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August 13, 2012

The board doesn't understand

Yesterday, Rick Johnston asked why associations aren't digging deeper into business intelligence, and he suggested that uninterested boards might be part of the problem.

That sentiment was echoed during conversations in Sunday's "Under the Membership Tent: Executive Session" Learning Lab at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo. One participant said her biggest challenge in managing member data is getting funding approval from her board for upgrading the association management system. In short, boards don't understand data management.

I have two reactions to this:

  1. "No doubt." I'm sure every membership professional can relate. It's hard enough to understand all the intricacies and capabilities of an AMS as a staffer who works in it every day. Trying to explain it to volunteers is a chore. But …
  2. Whose fault is it if the board can't see the value of an enhanced AMS? That responsibility has to fall back to the staff. It's not the board's job to already understand data management. It's their job to hire people who do.

Fortunately, one of the session content leaders, Laurie Kulikosky, CAE, director, strategic development, at the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, offered her experience: She said she spent close to a year interviewing staff about what they'd like to see in a potential new AMS. Then she presented that info to her board. She told them, "Here are all the amazing things we'd like to do, and here's why we can't do it."

Data management and business intelligence are, unfortunately, just not very shiny. They're complicated. Numbers scare people. The power of data is enormous, but it doesn't get the glory that other technological endeavors get these days. So find a way to make it shine.

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August 12, 2012

Do Associations Have Any Business Intelligence?

The following is a guest post from Rick Johnston, CAE, principal of ICF Ironworks consulting.

At a technology trends discussion on Saturday, ASAE CIO Reggie Henry asked why associations are not doing more to use their data to make just-in-time business decisions. After all, there are plenty of business intelligence (BI) tools out there, and for-profit organizations use them all the time to stay ahead of their competition and ensure profits for their owners or shareholders.

We see very few associations leveraging BI tools to make sense of the valuable data many of them are collecting. Most associations collect lots of membership data, revenue data, subscriptions data, meeting attendance data, and much more. But who is asking "What do we need to know to measure our success and adjust our operational plans in time to make a difference this year?" In most cases, the answer is nobody. But why?

My answer to Reggie's question reflects on how nonprofits are different from corporations. I contend that it doesn't have to do with size, resources, or technical ability. It has more to do with accountability. Associations have boards who care about their cause, profession, or industry but have no personal financial stake in the outcomes. Everyone tries to be nice and it's just not that important to be better than good. The status quo will suffice.

Having over 25 years in association management and having served in several association boards, I can't remember a board meeting where someone asked the really tough questions around performance accountability. Oh, we look at financial and program reports and how we could have done better last year. We have lots of excuses (the economy, staff turnover, regulations, etc.) to explain away the high-level picture of prosperity, decline, or more often simply the status quo.

We need to dig deeper into the data mine to get real insight into the what and why questions beneath the surface of year-end reports. To think more like a business and closely analyze their operations and reap the intelligence that will help them measure real results and make quick decisions that will have a positive impact. For example, someone should be asking:

  • Do our online promotions reach the right audiences and incent the behaviors (conference registration, advocacy actions, etc.) that we desire?
  • Are membership renewal rates increasing or declining in one demographic more than another?
  • What do our conference attendees value the most? What kinds of conversations are taking place?

I believe the data is often there but leaders in many associations avoid looking at it. By that I mean asking the questions that will allow them to really understand what is happening and why it happens in time to do something about it. Business intelligence tools need not be expensive to purchase or implement. The Texas Medical Association has been using relatively simple BI tools such as Excel to ask these questions for some time. I don't know where they are today, but I'll bet their constituents are better off for their having taken accountability seriously. Can you say the same?

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July 3, 2012

What conference planners can learn from bike-sharing programs

As technology has emerged that allows high-quality online broadcasts of conference presentations at a reasonable cost, some associations have embraced it while others have hesitated, concerned that "giving away our meetings" online would give people a reason to not attend in person.

Bike-shop owners in Washington, DC, can tell these associations not to worry. They, too, were concerned that the advent of bike-sharing service Capital Bikeshare would cut into bike sales by giving people a more affordable option to owning a bicycle. But the Transportation Nation blog reports this week that much the opposite has happened:

"It turns out their fears were for naught. Bike store owners say bike sharing is actually helping their businesses by fueling an explosion in bicycling enthusiasm. Moreover, bike shops say they are witnessing a culture change in their neighborhoods as more people leave their cars at home and hop on two-wheelers.

… Annah Walters, 25, says she wanted her own bicycle only after trying Bikeshare first. 'One of the great things about Bikeshare is it's sort of a gateway drug to biking. You don't have to make a several hundred dollar investment,' says Walters."

As successful as Capital Bikeshare has been, it doesn't match the freedom of owning a bike yourself. Likewise, as great as virtual-event technology is, it doesn't fully replace an in-person meeting. But it does serve as a low-barrier entry point, a "gateway drug" to the full conference experience. If you craft your online conference elements in that model, you can expand your audience and get people hooked. And then you can reap the benefits of that enthusiasm down the road, just like the bike-shop owners in DC.

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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!

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May 31, 2012

Associations as Networked "Ecosystems"

In an interesting interview article appearing in the May 29 Inc. magazine, business guru Jim Collins references new thinking on leadership that he developed after working with ASAE and the associations that participated in research for the book Seven Measures of Success.

In a discussion of how the Internet revolution has changed business today, Collins says, "The Internet is all about networks and connectivity across networks, so one possibility is that there's a shift to a new fundamental building of society, namely, the network. We may be moving to a world of networks well led, as opposed to organizations well managed. You can't really manage a network, but you can help lead within a network."

Calling such networks "building blocks," Collins points to associations that "are, by their nature, networks. They're fluid. But an association has to have some sort of unity and cohesion.

"So how do you create a great association when it's inherently not self-contained? [ASAE's] researchers analyzed some really high-performing associations, in which you can see this network effect and the importance of being able to lead without direct power. I began thinking that associations may actually be on the leading edge of what more people are going to have to learn how to do. Instead of managing a company, you're managing an ecosystem that is networked and connected over the world."

You can read the full article, "Jim Collins: Be Great Now," here and please feel free to comment below.

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April 12, 2012

Forward thinking from a century-old shipwreck

ballard3.pngThis Sunday will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Like a lot of people, I've always been fascinated by the stories of both the sinking of the ship and the discovery of the wreck in 1985, so I jumped at the chance to attend a presentation by Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who found it, at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC, Tuesday night.

Ballard is a gifted storyteller and an ardent preservationist, and he argues that instead of removing artifacts from the Titanic wreckage to bring to museums for people to see, people should be taken to the Titanic to see it—but not how you might think. He showed a slide depicting his vision for building a permanent support structure for remote-operated camera equipment around the wreck, enabling visitors at museums on land to view and explore the wreck in real time from thousands of miles away, and he says this "telepresence" technology isn't that far off.

As he talked about the idea, it became clear that we're all fortunate the Titanic was found such a forward thinker. He mentioned the explorers who found the tomb of King Tut in Egypt and said that, if they'd had the foresight to know that the masses might one day be able to easily visit the sites in ancient Egypt—this was before widespread use of airplanes and automobiles—they might not have packed up all the artifacts and sent them to a museum in London. In the same way, thinking about how the world could be brought to the Titanic through technology could help preserve it.

It struck me that that kind of thinking is just what an association needs from its CEO and board of directors: the ability to imagine and plan for not just what is possible now but also what could be possible in the future. When it comes time for long-term planning and developing strategy, an association CEO should guide the board to embrace the anything-is-possible perspective, and it's also a good reason for a nominating committee to seek potential board members who demonstrate that mindset.

The evening spurred a couple other association-related thoughts, as well:

  • National Geographic's package for the Titanic anniversary is an example for associations to follow for creating a multifaceted experience around a story or education. The package has included two magazine features, an interactive iPad app, a museum exhibit, a live expert presentation, and two television specials. The question of money and resources is always a challenge, but most associations engage in all of these types of platforms (or similar ones). Few, however, are so skilled at coordinating a package of resources and events across all of them at once.
  • If Ballard's vision of a telepresence Titanic museum experience ever comes to life, that will remove just about any excuse associations would have for not creating virtual and hybrid event experiences. If live, interactive video of a shipwreck 12,000 feet below the surface of the ocean could be brought to your computer screen, then surely a presentation in a convention hall could be, as well.

The event was filmed, so keep an eye on the National Geographic Events video library if you're interested. I'll come back and embed or post a link to video once it's up.

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February 29, 2012

Shaking Up Online Education

In the past few years, associations and their members have been slowly but surely embracing online education. (ASAE will be publishing some new research on that shortly on its economy page.) So I took notice this week when the Chronicle of Higher Education published its list of 12 Tech Innovators, many of whom are trying to change how learning happens online. Among them:

  • Jim Groom, a fierce booster of web-based learning that invites peer collaboration
  • Candace Thille, whose Online Learning Initiative supports hybrid learning through team-built online modules, supporting classroom education while saving costs.
  • Salman Khan, a promoter of self-guided video education
  • Burck Smith, whose company, StraighterLine, partners with other companies to produce introductory online courses.

All different ideas, but a common theme emerges: Education is moving (perhaps rapidly) from a one-size-fits-all, lecture-based model to one that's more fluid and responsive to student input. Interviewees like Khan aren't saying that the classroom as we know it is dead, but the classroom lecture may be. Khan says his model has "made universities--and I can cite examples of this--say, Why should we be giving 300-person lectures anymore?"

Why indeed? Many association leaders might ask themselves the same question when it comes to their conferences or the education programs they support for certifications. (It's OK; you don't have to say that the first answer that popped in your head was a ka-ching! sound.) On the one hand, the authority of a lecturer, especially an in-person one, is valuable when it comes to presenting highly technical information. On the other, the flexibility of online courses can bring in more potential members, and perhaps even be a revenue driver. (Though according to Figure 17 of a white paper ASAE published last year on the economy, online education revenue hasn't matched execs' hopes for it.)

At first glance, Groom's DS106 project looks too chaotic to apply in an association context, but Thille's module-based Open Learning Initiative looks to be a smart, cleanly organized project. I know plenty of associations have been experimenting in this space, so what's working for you? What isn't?

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December 14, 2011

In denial about technology

So #Tech11 is about a week past us now, and I'm still letting what I saw and heard soak in. I regret to say that I was only present for about half of the conference, what with other responsibilities to tend to back at the office, but I didn't need to be there very long to come to the following conclusion:

Whatever amount of resources your association is currently devoting to technology and web development is not anywhere close to enough. Double it. Triple it. Probably still not enough.

I promise no technology vendors paid me to write that. My first inclination would be to increase in-house tech and web staff anyway. And I say this acknowledging that money, time, and staff don't grow on trees, of course. I just think it's time for a significant reorganization of priorities.

In speeches and presentations at the conference, I heard references to companies like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Yahoo!, Instagram, and Rovio (makers of Angry Birds). To be clear, these aren't just companies that are good at technology. They are tech companies. Tech is either the majority or the entirety of what they do. The common reaction is to take these examples as inspiration for lofty but unattainable ideas and think, "Yeah, but we're an association. We're not a tech company."

Are you sure about that? Here's a rundown of common association endeavors, each with a tech/web component:

  • Membership (online application and renewal, member directory, discussion groups)
  • Volunteer management (discussion groups, document sharing and collaboration)
  • Meetings (online registration, digital or mobile/tablet program guides, recording and livestreaming, virtual conferences)
  • Publications (e-newsletters, mobile and tablet editions, audio and video, e-books)
  • Communications (email, social media)
  • Advocacy (alerts, online petitions)
  • Education (webinars, self-directed online learning, digital course material)
  • Research (electronic surveys, interactive databases)

This list is not complete, but you get the idea. How many of your association's activities can you think of that involve no technology whatsoever? There aren't many. In-person meetings and face-to-face collaboration still count, of course, and they count for a lot. But when I look at this list above, I wonder what associations actually did before the invention of the internet. I really do.

And so it's with that mindset that I wonder why associations still devote such a small percentage of their in-house resources to technology. An association might not be a "tech company" in the traditional sense, and associations will always need technology partners for big, hairy projects and for highly specialized work. But if nearly everything your association does involves technology and the web—if the core of the business is helping people meet, communicate, interact, and collaborate, almost entirely online—how can you justify not shifting a larger percentage of your resources toward making those tech and web components excel? Luke Wroblewski said associations should start thinking about mobile first. That's going to be tough if you're still in denial about being web first.

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December 7, 2011

Make your mobile apps make money

This tweet from @betsyschro at the 2011 ASAE Technology Conference & Expo neatly captures a common concern for associations as they explore their mobile options:

Informative and fascinating #tech11 GW1 opening session. But... raise your hand if your assn can afford awesome mobile tech?Wed Dec 07 15:18:08 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Conveniently, an Idea Lab this afternoon offered some help in the form of advice on how to make apps profitable, to help cover costs or even drive revenue for the association. Alexandra Mouw, senior consultant, strategic web solutions, at Results Direct, suggested associations could learn lessons from the app of all apps, Angry Birds.

Angry Birds has been successful for many reasons, including:

  • It's simple. Birds flying and crashing into a structure.
  • It can be played in small spurts, in 30 seconds or a few free minutes.
  • It offers incentives for progress, such as stars and additional levels.
  • Even though it's installed on your phone and played alone, it still becomes community experience.
  • It works and rarely crashes.
  • The characters have proven likeable enough to be licensed for physical merchandise.

And so in thinking about developing apps for associations, it helps to understand the various models of revenue generation for mobile apps, Mouw says. Here are the leading forms:

  • Paid apps. This is the simplest form. Set a price as low as $.99 in the platform's app store. (This is one way Angry Birds makes money.)
  • Advertising and sponsorship. This might be the form with the most immediate potential for associations.
  • Freemium apps, which come in a couple forms:
    • Lite versions: Free apps with limited capability or with advertising. Some of those ads encourage users to download the paid app with additional functions. (Angry Birds does this, too. You can buy a lite version to try it out.)
    • In-app purchasing: The app is free, but users can buy additional features or functions from within the app.
  • Driving out-of-app purchasing. The app could be free or paid, but it's designed to lead users (subtly or directly) to buy something somewhere else. (Think Angry Birds plush toys.) A common association example of this that came up in the session is certification preparation material; the prep app might be free, but it helps people toward reaching a paid certification.
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Let Mobile Help You Find Your Focus

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Luke Wroblewski's mantra, "Mobile First," reminds me of The Onion.

Not because it's a joke (far from it), and not because he's funny (which he is, but that's not the point.)

If you've ever read an interview with writers of the satirical newspaper (like this one), you know that they brainstorm in headlines first. They toss around joke headlines in meetings, and then they assign writers to the stories. The headline is the joke, and the joke is the most important part. The rest is just extra.

Wroblewski, digital product software designer, cofounder of Bagcheck Inc., and opening general session speaker at the 2011 ASAE Technology Conference, says associations should take a similar approach in designing online engagement opportunities for members: "It makes a lot of sense to start thinking about mobile as the first order of business." (So much sense that he wrote a book about it.)

Your first reaction to this might be, "Why design the tiny version first?" Wroblewski's answer is the same that The Onion writers would give about brainstorming joke headlines: because the constraints of a small space force you to focus on the most important part.

When you go from designing for a desktop to a smartphone screen, you lose 80 percent of your space, "which I think is awesome," Wroblewski says. "You put what your customers want first, and as a result your business grows."

For associations, this will be a difficult change. Focus isn't exactly a forte. "Association" has been aptly defined as "a conglomerate of small businesses … with a consensus-based governance model slapped on top." Getting consensus on what's most important, on what makes the cut for the small screen, will be a messy process.

But with mobile devices predicted to overtake PCs in 2013 as the most common channel for accessing the web, if you're not already thinking about mobile first, you might soon find yourself finishing last.

Follow the conversation at the Technology Conference at http://tech11.org, and look for further coverage here on Acronym throughout the week.

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June 27, 2011

Report highlights growing pains of association e-learning

ASAE's past economic surveys have shown that the difficulties for in-person meetings and educational programs in the past few years have led to high hopes for online education to fill the gap. A new report from association learning consultancy Tagoras shows that a high percentage of associations are indeed investing in technology-enabled learning, but they report mixed results in two key categories: overall usage and revenue production.

Among respondents to the Association Learning + Technology 2011: State of the Sector survey, slightly more said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with course enrollment and revenue generation than those who said they were somewhat or very satisfied.

Usage and Revenue Satisfaction Chart
Source: Association Learning + Technology 2011: State of the Sector. Click to enlarge.
Images republished with permission.

The good news is that 63.5 percent of the survey respondents said they rate their associations' overall use of e-learning as "somewhat successful," and 15 percent call it "very successful." Authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele offer some insight into the practices that are common among that 15 percent:

"We found that organizations that consider themselves to be very successful were significantly more likely than average to do the following:

  • View revenue generation as a key benefit.
  • Make use of professional instructional design.
  • Have a formal, documented e-learning strategy.
  • Have a formal, documented product development process.
  • Embrace more interactive forms of e-learning (e.g., facilitated and blended offerings, use of discussion boards, games, and simulations)."

As Cobb and Steele put it, "E-learning has arrived in the association sector but remains far from mature." Surely complicating that maturation process is that the growth in options for learning technology has coincided with difficult financial times for the associations that are hopeful about their potential.

The practices of the ones that are making it work, though, aren't revolutionary, but surprisingly few are deploying those practices: "[R]elatively few organizations with active e-learning programs have developed a formal [e-learning] strategy (22.0 percent) [or] created a product development process (22.9 percent)," according to the report.

I'm curious if this lack of thorough development for e-learning strategy and process is the standard byproduct of the overworked and underresourced association or if the relative youth of e-learning as a discipline makes plotting out a strategy more difficult.

Interested to hear your thoughts. And keep an eye on the Tagoras blog, where Cobb says he plans to explore the report in more detail in coming weeks.

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April 14, 2011

Quick clicks: Small edition

This week's collection of important association links isn't "small" in terms of quantity, but it's a theme that keeps coming up, from small-sized volunteer opportunities to the small mobile devices that your members are using to the size of your staff getting smaller if you don't invest in their productivity. The level of thought-provoking ideas in the links below should be anything but small, however. Enjoy.

Microvolunteering. Robert Rosenthal at the Engaging Volunteers blog points to a new, free 40-page guide to microvolunteering: "How To Set Up A Microvolunteering Project" from Help From Home in the United Kingdom. Rosenthal calls it "most comprehensive guide to microvolunteering that we've seen." I agree.

Mobile tech. You may have seen my posts here from last week's Digital Now conference or been following along on Twitter. First-time attendee Carrie Hartin shares her five takeaways from the conference, and they all point to the rapid advance of mobile technology.

More mobile tech. Joshua Paul at the Socious Member Engagement Blog offers "10 Things Association Execs Need to Know About Mobile Membership Apps." He divides the list into mobile's impact on member engagement, selecting an application, and development costs.

IT and staff turnover. Wes Trochlil asks, "Are your lousy systems affecting staff turnover?" Cheaping out on technology doesn't just make your staff less productive; it also makes the good staff leave.

Strategy. Shelly Alcorn, CAE, continues her series on big-picture association issues, this time making a case for adopting a spirit of "cultivation" in association strategic planning.

Volunteer management. Jeff Hurt attended one of Cynthia D'Amour's Lazy Leader Road Show events and recaps it nicely here, offering some key takeaways. Among them: "Instead of an annual volunteer fair, volunteer recruitment is done all year long."

Content curation. Rohit Bhargava explains five styles of curation that provide value for readers, followers, members, etc. Thanks to Maddie Grant for pointing to this one. It's a great primer if you're new to the concept. (By the way, this Quick Clicks post is the first type of content curation: "aggregation.")

Video. So YouTube is getting into live video streaming. It's too soon to know the practical impacts this will have, but as more and more associations get into virtual and hybrid events that include online streaming, YouTube will certainly factor in.

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April 13, 2011

Building the right systems pays off later

I'm still in the process of processing the swell of ideas and trends discussed at the 2011 Digital Now conference this past weekend. Looking back at my notes, there's one idea that came up a few times:

Good systems (or habits) will pay off down the road.

That's a simplified idea, but here are the two examples in which it came up at the conference:

  • The Society of Critical Care Medicine tracks its members' activities with the association and within the industry down to every last detail: meetings they attend, papers they write (both for the association and outside), discussions they join, and so on. SCCM staff are capturing so much information that they have established a predictive-analytics tool that they believe will help them identify future volunteer leaders years before they emerge. Executive Director David Martin, CAE, said this is only possible because SCCM has been collecting data diligently and systematically for a decade (to the point that staff who wouldn't get on board with proper data collection practices were given the boot).
  • Fellow Acronym blogger Mark Golden, CAE, moderated a session based on the book The Power of Pull by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison. He and his co-presenters explained that one element of a successful "pull system" is the ability to attract and convene new people, ideas, and information "so that serendipitous synergies occur." Mark called it "shaping serendipity."

Coincidentally, on my flight home I read "No More Privacy Paranoia," by Slate's Farhad Manjoo, in which he discusses the clash between privacy protection and the power of systems built to use personal information. Near the end he makes a point about Google that meshes the two ideas above:

"There's something important to note about the spellchecker, Flu Trends, speech recognition, and other Google products based on data. They weren't planned. Google didn't begin saving search queries in order to build the spell-checker; it built the spell-checker because it began saving search queries, and eventually realized that the database could be useful."

So again the lesson here is to create systems or environments that foster the building and sharing of knowledge, which can open up possibilities beyond what you might be able to predict. The problem I see for associations, though, is the ROI question. Asking a board to have faith that good things will happen if it approves a major investment probably won't fly. You'd likely need at least one significant return in mind, in hopes that that might be enough to make an investment that could pay off in other ways later.

Do you have examples of unexpected benefits from good systems or practices at your association? How have you made the case for investment in systems or habits that you know are best practices but don't have clear, direct returns?

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April 7, 2011

Are associations overlooking text messaging?

Mobile tech guru Tomi Ahonen (@tomiahonen) opened the 2011 Digital Now conference today urging associations to take advantage of mobile technology. He talked about using a multimedia approach, but some numbers he shared about text messaging (SMS) specifically were hard to ignore:

  • In, 2009 SMS passed voice calls as the primary use of mobile phones in the United States (long after this happened in many other countries in the world).
  • SMS use worldwide is big as eight Facebooks.
  • One third of SMS use in India is content (business to consumer).
  • MMS (multimedia messaging) has 2.2 billion users worldwide.
  • Even on smart phones, the top uses are messaging, apps, voice, and then mobile web.
  • 42 percent of American teens can send SMS blindfolded.
  • Opt-in (permission-based) mobile marketing campaigns average 25 to 40 percent response rates.

Most of of the buzz around mobile today is around smartphone apps, but this info makes me wonder if associations are mistaken to overlook simple text messaging as a tool for connecting with members. SMS is a very personal medium, so association using it must choose carefully, but the potential value of an effective use is high. 

Ahonen shared a slide with the eight unique advantages of the mobile medium. One of them stood out to me as a good way to think about possible SMS use: Mobile is available at the moment of creative impulse.

ahonenslide.jpg

Associations that host meetings and education events have the opportunity to engage their members when they are most energized, during and immediately after such events. Often it's difficult to capture that energy. Enabling an engagement avenue via text messaging during events could be a great way to do so.

If you have ideas or examples of SMS use at associations, please share. 

(And you can follow along with the Digital Now conference on Twitter via the #diginow hashtag.)

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January 19, 2011

Online Community Cacophony

Okay, so a long time ago I wrote several blog posts related to Goplow.com, our associations new content+community website, and I promised more...and then I didn't get you anything else because nothing great happened for a while. But I am here with an update as our small association pushes itself hard to build this resource we've created. And I must say that creating and growing an online community is the wild west of the association world; one must stay true to the association's goals and fight through the cacophony of noise that is out there relating to creating and fostering a digital community.

Thanks to great resources at ASAE and some solid colleagues met through the annual meeting, I was emotionally prepared for the initial LAL (lull after launch, just made that up). Since then, we've made some good headway, here are some things we have done:

A Great Story: We launched a video contest for our publication in the fall. Each issue we feature a snow professional on the cover, and it's a great honor, so we created a contest where folks could submit videos explaining why their story should be told. We got a whopping 8 entries, 2 of which didn't qualify, so sounds like a drag, right? I disagree; we got 6 great companies to share their stories with us, and the winner especially had a powerful story that I think will resonate with our magazine readership, and we probably would have never known of it...and we doubled our traffic to the site BTW and people really watched the videos.

Partnering: We forged a new publishing partnership, believe it or not with our main competitor online in our market. We strategically built our site to differentiate it from this site from the start, so together we complement each other and offer better choice for our advertisers and end-users. This allows us to spread our message via email and in print to new audiences, at much higher numbers then previously; we provide quality content links, they feature their diverse community, and both sites drive traffic.

Synergy: In the past year we launched an online marketplace with another partner, linked to our site homepage. In 2011 we hope to take this a step further, pulling the sites closer by creating a sub-domain on our site for the marketplace, which will allow us to leverage the high-SEO potential of a site like the marketplace (tons of links to other sites!), and make it easier to market the sites (instead of separate URL's) to drive traffic, and make it more intuitive for site users.

Constant Review: We just finished a user's survey, and thanks to a very strong financial start for the site in terms of ad sales, we are able to re-invest a portion of that revenue into the site in 2011. Concept is: launch, implement, review, rework, and the process starts all over again.

Would love to hear how others are building their online communities in any function, or if anyone has advice for us as we grow our fledgling community!

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December 14, 2010

Maybe #tech10 isn't really about technology

Charlene Li - Technology Conference 2010

During Charlene Li's opening general session at the 2010 Association Technology Conference & Expo Tuesday, you might have forgotten for a few minutes that you were at a conference about technology.

Li used words like "relationships," "dialog," "support," "culture," and "discipline" in her keynote. These aren't new, high-tech words. They're words we've always known in association management. But she urged association leaders to understand and embrace the ways social technologies are changing have already changed how we interact with our respective communities and industries.

While on the other side of the curtain in the expo hall lay dozens of technology tools for associations to invest in, Li offered advice on how to use them, regardless of which you might choose. She listed a four-step cycle for building relationships with members and customers online (or off): Learn, Dialog, Support, Innovate.

Then she said an organization must build a culture of sharing, defining exactly what it is comfortable openly communicating about and what it isn't. Organizations need discipline, a set of rules and guidelines to empower staff so they know how to interact openly with members and customers, she said.

Li posed a question about relationships: when are you really ever in control? An honest answer would be that, most often, you're not. Leading in a world operating on social technologies means getting comfortable not being in control.

If you've heard Li speak before or read any of her books or articles (in Associations Now in 2009 and 2010, for example), you've heard her message, but it was worth repeating at the start of the Technology Conference, and it set the right foundation for the following two days of learning. "It isn't the technologies themselves. It's the relationships that they change," she said.

Maybe the technology conference isn't about technology at all.

Photo by Scott Briscoe, CAE.

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November 8, 2010

Q&A with association CTO Susan Nouse

As we approach ASAE's 2010 Association Technology Conference & Expo, here at Acronym we're reaching out to a few association IT officers this month to pick their brains about the latest challenges and practices in the field. First up is Susan Nouse, chief technology officer at the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials:

Acronym: What is the most challenging part of training staff on technology, and how do you try to overcome that?

Nouse: The most challenging part is the speed at which technology is now changing. It feels like, about the time people are comfortable with something, it's time for the new version. Every time a new version comes out, they add a lot more features and a lot more functionality, so then people still just use what they know because they don't know to take advantage of those additional pieces.

Also, there's the cost involved with training, and with most technology training, even if it's at the application level, it's pretty costly. I'm personally a trainer by trade—I was a trainer before I came here—so I put together a list of topics based on feedback from staff, and I offer an hour-long training session on some application usually once or twice a month.

When it comes to things like a database, for instance, is it easier to train staff around a technology or to try to build a service or a system around what the staff's needs and capabilities are?

What's most important for me is that I choose the solution that best meets the business need. If that means purchasing a product or if that means developing it in house, I'll go both ways on that, because I have done both. But as opposed to trying to base the decision on how people will learn the technology, I try to base it more on what is the purpose of the technology. So what I typically try to do is pull in the people that are going to need to use it and get their input, and if I'm looking at a shelf product then I let them see demos of the product and let them be fully involved in the process of the selection, so then at least they know what they're going to be expecting as we move forward.

With so many emerging technologies, particularly in publishing and communications—with smartphones, iPads, social networking, and so forth—how do you go about picking and choosing which ones to target and which ones to leave aside for both your staff and your members?

That is based on a couple different things. If we hear a call from our membership about something—for example, one of the things that there had been an interest in is having some sort of tool or technology to allow members to communicate in between face-to-face meetings. We have research committees for each of our major functional areas—technology, transportation, facilities, accounting—and a number of those committees said it would be nice if they could continue committee work online outside of the regularly scheduled meetings. So we started by using Ning as a product, because that allowed us to create groups and they could have discussions, and they could post documents. Because Ning has changed their model, we're in the process right now of switching over to a private social-networking product. So that one was a call from the membership: here's a need that we have, here's what we want to do.

Some of it comes from evaluation of what our peer groups are using. We are a state affiliate of the national ASBO [Association of School Business Officers], so we take a look at what other state ASBOs similar to us in size are using. I talked to one of the people from New York ASBO and asked what they were doing so that I could see what had worked and what hadn't for them, and then I could go about making a decision for us. Those are the two techniques I use most.

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June 25, 2010

Using free tech tools

Our second guest post from a consultant who led a small staff discussion at a recent Idea Swap comes from Rob Miller, Principal of AssociationCIO (contact him for more tips), who talked about ways that free and cheap technology can level the playing field for associations with few resources. Yesterday, Rhea Blanken looked at how to balance the different demands that executives at organizations with limited resources face. Later today, we'll hear from Sue Bowman on how marketing can be effective even with limited resources. To learn from your peers, be sure to check out ASAE & The Center's small staff online conference. Here's Miller:

Most organizations rely on standard off-the-shelf software tools such as Microsoft to run their business. The problem is that they cost money, and, for an emerging organization, this can be debilitating. Inexpensive and free options now exist for many of the most important technology tools such as office software suites, voice and video conference services, webinar, collaboration, and survey tools. What are you waiting for? Go get some free stuff!

Here are few of my favorites:


  • Google offers Google Voice for local and long distance service. The product allows a user to link into their mobile or LAN phone for placing or receiving calls. The cost? Nothing!

  • DimDim.com offers free webinar service for up to 20 participants in a meeting or $19 for up to 50 participants in a meeting. The product includes recordings, playback and multiple presenter workflows.

  • FreeGreenConferenceCalls.com offers free conference services for up to 250 participants.

  • TinyChat.com offers free video conferencing for as many 6 participants simultaneously.

  • The free web analytics tool from compete.com allows a user to compare web traffic of one URL against the web traffic of another, such as a competitor or like organization. (But if you are the web master, it is usually best to check the results by yourself first.)

  • Hubspot.com enables organizations to evaluate the quality and activity of a website. This is an excellent tool to deploy just before signing the acceptance form of a major website redesign project.

  • There are so many free tools available in the marketplace now. Before you buy - always pause, open up Google, type in the words "Free [insert your target]" and pursue the options.

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June 15, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch 3: Pillars of Success

We left off on the last post by talking about the strategic sponsorship our association built with a publisher to couple resources and launch a new content and social networking website. In this post, I will talk about the strategy we created to manage the site long term.

Building Foundations. We reviewed many sites and articles related to managing sites, and especially social networking sites. We then created our management system, best described by the image below:

Pillars_Diagram.jpg

As you can see in the diagram, we generated a management platform based on what we call the Three C's: Content, Communication, and Community...and we utilize the term synergy to describe the type of atmosphere we wanted to cultivate long term, where the community builds its own content organically, meaning over time the whole begins to equal more than the sum of its parts.

The Three C's: Content, Communication, Community. Step one, develop relevant, quality content for our targeted audience. For this, our Content pillar was created, and one staff member was assigned to be the driver of content on the site, with help from other staff and an editor from our publishing partner. Goals of content include accuracy and relevancy, stories as valued content (instead of just traditional business/how-to articles), and alignment with the overall educational objectives of the association. We also established that this site would serve as the major hub for pushing content out to other social environments. For video content, we appointed our most video-centric champion in the office to work with our Content Coordinator and manage the creation of video content .

Next was the Communication Pillar. We assigned the person in our office most diligent about messaging and sharing information across our various social channels. The goals and values we set for this pillar included consistent monitoring/management of overall message and branding, monthly evaluation of search engine placement/keywords, and consistent gathering of feedback.

Finally, we fleshed out the linchpin for long-term for success of the site, the Community Pillar. We set up a system where our top 3 most passionate staff members on social networking will take the lead---we don't want to limit their passion to connect online during work hours, we want to harness it. Goals and values were:


  • To foster a dynamic and engaged professional community through encouragement and planned community-building programs and projects.

  • Consistent and regular encouragement of SIMA volunteers and Board of Directors to actively participate in the community weekly. Identification of volunteer 'champions'.

  • Creation of the 4 rules that every person should follow when posting on the community, with our goal of fostering a culture that is more like LinkedIn than Facebook.

Please engage with me and consider these questions, or ask me some questions:

  • What management functions have you all put in place for social communities?
  • What concerns or challenges have you faced with online communities?
  • What are the challenges to creating a community online that has rules of engagement?
  • How do you enforce bad behavior on a social networking site that your association built?
  • What are some fun giveaways or contests that you've seen or heard of to build community?
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June 7, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch: Planning and Partnership

Now that we are ready to soft launch our site, it's fun to reflect. I would love to say that the last 2 months of site development have been a huge nightmare and challenge, but it's actually been quite painless overall. And the funny thing is, the site that we have created is actually quite simple. And that's the point, which leads me to my next post in this series (if you didn't see it, the introduction to the series is available here).

Planning. In January of 2009, I pulled together our association staff and the management team from our publishing partner to discuss and review our online presence. At that time, we as a staff had been engaging and actively using social media as a group for only a few months.

It became evident that we needed to develop a new site on a newer platform for our official publication, Snow Business magazine. The platform we were on was older, less flexible, and it was outdated. We also knew that we had to position ourselves as a leader in our industry online; there were already several successful (from a traffic standpoint) websites out there providing a threaded discussion format, but no sites delivering quality content (in many formats) coupled with a professional community. We wanted to be different. We also were overwhelmed with all of the prospects/functionalities, consultants, nings, wings, and blings, blah blah that were out there...where do we start? First, we needed a name for this monster project: Project Vulcan.

Over the course of 2 months, we made some strategic decisions that influenced our Vulcan site before it ever had a domain name. We really forced ourselves to talk about our goals as a staff/publishing team, and what we wanted to be able to deliver long-term. We didn't even look at sample sites, and every time we started talking about the bells and whistles, like 'maybe a content cloud...' we brought it back to strategy. Out of this came our Big Picture Outcomes---we forced ourselves to tie make sure these tied to strategic plan goals. Check those out here.

We also knew that in year one, we would not be able to deliver on all of these outcomes. We simply wanted to develop a dynamic, functioning platform that would allow us to build upon, and that was flexible.

Partnership. Before we talked site specifics, we had to define our partnership. We knew that the costs of a site like this for a small association by itself were difficult; we couldn't justify the cost without help.

Leveraging an existing relationship, we set up a partnership with our publisher that allows SIMA to own the new site, but outsourcing several functions to our publishing partner. This way, we could leverage; an experienced, professional editor of very high quality; a professional salesperson for ad sales; an IT consultant for IT questions; and some services from a highly competent graphic designer. We would split the expenses for development and marketing, and share profit (although the publisher gets a bigger piece of the pie, that's their incentive). Some content would be developed by us, and some by them, each owning its own content (this causes some challenges, to be sure).

I want to be clear; this site could fail long term, as could any new product launched online. However, I feel we have greatly increased our chances of success by going through a strong planning process first.

For the next post, I'll show you a really cool diagram, and talk about the initial RFP process and first steps in creating this site, please share thoughts below on the challenges of planning online products and resources in today's web environment.

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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 AaronWolowiec.com. 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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December 7, 2009

Is technology the answer?

As I write this I am sitting on my couch at home on a Saturday afternoon. It is snowing outside so I have my heat on, two lamps on, my tv on as sort of background noise and my laptop in my lap. I am sucking down electricity directly from at least 4 things. The good news is that while I am working I am printing as little as possible and I am therefore not putting much into paper folders for later reference. So am I environmentally friendly or not? I am saving trees but I am using more and more electricity.

Here is another situation I have been thinking about lately. As a consultant I spend more and more time in places that have free wi-fi or access to multiple electrical outlets. I need electricity to do my job and I have learned during my time as a consultant that more and more people are just like me. Most of these people do not carry around portable printers and just like in my situation above they print as little as possible. Is the proliferation of electricity junkies who do not use a lot of paper a good thing or a bad thing? Are we just substituting one problem for another?

I think the virtual office is a great thing. I also think it is great that technology has advanced so much that we are all now more portable and more productive. That said all of the technology does run on electricity and at the end of the day I am curious to know if the environment is going to pay for our reliance on technology and electricity.

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November 3, 2009

Gearing Up for the Season of (Mobile) Giving

The Halloween candy hasn’t even been eaten yet, and I’m already seeing what I think will be a tidal wave of holiday-season community service outreach and philanthropic activities by a wide range of associations and nonprofits. In the spirit of the upcoming season and because everyone likes to know what their colleagues are up to, I’m going to make an effort to post occasional short lists with links to more details of some of the most creative or highest impact projects and partnerships.

For now, I’ll just share what one nonprofit is doing to address a fundraising issue that becomes especially crucial during the end-of-year giving cycle—enabling trusted, simple, and convenient donations directly from mobile phones. The Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF) has just announced a partnership with major mobile providers such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T to assist 350-plus charities with mobile giving campaigns. The program has generated more than $1 million in 18 months and is expected to grow rapidly, according to the foundation. A Canadian version of the initiative also has launched.

The foundation also has gone the next step: developing a broader partnership strategy to create a "mobile giving channel, whereby consumers can text a keyword that corresponds to a specific nonprofit or charitable cause to a designated short code. Afterward, a micro-donation of $5 or $10 is made and processed.” The wireless service companies tally donations via their regular monthly billing process and forward the funds to MGF, which passes 100% of them to the designated charities.

MGF has worked with almost every U.S. and Canadian wireless service provider to design “clear standards” that “provide a quality user experience and a trusted source of donor engagement for nonprofits." That experience includes offering donors various “information opt-in-based text alert packages … to help the donor maintain visibility to the causes they support.”

Thanks to a process redesign and technology innovations that dramatically accelerated campaign launch processes, the foundation now launches 20 campaigns per week and is currently supporting more than 400 campaigns with price points of either $5 or $10.

Response rates vary wildly from 1.5% to 63%, depending on “the cause, celebrity endorsement, co-branding affiliations, and related marketing efforts,” says the foundation.

Here’s a list of current charity partners and the Standards for Participation in case your organization would like to participate.

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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.)

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October 16, 2009

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.

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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.

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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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August 25, 2009

Volunteer Technology Help for Nonprofits

Need help with a tech problem or strategy? Join the thousands of nonprofits that have already posted “wish lists” for pro bono help with IT, web design, programming, blogging, and other technology needs in hope of attracting interest among the thousands of technology volunteers worldwide who are being matched up with organizations during the first “Mozilla Service Week” September 14-21.

The massive community service project is the result of a partnership with Idealist.org and Mozilla (the organization behind the Firefox browser). Go to http://mozillaservice.org if you want to be a tech volunteer yourself or want to post a tech need for your association or nonprofit.

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August 21, 2009

Associations/nonprofits turn to iPhone apps as latest viral tool

I’m seeing more and more associations and nonprofits developing their own iPhone apps to create a mobile forum to educate and engage members and stakeholders. Some apps are for the organization overall and appear most often distributed free through the iTunes App store, such as that of the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and, most recently, the American Humane Association.

Their primary purposes differ. The app for the American Red Cross encourages emergency preparedness, provides on-the-spot CPR guidance, gives emergency updates, and provides easy donation opportunities.

The American Humane Association’s “Be Humane!” app also provides breaking news and donation options through PayPal, but it adds has a brief organizational video, legislative updates, and a wide range of images and program tie-ins. Its Houston, Texas, components/chapter also has its own app on iTunes.

The American Heart Association app fosters self-tracking of heart-friendly activities such as healthy eating and exercise, health news, and event calendars, among other topics.
Whether members will take to these apps, increase their loyalty to the organization as a result of greater engagement, donate more, volunteer, or act in other positive ways that strengthen the association or nonprofit is still a bit early to tell in most cases. But I’m interested in hearing from other organizations that have gone this route. What types of numbers have you been tracking in this regard? What’s been your feedback? What would you advise others who are considering this tool? How focused has your purpose for the app been?

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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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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?"

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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.

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April 10, 2009

Why Should I Care about Something Called “Cloud Computing?”

If you attended the 2009 Technology Conference hosted by ASAE & The Center, you heard a lot about what term “cloud computing.” Discussion focused on what the term means (buying access to software and services downloadable via the Internet from a third party rather than trying to purchase and run everything yourself), whether its odd name should be altered to clarify its definition, and what its potential may be for cost savings and improved technological performance at associations, especially small to mid-size organizations.

I ran into this article, titled “No Man Is an Island: The Promise of Cloud Computing, Knowledge,” in the always-interesting Knowledge@Wharton e-newsletter this week and want to share it. The tech wizards quoted believe that organizations of the future will almost all operate with “the cloud” because of what they perceive is better security, dramatic cost savings, and current fatigue regarding the constant IT “rat race” to keep up with ever-evolving technology.

I’m interesting in learning whether any associations are actively incorporating cloud computing into their IT strategies. Please post here for more discussion.

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March 2, 2009

Virtual Open House

In my new role, I will be managing a host of member outreach and engagement initiatives, including the association’s web and audio conferencing services. Virtual education is a new venture for us; however, we’re excited about the many opportunities it will open up for our members and their employees.

The process of researching and selecting a technology solution has been slow; however, we are nearly ready to sign on the dotted line and move full steam ahead.

While the technology is being put into place, the staff is being sufficiently trained on how to use it and I’m being apprised of industry best practices, we’ve decided to spend the next four weeks surveying the long-term care community about the topics they’d like us to tackle with our new virtual education capabilities.

Our survey process has the look and feel of Associations Now’s special May 2009 issue where readers pick the stories. My project, called “Providers Pick the Topics,” will be conducted in three stages. Following is the planned timeline for this project:

This week, providers will brainstorm topic ideas for our virtual education offerings. Responses will be collected via e-mail survey.

In two weeks, we’ll ask providers to vote for their favorites among the ideas suggested. Again, responses will be collected via e-mail survey.

Finally, we’ll unveil a list of recommended web and audio conference topics based on readers’ votes. We’ll ask providers to read over the winning ideas and, where possible, suggest innovative experts and resources we should utilize in the planning of these programs.

This process has at least three intended outcomes:

1. I hope to collect at least 100 viable topic ideas (all of which I’d like to tackle in the next two years).
2. I’d like this experience to help engage (and to some extent retain) our members.
3. I want this project to create a buzz. I want our members – and the greater long-term care community – to be excited about our new web and audio conferencing services.

Speaking of buzz, this project will conclude with a launch party in April. Because we’re unveiling virtual education, I thought it would be most appropriate to hold this event online. Our “Virtual Open House” will introduce the community to our new technology; help individuals who are not technologically savvy become more comfortable with navigating a webinar; and create additional buzz and excitement for our association.

My question to you is this: What should I know about planning an online launch party? What’s the best way to market such an event?

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January 12, 2009

Another Association Experiments with Mobile Phone Learning

The Century Council, a social responsibility nonprofit funded by the U.S. distilled spirits industry that works to reduce drunk driving in the United States, is one of the latest organizations developing and piloting tools for cell phones as a way to explore the impact of so-called “mobile learning.” In mid-December 2008, it launched B4Udrink.mobi, an innovative, “at-your-fingertips” program for mobile phones that helps people better estimate their blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

The interactive program “takes the guessing game out of the equation and gives the user factual information about how alcohol consumption affects an individual's BAC,” explains the organization in its press release. “Accessible from any mobile device, the user quickly enters their gender and weight and the type and quantity of drink(s) they plan to consume. A few short clicks later they are given their approximate BAC.”

According to Susan Molinari, who chairs The Century Council, the organization developed the tool because “readily available access to such important information will lead to more responsible decisions that can now be made anytime, at any place.”

The site “is an enhancement of an earlier version of the program B4UDrink.org but is faster and designed to be easily used on any mobile device.”

If your association or nonprofit has been creating mobile learning or other types of campaigns that rely on cell phones, please feel free to post brief summaries on this blog, so others can view your samples.

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November 27, 2008

To BlackBerry or Not to BlackBerry

Am I the only one who is watching the whole thing with Barack Obama and his BlackBerry and is really intrigued to see how it all turns out? I am intrigued for a number of reasons:

1. I just assumed that government officials used blackberries or Trios or other wireless devices just like everyone else in the world so I was surprised to hear that is not the case. I understand the security issue but doesn’t this lack of connectivity potentially slow down a vital decision-maker’s ability to react in a timely manner and stay on top of things quickly and easily?

3. Are the networks that the rest of us use on a daily basis really that easily hacked? It is a really scary thought that most of us are sending our most private information across these networks all the time but the powers-that-be are concerned about security issues for the President. I do understand that Obama is definitely more of a target for hackers than someone like me, my wife or my parents, but doesn’t the same fundamental issue exist?

3. Technological advances have helped all of us work smarter and faster. Is the government significantly behind the public in their use of technology because of security concerns or other reasons that have yet to be released? If they are, that worries me because I am sure there are other sectors out there that are ahead of most of us when it comes to technology and will use it to exploit any weaknesses we may have.

I don’t know why I am so fascinated by this conversation but I am and can’t wait to see how it all plays out. Anyone else watching this like I am?

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October 30, 2008

Recycling Your Electronics

Despite economic woes nationwide, more workers than ever appear primed to spend their holiday dollars on many of the latest consumer electronics, in large part as a tool to do their jobs better. That means loads of folks (I see you nodding) will be upgrading their old phones, computers, MP3s, game consoles and more.

If you or your organization are concerned about the potential for a season full of polluting e-waste, visit the Consumer Electronics Association’s handy site at www.myGreenElectronics.org for locations and news about the latest corporate take-back and recycling programs (Samsung announced its newest program this month). Consumer recycling of electronics is up by almost 30% since 2005, and manufacturers expect that number to grow quickly, especially as new corporate greening and recycling programs continue evolving to strive to meet consumer demands for greater eco-friendliness in the industry.

And before you buy your next beloved gizmo, you might want to turn to the online calculator on the site, which lets you determine how much energy your electronics equipment uses and how you can reduce it.

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October 24, 2008

Quick clicks: Performance reviews, flex schedules, and more

I've been collecting a bunch of links to share with you:

- Did you see the very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on why you should get rid of performance reviews? I don't know if I agree (although Scott might), but it's definitely a thought-provoking read.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel started a good discussion about flexible schedules.

- Kristin Clarke's post on associations and the financial crisis sparked some good posts by other bloggers: Bruce Hammond lists some questions we should be asking right now, Caron Mason suggests ways associations can help members impacted by the economy, and Tony Rossell points out that association membership can be a form of unemployment insurance. In addition, Kerry Stackpole writes on leadership in uncertain times

- Kevin Holland and David Patt respond to Scott Oser's post on whether or not attendees at association meetings are really ready for new meeting formats. Both of them raise important points about the negatives of some more interactive education sessions.

- David Patt also points to an interesting blog post, where the blogger in question and her commenters discuss the pros and cons of joining a professional association. It's an interesting glimpse at a potential member's thought process.

- Wes Trochlil is gathering information on associations that use their AMS successfully.

- Lindy Dreyer suggests that both age and generation are less important than we often think.

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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?

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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.

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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

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August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August 28, 2008

Vodcast: In defense of AMS

Mary Bowie, VP of Finance for the American Association of Museums, says software is no where near good enough at supplanting people in building relationships with her members. Give her a good transaction system built by people who know what associations do and that evolves as association needs evolve, and let staff and volunteers handle the business of analyzing and using member data. See the video on This Week in Associations:

Update: Due to a vendor's player change, the video cannot be embedded directly. To access the video in this post, please choose it from the playlist in the video player below.

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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.

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August 1, 2008

Vodcast: The need for a new management system

In this installment, ASAE & The Center's Chief Technology Officer Reggie Henry talks about the current state of association management systems and says its time for associations to look at systems that are based on building relationships, not tracking transactions.

Want to challenge Reggie? Ask him a question?

Drop a comment, and Reggie will respond with a post next week.

Update: Due to a vendor's player change, the video cannot be embedded directly. To access the video in this post, please choose it from the playlist in the video player below.

Next installment, which will be released in mid-August features an association executive who says her association management system is just fine, Reggie, and it will continue to evolve as association needs evolve. Plus, it has the added trust factor because it was built for associations by people with a knowledge of what associations do.

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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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April 25, 2008

Quick clicks: Dithering

- This week, Ann Oliveri had one of my favorite blog post titles in a while: The Knowing-Dithering Gap. I know I've seen that gap before.

- Are meeting attendees beginning to expect more opportunities to engage with presenters? Or can a lack of such engagement driving people away from traditional education events? Jeremiah Owyang at the Web Strategy by Jeremiah blog shares some direct experience with changing presentations based on audience response, and Krys Slovacek at the Gathering blog talks about creating engagement with audience response systems.

- Welcome to another relatively new association blogger: Chris Davis at the Beginning Marketer blog. Chris, thank you for blogging!

- Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog is launching a newsletter focused on free learning opportunities--great stuff for smaller associations or those forced to reduce their staff development budgets as the economy gets bumpy.

- If you've enjoyed Joe's posts on Acronym from the DigitalNow conference, you may also be interested in the official DigitalNow blog. They're doing some neat things with incorporating photos via Flickr and video into the blog, as well as providing a lot of presentation materials through the blog.

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March 20, 2008

Quick clicks: In with the new

- There's a new association blogger in town (at least, relatively new): Bob Wolfe of the Young Association Professional blog. I enjoyed his recent post on how he's using wikis to improve committee workflow at his association.

- The Association Forum of Chicagoland has launched a new YouTube channel. If you haven't seen the "Association Professionals Through the Ages" video they did a few years back, now's your chance (it's hysterical), but there are also more serious videos on topics like creating a business continuity plan and data mining. (Hat tip to Sue Pelletier, who linked to this from the face2face blog.)

- If you're interested in communications, the Institute for PR has started a new "Essential Knowledge Project" that may be of interest to you. So far they've collected papers on crisis communications, ethics and public relations, and trust and credibility--all publicly available.

- If you're interested in the relatively new idea of widgets, Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog has kindly collected links to more than 50 of them.

- Last but not least, this isn't really new, but it's good stuff: Jeff De Cagna and Cindy Butts have both posted their thoughts on mission statements. If you've ever suffered through hours of mission-statement wordsmithing, you might want to see what they have to say.

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February 5, 2008

Utopian, dystopian, or realist?

The latest edition of David Weinberger's self-described "intermittent" newsletter, JOHO (Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization) was recently released. The first article divides people into three categories:

Web utopian - pretty much what it sounds like, these people believe the web has and is fundamentally changing human society for the better.

Web dystopian - people who think the web is having a profound effect on our lives, but a profoundly negative effect.

Web realist - people who think utopians and dystopians build the web into much more than it is, that it enables some things but has significant limitations.

A quick aside - here's a juicy tidbit to get folks upset with me: Sometime in the not-to-distant future, I plan to wrote a post on the Myers Briggs... it won't be complimentary. One of the arguments will be it's detrimental to think of things in absolutes (thinking or feeling, for example).

Pulling this post back together, I think rather than putting somebody into one of Weinberger's categories, it's more accurate to think of everybody as being on a sliding scale, with utopian on one end and dystopian on the other. (I know, not exactly a brilliant deduction.)

My point in all of this is I'm guessing most people reading this are closer to utopian. And much like the way you're supposed to use the Myers Briggs to learn to interact with those around you based on their type, I think it's useful for web utopian leaners to think about two things when talking about technology with others: (1) does the person lean to utopian or dystopian? and (2) how much does the person really care?

Assessing those two things will help you frame your position in a way that will be most meaningful to the person you are talking to.

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February 1, 2008

How come nobody plays in my nice new sandbox?

Susan Hanley (author of Essential SharePoint 2007) made a point in her session, and it was the second time I’ve heard the point in just about the exact same way.

IT folks are building these internal networks to enhance efficiency and collaboration among staff (SharePoint, for example), but having a hard time convincing people to use the tools. The fact is, the email/folder style of collaboration and organization works for people—because they’ve found out how to make it work. It’s not like a new accounting software system that people have no choice but to learn and start using it.

Here are a few ideas that companies she has worked with have used to ramp up adoption:

Stall stories – every Wednesday a new story about how the collaborative space is being or could be used is posted. Posted where? Um, they’re “stall stories.”

“Get Sharp on SharePoint”—again, once a week there’s a 30-minute training session, 15 minutes demonstrating a technique or tactic and 15 answering questions about that technique or anything else folks want to ask about. To enhance the sessions, they were recorded, and the IT helpdesk was monitored to help hone the topics to be covered.

Get messages in front of people—maybe it’s a weekly email or a message that comes up when people log on. The idea is to detail a small success and share it.

Get in on every group meeting—it’s a no brainer to try to get on the agenda of all group meetings to share something about the new tools.

Finding the stories to share—bribery, it works. Pay people to share their stories. It doesn’t have to be a huge dollar amount, the second you attach a reward, you’ll get people actively telling you their stories.

Make it fun—one group developed a scavenger hunt throughout the intranet tool based on the board game Clue. If it’s well done, it will be accepted and successful.

Little reminders—one group used “birth announcements”—you know the kind attached to little candy bars with the customized wrappers—to announce the launch to staff. Another made custom sticky note pads. And there’s always the great standby: pizza or other food to entice people to come to meetings about the new solution.

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Google and you

David Clevinger and David Downey, both from the American Institute of Architects, presented on what went into the development of AIA's America's Favorite Architecture, in particular, the component that is incorporated into Google's Planet Earth product. You really should check out AIA's project, it's amazing in its richness, breadth, and functionality.

But I'd bet one of the questions on a lot of the attendees' minds was voiced when someone asked: "How did you get involved with Google?"

As they pointed out, Google is a company that builds tools to showcase information. They don't have information of their own, and so they are, essentially a beast that devours information with an insatiable hunger. It's not hard to put this idea together--many associations produce tons and tons of content. Google is hungry for it. Go to Google Labs--check out what they've been working on and use your imagination. How in the world could the things your members do relate to the tools Google is developing?

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Q&A from the Friday general session

To me, I think Technology Conference general session speaker Erica Driver, principal analyst with Forrester Research, was speaking about the workplace and what it will look like tomorrow. Not "tomorrow" as in a year or years away, but the tomorrow that has already begun to emerge.

There was a lot to consider in the session about not just what association staffs will be like, but also what the workspace of association members will be like, and what role associations should play in those spaces.

I thought the Q&A at the end of the session was especially useful, so here it is, with apologies for capturing the gist rather than a word-for-word transcript.

What applications does she use for her individual workplace?

She said high bandwidth connections was a must. She also noted her and her group used instant messaging, shared calendars, web conferencing tools, and each had their own conference bridge to conduct conference calls. They have laptops with webcams (though she notes she’s still not comfortable with the webcams). Finally, she said that it’s becoming a kind of service that companies are offering where they’re developing kits and offering packages of products and services based on the needs of the workers who will use them.

An association had started implementing Microsoft’s SharePoint and wanted to know how to go about getting staff adoption of the tool.

Driver said the question was one of the top questions IT managers are facing today. She said she thinks having a governance model—meaning a model of what is supposed to be done on SharePoint and how—and sticking to it. It’s tricky, she said. Your staff is probably used to emailing a Microsoft Office document to several others, asking for feedback, and then compiling the changes. It’s not going to be an easy switch for people to all of sudden abandon that model and use a shared workspace. The keys are the managers and team leaders. For it to happen, these people have to force it, to not accept the old model.

Noting that work flows to the most competent person until it overwhelms them – IT folks are imposed upon, but you are advocating getting outside the line of management. How do you ensure that slackers won’t delegate all the necessary or least savory tasks and spend their time chatting or making new networking connections when other work needs to be done?

What we need is a shift in the way people are valued, answered Driver. She said she thinks the people who participate, the ones who answer other people’s questions and participate in helpful ways on other people’s projects will rise to the top and the deadweight will be noticed.

What are the one or two things that absolutely have to be in place for an individualized information workplace to be possible?

The single most critical success factor is buy-in from the top. IT may be able to see that a helter skelter approach to web 2.0 technologies and collaboration tools and projects is the wrong road, but if there’s no executive at the top to quell the political issues, IT won’t be heard.

She said a second critical success factor, particularly attributable to associations, is that the initiatives tie back to the highest level mission and objectives the organization is focusing on.

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Abandonment

Maybe I've been under a rock for a while, but I had not heard of this no-brainer of an idea.

When you have folks filling in a form, say a registration form on your site, make email one of the early captures. If they don't complete the form, send them an email to solicit feedback or offer other means to turn the potential customer into an actual customer.

As Amy Hissrich pointed out in the session she cohosted on web analytics, this is standard practice at NetFlix. "You start to signup, stop, and the next day you get an email inviting you to continue the process."

Her cohost, Suni Patel of eShow2000/Netronix Corporation, related an experience where she had started to purchase flowers but didn't complete the process. She was sent a coupon to try to entice her to complete the process.

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The fruitless fight for space on the home page

Just so Reggie doesn't feel like I'm bashing him all the time, in a Tech Conference session he said something that resonates very well with me:

"People will be less and less patient with going to the home page to navigate through your site."

I remember I was shocked when I was told the percentage of people who access ASAE & The Center's website but never access the home page. (Sorry, I don't remember the number, maybe I'll update this post later with the number if I can get it.) It makes since though, when you think about it. Assuming you have a decent-sized site open to the public and you update it with some regularity, chances are most of the people accessing your site get there from Google or some other search engine.

The point? Well one of them is that there's a need for staff and volunteer education. Everybody wants a piece of the home page for their pet project, and those in charge of the website have to guard the home page ferociously. Turns out, that real estate is getting less and less important. The thing for these folks to think about is what are the top five or ten entrance pages to the site, and does their project work on any of those pages?

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January 31, 2008

Project Management - An IT Imperative?

A theme I kept hearing in sessions and conversation today was around project management, and the importance of having clearly-defined project owners who shepherd large inter-departmental projects to completion. That's not particularly new - we all pretty much agree on the importance of that role. However, I noticed today that technology staffers often end up playing that all-important project management role. I know that's true where I work, and it was also true in a number of circumstances that I heard about today. So, why is that? Are IT people really better project managers than other staff members? I doubt it. Do we communicate somehow more effectively than other staff members? I doubt that too. Was there some magical project management curriculum embedded in whatever training we underwent to become technology professionals? Nope, at least not where I went to school! So what is it?

Here's one idea: At least where I work, IT sits in the catbird seat because pretty much everything our association does has some kind of technology component. Therefore, IT tends to be more aware of the breadth of activities going on in the organization, and we also have established relationships with many staff stakeholders. Plus, we are uniquely qualified to evaluate which tools and technologies would be appropriate for the task at hand. When you put all these things together, it seems natural that IT will be the ones to run the show when it comes time to get the next big project started. My question: is this really optimal? Is it sustainable to expect your IT people to drive all of these projects? Does that foster an "us vs. them" attitude among staff? More importantly, should we be encouraging organizational awareness and building project management competency in other parts of our staff?

What do you all think?

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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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December 22, 2007

Sharepoint prediction for 2008

CMSWatch has published twelve drummers drumming. Sorry, I mean twelve predictions for 2008. One of these has to do with Sharepoint, which has experienced frenzied adoption by organizations since it came on the scene a few years ago.

Unfortunately, the field is still short on Sharepoint-smart consultants, and implementation can be expensive, due to the need for heavy customization. Since Sharepoint is a kind of Swiss army knife for collaborative tools, it can be more a razor edge than a honed tool, at least out of the box. Here's CMSWatch's prediction:

MOSS enters the valley of disappointment
SharePoint will continue to grow at viral rates as a low cost, low touch, document collaboration system. But in 2008 we will see the start of a noticeable backlash, particularly among larger enterprises.
The backlash will be two-fold. First larger enterprises will exhibit major compliance and litigation discovery issues across numerous unmanaged and unaccountable SharePoint locations. You will also see a backlash against sizable development costs and times to build maintainable applications in the MOSS environment. With the more complex SharePoint projects struggling to launch, customers are realizing a disconnect between Redmond's heavy promotion and the realities of a product that is significantly less out-of-the-box than most expect.

So, what do you think? Has Sharepoint installed and performed as advertised? Is it more trouble than worth? Or has it provided the expected ROI?

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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.

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July 12, 2007

Posts you shouldn’t miss

The association/nonprofit blog community has been posting some great stuff lately—perhaps summer is recharging our batteries! I thought I’d pass along a few links to posts I found particularly interesting.

• Jamie Notter argues for the importance of healthy conflict on a senior staff team and, as a bonus, gives five tips on how to handle it productively.
• Ben Martin provides some analysis the current status of online social networking and why associations should be getting on board this train now.
• For the membership folks out there, two complimentary posts: Joe Grant discusses some important steps to take to determine if you’re solving your members’ problems, and Tony Rossell provides a helpful template for a dashboard to capture key information about your membership program.
• On the Bamboo Project blog, Michele Martin has some great ideas on how to build a better conference.

What good stuff have you been reading lately? Feel free to add your two cents in comments!

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May 31, 2007

Second Life marches on

As another entry in the annals of “look who’s on Second Life now,” this article caught my eye: Swedes open embassy in Second Life.

Apparently the new digital embassy will include an art exhibition, pictures of Sweden, fact sheets, and radio news via iPod—but no consular services.

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May 1, 2007

"Ladder" your social media marketing efforts

Forrester Research recently released a report, Social Technographics, which is a must-read for associations ramping up social media marketing efforts. Charlene Li of Forrester writes:

"Many companies approach social computing as a list of technologies to be deployed as needed – a blog here, a podcast there – to achieve a marketing goal. But a more coherent approach is to start with your target audience and determine what kind of relationship you want to build with them, based on what they are ready for."

The report recommends a ladder approach to social media.
ladder_3.gif
Consumers are grouped into six different groups: Inactives, Spectators, Joiners, Collectors, Critics and Creators. Associations can use the ladder to see which media marketing tools should be deployed first. (Or poll your members and see where they fall on the ladder - your "consumers" might be very different than the national average.)

Even if you don't poll your own members, the research here is a great resource to show others at your association why social media marketing efforts are needed. After all, if 52% are inactive, that still leaves 48% who are active at some level. (Pretty big numbers)

[ Thanks to Sally Falkow of The Leading Edge blog for information on the report ]

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April 10, 2007

Cybermobbing just got easier

Did you find yourself scratching your head and saying, "so what?" as you read about the Cybermobbing trend in Mapping the Future of Your Association (1 MB PDF), ASAE's most recent environmental scanning project? The trend reads:

Cybermobbing: The channels of political infl uence are broadening to include digital broadcast media that offer specialized forums for political discussion and Web-based communities that practice “swarm advocacy” and “smart mobbing.” To attract support for their positions in this crowded public arena—and to gain the attention of elected offi cials, regulators, and agencies—associations must develop a creative, multi-pronged, and Web-savvy approach to advocacy.
I suggest that you read the Wikipedia entry on smart mobs referenced here. The Mississippi Hospital Association, employer of one of my fellow Acronym bloggers, Shawn Lea, is already using tactics rooted in cybermobbing. Using text messages, the Mississippi Hospital Association can inform their constituents that a vote on a particular issue is about to occur, and that they should phone their representative to advocate on the association's position.

I know what you're thinking: So what?

There's a relatively new (and free) web service that has recently captured the tech community's attention in a big way: Twitter. Twitter allows anyone to create a text messaging network in a matter of seconds and send text messages (or tweets, as they're called by Twitter users) via the web, instant message or cell phone to anyone who chooses to opt in to the network. The service is getting more popular by the hour, and businesses are already figuring out ways to leverage Twitter. Bands send reminders about tonight's gig. Small businesses use it as a kind of mini blog. Realtors use it

The barrier to entry on mass texting used to be quite high. Now it's just a few clicks away. How could you use Twitter in an association? Here are a few ideas:

  • Use it during conferences to update attendees about changes in the schedule or room locations. Communicating with attendees in the hours following the fire at ASAE & The Center's most recent Great Ideas Conference could have been greatly facilitated with text messages.
  • Use it with your employees to inform them if the office is closing due to weather or power outage or some other emergency.
  • Use it to provide up to the minute reporting on important developments in the legislative, regulatory or judicial arenas.
  • Sign up for Twitter, get a glimpse of what it's about, and I'm sure you can come up with more great ideas. Here are two Twitter clones, though to be fair, Txtmob pre-dates Twitter. Txtmob and Jaiku.

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    January 28, 2007

    New Life For Moore's Law

    Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore defined the tenet that the power of computer processors doubles every 18 months. “But this axiom is more a historical observation than a guarantee, and engineers had recently become increasingly skeptical about whether the rate of progress could be maintained,” wrote Alan Sipress in today’s Washington Post. That all changed Friday when, after ten years of effort, Intel announced a new 45-nanometer transistor, a microscopic switch in computer chips that is so small “more than 300 can fit in a red blood cell.”

    So just in case you thought the steam was seeping out of an economy enabled by technological productivity, think again. Where do you think we will go from here?

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    January 23, 2007

    Social network overkill

    I admit it, I may be too rabid about the social connectivity of the so-called Web 2.0 technology. For a person like me, it's important to read things like this article in Sunday's New York Times. A summary: social networking, engagement -- bloated and overused terms.

    Score one for Richard Skilos; he's right about that.

    Reading between the lines, he's saying Web 2.0 is hype. I have to believe he's wrong, but from time to time I need to consider he may be right.

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    December 13, 2006

    Lessons from the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society

    The light-hearted World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society (WRPSS) is an extraordinarily successful experiment in viral/word of mouth communications. Although delightfully silly, WRPSS offers up some valuable lessons for those of us who--perhaps--take ourselves too seriously

    WRPSS founder and managing director Doug Walker was the luncheon speaker this week at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Washington, D.C. Doug's day job is Interactive Strategist at an ad agency TBWA\Toronto. He identified four keys to their success: authority; mutation; participation; and, "accretion."

    The WRPSS is the authority quoted by the New York Times when the childhood game of rock, paper, scissors is invoked to resolve gridlocked decisions by art auction houses and state court judges. How did they become the authority? They said they were. Interestingly enough, visitors attracted by word of mouth added their strategies and experience to a long threaded message, which in turn became a book. And, as we all know, publishing a book makes you an authority.

    The idea quickly mutated, adding more of the trappings of an association, including paid memberships and meetings. What the founders learned was that they had to quickly mutate to keep up with their members' fantasy. Last year their annual world championship made all the network and cable news shows with the winner featured on every late night night talk show. Check out the NPR story on their mythological history.

    Participation was key to their success. At the meet, they treated competitors like athletes and groupies like special interest groups. But the most telling lesson learned was "accretion." Walker said that participants grew the mythology, identifying with the group, and each step of WRPSS' development layered on the last. He said you could have never launched it as it now exists, but each activity led to the next or "accretion."

    "A few people played their roles (leaders) and we attracted more and more people," Walker said. In fact, they were so successful a producer from Fox News covering the championship launched a competing organization.

    The lessons from social media not only make for a powerful fable, but also a game plan for any start-up associations, lessons not unlike those now being learned by WOMMA.

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    November 30, 2006

    Google shutters Answers

    They lost.

    On Tuesday, Google announced that their Google Answers product would be shut down after attracting a mere 800 users. Many are speculating that Google's version of an Answers product was doomed from the start because of the fee attached to using the service, of which Google took a small percentage. On the other hand, Yahoo!Answers, a free product, has attracted 60 million users.

    In some corners, chatter is bubbling up that the better of the two services lost. Why? Because the answers at Google Answers were provided by real experts, not laymen. But anyone can post an answer at Yahoo!Answers. On the web, it looks like free trumps quality -- for now, anyway.

    Does this extend to association work? You bet it does. One of my main take-aways is that members may be developing even less tolerance for middleman tactics, like taking a cut of a fee between buyer and seller.

    What can you apply to your work from this story?

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    November 22, 2006

    Podcasts gaining in popularity

    New research released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals that there are almost 50% more podcast downloaders today as there were in February 2006. Men are almost twice as likely to download podcasts as women.

    A significant data point for me is that there doesn't seem to be much difference in the ages of those who are downloading podcasts. In fact, those aged 50-64 were the fastest-growing age bracket for the period February - August 2006. People aged 18-29 still lead the category, with 14% overall downloading podcasts, but those aged 30-49 and 50-64 are both holding their own at 12%.

    A common objection to podcasting is "our members won't listen." Well, it's obvious they're listening to something!

    Another interesting finding from the February-April survey, against which this most recent study was compared, is 20% of American adults and 26% of internet users report ownership of an iPod or MP3 player. This figure has certainly grown since April, and will grow by leaps and bounds over the holiday giving season.

    Podcasts are becoming mainstream. Check out Jeff De Cagna's Social Media Tracking Wiki for a list of known association-produced podcasts.

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    November 17, 2006

    An open forum

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

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

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

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    WeAreSmarterThanMe.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    November 9, 2006

    Advocacy 2.0: Start your own talk radio station

    blog%20logo%20beta.gif
    Have you ever felt like if you just had the vehicle to explain your advocacy agenda to your members and the public - one on one - that you could convince them how important your issues were? Just start your own talk radio station.

    Your BlogShow lets you host your own talk show online for FREE. You can receive live callers, interview guests and broadcast to an unlimited number of listeners. All you need is any type of phone, an internet connection and something to say. All your listeners need is Windows Media Player to listen or any type of phone should they choose to call in.

    Once you start your own BlogShow, you have a FREE Host Page where you can post contact information and upcoming shows. (Only one show per day is allowed. That's the only restriction.)

    You can receive as many live callers as you want during your blogshow segment FREE OF CHARGE. However, you can only have up to five simultaneous live callers. The rest will wait in a queue.

    BlogTalkRadio will record all shows and archive them for you in MP3 and Podcast formats for FREE. You and your listeners will have the option to download and/or stream them from your Host Channel page. You also have the ability to delete your show from your archives (because it will still be searchable and accessible from the Host Channel page) or edit its tags and description in the case that the show went in a different direction than expected.

    And did I mention that it's FREE?

    (One of the very favorite words of we with very little budgets!) ;)

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    October 27, 2006

    Advocacy 2.0

    Everything is 2.0 these days. Web 2.0. PR 2.0. And it seems like there needs to be some exploration of Advocacy 2.0 in the association world.

    Campaigns - for both social issues and political candidates - are largely being fought (and won or lost) online now. Web sites, blogs, vlogs, mashups, video sharing, photo sharing, social networks, mobile messaging, mapping. These tools are now being used by the candidates. It's time for the advocates to catch up.

    More than 1,600 candidates for office around the country posted profiles on Facebook, according to Dan Solomon in Online Media Daily. Many candidates have also taken to MySpace to interest a younger demographic in volunteering and contributing to campaigns. And it seems to be working.

    Solomon remarks that any organization with a political or social agenda should be doing the same. Kind of sounds like an association, doesn't it?

    And Advocacy 2.0 is not Web only. Two hundred and twenty million Americans now use cell phones, PDAs, BlackBerries and other devices every day. In August, I mentioned TxtVoter as a free tool that your association could use to allow members to register to vote via mobile phone. Mobile Voter offers a similar service. The New York State Democratic Party has just created a Mobile Action Network to connect with its most dedicated activists.

    At the Mississippi Hospital Association, we use One Fast Call to give our members the option to receive our advocacy alerts via cell phone. (Many of our members who work in hospitals are not sitting in front of a computer. We had to find a solution for a fast response when needed.) I record one voice mail message into the system, select the groups I want to send it and it goes to all selected. We promise members that we will only use this method to contact them when the issue is very important and time-sensitive.

    Charitable organizations are now exploring ways to collect and process donations from cell phones. Association PACs should be doing the same.

    In the coming weeks, I am going to seek out tips and tools for associations to expand their advocacy programs to encompass new media. When possible, I will use the tools myself and tell you how they work. If you have any suggestions of tools you've used or if you would like more information about a certain program, leave a comment here or e-mail me at slea@mhanet.org and I will look into it.


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    October 6, 2006

    The great spam battle

    It was looking like spam was going to win the battle, but, risking the ire of the nuisance gods, it appears that we've come out on top. At least for now. For those of you with blogs or considering them, I asked John Stone from our service provider to explain what we've done to combat the comment spam:

    "Over the last few months, the delivery of spam and junk posts through Web based forms has risen significantly. Comment forms like those at the bottom of ASAE's blog site can easily receive hundreds of junk posts a day. While it may be simple to delete each post, it's a time-consuming process and ultimately degrades the quality and value of the site.

    To reduce automated posts, many sites have turned to reverse Turing tests, more commonly known as CAPTCHA. CAPTCHA is simply an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart,” and is trademarked by Carnegie Mellon University.

    A CAPTCHA reduces automated posts by asking a question that only a human would be able to answer. The most popular test challenges a user to enter obscured text embedded within an image. You'll notice these graphics on many reservation system sites, online stores, and at the bottom of ASAE's own comment form.

    commentform.jpg

    While it is relatively easy for a person with good eyesight to see and enter 9059, an automated computer program or “bot”, is essentially blind to anything but the publicly available HTML source. A good CAPTCHA program, will insure that there is no textual reference to the image's content, making it easy for us to identify the real posts.

    html.jpg

    While CAPTCHA does a great job blocking automated computer software, it isn't perfect. Common problems with a visual CAPTCHA are that it can make it very difficult for those with visual disabilities to participate and it's only a matter of time before automated software includes optical character recognition that does it's best to decipher your obscured image.

    Deciding whether your site should use a CAPTCHA is probably more difficult than actually implementing one. Many Web based applications already include plug-ins that simply need to be enabled; many others will make such tests standard features in their next releases. For custom sites, CAPTCHA is still an option and can be installed within a few hours once a few key elements are configured.

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    September 21, 2006

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    I know I have now.

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    September 12, 2006

    14 FREE Online Tools Your Association Should Be Using Now

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

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

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

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

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

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    August 29, 2006

    11 FREE Online Tools Your Association Should Be Using Now

    In this day and age, small companies (and associations) can no longer whine that we don't have the budgets of our Goliath counterparts. The Web has, in a sense, created somewhat of an equal footing from the smallest to the largest of associations. Here are 11 FREE online tools that your association should be using now.

    1. Blogger.com - Blogger.com is not perfect, but it is free. My first two Mississippi Hospital Association blogs - Operation Healthy Vote and Cover Mississippi - are on Blogger platforms. Once I saw that it worked and it was doable and it did in fact make my job easier, I switched to Typepad because it has categories and gave me more opportunities to customize the look of the blog. For $149 a year, I can create an unlimited number of blogs (under the same basic http address). And blogs aren't just for reaching out to your members or yelling from the electronic bully pulpit. Most associations could easily turn their weekly e-newsletter into a blog format. (People hear the word blog and think "ranting lunatics," but it is a publishing platform - no more, no less.) If you're worried about the change - whether it will work for your or not - do both. Send your e-newsletter out as usual and use the blog as an archive of the newsletter. (The material would then be searchable.)

    2. Del.icio.us - Because of the tagging capabilities and the community aspect, it beats that long list of links on most Web sites (which even we still have). Here's mine.

    3. Flickr - A free account allows you to upload 15 or so pictures. Pay a little more ($40, I think) and you can upload much more. You can tag photos, divide them into groups, search your photos only or all of them. Members who set up accounts also can count you as a "friend" and you can see all of their pictures too as they are added.

    4. Topix.net - Search for information about your industry or your association that was reported in the last 24 hours. (You could become your own electronic clipping service, in other words.)

    5. Rollyo.com - Search up to 25 sites of your choosing at the same time. For example, if you look on MHA's Rollyo page, I have a Hospital News search that searches all the major outlets for hospital news at one time. I also have a Health Policy search that searches through policy-oriented health sites. It can also be used for a quick, easy and free search engine for your own site.

    6. Technorati.com - Start tagging all of the information you put online, whether in blog format or not, and it will be much easier for your members (and search engines) to find. You can also use it for research - as they track what 50 million blogs are saying. Topix.net for media, Technorati for blogs.

    7. Txtvoter.org - Allow your members to register to vote via cell phone free of charge - and even personalize how they receive the e-mails (still free of charge).

    8. FeedBlitz - Let members receive your information how they want it, when they want it, free of charge to you. Members can opt to receive your updates daily via e-mail. But only the ones who want it. So the ones who don't want it aren't deleting your information daily without reading it at all.

    9. Skype - I admittedly have not used this yet, but I've heard that they have a free conference call feature. You can conference unlimited numbers - each of you just pays for the price of the phone call.

    10. Wikipedia - At a minimum, associations should be making sure that entries pertinent to your industry and association have correct information. You can also supply new entries for topics pertinent to your field.

    11. YouTube.com - Add video clips to your site without eating up your own bandwidth...or paying for it.

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    August 22, 2006

    Mission Without You

    I'm at ASAE & the Center's annual meeting this week. I've been having lots of conversations with friends and colleagues around topics that could all generally be filed under the Web 2.0 banner (since it's such a mushy definition). The conversations and environment of the meeting have clarified something for me about the potential impact of empowering individuals and small groups to have much greater impact via the Web.

    In short: people can now pursue the mission of an association, with or without them, by connecting, organizing and acting via the Web. The national association is no longer a pre-requisite for pursuit of the mission.

    To highly web-savvy people this probably sounds like a bit of a non-sequitor but it creates a fundamental identity crisis for associations. What is the role of the association if your members can pursue your mission without you and do so just as effectively, if not more so, in some cases?

    I do not believe this spells the end of associations. Too many people have been burned on predicting that one. :) But I do believe it provides new opportunities to facilitate the mission and purpose of your association in a much broader context than simply through the direct operations of the association.

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    August 14, 2006

    "20,000 aging journalists" and your association's online communications strategy

    The newspaper industry is all abuzz today with the news that the Columbia Journalism Review has slashed its online budget to fund a direct mail campaign for its print edition. Screams of cutting off its head to spite its face ensued - especially from those who were slashed right out of jobs. I was reading David Hirschman's coverage of the cuts in Editor & Publisher - at an emotional distance, just interesting stuff. But it hit me how close to home this hits for most associations when I got to this paragraph:

    By shifting resources to the print edition of the magazine, CJR is essentially saying that it would rather serve the 20,000 aging journalists who still like to get a paper edition in their mailboxes (and attract a few more perhaps), than continue or expand the dynamic, globally accessible product Lovelady has created over the past year and a half.

    Whenever someone contacts me for advice on how to bring more communications online, the first question they always ask is, What about the print pieces? The questioner rightly assumes that this is going to create double work - he's going to be doing an online publication and a dead-tree edition too. I then have to admit that this is generally true (at least in my case).

    Columbia Journalism School dean Nick Lemann, in a recent New Yorker article analyzing the growing influence of the Web and citizen journalism, stated: "As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away." Then he cut his own online budget by 45%.

    Why? Lemann explained in a statement that "everybody in journalism knows, [the Web] does not yet produce revenues commensurate with its quality."

    Hirschman doesn't buy that argument - and neither do the thousands of companies spending millions of dollars on online ads each year. He points out that even The New York Times has diverted monies from direct mail campaigns to online behavioral targeting.

    Hirschman ends his article with another statement directly applicable to associations: "In 2006 you can't rescue floundering print products by relying on more print."

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    August 13, 2006

    The No Fly Annual Meeting

    The news this past week has me thinking about what the association world would be like if business travel as we know it ends.

    Seems far fetched, and I hope it is, but the UK has begun to ban electronics from carry-on luggage on their flights. How many of you are confident that a checked laptop will make it to your destination unscathed? Or even arrive? I know of people who are contemplating going to London via Paris and the Chunnel in order to avoid UK flight restrictions. Such draconian measures seem likely to depress business and other travel.

    If these trends continue and spread, I can see business travel by air drying up significantly. The first things to be cut in that kind of travel-unfriendly environment are often non-essential meetings, which basically defines the association event.

    How could you hold an annual meeting or convention in that environment? One though I've had is that you could convene simultaneous local meetings within drive distance of a majority of your membership. Each locality would recruit their own concurrent speakers. The national organization could provide keynotes via satellite, a common web site, virtual exhibit hall and supplemental online community space for attendees around the country to interact and network. It would have to be a different economic model, of course, but the current one would not survive the death of air travel.

    I am interested in what you think about this idea or other options under the assumption that business air travel might be severely restricted for an extended period of time. How might associations innovate around this kind of challenge?

    (Update: News this morning says that laptops are being allowed back onto UK flights.)

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    August 3, 2006

    Long Tail wagging the dog?

    Thank God for people like Jeff De Cagna who elevate the level of discourse in the association community beyond the simple concepts. In comments posted to this blog, Jeff suggests that association executives need to fully consider the ramifications for our organizations of an emerging economic theory called the Long Tail, not just dismiss it out of hand. I read the article written by Jamie Notter and Jeff when it first hit Associations Now back in February 2006 and posted a few thoughts about it back then. In the time since I jotted down those thoughts, I've considered this more fully, and in my view, the Long Tail doesn't translate well to associations for these four reasons:

    1. In order for the economics of the Long Tail to be fully realized, there has to be a sufficient number of consumers to take advantage of the myriad products and services being offered. I would venture to guess that an association would need an audience of about 100,000 or more in order to begin to see results from a Long Tail strategy. Pragmatically, associations' audiences are their members, and I concede that every association has the opportunity to sell to nonmembers as well.

    2. Related to the first point, the Long Tail can't be fully harnessed unless there is a sufficient diversity within an audience. The blessing (and the curse) of associations is that our audiences are very homogeneous groups. How diverse can our Long Tail products and services really be if we want to sell them to an audience with relatively similar needs?

    3. Association executives are accountable to their organizations' tax exempt missions or purposes. Any association executive that wants to pursue a long tail strategy will have to determine if such activity falls within the scope of their association's objectives. The task of developing a diverse line of products to satisfy a Long Tail strategy may very well fail this test.

    4. The Long Tail seems to run contrary to another economic principle that seems to work quite well for associations. It's the principle outlined in books like Blue Ocean Strategy and Purple Cow. Do something remarkable and something that no one else is doing, and charge a lot of money for it. This is a strategy that, in my mind, stands a far better chance of generating a high rate of return than a Long Tail strategy.

    Even if your evaluation of the Long Tail strategy suggests that your association should pursue it, there's still the problem of actually developing the thousands of products to fill your inventory. Who will do it?

    Staff? How many staff would it take to develop thousands of new products and services? And aren't we all struggling with what programs to cut?

    Volunteers? Are you finding enough committed volunteers to undertake projects like these?

    Will your association become a reseller of other companies' products?

    There is lower-hanging fruit out there. More targeted segmentation, better member service, more innovative products and services that carry a higher value and a higher profit. If you want my advice, go after those.

    And here's a deep thought: The association industry itself is the long tail.

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    August 1, 2006

    The Long Tail: Embracing Subtle Shades of Gray

    Alerted by reader Lenora G. Knapp, Ph.D., from Knapp & Associates, of a Wall Street Journal article critical of Chris Anderson's The Long Tail -- a new book that has been favorably mentioned on this site, I asked Jeff De Cagna, who coauthored "Associations in the Age of the Long Tail" in the February 2006 issue of Associations Now to craft a response. Here's what Jeff had to say:

    "In a recent WSJ article, Lee Gomes offers a strong critique of The Long Tail, the influential new book written by WIRED Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson explaining the emergence of a marketplace of niches that is undermining the economics of a hits-driven media and entertainment culture. According to Anderson, the Long Tail phenomenon recognizes that not everyone is interested only in the top-selling books, movies or music. There is a considerable diversity of interests in the modern-day reading, listening and viewing audience, not to mention many enterprising content creators who use more powerful tools and technologies to develop the kind of genuine content variety that they and others want. (Just take a look at what’s happening at YouTube if you’re not sure this is true!) Google and other search engines, as well as peer recommendations and other filtering tools, simplify the process of finding such niche content, making it more economical and, quite possibly, more profitable to serve these very small markets. Amazon.com and Netflix, among other businesses, have benefited from the Long Tail effect and Chris Anderson’s original article, blog and book have become fodder for new thinking about content-based business models in the early 21st century

    "We’re delighted to leave the detailed response to the Gomes article to Chris, who has already posted to his blog on this topic. We strongly encourage you to read what he has written. But in the February 2006 issue of Associations Now, Jamie Notter and I published an article about the implications of the Long Tail concept for associations, and we think this is an important moment to share a few words of concern about the state of our profession’s approach to new ideas, as well as some encouragement to association innovators who are as intrigued by Long Tail possibilities as we are.

    "Our primary worry is that a handful of critical articles about the Long Tail will be enough to forever ruin any possibility for genuine discourse around this very powerful idea in the association community. The backlash may be inevitable but the response of association leaders is not. From our vantage point, however, association executives appear to be more interested than ever before in getting the absolute right answers to highly complex business problems. Tried-and-true solutions and so-called “best practices” seem to dominate every conversation, and the window for exploring promising or untested concepts seems to be narrowing with each passing day. You might say that something of a “short tail” has developed in the intellectual evolution of our profession. Indeed, we may operate today as a hits-driven marketplace interested only in proven ideas that are sure to work, even though such certainty is nothing more than an illusion in today’s operating environment. We no longer live in a world with very many black and white answers. All of us need to do more to get comfortable with many subtle shades of gray.

    "So instead of ignoring or withdrawing from the debate about the deeper meaning of the Long Tail for associations, we challenge all association leaders to actively engage in it. We strongly believe that the Long Tail offers associations the chance to realize their full potential both strategically and financially. We don’t pretend to have all of the answers about how to tap into that potential, but we’re certain that great ideas to do that will emerge from the kind of rich and thoughtful dialogue to which we know the association community has traditionally aspired. And to our kindred spirits, the association innovators, who share our fascination with what the Long Tail can teach us, we urge you to sustain your personal commitment to pushing new ideas by internalizing the words of Albert Einstein, who we quote in the article, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” It is certainly one of our mantras for genuine association leadership today and going forward, and it should be one of yours as well."

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    July 20, 2006

    Findability resource

    A few weeks ago David Gammel wrote a post on the idea of findability -- a Web navigation issue. Yesterday, The Washington Post had an interesting online chat with Peter Morville, author of Ambient Findability.

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    July 19, 2006

    Journalists relay what is expected from an online newsroom

    A good online press room is a must for any entity but is especially important in the association world. Journalists often contact associations for remarks on various topics that affect our industry or main constituency. An annual survey conducted by TEK Group can help take the guesswork out of what reporters want in an online press room. (More than 5,000 journalists were polled with almost a 2 percent reply returned.)

    According to the survey, almost 99 percent of journalists now believe a company should have an online newsroom, a 20 percent increase. Reporter's top-five most important features include press releases (92 percent), a search module (85 percent), PR contacts (84 percent), photographs (81 percent) and product information (76 percent). Reporters also want phone numbers for PR contacts, not just e-mail addresses.

    Read highlights from the report here. See a breakdown of all questions asked and the reporters' answers here.

    (And national studies aside, we should not forget to periodically ask the journalists we work with most often what would be most useful to them in their everyday work too.)

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    July 11, 2006

    Death of the Anonymous Web?

    According to Hitwise, social networking site MySpace.com has laid claim to new bragging rights: Most Visited Site on the Web.

    If you're not sure what MySpace is, read this.

    Conventional wisdom states that the Internet is, among many other things, an outlet for anonymous communication, even though we all know that our every click and data transmission can be (and is) recorded by the computers that handle our data. Admit it: You’ve typed and sent things that you would never have said in conversation. Internet users want privacy, right?

    That's why, on the surface, MySpace seems like such an anomaly. If the Internet is a place where users can be anonymous, then why are millions of people divulging personal, identifiable details about themselves to millions of other people? A plausible explanation is that there are some other factors at play, and this phenomenon cannot be attributed entirely to adolescent carelessness.

    Is it possible that anonymity is not all it's cracked up to be? In previous posts to Acronym, on our blogs, and during a session at a recent conference, David Gammel and I have discussed the economics of attention, and how attention can be viewed as currency. If the attention of our peers and people in general is a form of currency, could it be that people are actually trying to attract attention, using blogs, podcasts and other social media outlets to get it? If this is true, what are the implications for associations?

    Most associations recognize members in one form or another, bestowing attention on them. We have awards for star volunteers. A profile of a member with an interesting hobby in the magazine. Periodic lists of new members. But if members are truly eager for attention, is this enough?

    How can associations give members the attention they crave? This is an interesting new dynamic of member relations that needs to be explored.

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    Internet video is taking over as tools to teach and sell

    psa_burnett.jpeg
    Freedom From Smoking® public service announcements featuring Carol Burnett
    - American Lung Association of California

    In May, 72% of Web users in the U.S. connected at home via broadband, compared to 57% during the same period last year, according to research firm Nielsen/NetRatings. The increasing use of broadband has, in part, allowed the video explosion we've all seen on the Web recently. And maybe it's time to rethink the role of video in the association world.

    We've all seen the anniversary video, the history video, the volunteer thank-you video, the trade-show highlights video, the year-in-review video. But what could we provide online in short video segments that could teach our members new things? Something where telling is just not effective as showing.

    So I went in search of what associations are using video online and what they are featuring. I started with a Google Video search. Interestingly, most of the examples of association videos are used as examples on the Web sites of the companies who produced them, but are nowhere to be seen on the association's Web site. (Which begs the question to me, how many videos are sitting gathering dust on some bookshelf right now that we could all have posted on our Web site?)

    But some did provide video examples we could all learn from:

    - The United States Golf Association has educational videos online on turf management (and I don't even play golf but when I see the dead grass in the video I understand why aerating is so important now)
    - The American Pyrotechnics Association shows members how to set up safe fireworks displays on floating barges (This is actually housed on the OSHA site.)
    - The American Lung Association of California has video PSAs available online (in English and in Spanish)

    I'm not advocating video for video's sake. If I'm going to try a new recipe at home, all I need are the ingredients and the instructions. But if I want to learn how to dice an onion like a professional chef to use in that recipe, it's a bit harder to learn by written instructions.

    Sometimes showing is much better than telling.

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    June 28, 2006

    Podcasting from MHA's 2006 Leadership Conference

    Right after Christmas, I started talking to Jeff De Cagna about how I could interview attendees and speakers at the Mississippi Hospital Association's annual Leadership Conference. He gave several suggestions and I went with an Edirol digital mp3 recorder. It's fairly easy to use, and I hope won't be as intimidating as some other set-ups to the folks I'm interviewing.

    Here's my first recording. Registration is just beginning, so I'm about to head downstairs.

    If you want to follow along and see how it goes, I will tag all of the entries with Leadership Conference 2006 on our main news blog. This year is our 75th anniversary celebration so I will be asking members to reflect on the past and talk about what they see as the big issues ahead for hospitals in the next 75 years. (I've only got one entry up so far.)

    Thanks again, Jeff, for all the help!

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    June 27, 2006

    Attention Economy Unsession Reports

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

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

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

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    Creating a Network Effect of Member Value

    I spoke last week to the Board and senior staff of a large association about Web 2.0 and what these technologies mean for associations. I was asked by the moderator to boil down the single greatest value of Web 2.0 for associations. For me, one of the greatest lessons is the idea of creating network effect businesses where the product or service is more valuable to each person the more people use or purchase it.

    Associations must create a network effect of member value in everything we do. In fact, I believe that associations are better positioned to create a network effect than most other businesses and organizations. We start as informal networks! But I think we move away from this over time as organizations mature and build up a bureaucratic middle.

    Imagine how much value your association could create for your members if a network effect of value is built into your services and products. The path to doing so, I believe, is to pay attention to what is going on with the Web these days around participation and social networks and develop ideas for how to create the same dynamics with your members. As you plan events, products or services, simply ask "How can we design this so that each person who joins/buys adds value to all the others who do so as well?"

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    June 20, 2006

    Email and Word Processing - Old Fashioned?

    Who knew? I am blogging from a collaborative technology conference in Boston and the first three speakers all basically said that email and word processing are hopelessly old fashioned. John Seeley Brown commented, “Well I guess some people still use email.” Matt Glotzbach from Google said “I never use a word processing program anymore.”

    So what’s replacing them among the technologically savvy? Instant messaging and wikis. According to Mike Rhodin from IBM, 70 percent of Internet users use instant messaging and four in ten send as many IMs as they do emails. Rhodin says that emails are fine for sending people information, but aren’t much help when people need a quick answer to keep moving forward with whatever they’re working on. Email does not enable real-time business. Email, apparently, is the new snail mail.

    Wikis also help staff ramp up productivity and efficiency. Glotzbach said that most marketing copy, presentations, and most other things at Google are written using wikis, because wiki technology allows everyone to work on the same project together—no more sending around a single document with track changes on and no more cutting and pasting a bunch of little documents into one big document. Another benefit is that everyone gets to see what everyone else is doing in the document (instead of just one point person), creating more opportunities to create synergies, find redundancies and mistakes, and reduce duplication of effort. Imagine building a board book or a business plan or an annual meeting program this way.



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    You Must Facilitate Findability

    Findability is the general ability of your web site to enable visitors to find content and services on your site via navigation and search. Low findability means they can't find anything and high findability means that it is effortless to locate and access content on your web site.

    Associations must develop competencies in facilitating findability. Most groups have large content collections that members want to access. Poor findability hides all of that value. Associations who are successful at findability will pay attention to their search engines, constantly tuning them based on usage and results. They will highlight content prominently based on their regular business cycles. They will talk about findability every day.

    What is the findability of your association web site?

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