Archive by Author

Blended Association

8 Mar

Are you a blended association?

Murray Goldberg and Terry Coatta were participating an #assnchat Twitter chat about “reinventing associations” when Murray had a brain storm. Have you ever seen someone have an Aha! moment? Watch the sixty second clip here.

Kiki L’Italien was posing interesting questions about empowerment, speed of association change and actively reinventing associations on her Twitter chat. Murray and Terry were having a wide ranging discussion while watching the tweets come in. They were talking about association boards, associations being about relationships and how social media means that associations are no longer the sole custodians of relationships . . . when suddenly, it was almost as though a light bulb lit up over Murray’s head. He was struck by the parallel between the concept of blended learning which he is very familiar with, and what was happening with associations, and coined the term blended socialization.

Blended learning is when traditional face to face learning is combined with computer based eLearning. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but the interesting part is that when combined, the achievement of learning objectives is greater than either one done separately. The parallel for associations is that associations should be more effective at achieving their objectives by combining face to face and virtual relationships.

Blended socialization captures the idea that relationships are no longer just face to face and just as face to face and virtual learning bring complementary aspects to education; face to face and virtual relationships within an association can also complement one another. As Terry noted in the Blended Socialization post he wrote after the chat; the recent social media phenomenon has common cause with associations in that they both address the fundamental human desire to meet people, collaborate, and learn from each other. I noted in a previous post that association communications have evolved from meetings, through mail and magazines, to the age of moderation of online conversations, as most associations add social media to their communication mix. Associations should be able to achieve better engagement and better outcomes by adding an online component to member communications and enabling member to member relationships.

Achieving better outcomes, as always, will depend on planning, strategy and execution. Measuring the success of strategies however, will have to change. Now that communication is multi-directional, you can no longer rely on feedback metrics used for uni-directional communication such as readership. We will need some way of measuring success through engagement metrics that recognize many more bi-directional relationships. In future posts I will talk about how sociology and the concept and measurement of social capital can guide us. If you want a preview, have a look at some research on social capital and how it applies to associations in our library here.


Association Communication Evolution

15 Feb

Association communication has evolved over time as new technologies have become available. I call these eras – Meet, Mail, Magazine and Moderation.


A History of Associations identifies the earliest formal associations as medieval craft guilds and merchant trading groups. They communicated face to face because there were few other options.. The first scientific society the Academia Secretorum of Naples, was established in 1560 and the members met at Giambattista della Porta’s home. The Academy of the Mysteries of Nature was required by the Pope to close eighteen years later under suspicion of sorcery but the Royal Society of London which first met in 1660 has lasted a little longer. In 1662 it was first permitted to publish and it is still doing so.


Publishing technology allowed mass printing of documents. The availability of mail service enabled distribution. Members of associations no longer had to meet face to face to communicate. They could stay informed of association news and be part of the association without the need for travel. That in turn allowed associations to expand in size and geographical scope. Charles I of Great Britain established The Royal Mail in 1635 but it took a while to catch on. For the first two hundred years until 1840 it was considered expensive, confusing and corrupt. However, once established, it did allow most associations the capability of mass communication.  Many associations still use mass mail for raising funds and attracting members.


The next step in association communication evolution was the magazine. Magazines were really a further development of printing technology but the reason I am calling it a milestone in the evolution of communications was the ability to advertize. Glossy, with pictures; magazines were a revenue producing mass media for larger associations. You did need a sufficiently large association and/or enough advertisers to be able to justify the editorial staff, pay writers and put out a magazine, but now there was a way to communicate that members considered a benefit of membership and magazines generated revenue.


My fondness for alliteration leads me to name the new era of association communication “Moderation”. By moderation I mean moderation of online conversations. The term does capture the essence of the switch from top-down, one to many mass communication technologies such as publishing a magazine or newsletter, to the anyone can communicate, many to many communication possible with forums, wikis, blogs and online communities.

This is a fundamental switch but it is not an immediate switch. Just as mail and other communication technologies took time to be adopted so to it has taken time for people to have and use online access.

It is also not a complete switch. People will still meet face to face and some will meet virtually. People will still read their monthly newsletter or magazine and some will do so online. It is an additional channel of communication.

The bigger switch is in the culture of participation. We, of a certain age such as me, are used to being informed, not informing. That is why there is initially some reluctance to putting oneself out there by posting a comment or asking a question online. Many were initially a little reticent with Facebook, even when simply sharing vacation pictures or making some social comment on a favourite team or news item.

Making a comment about something important may take a little more courage. Private association communities where the comments are to colleagues feel a little safer but that will be the topic for another posting. Most important is that associations now have the tools to harness the power of the association’s biggest asset, its members and their knowledge. The new association communication credo may be “We know more than any of us.”

What is Next?

Associations are adopting the new communication technologies. For example, the Royal Society has adapted to the times. The 44 fellows (members) that are elected per year can be proposed for fellowship online via e-Lect.  Fellows no longer have to meet face to face; they can meet in the eFellow’s room. The Royal Society has also embraced other social media; anyone can respond to a Royal Society blog after logging in with Facebook or Google.

The challenge is to figure out what software tools to use to communicate and how to use them. Should you use public communities such as Facebook or have your own private community or both? That too will be the topic of a future blog.

This blog is available as a .pdf for download here.

Social Capital

5 Dec

The term social capital gained popular currency when Robert Putnam wrote his book Bowling Alone – The Collapse and Revival of American Community. The book is well researched and very pertinent to associations because it refers to networks of people and their value:

“Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a university education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so do social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups” [from Wikipedia]

Putnam looked at all types of political, civic, religious, professional and even informal social networks, groups and associations. He noted that professional associations  roughly doubled in size between 1945 and 1965 but then the twenty year boom suddenly slowed, halted, and in almost all cases reversed. Many associations continued to grow but effectively lost “market share” as the mean membership rate as a percentage of number of professionals in the field dropped after 1990.

At the end of the chapter “What Killed Civic Engagement? – Summing Up” Putnam said “Work, sprawl, TV, and generational change are all important parts of the story, but important elements in our mystery remain unsolved.” The book was widely read and it’s author was  consulted by Presidents and Prime Ministers.

But that was ten years ago before the explosion in virtual/online communities such as Facebook. Could virtual/online communities be the social networks that revitalize civic engagement and social capital? Some more recent studies:

The Kindness of Strangers

27 Oct

Association communities can depend on “the kindness of strangers” to bring huge benefits to all association members. In case that phrase rings a bell; it is by Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and the full quote is “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”.

Association member engagement requires association member time which is a valuable commodity. Members of your association may initially log in to a community out of curiosity but what will keep them coming back? There are many member benefits to being part of an association community, but research and expert opinion ranks networking and access to specialized information close to the top. Adult learning recognizes a related fact. People are most ready to learn when faced with a problem that they can not solve by themselves.

How does this relate to associations and the kindness of strangers? A simple example is a person at work faced with a problem. They need help. In the past, they would ask someone that they thought could help by visiting or calling a coworker, colleague, boss or supplier.

An online association community that has a question and answer capability allows members to easily ask questions 24/7 and get an answer from an expert across the country or in another country. Software with reputation measures helps evaluate the person answering and thus, to some extent, the quality of the answer. Backup documents can be placed in the community library so that the rest of the community can benefit not only from the question and answer but from the references. Subsequent discussion relating to different views or greater detail can lead to refinement of answers and alternative approaches to a problem. A simple question can create a collaborative forum with member comments and even polls.

Why should a member answer a question or make a comment? To some degree this is the advantage of a private association community. The comfort of being in your own association and the ability to give back to colleagues and friends makes relying on the kindness of strangers a workable option and a real association benefit to all concerned.

Stay in Touch

8 Sep

I was working on my laptop between sessions at the recent WA-ACTE conference near Seattle when I overheard a nearby conversation:

– Did you hear the keynote speech?
– Yes, it was excellent. I wish I could get a copy of that presentation.

My ears perked up because we had just the solution.

Tim Knue, the Executive Director of Washington Association for Career and Technical Education (WA-ACTE) had the foresight to create an AssociCom community web site for the members attending their summer conference. Attendees could see who else was attending, could message one another, discuss and comment on the conference, ask questions and see conference information.

The solution to the wish I overheard was the community’s web based document sharing library which allows any member to upload documents and web sites.

James Pullman is WA-ACTE’s Social Media Consultant. He had the keynote PowerPoint. We quickly put a “2011 Conf. PowerPoints” folder in the library on the Community site and uploaded the file. Result:

  • Immediately every conference attendee could download the keynote.
  • No sign up sheets with incomplete and illegible emails.
  • No one had to email out an 8.3 MB presentation.
  • The presenter did not have to type emails from a pocket full of business cards in a plane on the way home.

James gave the file a short description and tagged it “presentation”. Later other members could add other tags they preferred to search on. They could also:

  • comment on it
  • engage in a discussion about it
  • ask questions about it
  • create a poll pertaining to it
  • flag it if they thought it was inappropriate or incorrect
  • add it to their personal web based community library

A web site provides information to members, but a community site with discussion capabilities and a web based library becomes a focus for member interaction and engagement.

It is farsighted to realize that the conversations in the hallway after a presentation can go on 24/7/365 with the aid of a well-designed online community. In fact, they could lead right up to the next WA-ACTE conference.

As I left the conference, I said to Tim, James and others I had met. “Stay in touch.”