Tag Archives: social-media

Persistent versus Transient Information

9 Oct

Association Managers that are wondering why their members are not engaging on Facebook or any other online community that is primarily designed to be a social meeting place, may want to consider that online social communities are designed primarily for transient information and communication. Most do not deal well with persistent information because they were not designed for that.

Persistent information does not go away. It can be searched and collected. Think of a book in a searchable library that you can borrow from.

Transient information goes away after a short while, often because it is really only important at the time. Think of many Facebook comments on current news items or events.

Twitter, Facebook and other primarily social online communities are much like water cooler or coffee shop discussions on the latest sports score, recipe, vacation plans or whatever. The purpose of the software is to make it simple for people to express themselves with one click “likes” that are automatically shared with friends. These lightweight social exchanges are most often transient communication. They are not searchable and a couple of days later they run off the bottom of the page. Most people do not hesitate to engage with others when the topic is why the home team lost last night or what they think of the latest recipe craze.

Another aspect of transient communication is privacy and considered opinion. Most often, no one really minds these fast paced, multi party conversations being overheard. Also, there is not much thought or serious reflection in many bull sessions. That’s OK; we are social animals and this type of conversation satisfies many needs including getting to know people. We need to get to know people before we can trust them and we need to trust people before we deal with important issues or expose our innermost beliefs and value systems.

Once a level of trust is established, it makes it easier to discuss, comment on or question more serious topics. It is also easier to put yourself out there a little bit and make a personal pronouncement on something that is considered important or to share something that is valued with others. Comments that take more thought are correspondingly more valuable. Someone that puts themselves out there and poses a question that may expose a lack of knowledge is doing everyone a favour because if they don’t get it, they are likely not alone. The answer to that question likely has value to many.

Primary association benefits are networking and access to specialized information. Many online community platforms assist networking but what is needed for an association is one that is specifically designed to allow networking on a professional level and at the same time to store that persistent valuable information that the membership feels comfortable sharing with colleagues.

We can actually do even better than persistent information. Socially curated information is when you get an assist from colleagues as to what information is important. Think of perusing the books in the personal library of the thought leaders in your association. Then imagine that you can make notes in the margins without damaging the book, ask questions, make a comment or even set a poll that all the interested members in your association will see.

The Bottom Line

  • Members may not be interested in a purely social connection with their colleagues.
  • Association online communities benefit from specialized information that is persistent.
  • Encourage the creation and collection of socially curated information.

Calling All Association Community Managers!

29 May

In a recent blog post, Maggie McGary notes recent statistics showing that 31% of associations have private online communities, but she rarely encounters people who refer to themselves as community managers for their association. This definitely aligns with my own experience in trying to connect with association community managers in social media. There are various places where association folks hang out, like the association Twitter chat (#assnchat Tuesdays @ 2 pm Eastern) and the community manager Twitter chat (#cmgrchat Wednesdays @ 2 pm Eastern). There are also a number of influential blogs written by association professionals (e.g. Lowell Mathew’s blog, Ben Martin’s blog) where the association community can be found.

But I just haven’t found the places where association staff discuss the day to day issues that come up in managing an online community for their members. When I tune into #cmgrchat, for example, a lot of the discussion is centered around brand-oriented communities. While some of the situations, tips, and techniques from those communities are relevant, there are characteristics of association online communities that are unique to the association context, and there are issues that I see coming up over and over again that simply aren’t addressed in conversations about B2C communities.

Perhaps this is because community management isn’t really happening for all those private online communities run by associations. I certainly hope that is not the case, because it wouldn’t bode well for their longevity. Any online community that is going to survive needs management from time to time. Whether that is bringing interesting content to the community, helping recruit new members, or moderating conflict in the community, at some point the community will stumble and need some assistance.

Perhaps association staff who support their organization’s online community don’t see themselves as community managers. That would be unfortunate because I think that collectively they have a lot to offer each other. As I mentioned above, I think that managing an association’s online community has a number of challenges that are unique to the association space.

In order to try and help out on this front, AssociCom has been running a community for association community managers for a couple of years. Up until now, it has operated mostly as a content repository for interesting white papers, articles, and blogs oriented to association community management. Most of the content has been curated by myself and my colleagues at AssociCom. This week, however, we’ve upgraded the site and it now has a forums area which we would love to see become a locus of activity and support for association community managers.

So, if you are involved in working with association’s online community, even if you don’t think of yourself as a community manager, please have a look. I believe that everyone involved in association online communities has something to share, and I hope that we’ll be able to capture that.

Use Social Capital to Measure Social Media

26 Apr

It seems there is a rush to spend money on social media and therefore a need to justify social media expenditures by return on investment (ROI). Of course measurement is necessary, but please use the right measurement. ROI is not the right measurement for most social media efforts. Here is a post by Helen Reynolds that proposes measuring influence.

It seems that ROI is trotted out as an all-purpose measurement tool for anything. It has become a buzzword because businesses use it to calculate a stream of financial returns on an investment. ROI uses dollars and is simple to calculate. It is commonly used in MBA school for figuring returns on capital investments such as factory additions.

Social media is about networks, relationships, reputations, expertise, writing ability, influence and even humour. Dollars may enjoy common use but they are not the right measurement for social media. Let’s take a clue from the Social in Social Media and use a measurement from sociology rather than business. Ever since Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, there has been a great deal of research into social capital. Social capital is about connections within and between social networks.You can measure relationship strength, communication frequency, group ratings, perceived expertise and many other measures that are a much better than dollars and have a great deal more content validity.

Associations should be as concerned with measuring the social capital of their association as they are measuring their financial capital, perhaps more so because in the final analysis for an association, it is the social capital that creates the financial capital, not the other way around.


From Authority to Enabler

13 Apr

Association executives are often proud of the role that their association has played as a trusted source of information for their members. And rightly so because associations have developed finely tuned systems for producing excellent content. The trouble with this model of the association is that the internet is radically transforming not only how content is produced and disseminated, but perhaps even more fundamentally how trust is developed and maintained. In the age of social media and crowdsourcing, the notion of a trusted central authority is becoming, at best, quaint.

Does that mean that there is no longer a role for associations? I don’t think that is the case. But I do think that associations have to transition from being authorities to being enablers. This entails understanding what your members are trying to achieve or what they need, and determining if there are ways that you can facilitate that. Since that advice is sufficiently general as to approximate being useless, I thought I would provide some specific examples of what I mean by being an enabler.

  1. eLearning – Most associations have a strong history of helping their members to develop within their professions. If your association serves a profession with both broad and deep technical needs, then it is likely your members are looking for ways to learn new technologies or improve their skills in their area of expertise. For many professions, there will be online course providers who have developed the types of training that your members are looking for. You can be an eLearning enabler by seeking out these providers, licensing course materials, and aggregating them into a cohesive offering for your members. For an example of this, have a look at the ACM’s Professional Development Center.
  2. ePortfolios – For many professionals, the work that we do becomes the intellectual property of our employers. This can sometimes make it challenging for an individual to demonstrate their past achievements. For example, if I have made significant contributions to a particular software package, I would like to be able to show prospective employers that software, but in many cases I won’t be able to because of licensing restrictions. An association can be an enabler in this scenario by creating a trusted environment in which employees could showcase projects that they had worked on. The association would need to work directly with employers so that they would be willing to allow their products.projects to be showcased there.
  3. Mentoring – Another approach to continued professional development is through mentoring. An association can act as an enabler in this situation by creating the infrastructure that would collect information about potential mentors and mentees, assist with the matching process, and provide a forum tracking progress in the mentoring relationship. Additionally, the association could provide online tools for mentors to share best practices, useful documents, etc. Have a look at MentorNet for an example of how such a system might look.
  4. Best Practices – Whether it’s a task that is part of our day at work, or a problem that we’re trying to solve for a project that we’re working on at home, a lot of what people are looking for on the internet are ways to solve their problems. In particular, they are often looking for guidance about the best way to approach a problem or task. An association can act as an enabler in this context by providing an online platform for the exchange of information and the ongoing aggregation of best practices as identified by their members. For example, consider the knowledge base developed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
  5. Local Meetings – Even in a world that seems dominated by the internet and social media, people still like to get together and discuss topics of mutual interest. Have a look at Meetup.com to see just how much of a driving force this remains — at the moment when this was written they were helping to organize 280,000 monthly meetings. And if Meetup.com does such a good job, what role is left for the association? Well, it turns out that there are still challenges in organizing a local meeting, and a significant one is simply finding space in which to hold a meeting. So, an association can act as an enabler in this circumstance by working with the community to build up a library of organizations/companies who have space that they are willing to allow to be used for professional meetings.

That’s just a few concrete examples. If you get to know your members and their needs, I’m sure that you’ll uncover many more. And this is where the future of your association lies — in helping your members achieve their goals. So start looking for those opportunities to be an enabler.

Conferences and Blended Learning

27 Mar

One of the most interesting results to come out of the early experimentation with online learning systems was that students performed best when the learning environment consists of both face-to-face and online components (e.g. Murray Goldberg’s initial work with the system that would become WebCT). Intuitively, this is because these different components allow students to approach the learning experience in a manner that is consistent with their own needs and learning styles.

What does this have to do with associations and their conferences? Well, one connection is completely obvious: The conferences that an association puts on are often the focus of the professional development activities of their members. That is, to a large extent conferences are learning experiences for attendees.

A lot of effort has been placed on improving the learning outcomes achieved at conferences. Presentations have shifted away from droning talking heads to more interactive experiences. But given the limited timespace in which a conference occurs, it’s essentially impossible to encompass the full range of learning contexts. This isn’t a drawback, it’s an opportunity.

The opportunity is to use the conference as the keystone event of an ongoing learning process that occurs throughout the year. To achieve this, one must follow the precepts of blended learning that I referred to at the start of this post, that is, provide both online and face-to-face interactions that keep professional development moving forward all the time. Here are some more concrete ideas that have proven effective in my experience:

  • Use online tools to help plan for and evaluate your conference. In particular, you can start to identify trends, new technologies, etc. that are of interest to your members, engage with them online about these, and then plan out your conference to focus on those areas that generate the most interest.
  • Use an online community platform to create book clubs that focus on new articles, blog posts, and books that have been referred to at your conference. Online community platforms make it easy to share information (such as blog posts) and provide an opportunity for everyone to get involved with the discussions since the interactions are not constrained to a single time or place.
  • Find members of your association who are passionate about particular topics and organize short lunch or after-work seminars for them to share their knowledge and experience. Passionate professionals are often deterred by the logistics of arranging such meetings, so having the association deal with that aspect will be appreciated all round. Try to find members whose interests relate to topics that were popular at your conference.
  • Set up a mentoring program with both online and face-to-face components. Either your AMS software, or an online community platform can serve to help organize both mentors and mentees, and assist in the matching process. Private online discussion areas can help foster mentor/mentee interactions, or can just help them organize times and places to meet in person.

These are just a few of the possibilities that exist.

Everyone who has ever been to a conference comes away with the feeling that there just wasn’t enough time to really dig into the most interesting material. Discussions get cut short, questions go unasked, activities don’t get the time they deserve. But it doesn’t need to end there. Pull those discussions, questions, and activities into an online environment in which they can thrive beyond the time and space boundaries of your conference. Blending the online and face-to-face experiences of your members will deliver better outcomes, just as blended learning does for students.

The Conference Compression Factor

20 Mar

There’s a lot of attention these days focused on improving the conference experience. The widespread availability of all types of information on the internet has eliminated the advantage that conferences once had as the prime sources of specialized content. And the rise of social media has created numerous other venues for professional networking. On the whole, I would say that these competitive pressures are healthy. They are forcing associations to devote a lot of effort to improving the outcomes that conferences deliver. Take a look at Jeff Hurt’s blog for a wide variety of ideas on improving conferences.

Sometimes though, the urge to increase value leads to an attempt to increase the quantity of information delivered. I call this the conference compression factor; more sessions, more speakers, shorter time slots, and anything else that can help squeeze things in. Not only is this not helpful, it’s not necessary either. Conferences are typically 2 or 3 days long. That represents less than 1% of your attendees time during a year. What are they doing for the other 99%? Are there no opportunities for learning or networking on an ongoing basis?

Of course there are. In fact, the same technological trends that have put pressure on associations to improve conference experiences can be harnessed by the association to provide educational and social opportunities year round. I think that warrants the same degree of focus and effort that is currently being applied to conferences. This is yet another instance of the “blended socialization” that I’ve raised in other blog posts.

What does this mean in real terms for associations? Many associations have Facebook pages already, or participate regularly on Twitter. But my intuition is that these platforms don’t really have the right set of features to sustain an online community focused on the collaborative development of knowledge and ongoing professional development. Almost all of the public social media platforms are geared towards more ephemeral interactions; what is happening now, what is interesting today. They’re a great way to share news and updates. But have you ever tried to work collaboratively on a document in either system? They’re just not built for it.

Obviously I am biased. I work at a company that develops an online community platform designed specifically for associations. But I really do believe that the traditional strengths of associations mesh perfectly with the capabilities that online communities provide. I see an online community as a powerful way to deliver value to members, potentially even more valuable than an association’s annual conference. So, while I encourage association leaders to continue to strive for the best in their conferences, I encourage you to consider what your members are doing during the rest of the year and how you can strive to make the best of that as well.

Online Community – Who Cares!

15 Mar

Associations care deeply about member engagement. Particularly with the advent of social media, I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that lack of member engagement is the death knoll for an association. But I often meet with associations who have very little interest in developing a rich online community for their members. I find this puzzling because in my experience, both personally and professionally, those types of communities drive a very high level of engagement.

Why this dichotomy? Three possible reasons came to mind relatively quickly:

#1 – Bad Experience. If you’ve every participated in a dead or dying community, you can quickly get the feeling that online communities don’t work. If you happen to harbour any suspicions about whether people really are willing to interact in meaningful ways online, then this sort of experience will definitely confirm them. Or you might have spent some time looking in on a community that did not match your own interests, and come to the conclusion that there just wasn’t anything of value to be gained from participation.

Communities are like music. Pick any particular genre, and you’ll find people who think it’s “crap” and other who just can’t get enough. Some forms are more popular in general, and some music really is so bad that almost no one will listen to it. But just one amazing experience; music that somehow manages to bring joy to your soul, is enough to offset the bad. Communities are like that. Once you have experienced one which “works,” you will always seek out those experiences in the future.

#2 – Lack of Experience. If you’ve never actually participated in an online community, it really can be hard to understand what the fuss is all about. I think it is fairly natural to be a little suspicious that human interaction can be squeezed down an ethernet cable. It can be difficult to imagine the richness of experience that is possible in online environments. And the current social media platforms that most people are familiar with (Facebook, Twitter) have a reputation for supporting interactions that are superficial in nature. You’ve probably heard someone say they don’t use Twitter because they’re not interested in what other people were having for lunch. In an association context, we have a strong desire for our communities to support more meaningful interactions than that.

To quote Jimi Hendrix: “Are you experienced?” If you haven’t had the opportunity to participate in a healthy online community, you really should try it out. My own experience is that communities of like-minded professionals can be incredibly valuable. If you get it right, an online community for your association can be the centerpiece of your organization. It becomes the embodiment of what your association really is: a collection of like-minded individuals who come together for their mutual benefit.

#3 – Too Much Experience. The notion that you have “learned too much” about something doesn’t actually seem to make sense. But it’s possible to have experienced a number of online communities and formed the impression that they’re roughly all the same because there are common elements that are present in almost all online communities. There is a tendency to assume that an online community is just a place where more or less unstructured discussions happen. And it can be hard to envision how that sort of interaction is going to lead to the sort of engagement that you want with and among your members.

While discussion does form the backbone of virtually all online communities, there is a much greater variety of activity that is possible. For example, I have seen online communities that included activities such as: virtual book clubs, Q&A sessions with acknlowledged experts, informal training, mentoring, and collaboration on producing reports, articles, policies, etc. Those sorts of activities strike me at least, as aligning closely with the core mission of most associations.

To wrap up, there are a lot of reasons why an online community might not seem like a particular priority for your association. But I hope I have given you a sense of why it might be worth looking into. As I mentioned above, I think that associations are primarily about “community” by their very nature, and so the potential value that an online community brings can be substantial.