Here’s a post I wrote for MemberViews Monday, a collaboration of bloggers in the association world who have teamed up to share their experiences and knowledge with other association professionals. The first topic in this series hosted by MultiView blogs is Advice for the Emerging Association Professional.

I never expected to work in associations. Frankly, they weren’t even on my radar. But I was leaving one career and in search of another. I took an association job just to have some stability and income while I figured things out. Little did I know, back in 1999, what a rewarding and fascinating profession I was about to enter.

Looking back, I wish I had asked for advice. It took me several years to find my way. If we were to have a “learn from my mistakes” conversation, it would go something like this.

Never stop learning. You will succeed in this profession if you live to learn. This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Don’t shortchange yourself. Make time for learning even if it’s on your own time. Your older self will thank you.

Be observant. Listen to and watch people. You have to understand human behavior, both individual and group, if you want to motivate, manage and lead staff and members.

Give yourself time to think. You need time every week to plan ahead, set and review goals, and let your brain work its way around challenges and issues. 

Develop a DIY professional development habit. Set aside time to read association management blogs and publications, participate in Twitter’s #assnchat (Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. Eastern), and attend association events. If your boss doesn’t give you the time or budget to do these things, do it on your own time. Put aside a small amount of every paycheck, even if it’s only $10, toward professional development. It’s an investment in your future, just like your 401K.

Join your state SAE even if you have to spend your own money. You’ll meet a network of peers that could become lifelong friends.

Look for mentors. Find people in your office or at another association who are active in your SAE or ASAE. They might not consider themselves mentor material so don’t even use the word “mentor” around them. A conversation with them could develop into a mutually satisfying relationship.

Find association peers. If you’re surrounded by colleagues who are only there for the paycheck, don’t be discouraged. Don’t follow them down their boring, soul-deadening path. Find people either in your office or other associations who are around your same age and career level. Twitter makes this so much easier now. Arrange monthly meet-ups. Make them your mastermind group.

Make friends all over the building. Avoid eating lunch alone. Don’t isolate yourself in a departmental silo. Learn about the work your colleagues are doing. How can you help them? How can they help you? What member stories can you share? What can you teach each other?

Pause and reflect before reacting. Expect stressful times. You might start the day expecting to work on specific tasks and projects, but find yourself dealing with other pressing problems, issues and people that weren’t on your list. You will constantly juggle a variety of deadlines and demands.

It’s natural to react quickly and emotionally to these stressors – those same reactions save us in life and death situations. But in the workplace, you must develop the habit of pausing before reacting, and thinking rationally, not emotionally. It’s not easy. Yoga helps, but I don’t expect you to practice yoga as a professional development tool – although it’s not a bad idea.

Become aware of your reactions to your own behavior (self-judging), other people’s behavior, stressful situations and change. If you learn to pause and reflect before reacting, you won’t stress yourself out so much and you’ll be a positive influence on the people around you. 

Don’t be a workaholic. Never put in crazy hours because you think you should, except, of course, for those special times in the meeting, magazine or budget cycle that require it. You and your brain need time off to recharge. You know the people who are always boasting about how busy they are and how late they stayed in the office? They’re not paragons of virtue to emulate. They’re doing it wrong — “it” being life.

Never be defined by your job. If you develop that limited mindset, retirement will be rough. Yes, your job is a huge, rewarding part of your life, but it’s just one part of your life. Make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the relationships and experiences that add color and passion to life. Find people, causes and hobbies to love. You’ll be a happier and more interesting, creative person and professional.

Advice for emerging association professionals

Photo by Andre Mouraux (Flickr CC license)

Have you heard of GrubWithUs? I hadn’t until I read this Fast Company article. GrubWithUs is a social network that arranges dinners with strangers at restaurants. You pay everything in advance, show up, have a most delightful time while getting to know several new acquaintances.

I would have LOVED something like this when I was single. Not so much to meet guys, although that wouldn’t have hurt, but as an easy way to hang out with new people for a few hours around a dinner table. I love that type of thing, especially when food is involved.

We had Meetup groups in Sacramento that did something similar, but the dinners usually attracted too many people. After a while, all the faces became a big blur — too much networking, not enough real conversation.

One of the top reasons people join associations is to meet and develop relationships with peers or prospects. Associations facilitate this by hosting conferences, volunteer opportunities and other events. Why not try the GrubWithUs model — small dinners for six to eight people? Here are some ideas:

  • During conferences and other meetings, like many associations do.
  • By geographic area for local members.
  • By conversation or brainstorming topic — pay for someone’s dinner and ask them to report back on ideas shared — market research!
  • By professional niche or interest.

Don’t focus on excuses to not do it – handling payments, staff time — you can find ways to make it work if you really want to.

The accounting department may have to become more nimble to pay the restaurant in advance, but it’s the 21st century, the age of PayPal, debit cards and taking care of business.

You might have to rely on volunteers. Thank them by paying or subsidizing their check, or giving them a promo code for an event or product.

Not everyone can afford to attend your conference to meet other members, but they will surely appreciate you making the effort to organize or facilitate member meet-ups.

Associations social dining members

Chris Brogan inspired me to think about online communities and “platform fatigue.” In a post aimed at public relations pros, he says:

“We want to connect on maybe two or three networks tops. One or two of these will remain the “commons” services like Facebook or Twitter. The rest of people’s interactions are going to fall into smaller communities, often private or self-selected in some way.”

Our time, attention span and dedication are limited. How much can we spare for a new online community if we’re already spending time on Facebook, Twitter and other sites?

Think about your usual online haunts. Where do you spend time? How do you get there? Do you have to make an effort to go there or does it come to you? It makes a difference when a community isn’t yet a habit.

My homepage is Google Reader. That’s where I start my online day, reading and visiting blogs to comment. I generally return to it for more reading later if I get my work done.

I use Hootsuite to visit Twitter once or twice a day, unless I’m taking a day off. While on Twitter I chat, click links and open tabs to read later. Twitter is my most valuable professional and personal hangout, well worth the time spent there.

I dip into Facebook about once a day to read and comment. Ok, ok, sometimes more than once a day if it’s the weekend. Like many, Facebook is more of a personal hangout.

I scan LinkedIn network updates and questions in my Reader and get my group discussions delivered by email. I don’t go to the LI site unless I’m changing my status or commenting on something. Could I live without LinkedIn? Definitely, and I may change my habits, but I feel strangely compelled to have a presence there, for now.

Isn’t that enough online action? It is for me. If you’re hoping to get my participation in yet another community or social platform, you’ve got a challenge on your hands. My time, brain and heart are already stretched too thin. If you want to play with me, you’ll have to come to one of my playgrounds — blogs, Twitter, Facebook — unless you deliver value, packaged efficiently, that I can’t get anywhere else. But considering the value I already get from my existing networks, that’s a stretch. Do you feel the same way?

online communities niche membership social networking media

flickr photo by Raja Singh

However, an online community might be a good stepping stone for people who aren’t yet immersed in social media like I am. Again, only if it provides value they can’t get anywhere else in real life. Sometimes the key to attracting and retaining new members is an old-fashioned remedy — local face-to-face events. Those real life experiences make it easier for social media newbies to deepen their relationships with other community members and with the community itself.

Brogan tells brand managers to settle for “small bites” – small communities. Focus on the quality of the interactions, not the quantity of members. A quality experience leads to member loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing.

I agree there’s a place for small or niche communities, but it might be 3rd or 4th place unless they provide unparalleled value or one-stop shopping plus value. I’d love a niche community where I could do it all — check my Twitter stream, read and comment on blogs, and see Facebook or LinkedIn updates. If I can do that and get to know and learn from others in my niche – be they writers, association professionals, frugal home cooks or craft beer geeks – then you might have a potential resident.

How about you? Are you a member of any niche online communities? What is it about that community that makes you find time to spend there?

Yesterday Chris Brogan sent out an email and published a blog post announcing a new membership group, 501 Mission Place. The “501” in the subject heading caught my eye. Sure enough, it’s an online community for those who run nonprofits. 501, a term that resonates with any nonprofit professional, is the section in the Internal Revenue Code covering tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.

The website says, “In a community of peers and colleagues the right connection, the right answer or the right idea is just a conversation away.” That sounds a lot like what we promise as a return on association membership dues:

  • Networking –> Connections
  • Information –> Answers
  • Education –> Ideas

The focus here is on benefits, not features, nicely done.

online communities association membership

graphic courtesy of Chris Brogan

We’re reminded about the benefits of conference attendance, a luxury that many nonprofit (and association) staff can’t fit into their tight budgets – developing relationships with your peers, stimulating conversations, problem-solving, inspiration, collaboration and community with those “who understand the very unique pressures and challenges of leading a non-profit.”

For $27 a month, members have access to online forums, seminars, articles, blogs, leadership interviews and resource libraries. That fee also buys a closed community – “a safe place for you to share what you’re doing, get peer-sourced help and feedback when you need it and to give it when you’re able.” It’s $324 a year for membership in 501 Mission Place. That’s within $100 of the dues charged by my national membership organizations, some are higher and some are lower.

Association bloggers and tweeps have been talking for years about online communities being either a threat or opportunity for associations. The issue was even the topic of conversation on the first Twitter #assnchat back in May 2009. If your association doesn’t offer ways for members to develop relationships and knowledge online, will they find it packaged in a more convenient, and perhaps more affordable, package elsewhere?

Is 501 Mission Place (#501mp) the future we’ve been talking about?

I don’t go through business cards as quickly as I used to. I don’t collect as many either. I think I know why. Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You’re chatting at a networking event with a new acquaintance and remark on each other’s Twitter handle on their badge. You both pull up your mobile Twitter application, go to the other’s profile, follow them and add them to a list. Done. You’re connected. You could do the same by using your mobile LinkedIn application or bumping Pokens or iPhones. How many times have you done that and walked away without even thinking about exchanging cards?

But we still need cards. Not everyone is active on social networks. Sometimes cards are just easier. Plus how else can we win a free lunch from the card bowl at our favorite restaurant? Andy Sernovitz featured a smart business card in a recent post on Damn! I Wish I’d Thought of That. His uncle has magnetic cards showing the Packers schedule. Andy points out that his uncle’s card, unlike many, will be displayed on people’s refrigerators for all to see throughout the football season – more marketing punch for his money.

If you’re not a sports fan, what other handy info could you include?

  • Cooking equivalents, for example, 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
  • Metric conversions
  • Fahrenheit/Celsius conversions
  • Local school year calendar with important dates marked

Cards like this also make good trade show swag – they’re both useful and easy to tote home.

Andy’s post was timely for me since I’m thinking about my next order of business cards. Since I’m focusing more and more on freelance writing and blogging, my cards need to reflect that. I’m even thinking about different cards for different audiences: perhaps one for my primary audience, the association industry, who needs help with blog strategy, content and marketing; and another for a broader audience who needs website and marketing copy.

Before I print my new cards, I’ll work with a designer to create an overall look for my Reid All About It brand. The cards will reflect that style. Cards are often the first impression someone gets of your business. You could go for quirky, like this Mad Libs style card. That’s fun, but it’s not me. Make sure your card design is appropriate for your brand.

effective business cards

Know your market. Guitar shop "cards." Flickr photo by MikeBlogs.

Going to a conference or trade show soon? Print cards specifically for the conference that remind the person where they met you. If you’re exhibiting at the show, include the booth number and tell them why they’d want to visit – what’s in it for them? Include the conference Twitter hashtag and a link to a special landing page for conference attendees on your website.

QR (Quick Response) codes are the latest trend for business cards. These codes are scanned by smartphone cameras to automatically pull up website URLs or contact info.

Here are more tips for business cards:

Make it very clear on the card how you can help a person or company. Don’t assume that your title makes it clear; be more descriptive than that by using a tagline.

You have limited real estate and attention span. Make every word count, even in your contact info.

Use both sides of the card. One side can focus on how they can connect with you, and the other side can focus on how you can help them.

Make your cards user-friendly.

  • Leave some white (or light) space so people can jot down notes about you.
  • Use the largest size font for your name. Don’t make middle-aged people squint.
  • Glossy finishes are difficult to write on. Consider other finishes.

In addition to your website URL and email address, add your Twitter username to your card. Don’t load up your cards with all your social profiles; just add the ones that can assist your marketing.

Remember, your card is part of your professional brand. As Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

One last thing, and judging by all the rants I’ve seen on Twitter about this, I’m not alone in feeling this way: You don’t have permission to add me to your newsletter list just because I gave you my business card. If you’d like to tell me about your newsletter, do so in an email first. Give me the option to opt-in; don’t force me to opt-out.

What other business card tips do you have to share?

Did you know there’s an easy way to get together once a week with other professionals to talk shop for an hour without leaving your office? If you’re shy or tired, you can sit back and listen. No one will mind, in fact, they won’t even know. And if you can’t be there, you can read a full transcript later.

I’m talking about Twitter chats. There are 210 regularly scheduled chats, according to the Google table created by Robert Swanwick. Each Twitter chat has its own identifying hashtag, like #assnchat. Yes, I realize that hashtag may be considered “not safe for work,” but those of us in the association community have come to love it.

It’s easy to participate in a Twitter chat. I use my regular Twitter application (Hootsuite or Tweetdeck) to create a search column for the hashtag. You could also use TweetChat, Twebevent or Tweetgrid – applications specifically made for Twitter chats. Or you can follow chats using the search function in your mobile Twitter application.

Everyone who participates adds the chat hashtag to the end of their tweets. The search function in your application will only display tweets that include that hashtag.

If you miss a chat, transcripts can be found on What the Hashtag if you log in Tweetdoc (What the Hashtag no longer exists). Some chats are also archived on Twapper Keeper.

In a Twitter chat you will meet others who share your profession or interests, pick up new ideas and perspectives, share a laugh and sometimes find answers to problems. Here are some of my favorite chats. All times are for the Eastern Time zone.

Twitter chats as seen on Hootsuite

#blogchat – Sundays at 9:00 p.m.

This wildly popular chat, hosted by Mack Collier, can be overwhelming as several thousand tweets fly by in an hour. However, it’s worth dipping into as it covers all facets of blogging. Don’t expect to read all the tweets, just read what you can. The October schedule is posted on Mack’s blog.

#assnchat – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m.

Started in the spring of 2009 by Jeff De Cagna for the association management community, #assnchat is moderated by Kiki L’Italien. Recent topics were online communities, HR and social media and diversity. Many ideas and friendships have blossomed from #assnchat. The hashtag is also used to mark blog posts of interest to the association community.

#fnichat – Mondays at 4:00 p.m.

I sat down for a recent Foodies’ Night In chat with a growling stomach only to learn the chat was about cheese.  Oh the humanity, talk about cravings! It’s a well-organized and friendly chat.

#wclw – Last Wednesday of the month at 11:30 a.m.

WordCount Last Wednesday is for independent journalists, bloggers and freelancers. Guest speakers discuss tech tools for writers, writing and freelance business issues. The last chat was about Facebook pages for writers which was a little too basic for me, but helpful for others participating.

#cmgrchat – Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m.

If you want to learn more about managing online communities, this new chat for community managers provides tips and advice. There are summaries of past chats, including topics like time management and handling negativity, on their blog.

#u30pro – Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.

Ok, you got me, I don’t participate in this one, I’m too old, but I’m all for spreading the love. If you’re under 30, join their community and receive a weekly update at David Spinks’ blog.

#eventprofs – Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. and Thursdays at 12:00 p.m.

I don’t participate in this chat for event professionals, but I know many who do. Recent discussions include overcoming barriers to conference participant engagement and making social an integral part of event strategy. The schedule is posted on their chat wiki.

If I’m lucky, I participate in one or two chats a week. I’d like to check out these chats someday:

  • #bakechat – Mondays at 9:00 p.m. – covers the professional and lay-person world of baking, pastry and desserts.
  • #writechat – Sundays at 3:00 p.m. – discusses writing and the writing life.
  • #foodchat – 3rd Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. – brings consumers together with agriculture to bridge the farm gate to the consumer plate.

Which Twitter chats do you enjoy?

If Twitter perplexes you, you’re probably not following the best people or you’re not sure what the heck to do on there. In my last post I explained how to find the best people to follow. Now it’s time to learn how to tweet.

Twitter is a social media platform. The same people skills that work well in real life will work well here too. Imagine you’re at a conference reception talking to a bunch of people. The guy next to you constantly talks about himself. He doesn’t try to engage in conversation with any of you. He doesn’t even reply when you ask him a question. Back at home you’re at a neighbor’s cook-out and there’s that same guy, saying exactly the same things in the same manner to another group of people. And he’s still not listening to anyone else or participating in any conversations around him.

What is up with him? Despite how anti-social and weird that sounds, there are a lot of people like him on Twitter. They don’t get that Twitter is a conversational interactive platform and they approach it the same way they use traditional broadcast media. Even some PR agencies are guilty of this.

In a social space like Twitter, whether you’re an individual or a business, your tweets should be a mix of sharing resources and conversation with only a bit of promotion, if you need it for professional or business reasons. There are many opinions about the ideal mix. Here’s something to start with: 60% of your tweets share resources, 30% are conversational (responding and chatting) and 10% are promotional.

Does that seem like a lot of content to share? It might if you only use Twitter for personal reasons. Take some time to think about your reasons for using Twitter, the value you want to bring to others and the type of relationships and reputation you seek. Maybe your witty banter will be enough, but you might decide to supplement that with retweets and links to good posts that you think others will find interesting too.

The secret to good sharing

How do you find those good retweets and posts? By following people who share good stuff and subscribing to good blogs. Always keep an eye out for good content to share. I keep a document going in Word called Tweets for Later and when I find something good, I jot down the post title, author’s Twitter username, link and a brief description. I try to keep those tweets under 120 characters so it will be easy for others to retweet it without editing. Always use a URL shortening service, like bit.ly or ow.ly, to shorten any links you wish to include in your tweets.

If I see a tweet sharing what looks like a good blog post, but I don’t have time to read it, I’ll mark that tweet as a Favorite and get back to it when I do have time. Between these two methods, when it’s Twitter time, I usually have enough to share with others.

flickr photo by Robert_Scoble

Twitter Time

How much time should you spend on Twitter? It’s best to have a regular dependable presence. If you only show up once every few weeks, no one will have a chance to get to know you. Twitter is made up of many communities. You’ll find that after a while you’ll feel like a part of many different ones. Commit to those communities and relationships by being there. I try to log on every weekday, usually for a bit of time in the morning and then again later in the day. When I have more free time, I may do more. And of course on some days, it’s a challenge to get on at all, but I try. On weekends, if I log on, I tend to tweet more about my personal interests. Experiment and find times that work for you, even if only for 10-15 minutes at a time.

I strongly suggest you find a way to limit your time – set a timer if you must. I often set my kitchen timer so I have to get out of my office and stretch my legs. It is very easy to get sucked in and find that an hour has elapsed and it’s far too easy to rationalize your time spent there – after all, you’re learning and nurturing relationships. Be mindful.

You also will have to decide how personal you want to get on Twitter. Some people keep things strictly professional and others, like me, allow our personality and interests to permeate our tweets. I find the latter approach to be more real and interesting and I prefer following people who do the same. If you do get personal, always imagine your mother is reading your tweets (mine does!) so you don’t embarrass anyone, including yourself. Even when you’re not at work, you still do represent your company in other people’s minds. All your tweets are indexed by Google and will live on Google search forever; keep that in mind.

A well respected tweep about town

Bringing your whole personality to Twitter will differentiate you from others. You become more than just a source of good content; you’re a real personality. If you tweet on behalf of a business, consider including your name and photo somewhere in the bio or background. People connect to people, not logos.

Set up listening tools that will alert you when people reply to you or mention you, so you can reply back or thank them. Due to Twitter wonkiness, some mentions slip through the cracks and don’t show up in Twitter applications. Instead of relying on Twitter, set up Google alerts on your username and any variations, for example, your username without the ‘@’ symbol and any common misspellings. If you tweet out links to your blog posts, create a bit.ly or ow.ly account to shorten and track mentions of those URLs. There are other services that will alert you if someone shares your blog links, for example, Backtweets.

Give the spotlight to others as often as you can. Share the good tweets of others by retweeting and giving credit to them. Thank others when they share your content. Be a good social media citizen by helping others when you can. Every now and then filter your All Friends column by “?” to see if you can answer questions. Connect tweeps who might be able to help each other or find each other interesting.

If you are a source of good content, and a good social media citizen, people will come to like and trust you and that can lead to deeper relationships. And, if you’re a business, those relationships can lead to referrals, leads and sales. That’s good social media karma.

In the next post, I’ll talk more about managing your Twitter use and time.

Twitter Basics series

If you know me, you know that I love Twitter. I have good reason to love it. It’s my library, news stand, water cooler, virtual conference reception and online pub (BYOB). I learn a lot, chat with interesting people and make friends. What’s not to love?

Usually when I tell people that, I get a dismissive face with this reply, “I just don’t get Twitter.” I’m not surprised, it can seem like a lonely pointless place with lots of noise until you figure it out. The key to success with Twitter is figuring out whom to follow and how to interact. I’ll dig deeper into that in an upcoming post, but until then I’ve recently found some posts that are well worth sharing. Here are some tips on following and interacting from Matt Silverman at Mashable, a great resource for basic social media how-to’s. When you’re done with that, read A Little Basic Twitter Advice for New or Inactive Peeps by Ray Beckerman.

I recommend becoming familiar with all the options in the Settings section of your Twitter account. How you set these options will either enhance or inhibit your Twitter experience. On the Account page of Settings many Twitter newbies make the mistake of checking the ‘Protect my tweets’ box. Here are ten reasons to not protect your tweets from Lee Aase.

Flickr: jiruan

I’ve noticed that some of my LinkedIn connections have their tweets automatically updating their LinkedIn account too. Maybe they’re doing this because they can, so why not. Or maybe it’s in the interest of saving time and they believe that all their tweets are the appropriate content for their LinkedIn connections. I don’t know. However, a lot of the tweets I see going to LinkedIn are more personal in nature compared to the usual professional LinkedIn updates, and they are certainly more frequent. My opinion only, but, damn, too much noise. Chris Brogan advises separating your LinkedIn and Twitter updates in Keep LinkedIn Clean.

If you’d like to follow your LinkedIn connections on Twitter but want an easy way to find them, Amanda O’Brien shows you how. My approach to these tools is that each of them has different audiences with whom you have different relationships, you may not want to send all your tweets to LinkedIn or to Facebook and vice versa. There are no rules but I would suggest considering your audience, message content and language before hitting ‘Send’.

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