Be a Renegade – Bringing Social Media to Your Association

I know that there are many association mid-level staffers (managers, directors, etc.) who are personally engaged in social media and believe that their association could benefit from it. However they are not in a position to lead their association there. What do they do? How can they somehow work the system and get their leadership to see that social media can help their association achieve its goals and so much more?

First, they need to look over their association’s strategic plan (or mission, goals, etc.) and see where social media can fit in as another tool or strategy to achieve those goals. Pay particular attention to these areas as they can all be enhanced by social media: advocacy, public relations, member recruitment, member engagement/retention, member communication, education and events.

Set up some Google Alerts on your association’s name, acronym, and variation of name, publications, conference/trade show, chapter acronyms, competitor name/acronym, and any other keywords that will help you to listen in on what people are saying out there. Set up a Twitter Search on the same terms. You can set up RSS feeds for all of these so that you can receive the alerts and search results automatically. I use Google Reader to get my RSS feeds.

Export your member and staff list, or if that is too cumbersome, export a list of your leadership, committee members, and show/meeting attendees. Be mindful that this will exclude those whom you probably would most like to know better – your “mailbox” members (that old term should be replaced!). Upload your list to Facebook and LinkedIn, and then to a Gmail account and have Twitter search that network for you. Find out who is active and what’s on their mind. Do a lot of listening.

Also do a search for some of your leadership’s peers (both staff and members), your association’s competitors and other associations that are similar in member type to yours. Are they involved in social media? These examples can be helpful later when trying to sell your leadership on social media.

Then make a plan. Review your organization’s goals or strategic plan and note how social media tools (starting with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) might help your association achieve those goals. Only plan to take on one of these tools at a time – baby steps. Remember, you can’t just create a presence and walk away, you need to stay engaged, and that takes time and effort. Break your plan down into immediate, short-term and long-term ideas, keeping in mind that your plan will change as your association learns.

Try not to go it alone. Talk to some of the staff whom you discovered are involved in social networking. Bear in mind that many will not want their personal social media life to be known at work but they can be allies and advisors to you. Contact some of the members and ask them for advice. Tell them that you are “going renegade” and investigating options to further your association’s goals through social media – you’re just in the research phase. Ask their advice and if they would like to help. Take advantage of this intelligence-gathering opportunity – you can find out a lot about their real perception of the association, what they want/need, how they envision their association.

This is a lot of work but you will learn much from it. A huge concern to any CEO about social media is the amount of time it requires. This is a valid concern and one that you should be ready to address. It’s why I haven’t mentioned blogging as part of this plan, although it may be something to consider depending on your association’s resources. Another reason to have allies amongst staff is that you may already have in place others who can assist with this effort. Social media can not belong to one department alone. It must be integrated across many departments and can be an aid in breaking down departmental silos since it will require collaboration.

Here are some recent posts that will help you prepare for this task and for the nay-sayers.

What else does someone need to do before they bring their ideas (and a plan) to the big guns? Some of you have gone through this at your association. What advice do you have?

Author: deirdrereid

Deirdre is a freelance writer for companies serving the association market, who after more than 20 years in the association and restaurant industries, is enjoying the good life as a ghostblogger and content marketing writer. Away from her laptop, you can find her walking in the woods, doing yoga, going to shows, journaling, cooking, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and a glass of something tasty in hand.

8 thoughts on “Be a Renegade – Bringing Social Media to Your Association”

    1. I will definitely post about social media use (maybe some case studies) in the future. I wanted to focus on the preparatory steps in this post. I know a lot of association professionals are learning about social media and using social media but they aren’t the ones at the helm — I’ve been there. I’m hoping that my advice (and that of others in the comments, hint hint) will help them move their association forward. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, I appreciate that!


  1. You must be psychic because these are some of the exact things I did to convince my association that we needed to start incorporating social media into our overall activities. Here are a few more things I would suggest:

    1) Gather evidence. Start bookmarking posts about WHY your association needs to be using social media. I did a “convince your boss” page when I presented at Great Ideas–the links in the handout don’t work but here’s the link to the in case you’re interested:–Social%20Media%20Resources.pdf#page=2

    It’s kind of dated because that was like 6 months ago, but at least that can give you an idea–basically any links that help you make your case about why they NEED to be using social media–strategically, of course. I would add to this list Technorati’s state of the blogosphere 2008, the links you include in this post, etc…
    I don’t want to take up your whole comment section, but that’s the gist…and throw a copy of Groundswell in there too for good measure!

    2) Track something that carries old-school clout: metrics. Whenever possible, translate your findings and suggestions into numbers in contexts “they” understand: clickthroughs (the links we share via twitter have a 10% click-thru rate compared to the 1% our newsletters get), fans (our Facebook page has X fans, which equals 25% of our membership), we have X followers on Twitter including these people who are important for this reason, etc. Make the facts and numbers speak to old-school managers in ways they understand. It will take a while but eventually it will work.

    3) Start a list of members who blog or have podcasts. Flag members who are really active on Facebook or Twitter as possible future advocates. See what kind of self-forming groups are already out there, indicating your memberships interest in social media. If they’re already there, you’re already late to the party–better late than never, though.

    Ok I’ll stop now–I’ll just leave with these 2 thoughts
    1) It may well take a LONG time–months, maybe years. Try to stay positive and keep your efforts up–even if you’re just readying your evidence for when the time finally comes when someone is willing to listen. Don’t be too pushy or you’ll hurt your efforts; but at the same time, don’t just write the whole thing off–if nothing else continue to keep your ears and eyes open.
    2) Getting to yes is only half the battle–once you get buy-in, your problems may well just be starting. Staffing, internal communication, office politics….even if you get to “yes” these are the things you’ll then have to deal with. Try to hone your patience skills because you’ll need them! 😉


    1. Maggie, this is such great advice, thanks for sharing it.

      Readers, if you don’t already subscribe or read Maggie’s blog, you must! It’s listed in my blogroll to the right.


    1. Thanks Tony for continuing the conversation at your blog — definitely worth visiting for those of you who haven’t yet. I agree with you that ideally the members will be the ones to lead the effort and drive the creation of community and content. As Cliff Allen pointed out in his comment to your blog post, this will depend on the association’s industry and culture and the existing engagement of its members in social media. But that is continually changing as more and more folks create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

      Thanks for stopping by, I look forward to future conversations!


  2. Great post, as always. (and Maggie’s comments are also helpful.)This is particularly timely, as one of the clients with which I consult faces many of the challenges you outline. At the same time, their members are extremely active in the social media space. Staff wants to engage, but the CEO is worried about time commitment, payoff from time invested in social media, and the impacts of potential negative criticism.

    As part of my assignment to develop an integrated marketing strategy for the organization, I’m working to get them to take baby steps using one social network (in their case Facebook makes the most sense). There is a great deal more that they could do, but one thing at a time.

    So far, my approach with this group parallels your suggestions. I’ll be posting periodically on my blog ( on progress and obstacles we face and how we’re trying to work through them.


  3. Deirdre, thank you for linking to that Associations Now article! I’m glad you found it to be helpful. (I thought it was a great interview myself, and it’s nice to see others linking to it.)


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