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December 16, 2011

Quick clicks: Post-#tech11 edition

First off, a quick list of blog posts from around the association community that highlighted or recapped last week's ASAE Technology Conference & Expo:

And now on to other interesting commentary from the last two weeks:

Governance. Cindy Butts, CAE, says board officer positions should not be linked with specific tasks, and such requirements definitely should not appear in an association's bylaws.

Collaboration. Nilofer Merchant at Harvard Business Review explains eight reasons why collaboration appears dangerous. (Shared via Robert Rich, CAE and his "Association Strategy and Innovation" Scoop.It page.)

Meetings. Sue Pelletier shares news about the Occupy movement and a quasi-convention that arose from it last week in Florida.

Speaker selection. Jeff Hurt says conference organizers have too much power, particularly in regard to their role as the gatekeeper of information, choosing what education sessions make the cut.

More speaker selection. Stefanie Reeves, CAE, likens conference speaker selection to college football's Bowl Championship Series. The sports fan in me loves this quote: "What are we doing to make sure the Boise States of the association community get their moment in the spotlight?"

Jargon. Dan Pallotta says meaningless business-speak is an epidemic. "I'd say that in about half of my business conversations, I have almost no idea what other people are saying to me," he writes. I agree.

Housekeeping. Andy Freed offers a year-end checklist for associations: to-do's that will get your organization refreshed for the new year.

Marketing. Colleen Dilenschneider offers four ways nonprofit organizations can benefit from their employees personal brands.

Inclusion. Joe Gerstandt explains why The Golden Rule isn't as great as everyone thinks it is. (Hint: it's about the difference between good intentions and good outcomes.)

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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 8, 2011

Tweets from #tech11, day 2

Another busy day on the #tech11 hashtag on Twitter. Here are a few gems shared by attendees during the closing day of the 2011 ASAE Technology Conference & Expo. Plenty more where this came from on the full hashtag stream.

Interesting how the idea of embracing the mess in knowledge mgmt contrasts the need for focus & simplicity in mobile. #Tech11Thu Dec 08 17:04:53 via TweetChat

Does the web facilitate creation of diverse groups, or enable like-minded individuals to readily associate? #tech11Thu Dec 08 17:23:23 via HootSuite

"The internet is an expression of human interest." Great reminder for web content. It's about members' interest, not staff's. #tech11Thu Dec 08 17:17:37 via TweetDeck

People don't need traditional credentials (from Asso.) to be considered experts with viable knowledge online, in social communities. #tech11Thu Dec 08 16:53:46 via web

The net as a whole is a mess. We create one-time use filters by searching through google. Assocs are generators and filters. #tech11Thu Dec 08 17:11:39 via TweetChat

When writing for the web, only put 50% of what you would include in print #tech11 LA2Thu Dec 08 13:46:41 via Twitter for iPhone

This is why associations exist!! For people to do more together than they could do on their own. #Tech11Thu Dec 08 14:42:35 via TweetChat

Common reason for associations jumping onto social media: Because everyone else is doing it. Not good enough #tech11 LC9Thu Dec 08 15:09:25 via Twitter for iPad

So far the "hangout" seems to me to be the biggest potential within Google plus. #tech11Thu Dec 08 15:28:18 via TweetChat

Sayeth @tommorrison: "The number of logins is less important than the number of changed lives for our members". #tech11Thu Dec 08 16:22:44 via TweetDeck

Get people to start mobile game before conference, more likely to be engaged during. @BobVaez #tech11 #assnchat #eventprofsThu Dec 08 15:59:37 via HootSuite

Engagement is an overused term in Social Media...we like "meaningful connections" #tech11Thu Dec 08 14:09:44 via Twitter for iPad

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What Are Your Stopping Points?

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The world of information is different now, David Weinberger said during his closing general session of the Technology Conference. We can now serve people who need to know more about pagan harpooners.

Weinberger, who's perhaps best known as a coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto, brought up "pagan harpooners" in the context of how people can now make use of Amazon's listing for Moby-Dick. There isn't too much literature about pagan harpooners out there, but Amazon can now provide a repository of "statistically improbable phrases" for users with very granular interests. The multitude of ways people can slice and dice categories for Moby-Dick "is a giant stinking mess," he said. "There is not an information retrieval textbook before the 1990s that would suggest it as a good way to reach out to consumers." But that messiness has value. Indeed, what the internet can now do is take that granular information and give it value it wouldn't otherwise have.

What does that mean for associations? For one thing, they can no longer assume that they're the last and best resource for information---even information about the industries they serve. Until recently, Weinberger said, knowledge was defined by "stopping points"---the academic, the expert, the encyclopedia or authoritative book that purported to be the last word on a subject. But there is no "last word" anymore, and more successful organizations recognize that a variety of members require a variety of content.

The challenge for associations, Weinberger argued, is to support enough diversity to help encourage that rich, sometimes messy wealth of information, but not be so diverse that it undoes the organization's mission. "You want disruption, but you want the right disruption," he said. Part of the way of doing that, he argued, is to get out of the cliched mindset that you're supposed to deliver "the right information to the right person at the right time." He suggested a different phrase: An associations should be supporting "the right conversations with some of the wrong people about some off-topic topics in a messy network of fruitful disagreement."

So, how good is your association at doing that? Do you feel that you need those stopping points, or are you OK with things being messy?

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Putting social commerce to work

What if your association's members did all your online marketing for you? Sounds like a pipe dream, right?

Maybe not entirely. The rise of Web 2.0 has led to the rise of social commerce, in which many of the same community dynamics of real-world shopping can be leveraged online. Avectra's Ben Martin, CAE, and Larissa Fair discussed how associations can drive social commerce in their markets in an Idea Lab Thursday morning at the 2011 ASAE Technology Conference.

They offered six strategies for putting the dynamics of social commerce to work, all based in consistent human behavior:

  • Follow the crowd, because people do what they see other people doing.
  • Follow the authority, because people trust expert opinions.
  • Create scarcity, because people see value in exclusivity.
  • Follow those you like: people trust opinions of friends and people they find likeable.
  • Be consistent, because people are comfortable with what they already know.
  • Repay favors, because people like to do good for those who do good to them.

If nothing about these strikes you as "digital" or "online," that's fine. These aren't new social dynamics. But some of the tactics for tapping into them online are. Martin and Fair shared some examples that can work for associations:

  • Bookmarking, favorites, and wish lists in online stores, which show other buyers what's popular (follow the crowd) and also show the association what's in demand.
  • Online engagement scores for members. As those with high scores recommend or review products, other users pay attention (follow the expert).
  • Exclusive sales, exclusive invites to events, or advance access to services and products for an association's followers on Twitter and Facebook or for its most engaged members (create scarcity).
  • Add a button to the end of an event registration, product checkout, or membership application for the user to easily Tweet or post to Facebook to tell their friends about your event, product, or association (follow those you like).
  • Allow members to vote on conference session proposals in advance of a conference; that early, small interaction will make them more interested in registering to attend because they're already familiar with the event (be consistent).
  • Simply connect with your members directly online and help them when they reach out with questions; they'll be more likely to recommend you to their online friends (repay favors).

These are just a few examples. The underlying theme to all of these social dynamics and methods for utilizing them is that buyers trust their fellow buyers more than they trust sellers. Anything you can do to enable your customers to connect with and learn from each other as they make buying decisions about your products and services, the less work you have do in direct promotion.

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December 7, 2011

Tweets from #tech11, day 1

The #tech11 hashtag on Twitter was busy today as attendees at the 2011 ASAE Technology Conference & Expo shared wisdom from the presentations and conversations. Below is just a sample of what you can find on the full hashtag stream.

Provide "executive level" AMS training to CEO and others about type of data collected, system capabilities and recent improvements. #tech11Wed Dec 07 19:40:44 via Tech11 for iPad

Collecting Twitter usernames in your AMS. Good idea. #tech11 LM4Wed Dec 07 20:46:53 via web

I learned so much during my session I didn't have time to tweet! Lots of takeaways from the Small Staff Dashboard session! #tech11Wed Dec 07 16:47:18 via HootSuite

Mobile is not about a siloed department - it is about the future business model of our associations (via @pinnovation) #tech11Wed Dec 07 16:45:50 via TweetDeck

On the Internet, 25-28% of an article gets read #tech11Wed Dec 07 16:29:23 via Seesmic

Rule of innovation: Fail often to succeed sooner. #Tech11 #Tech11LR1Wed Dec 07 16:26:54 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

It's not technology for technology sake. We have goals and they are here to solve them #tech11 via @lukewWed Dec 07 15:18:00 via Twitter for iPad

Picture people as "one thumb, one eyeball" to simplify your mobile site. #tech11Wed Dec 07 14:55:57 via Echofon

Much thanks to the #tech11 audience. You can find video and slides from my talk this morning here: http://t.co/kNHLC0NvWed Dec 07 15:26:34 via Twitter for iPhone

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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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Three Takeaways from David Nour

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

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

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

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

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

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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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December 2, 2011

Seeking guest bloggers at #tech11

A quick blog service announcement: as we did during the 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo, Acronym is looking for guest blog posts from attendees during next week's ASAE Technology Conference & Expo. The assignment is simple: you'd only need to write one post (though you could write more if you'd like), anyone is eligible, and no prior blogging experience is necessary.

If you're not sure what to write about, here's a simple prompt, the same one we used at Annual: Think of a single question that you want answered during the Tech Conference or in a specific education session and then share the answer in a blog post. Pretty simple.

We're hoping to line up a handful of volunteers before the conference, so if you're interested in contributing, email us at acronym@asaecenter.org. Thanks!

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