The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) recently launched a new web site, The Power of A. According to the ASAE press release, the Power of A is a “communications campaign intended to broadcast how associations across all industry sectors and in every state harness the power of millions to help jumpstart America’s economic engine and help propel the nation toward recovery.”

Many of us thought that the purpose of this campaign would be to educate the public about what associations do and how they contribute to society and the economy. I remember the blank faces when I told people I worked for a trade association. Huh? Is that a government job? So you’re involved with an export or import business?

Unfortunately the public isn’t the target audience here. The press release goes on: “The Washington, D.C. office of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide was engaged by ASAE & The Center to develop and implement the campaign, whose top priority is to inform decision makers on Capitol Hill, particularly those individuals who comprise the group of newest political gatekeepers to the American public.”

Wow, that’s a missed opportunity. We’re preaching to the same crowd that we’ve been lobbying to since our formation – Capitol Hill staff. To make it even worse, the web site has a self-congratulatory feel to it. And many of the associations who posted to the site obviously copied text straight from the bottom of their press release template or their mission statement. Yawn.

What happened next may not have been part of ASAE’s or Ogilvy’s plan. Several association professionals, including me, bitched about the campaign and web site on Twitter. Chris Bailey and Maggie McGary wrote blog posts that captured many of our frustrations.

And there on The Power of A home page is the #pwra Twitter stream of our rants with words like “misguided” and “muddled gaffe” displayed for all to see. I don’t feel great about complaining in public about my association, especially when I know many ASAE staff must have labored over this effort.

This is our new reality. An expensive PR campaign hit a nerve. As dues-paying members we see an opportunity, money and energy wasted. We expected more. We’re disappointed and frustrated. We were excited about this campaign. We really want it to succeed. And we talk and write about it. Like customers do about businesses that failed them, members do the same about their associations.

Is ASAE listening? Social media is a 24/7 job. Would it have helped if someone responded to us this weekend on Twitter or on the blogs? I’m not sure. Our opinions probably wouldn’t have changed, but we would have felt good about our association — they’re listening, they know what to do in social media. Will they address our concerns? I hope so, they’re valid concerns. Will these concerns be shared by all members? Probably not. We all come from different places with different expectations and ideas.

We now have ringside seats to observe how ASAE will handle this situation. We can all learn from this. This can happen to any of us. It’s why so many associations and companies are scared to get into social media – what do we do when people go negative? Frankly if your members or customers have an issue with something you’re doing, they’re going to talk about you, whether you’re there or not.

What would your organization do about it?