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December 17, 2010

Quick Clicks: Post-#tech10 Edition

Happy Friday, everyone! For this week's Quick Clicks, I'd like to start off with a roundup of blog posts responding to the Tech Conference in some way:

- At the Half Moon Consulting blog, Rene Shonerd shares a video with a few quick tips on facilitating the RFP process, in connection with a session she moderated at the conference.

- Shannon Otto posted a few snapshots from the conference at the Splash blog.

- Maggie McGary has some strong words of advice for anyone who might be thinking about hiring a social media manager after the conference.

- Lynn Morton blogged extensive notes from two sessions: one on mobile and one on growing online communities.

- Thad Lurie was inspired to compose Tech Conference haiku on the associationTECH blog.

- Also on the associationTECH blog, Maddie Grant is soliciting feedback and ideas for next year's Technology Conference. There's some interesting ideas and discussion in the comments (although I completely disagree with the person who suggested "more snow").

Here are a few other, non-Tech-related posts that caught my eye in the last week or two:

- Elizabeth Ortiz at the Money and Mission blog has a thought-provoking post ion her three biggest fears about how the recession could affect nonprofits.

- Cindy Butts overheard a fairly private conversation in a fairly public venue, which inspired her to talk about the conversations association professionals should not have in public.

- Shelly Alcorn urges associations to stop and think about whether they're practicing truth in advertising.

- Judith Lindenau looks at the reasons why a merger might not be a good idea for an association.

- I love this post by Holly Ross on four lessons she learned from social media in 2010.

- Jayne Cravens at the Coyote Communications blog writes about situations where volunteers acting on their own might hurt more than they help. Elsewhere, Aaron Wolowiec talks about the roundabout way associations sometimes communicate with volunteers and asks if it could be improved.

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December 16, 2010

The IT Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune Tech Conference Style

I went to the Association Technology Wheel of Fortune session at ASAE's 2010 Technology Conference and Expo. Yes, right off the bat I was a little disappointed there was no Vanna.

The session itself was essentially a complete Q&A--the audience simply asked questions of a panel of four experts. The Wheel of Fortune part was a crafty little gimmick to enliven the session; it was the last session of the day ending after 5 p.m. after all. I liked the gimmick (Vanna or no Vanna), and I liked the session, particularly because it surprised me. I thought perhaps the session would be about configuring a network in the cloud or converting to IP telephony or smartly moving from cables to wireless. It wasn't. This group of IT leaders were asking questions that had to do with organizational culture, productivity, interpersonal relationships, and prioritization. They weren't asking how to convert their Flash-based media workflows into HTML-5 output.

They wanted to know how to change the attitude of a coworker. The themes I picked up were power, influence, persuasion, decision making, culture, etc. So I was surprised in the session, but I shouldn't have been. These are the hard things about our jobs, right? When I was leading Associations Now, these were the sorts of article topics that I thought could make the biggest difference. Skills? Knowledge? These are easily learned. But the messy interpersonal/organizational culture stuff--that's what's hard.

So to all who attended the Technology Conference (and anyone else who works as part of an organization), I offer these decidedly non-techie articles to help you answer the hardest questions about your job.

Innovation Personified by Tom Kelley, Associations Now, February 2006: As a manager, you get the best out of your team by helping them find the types of roles they are most suited for and helping them fulfill those roles.

Change of Heart by Dan S. Cohen, Associations Now, January 2006: People rarely change their mind for analytical reasons, you have to reach them emotionally.

Ask the Persuasion Expert by Jay Heinrichs, Associations Now, August 2008: Format for this article is, uh, different, but tips on how to be persuasive are right on.

What's Your Agenda by Lynda McDaniel, Associations Now, July 2008: Understand that personal agendas are inevitable...and not necessarily bad.

Idea Champions by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, Associations Now, February 2008: Another persuasion piece, this one on how to sell an idea.

A Turn for the Better by Sharon Raden, Associations Now, October 2009: Getting personnel and job roles back into alignment.

Tangled in Your Head Wires, Interview of Charles Jacobs by Joe Rominiecki, Associations Now, September 2009: Management goes all neuroscience.

Wake Up! by Kristin Clarke, CAE, Associations Now, February 2009: Help with prioritization.

Sticking to It by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Associations Now, February 2007: Learning prioritization and persistence.

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December 15, 2010

Go for the emotional connection with video

In the "Anatomy of a Video" session on Wednesday at the Technology Conference & Expo, Michael Hoffman of See3 Communications (@michael_hoffman) offered some excellent advice for associations about how they can use video. He came back to one message over and over again: emotional connection.

"Video is really good at creating a feeling that becomes the emotional foundation for making decisions," he said.

He said this helps in making the decisions about what messages should be conveyed with video and what messages are better conveyed with text or images. I think shiny-toy syndrome leads a lot of associations to skip over those decisions. Remembering the emotional connection part can help you focus.

He shared two examples of association videos that make an emotional connection and leave the long lists of details and background info elsewhere. The first one, with testimonials about a certification at the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, is embedded; the other, a personalized member-recruitment video from the American College of Physicians, isn't embeddable, so click it to check it out.

ACP_1292445753661.png

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If you build it, will they come?

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

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

From Andy Steggles at Higher Logic, I learned:

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

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

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

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

From Elizabeth Baranik at NFi Studios, I learned:

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

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

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

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Communication as a critical element in R&D

It can be frustrating to be an advocate for change: You see the reasons for change so clearly, so why can't everyone around you see them too?

Mark Nelson, the National Association of College Stores' digital content strategist, gave a great presentation at the Tech Conference this morning on NACS' efforts to build a technology R&D organization for the college store industry. Communication was a major theme in his talk--what it takes for an association like NACS to convince its members and industry to commit to investing in innovation, research, and development.

"Industries all get wake-up calls, and you choose to wake up or stay slumbering," said Nelson.

And the wake-up process can involve a lot of hitting "snooze." Nelson says that it's an ongoing effort to reinforce with board leaders and members that Innovation is "a transition, not a change"--or, in other words, it's a long-term process, not an overnight fix. However, he adds, it's also important to demonstrate concrete progress along the way, to show everyone involved that the process is worth it.

That reinforcement becomes all the more important when failures happen, as they will in any innovation effort. Nelson said that NACS constantly reminds its key stakeholders of the reasons why innovation is important to their industry and the benefits of NACS' R&D efforts. "If you don't care about your own survival [as an industry], no one else will," he said.

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Five thoughts from Gary Shapiro

Here's something you don't hear every day: "Recessions are good."

At least, that's what Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, told Tech Conference attendees this morning during his general session presentation.

While the phrasing was startling, Shapiro's real point was that tough choices are healthy. He argued that recessions force businesses to take a good, hard look at what they are doing in ways that they might not during better times. (Which does beg the question: Why don't we do a better job of making those tough choices when the economy is good? I

Four other points Shapiro made that stuck out at me:

- Speak and write in plain English. "I believe in brevity," he said. "Strunk and White is my bible." Shapiro says that when he writes for his board members, he makes his main point up front in a single sentence and tries to keep additional background and contextual information to a page or less. (Perhaps Twitter is good practice for us all!)

- Think three years ahead. "That's where trends and changes are," he said. "You need to be thinking about trends and jump on them." As a sidenote: When Shapiro was introduced, Reggie Henry mentioned that CES (Shapiro's association's well-known tradeshow) is less than a month out. But Shapiro pointed out that he's actually spent more time thinking about CES 2012 this week than about CES 2011.

- Mistakes are healthy. Shapiro said that mistakes are incredible learning opportunities--but the real mistake many people make is to try to sweep them under the rug rather than transparently admitting to and learning from them.

- Don't create an app just to create an app. In fact, don't do anything just because everyone is doing it--build an app or a website or a blog because it makes sense for your organization's goals and the audiences you're trying to reach. "Go slowly," he said, "but pay attention."

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Tech Conference in Photos, Day 1

Thanks to everyone who braved the cold DC air to attend the Technology Conference yesterday--and for folks who are here in spirit, I hope you're enjoying the tweets, blog posts, and other information shared online. Here's a look at a few scenes from the conference yesterday:

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December 14, 2010

The Air Force Blog Assessment flow chart

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

air-force-blog-t.jpg

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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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February 5, 2010

Calling all association bloggers: Tech Conference coverage

Just like at the annual meeting in Toronto, you can find all the action happening at ASAE & The Center's 2010 Technology Conference (next week! Feb. 10-12) on the conference Hub (that's http://tech10.org or http://tech10.org/m for your mobile device). It will pull through photo, video, Acronym posts, and, yes, lots of Twitter posts -- and it will be easy to tag Tweets to specific education sessions.

Any people in the association blogging community who will be there and blogging about the conference, we'd love to pull your posts through to the Hub as well. We'll need you to set up an RSS feed that is specific to your posts about the Technology Conference. Send the feed to webteamATasaecenter.org and we'll pull it through. (If you need help setting up a feed specific to the conference, contact me at sbriscoeATasaecenter.org.) Oh and all you bloggers and Twitterers: be sure to sign up on our conference Blog Roll and Twitter Roll so others know to follow you.

Also, I wanted to let you know that our PR Manager Jakub Konysz will be available to you before each general session if you have questions about this year's attendance, want access to someone on ASAE & The Center's staff, or would just like to chat about the organization. You can email him at jkonyszATasaecenter.org or reach out to him on Twitter: jkonysz.

As far as what we'll be doing here on Acronym at the conference, Joe, Lisa, and I will be sharing our thoughts on the conference activities we attend. We'll also do a photo roundup and take a look at some of the interesting Tweets and blog posts from around the association community.

If you're going to the conference, maybe we can meet at the Tweetups on Thursday or Friday. If you can't make it this year -- check into the Hub and back here on Acronym to get a flavor of the happenings.

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