen conundrum”: “That which no one owns, no one will care for.”

Tony Rossell continues to explore the question “What is one thing an association marketing team must do, if nothing else?”

The Challenge Management blog muses on the strange profession of association management (and hiring people who can be successful at it).

Kerry Stackpole at the Wired 4 Leadership blog has some thoughts on exclusivity, inclusivity, and social media.

Sherry Jennings at the Sound Governance blog has posted a case study on how a nonprofit can work to avoid a crisis if a major source of funding dries up.

At the Forum Effect blog, Doug Eadie shares some insights on the role of the CEO as chief board developer.

I love this: Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog has a great story about how a professor energized his class by lying to them (no, really). (She also recently posted a great roundup of resources on accessible learning.)


May 22, 2009

The return of quick clicks

I have been extremely remiss lately in sharing links to some of the great discussions happening in the association blogging community (and elsewhere). Here are just a few of the interesting posts I've seen this week.

(What did I miss? Feel free to share links to other recent standout posts in comments. Note that links can occasionally trip our spam filter; if your comment goes into quarantine because of the link, I'll release it for you.)

- Totally not association related, but if you'd like to take a few minutes to change your perspective this morning, check out this set of photos on The Big Picture photoblog: Human landscapes as seen from above.

- Cindy Butts at the AE on the Verge blog asks which of your association's programs are your "biggest losers." (A follow-up post describes what you might do once those "losers" are identified.)

- NTEN has posted a roundup of materials related to the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference. I haven't had a chance to review them in detail, but if you're interested in nonprofits and technology, I'm sure there's something in there for you.

- Frank Fortin at the Guilt by Association blog says that associations can learn a lot from Staples on how to operate in a recession.

- Bruce Hammond has some thoughts on personalizing membership: "People like to be treated like they're the only member of your association."

- Lindy Dreyer at the Association Marketing Springboard blog as a provocative question to raise: If having great content on your website is no longer enough to draw people there, what should we do next?

- If you have ever sat through an unsuccessful RFP process (on either side), you may be interested in a post by Rick Johnston on a new trend called "speed sourcing."

- Is your association listening actively? Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog has some ideas on how to open your organizational ears.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfishing blog has some thoughts on the complicated nature of our organizations' identity in a digital age. Jamie Notter has posted in response.

- A group of association Twitterers have started organizing "association chats" on Tuesday afternoons. Deirdre Reid at the Reid All About It blog has more information and a summary of the first discussion.


May 19, 2009

Is social media hurting face to face meetings?

As we all know, there is more and more top-notch information being shared online, especially through all of the social networks. Twitter seems to be the hottest for now and the number of links to good, and not-so-good, information I receive on a daily basis is overwhelming. Social Networks now give us almost instant access to many of the experts that we used to have to attend face to face meetings to hear speak. Is this good or bad or both for associations?

My experience at the face to face meetings I have attended most recently is as follows—great networking, lots of good people to meet and connect with but the content was just average. A lot of the presentations were people talking about things I had already heard, or read before, poorly hidden sales pitches or just “performers” up on stage keeping the audience entertained but not really providing much value. Overall the education did not make it worth my time and money to attend. Fortunately the networking did.

Has the purpose of having face to face meetings changed? Should they be all about “entertainment” and networking? Or do associations need to do a better job of really getting fantastic speakers who share information you cannot get online or at almost any other meeting? Since many associations derive a good amount of revenue from face to face meetings I think this is something we need to figure out sooner rather than later. What do you think?

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May 7, 2009

Shirky: Associations must be the broker of connections

Community is one of those words that an old journalism professor of mine told me to never use because it doesn't mean anything. Or, more to the point, it can mean about 100 different things depending on context, so you should always find a more specific word to use.

Well, Acronym is going to focus on community this month anyway, and we'll embrace it for all its different meanings.

First up is some keen insight from Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and a Thought Leader at the 2009 Annual Meeting & Expo this August. He spoke at the Digital Now conference in April, and I had the good fortune to pick his brain for about 30 minutes. He offered some great thoughts on how community is evolving for associations.

On gathering people around knowledge:

"With this forwarding and forwarding and forwarding possibility, the ability of organizations to use what they have and know as kind of bright, shiny objects to attract the population they'd like to be serving or addressing—whether it's their own members or potential members, or even just the sort of penumbra of interested people—means that anyplace you can get sharing to happen at low enough cost and high enough redistribution value, there's a model available now that didn't used to be available." 

On the survival of conferences and meetings:

"If I want information about a Cisco product, I'm so much better off getting it from Cisco's [web]site than I am going to a conference and hearing about it. The reason to go to a conference is to be around the other people. ... The conference business that struggled ... were the ones that assumed that a conference business was basically a way of broadcasting information to a passive audience. And the conference businesses that have done well are the ones that say, 'You're going to be in a room of people you'll be glad to be in a room with, and in the design of the conference we're going to respect that by carving out some space for you all to create value for each other.'"

On connecting your audience members to each other:

"When an association can broker introductions or can create a way that people can have conversations around shared interests ... you [the association] can benefit from that, but not if you imagine that you can control it or that you can decide whether or not [the converstation] is going to happen."

On member engagement:

"It's not clear that getting more of those mailbox members in should be a first-order goal. ... Wikipedia's ability to deliver value to people who have never and will never participate is a big part of the success of Wikipedia. ... So, the question isn't about 'How do we get everybody to participate?' You can, but what a nightmare that would be. The question is, 'How do we get enough people participating so that it ... raises the value of the organization for the whole group?'" 

With those wise words to set the stage, what does community mean to your association, and what will it mean in five, 10, or 20 years? Keep an eye out here on Acronym throughout the month of May for more thoughts on community.

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March 28, 2009

Associations Participate in "Earth Hour" to Call for Action on Global Warming

ASAE & The Center’s headquarters will join thousands of other organizations, businesses, cities, towns, major historic landmarks, and other sites in 84 nations in shutting off all non-essential lights during the second annual Earth Hour Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Sponsored by World Wildlife Fund with support from the United Nations and myriad global leaders, the one-hour event aims to be a call for action to address harmful global climate change. The event has attracted massive support, with everyone from the World Organization of Scouts to Hollywood celebrities signing on as a participant, sharing commentary and self-shot videos on social network sites, and detailing to others what they plan to do during their hour of darkness.

Earth Hour 2009 has special meaning since the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and leaders will meet later this year to discuss the issue.

Kudos to World Wildlife Fund for coming up with so many social network tools and outlets for its promotional efforts. For instance, you can download an Earth Hour iPhone application, upload a YouTube video, blog, and more. Go to for details.


March 17, 2009

A Twitter experiment

As you may have seen, Twitter is becoming an important part of more and more conferences--providing instant audience feedback as well as serving as a kind of combined discussion and group notetaking tool. But, as some bloggers have pointed out, it can be difficult to sift through large and sometimes chaotic Twitter streams to find the most important information, especially at conferences where active groups of Twitterers are posting throughout the day (and, in many cases, the night as well).

We were lucky enough to see some great Twitter activity during the recent Great Ideas Conference, so we decided to play with it at bit and see if there's a way to boil the information down and present it more simply. Summer Faust, an editor here at ASAE & The Center, went through all of the Tweets marked with the #ideas09 hashtag and tried to organize the "notes" Tweets (as opposed to more social ones) into a format that Great Ideas attendees and those who didn't attend could find useful.

You can see what she came up with on the Great Ideas website. You'll notice that she's separated them into several categories: "Conference Takeaways" is for notes that don't seem to be connected to a specific education session, while "Attendee Feedback" is for comments about the conference itself. The remainder of the Tweets are organized under the name of the education session they're based on.

The whole point of this experiment was to find ways to add value to the great Tweets posted during the conference, so we'd appreciate any feedback you might have. What do you think? Is this reorganized version more useful than the raw Twitterstream? Less useful? Is it worthwhile to provide a boiled-down version of the Twitterstream in this way? Are there ways it could be better--or entirely different approaches that you would suggest? (If there are any other associations doing something similar that have advice to share, that would be great too!)

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March 4, 2009

Dipping the proverbial toe, or jumping into the deep end?

Hi and thanks for taking the time to peruse through a first time blog entry. As a later-comer to the not-so-new world of social media I wanted to find out first hand how to relate to these forms of communication. I am not entirely sure how integrative I want this all in my professional and personal lives. Yet the potential of social media to interconnect people in new ways is both intriguing and exciting. At the Great Ideas conference I decided to go “all in” and really follow other association bloggers who were present, listen to the discussions and try my hand (okay, pecking fingers) at tweeting content during the sessions.

Thinking about it afterwards, I felt both exhilarated and a little overwhelmed about the experience. On one hand, listening to the live discussion and watching it translate into an online event through Twitter was amazing. At times there were discussions happening outside the classroom regarding the topic; then the occasional question came from the online world back into the session itself. Amazing! Here was an ability to engage an audience without significant high tech engagement and still carry the significance. Simultaneously I was following other folks tweeting about the other sessions I couldn’t attend. Wow!

On the other hand, at times I simply couldn’t keep up with the flow. I am a bit older and a bit set in the ways I absorb information; as I clumsily worked my smartphone keyboard I would be distracted and miss part of the live discussion. The twitter stream was hard to grasp too - having to scroll back up to track the online comments, or doing a search for a hashtag were cumbersome tasks. Sometimes I felt that I couldn’t do justice to what the speaker was trying to communicate in 140 characters, resulting in an inadequate comment or not sending one at all. As a regular presenter and educator I wanted to not denigrate the information, even as the topic was ironically about social media.

So, a week after my own internal experiment, where am I? Still interested and intrigued - heck, I’m even willing to embarrass myself through the occasional blog. I’m tweeting less, for which my nonassociation friends are grateful. My posts are more directed, working on content as well as style. I haven’t yet begun to figure out how to integrate/separate pure personal from pure professional. I’m not feeling as unconsciously incompetent (not knowing what I don’t know) as I did two weeks ago; yet I’m not sure if I’ve reached conscious incompetency (knowing what I don’t know). I certainly do thank the ASAE folks who helped me to work and understand this technology, whether in sessions or online. That’s the wonder and power of associations - getting great ideas from folks willing to help out!

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February 2, 2009

More Tech Conf. Thoughts - Twitter vs. blogging

Have a few more thoughts coming from my participation in ASAE & The Center's Technology Conference -- here's one, more of an observation, really.

There were dozens of people using Twitter at the conference, leading to at least hundreds and hundreds of Tweets, and I wouldn't be surprised if the number reached four figures. Conversely, I believe we saw less formal blogging (I say formal because Twitter is sometimes described as microblogging) from folks.

Is this a sign of a migration, and if so, what does it mean? There are some things you can do with Twitter's 140 characters, but it's difficult to express a considered opinion or offer critical analysis under those constraints.

Of course, there could be other reasons, too. The Technology Conference Notes Wiki, for one, which exceeded participation expectations. But again, the design behind this was to offer notes, though users could certainly put in their own analysis if they wanted.

I'm concerned about losing the opinions and analysis... should I be?

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January 21, 2009

“Crowdsourcing” Takes a Global Stage

Associations have begun exploring how crowdsourcing can be used to do everything from create timely new products to boost member engagement to resolve global problems. But anyone watching CNN’s coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama Tuesday, January 20, also was witnessing one of the most public examples of so-called “crowdsourcing” ever displayed in the world—and I'm not talking about the almost 2 million people jammed into the National Mall to watch the event.

In CNN’s continuing experiment with crowdsourcing, the network sought to capture what it called “The Moment”--the exact time Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. President—in a multi-dimensional image created via thousands of photos emailed by people witnessing the event on the National Mall.

High-powered software overlaid and merged these images into a 3-D image of the swearing-in that allowed viewers and online visitors to its Web site to experience “The Moment” as they wished—zooming in on the faces of attendees, exploring the Obama family’s expressions, and “being there” at an event in an entirely new way.

In the past year, CNN has increasingly invited viewers to become “iReporters”—self-designated citizen reporters and photographers who are physically at a news event and willing to share and compile their stories and/or images on a designated Web site to create real-time, ever-changing news articles. Like some associations, the network has found this type of crowdsourced reporting an effective way to engage viewers, and it vets the e-mailed submissions, even broadcasting the best ones.

The swearing-in photo, though, was the first time CNN had tried crowdsourcing a single photographic image.

I’m confident that attendees at the upcoming ASAE & The Center’s Technology Conference will hear mention of CNN’s much-touted rollout of this amazing tool—and the powerful emotions and sense of community that crowdsourcing can ignite—when Jeff Howe, author of the book Crowdsourcing, takes the stage January 27.


December 18, 2008

Association Me

Here's a visualization of my 1000+ Facebook contacts (FYI, the yellow grouping in the top right are web2.0-wise association pros like Ben Martin, Jeff De Cagna, Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, etc):

[click image for larger version]

The image was created using a Facebook plug-in called TouchGraph. It's main role is to browse photos among friends, but it also have this nifty connection mapping tool, which they summarize the function as "The graph shows you your friends, the networks they belong to, and the social cliques they are part of. See who is central to a particular group and which friends are connectors between two groups."

Admittedly, I'm still reflecting on what this means in the larger context of associations/membership, when Facebook enables me to maintain my own "personal association".

No doubt, those reflections will play into the "Is Membership Dead…or Not?" session I'm co-hosting with Lori Gusdorf, CAE, at the Great Ideas Conference in February. Big surprise: I'll be taking the "yes, it's dead" position in the debate.

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November 3, 2008

The headline was a no brainer

This is how it read on The Washington Post website:

"Online social networking sites, or socnets, are changing how people get their political news."

First, and most importantly, I think everyone will agree that the term "socnet" should be banned with perpetrators subject to slow torture.

With that out of the way, the article is interesting in its underscoring of the changes in the ways people get and provide information. It's not really a new idea, and the fact that it is especially true for political information will surprise no one reading this blog. What the article made me think about was that it's one thing to believe that change is occurring, it's quite another to be doing something about it — what are associations doing about it?

If political advocacy is a major part of your mission, do you know the quantity and quality of the involvement of people affiliated with your organization in social media? Are they pushing forward ideas that synch with your organization? How are you training members to get involved in these areas?

If you think social media is just a bunch of navel-gazers — a group of people all blowing hot air at each other — I tend to agree with you to a point. I think it's probably ok if you can't answer the above questions right now. However, I do think the time for ignoring it is past. The circle of people who are engaging in these online communities has grown too large, and the circle who read without engaging is also larger still. The 2000 presidential election was dominated online by The Drudge Report. In 2004, Dean's fundraising and major media (perhaps most notably ABC's The Note) were the major signs that political news and ideas were traveling differently than before. In 2008, it's too numerous to count in both large and small ways. The next page is already beginning to turn; you need to make sure your organization has something to say about what is written on it.

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October 23, 2008

Am I overdoing it? Or is the association community?

Over the last two weeks I have attended the following presentations:

1. Lindy Dreyer of SocialFish on Social Media at an ANEX brown bag lunch in Columbia

2. Ben Martin on Marketing of a Conference vs. an Unconference at DMAW Association Day (I could have chosen to hear Andy Steggles talk about Social Media during his session, but the times conflicted and I have heard Andy speak a number of times already).

3. An ASAE Marketing Idea Swap on Viral Marketing and Social Networking facilitated by Shelly Good-Cook of CTAM.

Today I went to a lunch at The Center for Association Leadership put on by Avectra. Maddie Grant spoke and the topic is … you guessed it, social media. The good news is that if I haven’t got my fill of social media by the end of the lunch on Thursday in November I can sign up to attend the following events:

1. ASAE Technology Idea Swap on Integrating Web 2.0 Tools to Your Association’s Web Site
2. ASAE Membership Idea Swap on Building Your Membership Community Using Web 2.0

And these are just the social media focused events that I remember. Am I the only one who is kind of frightened that social media is one of the only things that association marketers want to learn about right now in a time when direct recruitment and retention could be critical because of the downturn in the economy? I am not trying to say that social media is bad in any way, just that it is just a piece of a marketing puzzle. It is one that is growing more and more important, but in times like today we have to also really understand the more traditional methods as well. I would love to hear opinions.

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October 16, 2008

How is your organization changing?

Check out the article in The Washington Post on potential violations of prospective college athletes because students and boosters reach out to prospects on social networking sites.

The point is this — social media and networking is and will continue to change your organizations in ways that are wholly unexpected by you. Do you have a plan for trying to find out how and what you can do about it?


Quick clicks: Blog Action Day

I'd like to welcome two more new association blogs to the blogging community: The "best new blog name" award goes to the Guilt by Association blog, with blogger Frank Fortin (who has been a commenter on Acronym for some time). And over at the YAP group blog, there are some great new blogging voices.

Some other interesting activity going on this week:

- Yesterday was a Blog Action Day with a focus on poverty. (What's a Blog Action Day? Check out Kristin's post from earlier today.) A number of association bloggers were inspired to post, including Jeff De Cagna, Elizabeth Weaver Engel, the Wild Apricot blog, Maddie Grant, Cynthia D'Amour, and Cindy Butts.

- If your association serves a profession or industry where there are many bloggers already, a challenge like a blog action day might be a great way to get everyone focused on a topic of importance to your members. Another idea, a blog learning challenge, was described in depth by Michele Martin at The Bamboo Project blog earlier this week.

- If you like the Acronym comments feed, you may also be interested in a new master comments feed for association blogs, created by Ben Martin. I personally really appreciate it--so much easier than trying to follow so many separate comment threads!

- Wes Trochlil put up a great post about trust and association databases; the comments on his post are also well worth a read.


October 2, 2008

The Great Debate: Sounding-Off-While-Making-Sense Tool

With so much buzz about the vice presidential debate tonight between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin, including by colleagues overseas, I took a quick trip to the International Debate Education Association site to browse for tips and resources from which they and organizational leaders may want to draw whenever preparing for such a vital forum.

There I found one of the coolest wikis of the year—Debatepedia, a wiki encyclopedia of “pro and con arguments and quotations in important public debates from around the world.” I warn you that it is addictive and just-a-sec current.

This so-called "Wikipedia of debate" aims to help “the world centralize arguments and quotations found in millions of different articles, essays, and books into a single encyclopedia, so that citizens can better understand important public debates and make informed choices.” The hosts--two related but independent associations—built the interactive site to “improve your own thinking and have a major impact on the way thousands of other citizens draw conclusions.” Even the U.S. National Forensic League has endorsed the wiki.

The site contains myriad debate subjects but two timely portals in particular might prove good starting points:

- The U.S. Federal Financial Bailout Debate

- The Global Climate Change Debate

Now I stand half a chance of changing some minds at the dinner table tonight!


September 30, 2008

Quick clicks: Crisis communications

Here's a quick roundup of interesting blog posts for your Tuesday morning:

- Tom Peters has some timely advice for communicating during a crisis.

- Dana Theus at the Member-to-Member blog has two detailed posts about lessons in social media from the association sector.

- Speaking of social media, Caron Mason started an interesting discussion with a post about helping her association's volunteer bloggers (and the blog as a whole) to succeed. Ben Martin responded with some advice from his own experience.

- Tony Rossell delves into the differences between member satisfaction and member loyalty.

- Bruce Hammond saw the new Microsoft "I'm a PC" ads and thought about associations.

- Feeling overloaded? Chris Bonney is doing a series of posts on how to better manage your e-mail. The most recent post tackles the question of how much your inbox reflects you.

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September 1, 2008

Hurricane Gustav Prompts Businesses and Organizations to Launch Emergency Recovery Plans

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is urging businesses and organizations in the impact area of Hurricane Gustav to execute their emergency recovery plans, which should include the following (note: All associations and nonprofits across the U.S. would be well-served to include these in their own disaster plans.):

· Phone-calling trees and/or a phone recording for employees that keeps them informed during an emergency and provides clear direction for whom to speak with if they have problems.
· An out-of-town phone number that allows employees to leave a message telling organization leaders whether they are okay, where they are, and how they can be reached.
· A clear plan for employees with disabilities or special needs that was created with their input, so all needs are addressed during a disaster.
· Payroll continuity processes and communications.
· An evacuation plan for records, computers, and other stuff from your office to another location.
· Procedures for establishing the conditions under which the business/facility will close.
· Emergency warnings and evacuation plans and other disaster processes. Practice these if possible.
· Employee transportation plans, if appropriate.
· Plans for communicating with employees' families before and after a hurricane.
· Purchase of a NOAA weather radio that has battery backup and a warning alarm tone.
· A process for protecting any outside structures or equipment on your property. Windows, too, should be protected with plywood.
· Knowledge of whether your business phone system works even without electricity. If not, add a phone line that can do so.

You can find other disaster planning articles and information on ASAE & The Center’s Web site, but here are some to get you started:

Quick Tips Regarding Disaster Planning for Hosted Solutions

7 Helpful Disaster Planning Sites

What If? A Guide to Disaster Preparedness Planning


August 20, 2008

Frank Fortin Talks Social Technographics for Associations

Following up on a post I did on the Association Marketing Springboard, here is a short video from the Annual Meeting of Frank Fortin, communications director for the Massachusetts Medical Society, explaining how he is using Forrester's Social Technographic Survey to better understand his association's social media successes and failures. Over the next six months, Frank and his team intend to apply the lessons they've learned from Groundswell and their own experience to transform the Massachusetts Medical Society's social spaces online.

Trouble viewing the video? Click here.

Here's one interesting point Frank made that didn't make it into the video. It's not just the question, it's how you ask it. For example, Some of your members might not be familiar with RSS, but they might be using it on sites like iGoogle, Google Reader, Bloglines, NetNewsWire or some other aggregator. Are we making assumptions about our members' social media aptitude simply because we're asking the wrong questions--or the right questions in the wrong way? It's something to think about.


August 18, 2008

Social media links

Thanks to everyone who came to today's session on "Leveraging the Power of Real-Time Communications"! Maddie and I appreciate your time and engagement. I promised to put together a list of the links we discussed during the session; I hope these are helpful to you. Feel free to add others in the comments as well.

The session handouts

The Twitterfountain

Technorati, to help you find blogs related to your industry or profession.

Alerts to let you know when items related to your association are posted online: Google Alerts

Commoncraft videos that explain social technologies (scroll down to see the "Most Viewed" and "Most Popular")

Wiki platforms: Wikispaces, PB Wiki

Blogging platforms: Blogger, Typepad, Wordpress

Last but not least, Associapedia, ASAE & The Center's wiki, has a good entry on Web 2.0 tools.


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" »


August 16, 2008

Free Social Marketing e-Books

With so much interest in the Social Media Lab here at the ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting, I pass along a link to a list of 20 e-books -- all of them FREE--about social marketing, per the always practical Word of Mouth Marketing Association e-newsletter.


August 7, 2008

Plug in to the Annual Meeting backchannel on Twitter.

Are you on Twitter? The last three conferences I’ve attended have all been “powered by Twitter” so to speak. And they weren’t all techie conferences like SXSW. In fact, a fairly large group of ASAE Twitter-folk were following both the Marketing & Membership Conference (where we organized an impromptu “unsession”) and the Social Responsibility Summit.

For all you folks wondering if a tool like Twitter could help your attendees break through that glass wall at your association’s meetings, here’s your chance to try it first-hand. Whether you like to talk or prefer to listen, the conversation on Twitter will be worth following. Here’s how you plug in.

1) Sign up for Twitter.

2) Follow asaecenter08.

3) Go to asaecenter08's followers page.

4) Follow as many asaecenter08 followers as you like. I'm following everyone.

Thanks to Scot McRoberts, who e-mailed me for the steps. Great feedback, since sometimes I forget to explain important details.

For a list of the speakers I’ve found on Twitter check out my blogpost, First-timer’s guide to cracking the ASAE Annual Meeting.

Having @asaecenter08 to follow has made it really easy for us all to connect around the meeting…the rest is up to us.


August 6, 2008

Hiring and the MySpace - Facebook conundrum

About a month ago, there was quite a bit of chatter on ASAE & The Center's membership listserver on researching the social media profiles of job applicants. (Any ASAE member can access it by logging into the website and going to the listserver archive -- leave the search field blank and look at messages beginning July 1, 2008.)

I think there were some responses that went too far, such as weighting their online presence even more than their interview. And there were some that were what I would consider absurd, such as using their profiles as a factor in a decision being a violation of the applicant's privacy. But I thought the bulk of those who responded hit the mark.

I think the dividing line of that gray area in the middle is the degree to which people make their nonwork lives public. There were some on the listservers who advocated that it shows poor judgment to let it all hang out on such sights, which reflects poorly on the applicant. Of course there are limits. An obsession with pornography, for example, should set off alarms for the hiring manager. However, I believe these people are looking at this through their own biased lens. A lens that sees a professional persona and a nonwork persona. But I believe that the idea of work-life balance is more and more giving way to just balance--meaning the lines between work and nonwork are becoming less and less structured by time and place. We are who we are, without separate work and life personae—and I believe our organizations are more productive, more enriching, more diverse, and more fulfilling because of it.

My advice is: job seekers—be aware of how others (prospective employers) might see you based on what they can find out about you online. If you're comfortable with that, then don't worry about getting passed over because somebody doesn't like what they find, you don't want to work for them anyway. For employers—be aware of the assumptions you are making based on what you find, and be doubly aware of what biases you have that might preclude diverse and inclusive hiring practices.

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July 30, 2008

The secret session on social media that’s not secret.

I know social media is hot. Hey…I might even be staking my career on it. But multiple social media sessions during every timeslot? Whoa.

And yet, with all the hype and even a secret session, the best kept secret is a social media session that's neither a secret, nor about social media.

Media Relations is Dead...Long Live Media Relations! on Tuesday at 2:15 pm features three new media veterans. And one of them is a true social media star.

Who are these veterans? I first met speaker Frank Fortin, communications director for the Massachusetts Medical Society, two years ago as he was launching a feature-rich online community. He was ahead of the curve then, and he's ahead of the curve now. Chris Jennewein has nearly 20 years of experience developing online sites for U.S. newspaper groups. 20 years! And Brian Solis--besides being an AdAge Power 150 blogger (#38) and author--is one of the original thought leaders who paved the way for social media. He continues to be one of the most influential voices in the emerging social media industry.

This is a must-attend session for everyone with marketing, communications, media relations or public relations in their title. And since I tend to be late...could you save me a seat?


July 23, 2008

Quick clicks: The survival of associations

Lots of interesting discussions are going on this week:

- If you like controversy and are interested in the future of the association sector, you should definitely be following this debate: Ben Martin at the Certified Association Executive blog wonders if associations are really the best solution to the needs they currently are filling, and predicts, "As long as people don't really care, associations will survive." Matt Baehr agrees, at least in part; Tony Rossell disagrees; and Jeff De Cagna strenuously disagrees, while Lindy Dreyer has a slightly different take on the issue. (Be sure to read the comments on each post for additional thoughts and discussion.)

- On the Beaconfire Blog, Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares a wonderful story about a visitor to her tradeshow booth at the AMA conference.

- Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog shares an interesting chart that summarizes the drivers of brand credibility.

- Lee Aase shared seven steps to help nonprofits get the most out of YouTube, which reminded me that I mean to link to Jamie Notter's post on the value of online video. Elsewhere, Cindy Butts shares a cautionary tale about an association that ended up on YouTube without meaning to.

- David Gammel offers three reasons that online communities often fail, while Michael Gilbert at Nonprofit Online News has some thoughts on what nonprofits are doing wrong with their own online communities.

- If you're coming to Annual Meeting, you may be interested in Maddie Grant's list of 10 things she plans to do while she's there.

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July 21, 2008

50 Ways to Use Social Media for Better Marketing

I am a longtime fan of the interesting e-newsletter by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) , and one reason is because of its practical how-to and trends coverage. Check out this succinct piece titled “50 Ways Marketers Can Use Social Media to Improve Their Marketing” by Chris Brogan from the July 14, 2008, WOMMA newsletter. This would make a great education session sometime, now that I think about it. Feel free to post other tips.

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July 14, 2008

Quick clicks: Sharing Slideshare

- Several association bloggers shared Slideshare presentations this week, including Tony Rossell's presentation on the levels of membership engagement; Ben Martin highlighted a presentation by Marta Z. Kagan on Generation Y and social media.

- The Association Social Media Wiki is back--and completely redesigned. If you're ever interested in seeing what other associations are doing with blogs, podcasts, mashups, wikis, Facebook, and in many other social media categories, visit the wiki to quickly find examples. (And if your association is active in any form of social media, you can share a link to your site(s) there, too.)

- I found a few new (or at least new to me) association bloggers recently: The Mind of a Generation Y Association Executive, by Ryan Tucholski; Thanks for Playing, by Elizabeth Weaver Engel; and the Challenge Management blog.

- Do you ever have a great idea that withers on the vine, waiting for buy-in from all appropriate parties? Jeffrey Cufaude has some thoughts on improving the idea approval process in your organization.

- FOLIO has an interesting case study about the relaunch of a 116-year-old association magazine.

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July 9, 2008

Incubating social media

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Ben Martin of the Virginia Association of Realtors (and the Certified Association Executive blog) and two Realtor members of VAR about VAR's social media incubation efforts. The article I wrote based on our conversation tells the story of an association jump-starting its social media presence through good old-fashioned relationship building--but it only covered the initial stages of VAR's efforts.

Ben kindly spoke with me again to bring me up to date on his association's ongoing outreach efforts through social media. Here are some interesting ideas he shared with me:

- Looking for sticky ideas. Earlier this year, VAR experimented with the idea of a "Blog Brawl," a contest to determine the best real estate blog. Beginning with 70 real estate blogs, the contest went through six rounds of voting to determine a final Blog Brawl winner--and you had to go to VARbuzz, VAR's blog, to vote. Ben said that the contest got "great buzz" and generated lots of comments--more than 60 in one comment thread alone (a special thread created for Blog Brawl participants to talk to each other). VAR will be holding a second annual Brawl next year, and they will be upping the ante with prize money.

- Helping bloggers meet bloggers. Both of the Realtors that I spoke with for the original article spoke very highly of VAR's first "bloggercon"--a meeting of bloggers held at VAR's 2007 annual meeting. They enjoyed the opportunity to meet other bloggers face-to-face and discuss issues that matter to them as bloggers. VAR found the event to be successful enough that Ben is planning to hold two bloggercons per year moving forward--one at the annual meeting and one in cooperation with a local Realtor association somewhere in Virginia.

- Gathering information. Ben is planning to study social media adoption in the real estate field, releasing results once per quarter or so. The planned research is intended to determine who is using what forms of social media in the real estate field, the average number of subscribers to a real estate blog, the average number of comments real estate bloggers receive on their posts, and so on--very useful benchmarking information for those in the real estate field.

The original article on VAR's "social media incubator" is available online as well as in the July issue of Associations Now.

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June 25, 2008

Social media studies

There's a lot of discussion at association events (and on association blogs) about social media and its impact on membership organizations. If you've been wondering how those discussions are being reflected in actual practice, there are two studies going on right now to try to quantify that:

- The Angerosa Research Foundation is conducting a study to track trends and build benchmarks on associations’ practices and future plans related to Web 2.0. Topics to be surveyed include common uses of social media platforms like Facebook and Second Life, social networking best practices and member participation trends, wikis and tools for electronic knowledge management, benefits and uses of blogs, and strategies for minimizing liability and expanding participation. All participants will receive a complete summary of the research results. You can participate in the study online.

- Principled Innovation LLC and Omnipress have launched a survey designed to capture information on the state of social technology adoption in the association community. The study aims to capture information on how associations are using social technologies today, and how they plan to use them going forward. All participants will receive a complimentary copy of the full survey report. More information is available on the Principled Innovation LLC blog; you can fill out the survey online. Note that the deadline for participation is June 30.

I'll look forward to seeing the results from both of these surveys. Thanks to the Angerosa Research Foundation and Principled Innovation LLC for their hard work!

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June 23, 2008

ASAE & The Center's new vodcast

Catch ASAE & The Center's new vodcast: This Week in Associations.

This is the first of three segments on The Decision to Volunteer, a new study and book to be released at this Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego. This segment features study coauthor Beth Gazley, who highlights some of the interesting findings from the study, which gathered responses from 26,000 people.

The next two segments will feature the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the American Association of Secondary School Principals, two organization who participated in the study.

One of the main points Gazley makes is that many in associations may think that a primary reason that people volunteer for their professional association is for career advancement through networking, resume building, and the like. It turns out, the desire to give back to the profession is a stronger motivating factor. I'm curious how association execs feel about that information (agree or disagree?) and what it might mean to the types of volunteering assignments being developed. I'd love to hear any ideas, or any feedback on the content or the format from Acronym readers. Let us know what you think!

[Note: Posting updated to replace video player with link.]

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June 16, 2008

Quick clicks: Meeting ideas, customer service

Happy Monday!

- There have been some interesting meeting ideas up for grabs in the blogosphere lately. Matt Baehr suggests offering an "unsession" room at every meeting, while Nancy Wilson points out that reusing conference bags can be both green and a creative networking tool.

- Ben Martin ponders whether the process of becoming a board leader tends to squash productive dissent among those future leaders.

- Wes Trochlil has a great question for associations out there that are conducting surveys or other data-gathering projects.

- Bob Sutton shares a wonderful story that shows how a customer's problem can create an opportunity for even better customer service. On a related note, the 37signals blog reminds you that the customer just doesn't care whose fault it is.

- Jeremiah Owyang shows some really interesting examples of how to track a particular issue and how it's being discussed among bloggers, Twitterers, and on the web more generally. (Note that the issue in question relates to the Democratic nomination battle, but, setting politics aside, I'd think these same techniques could be useful to any association.)

- How often do you get to see association management presented as a dream job? (Admittedly, this article focuses more on the industries these trade associations represent than on the profession of association management, but still, it's nice to see some association professionals recognized in this way.)


May 13, 2008

Quick clicks: Advice for young leaders and more

- If you've enjoyed Virgil Carter's insights on Acronym as much as I have, be sure to leave a comment in his farewell post. Virgil, we'll miss you!

- Lindy Dreyer at Association Marketing Springboard has posted a passionate argument for opt-in, versus opt-out, listservers.

- For emerging leaders and those with an interest in encouraging them: Bob Wolfe has thoughts on how non-senior-management staff can promote innovation in their organizations. Kevin Holland has a great post on growing your association career. And Bill Taylor, author of Mavericks at Work, has a post for those who are taking that step from non-management to management-level work: “Memo to a Young Leader: What Kind of Boss Are You?”

- The Non-Profit Marketing Blog hits the target with six great steps to social media success. In contrast, Sparkplug CEO has 10 social media blunders that can destroy your brand.

- The Association Forum of Chicagoland’s blog, The FORUM Effect, is adding new guest bloggers each month. This month’s guests include Claire Darmanin (on teaching members the business of associations), Mariana Toscas (on retaining Gen Yers), Mark Dominiak (on getting the most out of advertising), and George Rounds (on successful meetings in a weak economy).

- “Make big promises; overdeliver.” A recent post from Seth Godin that says it all.

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April 23, 2008

Study Mission to India photos

Photo from Study Mission to India

For those of you who were interested in Anne Blouin's posts from the Study Mission to India, you may also be interested in the large set of photos now available from the study mission. A variety of pictures from the trip are now available on Flickr, as part of ASAE & The Center's Flickr photostream.

I hope you enjoy the photos!

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April 16, 2008

Quick clicks: Deep thoughts

There's some great thinking going on in the association blog community and elsewhere this week--plus some neat tools and ideas.

- Kevin Holland at Association Inc. proposes some new rules for association growth, and Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog adds his thoughts.

- Jamie Notter of the Get Me Jamie Notter blog has some musings on the challenges of volunteer management, especially when some volunteers are more helpful than others.

- Lindy Dreyer at the Association Marketing Springboard blog talks about how associations can support members in transition.

- The Logic + Emotion blog shares some great examples of companies using social media to directly and imaginatively engage with their customers.

- Cindy Butts at the AE on the Verge blog has some great early results to share from a social media campaign her association is undertaking to promote home ownership in Maine.

- The Newseum's website has a cool tool: a map linked to the front pages of hundreds of newspapers from around the world.

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March 27, 2008

Industry Message Boards as a Recruitment Vehicle

When we (the Marble Institute of America) redesigned our website 4 years ago, one of the applications that was added was a member message board. At this time, message boards were just starting to take off and we felt that this might be a nice forum for our members to communicate with each other. At the time, our staff was 4 and did not include anyone who was familiar with (or a user of) message boards. Questions and topics would sit on the board for months at a time, with only the occasional answer being posted. Our members did not embrace this technology, nor did the staff.

Enter About two years ago a group of stone fabricators recognized the need for a communications vehicle where consumers could ask questions of stone experts and where stone experts could bounce ideas off of each other. Although we have never viewed this group as a threat (all of their principals are MIA supporters and members), they have been able to attract many of the smaller businesses in our industry that we were never able convert into members.

By simply and responsibly posting what we are doing (with regards to issues that affect all in the stone industry), we have turned into a membership recruitment tool. In the past several months we have signed up several new members who never considered joining the MIA prior to our informational posting on their site. The moderators of the forum have even added an "MIA Message Board" where we can post a bit more boldly about what we are up to.

I would highly suggest visiting the industry message boards that I imagine exist for nearly every industry and profession. In addition to staying on top of the buzz in the industry, you may be able to realize some unexpected returns.

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March 25, 2008

Quick clicks: All atwitter

The association blogging community is debating the usefulness (or lack thereof) of Twitter:

- Cindy Butts asks if Twitter is the ultimate in boredom and interruption;
- Kevin Holland says, "Who cares?";
- David Gammel also sees little value;
- Maddie Grant argues that there is real value in the Twitter platform, and provides examples of why;
- And Dennis McDonald, on a somewhat related note, wonders if all of these social media tools are fragmenting the web and reducing the benefits of web-based communication.

Elsewhere, Peter Turner at the Growing Globally blog hosts a very interesting guest post about doing business in Dubai.

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March 24, 2008

Balance of power

One thing that really interests me as I watch the development of the Internet is the constant shifts it can create in the balance of power. For instance, as just one example, music fans who had to listen to the radio to discover new bands can now find a band’s music (and website) directly without radio or record label intermediaries. Those kinds of changes have a ripple effect that I find fascinating.

Those of us who hire employees may see similar power shifts coming soon. Jeremiah Owyang has an interesting post on LinkedIn’s new company pages, which LinkedIn bills as “a new research tool that helps you find and explore companies that you might want to work for or do business with.” Based on the data LinkedIn has on a company’s employees, the company profile page shows all kinds of things a job seeker might want to see—the schools attended most often by current employees, the median age of employees, names of new hires, average employee tenure, and more.

As Jeremiah points out, LinkedIn’s sample is limited to employees that participate in LinkedIn; and for smaller organizations (like most associations) there’s a lot less data for LinkedIn to work with. But it’s a shift in the balance of power for job seekers who want to find information on your association that isn’t filtered through the hiring manager or the HR department. (I wonder if someday companies will actively encourage their best employees to join LinkedIn or a similar platform to make sure that those employees’ experiences are reflected in their organizational profile?)

Of course, power can shift both ways. For example, Michele Martin recently posted some interesting musings on whether resumes are losing their power to get your foot in the door with a particular organization. (Of course, there’s an argument that resumes were never that effective a job-hunting tool, but that’s a different post.) And the Global Neighborhoods blog links to a company that’s experimenting with hiring a new employee entirely through social media—skipping the traditional hiring process entirely. For certain kinds of jobs, your hireability could be increasingly determined by the quality of your work that’s available online.

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March 18, 2008

On your guard

I was reading Jamie Notter's post on his blog about an education session that ASAE & The Center delivered on board-staff communications, when a thought occurred to me.

I don't think it was the case with that meeting, but often we specifically tell participants in a workshop or breakout session that it's a safehaven where they can discuss anything or get advice on anything without fear of their need getting out--which if you're talking about what an SOB your board chair is or how a person on your staff is irritating you, could be embarrassing. I'm a member of the media so I've always been sensitive to what should be reportable and what shouldn't be -- and I think most attendees get that and can be reasonably assured that the staff of the organization holding the event would be sensitive to such things.

Could the advent of social media and "everybody's a journalist" change that comfort level? Could it change the candor with which people are willing to talk about their problems and their experiences at such meetings?

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March 3, 2008

SNAP, blogging, and associations

I recently was honored to moderate a panel on “Blogging: The What, the Why, and the How” for the Society of National Association Publications. The panelists were Kevin Holland, Jeff De Cagna, and Ben Martin—three long-time bloggers with a great understanding of how the medium can work for associations. Each one of them gave an informal presentation, and then the event’s attendees kept things going for nearly an hour (and then longer after the panel officially ended) with questions.

I jotted down some ideas from Ben, Kevin, and Jeff that I found insightful, and I wanted to share them with you. (Note that Ben and Jeff have also posted about the event, if you’d like their takes on it.)

- Association magazines should stop being something members read and start being something they engage with.

- One measure of success for a blog is the number of converts you make—individuals who were actively disengaged from your association who now are engaging with it in a positive manner.

- “Social media” has both a social aspect and a media aspect, and you need to understand both. Just understanding how to write for and post to a blog won’t have much value if you don’t also learn how to engage with your readers.

- When working with blogs, you need to balance the amount of time you spend reading and the amount of time you spend writing. Ben recommends spending about three times as much time on reading as on writing.

- Communications isn’t just about writing anymore. Communicators should also be the technologists and the futurists at their associations.

If anyone from the SNAP event drops by, and you have a question that wasn’t answered during the event itself, feel free to leave that question in a comment to this post. I’ll do my best to get you a helpful answer.

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February 21, 2008

Web 2.0 discussion continues

Virgil Carter's post on "Web 2.0: Culture, Belief System, or Toolkit?" continues to get some great comments, if you haven't looked at that thread recently. Today's most provocative quote:

"Some of you new media lovers may take offense at the crassness of my definition for Web 2.0, but to me it simply means not having to pay for content ... Perhaps, the greatest membership swindle of all time."

Check out the discussion thread and join in!


February 11, 2008

The power of listening

Ben Martin's latest post on the Certified Association Executive blog includes a great point:

"And the conversation isn't all about your blog: If you write a blog but don't read others' blogs, comment on them and link out to them, what you have is antisocial media. My mom taught me that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we speak. Unfortunately, many seem to believe that God gave them ten fingers and two eyes so that they can type five times as much as they read."

There's a quote on the spine of the February 2008 issue of Associations Now that makes a similar point: "It is rare that your goals will be best served by your talking more" (from Steve Harrison, author of The Manager's Book of Decencies).

Perhaps this week we can all try listening more thoughtfully and more often ... I know it's something I can always stand to work on.

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February 10, 2008

Web 2.0: Culture, Belief System, or Tool-Kit?

Part of the issue with the emergence of Web 2.0, and the reactions to, for, and against it, may be that everyone is working with their own definitions. Advocates are often passionate about it, urging immediate and unilateral adoption. Skeptics raise a litany of questions and objections. Those, in the middle may find themselves in the role of the ball in a ping-pong game, smashed this way, only to be backhanded in the opposite direction.

Just what is Web 2.0, and will it be surpassed by Web Y.0 or Web Z.0 by the time this article hits the air?


Is Web 2.0 a culture--a way of life? If you think you know what culture is (and is not) and can define it, I challenge you to visit the Wikipedia definition of culture:

There are many competing theories of culture and many diverse perspectives that are held by anthropologists (who commonly use the term "culture" to refer to the universal human capacity to classify, codify, and communicate their experiences symbolically). primatologists (who have identified aspects of culture among humankind's closest relatives in the animal kingdom), archaeologists (who focus on material culture--the material remains of human activity), social anthropologists (who focus on social interactions, statuses and institutions), and cultural anthropologists (who focus on norms and values).

According to the current (2/9/08) Wikipedia definition, “Culture can be defined as all the behaviors, ways of life, arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the arts and gastronomy.”

So is Web 2.0 a culture? It certainly manifests certain behaviors, even ways of life and beliefs. It has hardly been passed down from generation to generation. Given the short life cycle of technology, it is highly likely to be surpassed by Web 3.0, or something else, in a very short period, just as Web 1.0 has been eclipsed.

Belief System

Is Web 2.0 a belief system? Wikipedia defines belief as: “Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise (argument) to be true without necessarily being able to adequately prove its main contention to other people who may or may not agree.” Based on the ardent writing of those who advocate Web 2.0, we may certainly say that Web 2.0 is strongly held belief system.

The fact that much of the writing in support of Web 2.0 (at least that I have seen) has not yet focused convincingly on either “how” best to use Web 2.0 (a distinctive value-producing strategy), nor the likely outcomes (results that may be achieved through successful use of Web 2.0), does not diminish the passionate belief of the early adopters of Web 2.0. The fact that early adopters have little patience with those who ask for more quantifiable data further reinforces the view that Web 2.0 is, indeed, a belief system.

Tool Kit

There is another possibility: that Web 2.0 (and the predictable successors) is simply a tool-kit, full of different tools for different users for different purposes. That is, Web 2.0 is not the desired end-solution; it is a means to the end—however defined for a particular user of Web 2.0

For example, is a wiki or a blog a culture, belief system, or tools in the tool bag? One’s perspective depends on where one stands, of course, but there is no denying that if knowledge growth and exchange of knowledge are the desired solutions, then a wiki and/or a blog may be useful tools, correctly and intelligently employed. At least today. Who can say what may be more effective tools to achieve these results tomorrow? Nevertheless, there will surely be newer and more effective tools to come.

Even the best and most appropriate tool for a task, however, still requires good experience and judgment for successful use. Ever watched a first-timer try to install cove molding with a compound miter saw?

Web 2.0: culture, belief system, or tool-kit? Where do you stand and what is your perspective?

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January 30, 2008

Quick clicks: Social media ideas and opportunities

Some interesting links for your Wednesday afternoon:

- Jeff De Cagna and Ben Martin (of Principled Innovation blog and Certified Association Executive blog fame) have launched a video blog focused on the association community, Principled Innovation TV. Fellow association bloggers Maddie Grant and Matt Baehr are also participating. Definitely an experiment worth watching.

- has created a wiki to help Peters’ readers help each other in their efforts to implement his ideas. I bet this is a concept that associations and other organizations could harness as well—could your members help each other implement a new standard or practice related to their industry?

- The World Economic Forum at Davos this year has gone all out to integrate social media tools into the event. Photos on Flickr, video on YouTube, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Second Life—it’s definitely worth checking out as inspiration for ways you could reach out to interested parties who can’t attend your next meeting. (Thanks to Sara Costello at SHRM, who posted a message about this to ASAE & The Center’s International listserver.)


January 29, 2008

Hard conversations that need to be had

I consider myself fortunate in that my job requires me to have hundreds of conversations with different associations, technology vendors and consultants each year. Increasingly, I’m struck by the conversations we are not having. It’s no secret that for most, if not all, associations the real contact with constituents happens on the web. But if you look at most associations technology strategies, they center on association managements systems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that AMSs aren’t important, clearly they are. But just what is an “association management system” anyway? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I know I do know that how people “associate” has changed drastically in the last few years and the systems that manage our associations have remained pretty much the same for the last, uhh, a long, long time. It’s time to talk about that!

I recently had a conversation with the COO of a relatively large association that went something like this:

COO: We can’t seem to get a technology strategy that works for our organization.
Me: Tell me a little about your organization.
COO: Well, we have a staff of 160, our budget is just over 40 million and we have about 25,000 members.
Me: Who developed your existing strategy?
COO: Our IT manager.
Me: (Silence)
COO: Reggie? Reggie?
Me: Does the IT manager take part in senior staff meetings, attend board meetings, talk much with the CEO?
COO: No, the IT manager reports to the CFO who represents IT views and needs.

The rest of our conversation can’t be printed here. But here is my question. How can any organization of any size not have someone with an understanding of technology involved in the organization’s strategic conversations? We need to talk about that!

I was recently invited to participate in a board meeting of an association who was thinking about decreasing the emphasis of its website and particularly its wiki and blog areas. You see, the wiki and blogs were becoming more and more successful. Members were starting to spend more time there than reading the magazine, or visiting advertiser supported “traditional” web pages. Links were showing up in the blog that took people away from their site, to sites that sometimes didn’t necessarily reflect the association’s point of view. The wiki was fast becoming the place where members went for “relevant” information. Finally, one of the board members said “the problem is that these new technologies don’t fit the association’s business model”. The CEO leaned over and quietly asked me what my take was on the discussion. My answer to him and to all of us: “What’s wrong here, the successful blog and wiki, or the association business model?” We need to talk about that!

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January 28, 2008

Using wikis

Just a quick shout out to Stephen Barr's column in The Washington Post today on the Office of Management and Budget's use of internal wikis to be more efficient and collaborative. If the plodding federal government can use such a tool with such success, your association can and should be, too. After all, we are kind of in the collaboration business. For that 1 or 2 percent of your membership who are engaged and want to be involved... wikis can be an excellent way to involve them.


January 10, 2008

The numbers keep adding up

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has reported that 48 percent of Internet users have been to video sites like YouTube. I was particularly interested in the fact that 15 percent of respondents reported that they had viewed video online "yesterday."

In other news, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research reports that Facebook has more than 60 million active users and an average of 250,000 new registrants each day since January 2007. (He got the stats from Facebook's website.)

This isn't to say that every association must start looking into online video or that Facebook itself is where you have to be. But I have to wonder if associations that haven't made any moves toward experimenting with these new forms of communication and interaction (in whatever form works best for their particular profession or industry) are going to have a really hard time catching up if they wait much longer.

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January 9, 2008

Quick clicks: Social networks, trendspotting, slide shows

A few links that may be of interest:

- For those of you who enjoyed Jason Della Rocca's recent Acronym post on working with external social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, Matt Baehr of the BlogClump blog has a short post up on the success of a similar experiment his organization is conducting.

- Dave Sabol of the Associated Knowledge blog is planning to post each Tuesday in his blog about upcoming trends, large and small, that may have an impact on association. His first "Trendspotting Tuesday" post shares some predictions from several social media experts.

- Jonathon Colman of the Nature Conservancy really has some great ideas, and I'm not just saying that because he's commented on Acronym before. The npMarketing blog points to some slideshows Jonathon has posted with good information on topics like cultivating your constituents online, search engine optimization, and web marketing for fundraisers.

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January 7, 2008

Video snacking

Elliott Masie's Learning TRENDS e-newsletter today has an interesting riff on ways to use video to reach your members and customers. He cites a New York Times article on the rise of lunchtime video--office workers viewing some news or entertainment highlights with their sandwiches.

Masie suggests, "What if we harnessed the concept of Video Snacking for learning? Imagine your organization producing a short, 5 to 7 minute show every day for viewing during lunch."

Could your association take this idea and run with it in a way that works with the ebb and flow of your members' schedules?

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December 21, 2007

Web 2.0 Can Be Dangerous...

Ripped directly from web/usability guru Jakob Nielson's weekly newsletter:

Summary: AJAX, rich Internet UIs, mashups, communities, and user-generated content often add more complexity than they're worth. They also divert design resources and prove (once again) that what's hyped is rarely what's most profitable.

The article is a goldmine of info related to Web 2.0 missteps and perils. Even as a social media junkies, we still need to be cognizant of where/what can go wrong, etc.

The link out to his previous article on "participation inequality" is of particular value in thinking about our members' level of engagement in all this stuff.

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December 18, 2007

Leveraging External Social Networks

Meatspace responsibilities got the better of me during November (eg, 10-day trip to Australia), and I wasn't able to get this post up during the chock-full-of-Web2.0-goodness spree last month... To add some practical examples, I'll quickly cover the IGDA's own foray into the use of social networking sites.

Given our techy nature, our first inclination was to simply expand upon our existing basic/custom member directory tech to include social network style features (ie, buddy list, post wall, intros, etc). But, we never got around to it... There was certainly the notion that we wanted to own/control the network for our members.

Around the same time, some members got vocal in our online discussion forum, convincing me to set up a private group in LinkedIn. Looking over the thread you can actually see me defending the idea of an IGDA specific internal social network, and then eventually watch me crumble under the pressure...

So, earlier this year, we set up a private group within LinkedIn - a fairly painless (and free) process. Once the group was set up, we mentioned it in our monthly email newsletter a couple of times. After a few months, we had over 1300 members within the group (of approx 14k total membership).

One of the benefits of LinkedIn is that it allows you to upload a list of members for pre-approved access to the private group (of course, there are other tools to add members on the fly, approve ad hoc requests for access, etc). Meaning, the association has control over who can gain access to the group, hence group members. Given the more serious business-like nature of LinkedIn, controlling access and the signal-to-noise ratio has been important and appreciated.

Also, this control over access has allowed the IGDA to leverage our LinkedIn private group as a benefit of membership. And, we've gotten several dozen new members (along with heaps of praise from existing members) simply so they can access the private group.

As the final wikinomic coup-de-grace, I recruited the most vocal member (ie, from the forum thread above) to serve as our volunteer "group manager". This person now handles any of the ad hoc requests along with any other admin/moderation tasks.

Now, in parallel to all this, a handful of other IGDA members were early Facebook adopters and set up an IGDA Facebook group without anyone on staff/leadership knowing about it. Really, I had no clue, until I got an invite to join the group (after the group already had about 1000 members)! This was not because they were trying to hide the group, but more so because they just didn't need us to do it.

Unlike the private LinkedIn group, the IGDA's Facebook group is an "open" group. With nearly 4000 people in that group, I have no clue how many are actual legit members of the IGDA. And, I don't care. Given the more relaxed/personal nature of Facebook, it is less important to maintain that some level of privacy as on LinkedIn.

Though, as an experiment, we did set up a private Facebook group just for the attendees of fall Leadership Forum conference...

And, all that said, we are still pursuing a social networking option that will reside at More on that later...

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December 11, 2007

Quick click: Facebook for association execs

I still have some posts from Great Ideas that I need to write, but I thought I'd get this post up first: Lee Aase, who kindly wrote an article for the Associations Now social media supplement to help readers better understand social media, has posted some material on how association executives can use Facebook. (He presented at the Chicago Forum's Holiday Showcase on the topic.)

If your association has ever wondered, "Should we be doing this Facebook thing?" Lee's two posts should be interesting reading.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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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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?


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 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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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

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 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.


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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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.)


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 (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 He includes links to materials on podcasting, slidesharing, social bookmarking, and more.

Jeff's 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 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 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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October 23, 2007

Career Contacts

Ann Oliveri recently posted on financial incentives to pursuing an association career. Let's talk about how to nurture that career once you've begun. We know there is healthy talent-sharing activity in the association industry. As a vendor, I have watched individuals move through several associations, sometimes as lateral moves into larger organizations and other times to take on executive posts at smaller ones. I even saw a department head transition to another association and bring an entire team along.

How do you ensure that you're staying in touch with the valuable contacts you've developed along the way, so that you're top of mind when an opportunity arises? With social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, it's never been easier.

Facebook now has around 40 million users, with another million signing up each week. Photos, messages and "pokes" are just the basic ways of reaching out to your friends and contacts. With the introduction of third-party applications, there is an explosion of widgets you can use to make an impression in your virtual community.

LinkedIn is a more formal way of maintaining a roster of contacts, requesting recommendations and reaching out to contacts of your contacts. The site is working to find additional ways to interact with its network, in order to fend off the encroachment of Facebook onto its turf.

In the association world, where "interactive member directory" usually means that it's searchable rather than a mere list, applying social networking features to an organization's Web site is a way to empower members to connect and share ideas above and beyond hosted events.


September 28, 2007

YouTube launches nonprofit program

The 501(c)(3)s out there might be interested in a new program offered by YouTube: a nonprofit channel that offers "premium rotation" and the ability to embed a "donate" button in connection with your organization's videos.

For folks pursuing video as a way to spread the word about their mission or cause (particularly those whose missions lend themselves well to visual expression), this could be worth checking out.

(Hat tip to Michele Martin and The Bamboo Project blog, where I originally came across this information.)


September 26, 2007

Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much...

Over the last six weeks or so, my life has felt like one continuous plane ride. I've spent many, many hours in the air during this period, and I've tried to put that time to good use by coming up with this list for your amusement. Just consider it a public service I'm performing on behalf of all the weary travelers in the association world. It's a great opportunity for us to laugh at the ridiculous things that too much flying can do to otherwise normal human beings. (No cracks from the peanut gallery please...)

So, without further delay, the Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much!

Continue reading "Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much..." »

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September 11, 2007

Quick clicks: Future web trends, global social media

- Via elearnspace, I came across a list of 10 web trends to watch out for over the next 10 years that may be of interest. Some of the trends, such as “virtual worlds,” I’ve definitely been hearing about; others were new to me. Are there any trends you’d add to their list?

- I also wanted to point you to an interesting post from Peter Turner at opensource.association. He has a map showing the leading social media sites around the world, and he points out some interesting patterns from the data.


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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August 7, 2007

The economic benefits of Second Life

I know there are a lot of folks out there who are dubious about the real-world economic benefits of Second Life participation (heck, I'm one of them). So I wanted to point you to a discussion on the Freakonomics blog (which is maintained by the authors of the book Freakonomics). Stephen Dubner has thrown that very question out for debate, and his commenters have some interesting things to say.

It's worth noting that the Freakonomics blog is primarily exploring the question from the point of view of individuals and how Second Life benefits them--and many of them are arguing that it's purely of entertainment value. If that's the case, how does that impact associations interested in using Second Life or similar sites to interact with members?