Think Responsive for Your Association Website

Have you ever pulled up a website on your phone and been frustrated by the tiny text and tabs? Unless I’m desperate to do something there, I usually give up. In either case, I’m frustrated by the awful user experience. Don’t they care about their customers?

When’s the last time you looked at your association website on a mobile phone? Hopefully, it was a good experience because, according to technology research firm Gartner, by 2013 more people will access websites with mobile phones than with desktop computers.

You’ll see evidence of this trend if you look at your website’s analytics and note the different browsers, operating systems, and screen resolutions used by visitors. Bear in mind, if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, the numbers may reflect the cold reality that your mobile users have tried and given up on your site.

Members increasingly want your association in their pocket. When they’re not at a desktop computer, they want to find and read what they need, look up other members’ contact info, register for events, attend webinars, and participate in online community discussions.

If your website is difficult to navigate on mobile phones, if images or pages don’t load, or if users have to scroll or zoom excessively to view content, you have a big problem. It looks like you don’t care.

Read more about responsive design websites at the Avectra blog.

responsive association website design
photo by Jeremy Keith (Flickr/adactio)

Is Your Association the Online Hub for Ideas?

Museums and associations, they’re more alike than you think.

  • Nonprofit mission-driven membership institutions governed by member boards
  • Engaging audiences through education
  • Traditional and hierarchic cultures
  • Professional staff siloed in departments
  • Risk-averse and slow-moving
  • Striving to remain meaningful to a growing younger market

While volunteering in two different museums, I overheard many staff conversations: they worry about the same things we do. When I read the blogs of museum professionals, I’m struck by how much we’re wrestling with some of the same issues.

Many museums are experimenting with new ways to engage with visitors and the public — fun short-term initiatives, like the New Museum’s visitor tweet reviews, and bold long-term steps, like the Walker Art Center’s new website.
The online museum community has been raving about the Walker’s new site, calling it “a game-changer” and “a potential paradigm shift for institutional websites.” What’s the big deal? And what can associations borrow from their approach?

Engagement catalyst

Like most museums, the Walker’s website was focused primarily on providing information about their collections, exhibits and membership. It was all about the Walker. Now the site is, in their words, “an online hub for ideas about contemporary art and culture, both inside the Walker and beyond.” They busted through their physical walls to start a conversation in the online world, where they engage not only those who might visit the museum in Minneapolis, but anyone interested in contemporary art and culture.

Please read the rest of this post about websites as industry hubs at the Avectra blog.

association website content marketing

A Day at the Tour: Social Media Failure, Outrage & Frustration

If you’re one of my Facebook or Twitter friends, you know I love the Tour de France. You probably also noticed how angry I am about ESPN’s Michael Smith laughing online and during his show, Around the Horn, about two cyclists being hit hard by a car on Sunday during stage 9 of the Tour. You can see how hard in the video shown on Dutch TV. No Dutch is required to know what the commentators are saying.

My friend Danielle Hatfield noticed my anger. She also recognized Smith’s behavior as a social media failure for ESPN. Michael Smith tweets as an ESPN reporter. Whether he knows it or not, he represents ESPN online. Danielle’s post, ESPN: When Your Brand Representatives Become a Liability, dives into this further.

How it all began

Here are the tweets Smith sent out to the world on Monday. They have been deleted from his Twitter account. My earlier screen captures can be seen on Danielle’s blog:

  • “For real, am I wrong for laughing at that Tour de France crash? Can’t get over the driver speeding off as if he didn’t know he hit someone!”
  • “I’m sorry that crash is hilarious. Every. Time.”
  • “It had been far too long since I’d angered an entire community. Today I’ve managed offend cyclists everywhere. Guess what? It’s still funny.”

That is how a man with 95,713 followers on Twitter replies publicly when he sees a car at high speed hitting two cyclists, one of whom, Johnny Hoogerland, flew through the air, landed in a barb wire fence and got 33 stitches later that night.

Eben Oliver Weiss at Bicycling magazine summed up the situation: “The true courageous athletes are picking themselves up off the pavement after hitting the road at 25 to 35 miles per hour and finishing a 140 mile ride. Not for high paying endorsements or lucrative contracts, but a true love of a sport and the desire to be there for their team mates.

tour of france espn michael smith twitter social media
StomachOfAnger t-shirt

Why oh why

You’d think ESPN would love those kinds of heroics. How could Smith be so insensitive? His derision is easily explained. Cycling doesn’t “rate” as a sport in his mind and in the mind of many Americans.

  • Cycling is too European, despite American success. American teams and cyclists are some of the best in the world. Over the last several years the Tour of California has become one of cycling’s premier events attracting the world’s best teams.
  • Cycling is boring. Lots of guys ride in a pack all day and then sprint the last 100 yards to the finish. I used to think baseball was boring, until I understood all its nuances. There’s a lot more to cycling than a novice eye picks up: strategy, history, traditions, unwritten rules, points competitions, specialties, personalities, teamwork, athleticism, grit, courage, heroes and villains.

Maybe Smith doesn’t like cyclists in their spandex outfits on expensive bikes taking up the road. Every community has its share of rude holier-than-thou jerks, including cycling. However, most cyclists are drivers too and they are doing their best to safely share the little road they have.


Like any community already feeling maligned and misunderstood, the cycling community responded with shock, then anger. Nancy Toby was the first to rally the troops via her blog and Twitter. The story and anger spread. But the Twitter cycling community is small and currently distracted by the Tour. We’re already spending several hours a day watching and reading about the Tour. How much time is left to fight Michael Smith and his bosses at ESPN?

At first Smith lashed out at his critics saying it wasn’t that serious — they should lighten up or go play in traffic. He proceeded to tweet all day, bantering with his followers about the angry losers. A lot of those tweets seemed to have disappeared too. Many of those “losers” were people who had lost loved ones to cycling accidents or been hit by cars themselves.

tour de france espn michael smith social media twitter
Photo by HeyRocker (Flickr)

Eventually at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, an apology was issued: “I apologize for my insensitive remarks re: the TdF crash. I recognize my comments were inappropriate given the serious nature of the crash.

ESPN has muzzled him. But does he really understand the callousness of his remarks and the influence they might have on his followers? Many in the cycling community continue to ask for his removal. He seems sure that won’t happen.

WilliamsR24: “All of these people attempting to ruin ur life and ur the jerk? It was a joke. Just like these people attacking u. A joke.”

MrMichael_Smith: “thanks man. believe me i’m good. not gonna succeed.”


So what’s the moral of this story besides “don’t be a turd?”

Train your ambassadors. Your ambassadors are anyone on staff who blogs, tweets, comments or communicates on a public platform. People assume your organization condones their behavior. Show them how to communicate, especially to critics; don’t assume they already know.

Be constantly vigilant. If ESPN’s PR staff had monitored Smith’s tweet stream, you can be sure they would have stepped in and said, hey, buddy, cool it. But Smith kept going down the ugly path, egged on by his fans.

Examine your personal brand. Maybe ESPN approves of Smith’s style? Maybe, like Anheuser-Busch and Miller/Coors, ESPN thinks their entire market is 22 year-old men who are obsessed with boobs and balls (the athletic kind, of course) — a market that likes Smith’s brand of humor. But what happens when your personal brand finds it way far beyond your loyal fans? How will it play in the mainstream press? What would your mother think?

Funny how? I like dry humor, dark humor and making fun of people as much as the next person, but I know when it’s gone too far. Even Dennis Miller who skewers people with a scary yet brilliant kind of smug satisfaction knows you must think about the consequences of your humor. When you laugh at a potentially tragic and personal event, like cancer or car accidents, isn’t that crossing a line? I think so, especially when you’re a role model of sorts and your behavior might influence others to have the same cavalier attitude toward life and limb.

Respond sincerely. No one believes Smith’s apology. No one thinks he’s changed his attitude. No one believes ESPN cares. I never had an opinion about ESPN; it was just another sports channel I watched. I was neutral. Now, I’ve lost respect.

Campaigns need many voices or big influence. Does the Twitter cycling community have any real voice or power? I fear it doesn’t unless mainstream journalists or celebrities take up the cause. Lance would have been perfect for this, but he’s compromised and has enough of his own problems. ESPN is betting that after a few days, the passion will die down, the pesky Twitter cyclists will go away and all will be forgotten. That’s a shame. I bet the scorn and distaste for cyclists won’t be forgotten by Smith’s 95,713 followers on Twitter. That’s scary.

Another lost opportunity. Wouldn’t it be something if an influencer did get ESPN’s attention, educated their staff and turned an ugly episode into a positive campaign about road safety or cycling as an affordable and fun way to get and stay fit? Paging Chris Horner!

Update: If you’d like to tell ESPN what you think about Michael Smith’s behavior, go to Thanks!

tour de france espn michael smith twitter social media
Chris Horner in yellow (leader) at 2011 Tour of California (photo by Dave Strom)

The Invisible Community

Although I am a typical loner in my daily life, my awareness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has prevented me from feelings of isolation.

~Albert Einstein, 1932, from What I Believe (or My Credo), a speech to the German League of Human Rights

If Einstein were around today, he’d blog, tweet and probably have a Facebook page too. He’d love social media and its potential to connect him with an “invisible community” of hundreds, more likely, thousands, of interesting minds and loving hearts.

Not everyone is comfortable talking to strangers. Social media makes it easy for those who are less outgoing to share their thoughts and ideas and expand their network of friends. As long as you’re comfortable with the written word, there are no limits to the people you can meet and nuggets of wisdom you can share and enjoy.

It doesn’t matter where you live. Even if you’re three hours from the nearest coffee shop, you can still find community online if you’re attentive, giving and kind.

An invisible community has the power to embolden and transform us, as we know from watching our activist heroes and heroines in Egypt. Or it can simply be there to support, inspire and delight us. Einstein said it best: “How happy and grateful I am for having been granted this blessing.”

invisible community einstein social media

Social Media Monitoring: Are You Listening to Me?

Social media dwellers, yes, that’s me, throw the term “listen” around as if everyone knows what we’re talking about. Listening in a social media context means using tools to monitor the mentions of your name, your username, your company and other keywords. When you listen, you become aware of these mentions and therefore any conversation about you or aimed at you. You have the opportunity to be part of the conversation, instead of being oblivious.

Sometimes when I tweet to an infrequent or untrained Twitter user, it’s like tweeting into the void. I never hear back from them, or I hear back a week later and by then I can’t remember why I tweeted at them in the first place. They’re not listening.

This problem is complicated by Twitter’s technical bugs. I heard that Twitter missed many Mentions this past weekend — tweets mentioning your username or directed to your username. Twitter’s API, the programming interface allowing Twitter to talk to applications like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, had problems again – growing pains. If someone directed a tweet at me this weekend with the @ symbol or mentioned my username, it might not have shown up in my Mentions column. I would have never known that someone tweeted me or that I was a subject of conversation unless I was listening, which I was.

It’s hard to have a conversation when the other person’s not listening. There are dozens of monitoring tools out there – basic ones are free and more sophisticated ones come at a price. Here are some free tools that work well for individuals or for organizations just getting started in social media.


Google Alerts

Even if you don’t use social media, I recommend you create Google Alerts for your name, company name and other keywords like the name of your blog, products, events and publications. You’ll be notified when your name shows up in blog posts, tweets and websites. If you use Twitter, create Google Alerts for your Twitter username. If you have a commonly misspelled name like mine, create searches for the frequent misspellings. In Google Alerts, select the option for real-time (as-it-happens) search results to be delivered in Feed format to your Google Reader.

Twitter Search

The first step to listening on Twitter is reading your @Mentions tab on the Twitter site or, if you use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, reading your Mentions column. Keep this column where you can see it. Do the same for your Direct Messages tab or column. I also set my UberSocial mobile application to alert me when I get a Mention or Direct Message.

Twitter search is not what it used to be. At times it only goes back a few days. That’s why it’s better to get real-time search results sent to you instead of relying on the web page to show you results. Go to the advanced Twitter search page and create searches for your name and other keywords. Then click on the orange RSS icon to create and send a feed for each search to your Google Reader.


Lots of conversation happens in blog comments, possibly about you or your organization. I use these tools to keep up with mentions of my name and blog:

URL Twitter Mentions

You could set up a Twitter search or Google Alert on your blog’s domain but it won’t capture any tweets that use a shortened URL, like a or address. My favorite URL Twitter search tool is now Topsy. You can register your domains with Topsy and it will alert you when a blog post with your domain has been tweeted. It’s a great way to find all the tweets mentioning your posts. I find tweets via Topsy that other tools don’t catch. A similar tool is Backtweets but I’m not as in love with that one.

Twitter Favorites

If you’re curious to see which of your tweets are being Favorited by others, create an alert with to have alerts sent to your Reader.

Want to Learn More?

Here are a few additional resources to get you started.

Listening is just the first step. Now that you’re aware of the conversation about you or your organization, what are you going to do?

Your Turn

I’ve shared the free tools that I use, what about you?

  • What other free tools do you use to monitor your name?
  • Do any of these tools have shortcomings that bother you?
  • What about tools that search discussion forums or boards, like BoardTracker or BoardReader? Do you use them?
  • Do you use any Facebook-specific tools?

Grumpy Gladwell: Why the Fuss?

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker piece, Small Change: Why the Revolution Won’t Be Tweeted, has inspired a lot of kvetching. Why do I need to add my thoughts? Especially when this post is more of a brain dump than a well thought out response? Because many people already have misperceptions about social media and those who use it. I guess I take it a bit personally. I cherish my Twitter communities. I don’t have grand expectations about Twitter — it is what it is, a place to chat, to give and receive. Yes, it can be a catalyst for change — personal, cultural or organizational. I get the sense that Gladwell assigns it roles that it is still growing into, like a teenager.

Gladwell writes, “Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools.” Really? Who’s defining them that way? Oh, you are, so it must be true. No, activists are still defined by their causes. Tools are tools, nothing more. Tools can help enhance conversation, community, and, yes, causes, but they are still merely tools, used ineptly by some and to great effect by others.

Campaigns have always used the best tools available – theses nailed to doors, letters to the editor, handbills on street corners, flyers stapled to bulletin boards, neighborhood canvassing, phone trees, advertisements, and now Twitter and Facebook pages. There’s always been those who profited by the choice of tools, be it a printer or publisher, or now social media companies.

Gladwell writes about the use of Twitter in Iran or Moldova when they were experiencing political unrest. No matter Twitter’s use or effect there, the buzz resulted in more people outside of those countries paying attention to their troubles. If you were on Twitter during the Iranian demonstrations, you saw an outbreak of green avatars (profile photos), and might have wondered why. If you didn’t read or listen to mainstream media, at least you’d have an inkling of what was happening in Iran if you were curious enough to learn more.

He noted that those involved in “high-risk activism” like the civil rights movement, were more likely to be personally connected to others in the movement. He says, “The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties…weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.”

I agree that weak ties do not usually lead to getting involved in high-risk activism. But weak ties will lead to buzz, familiarity, forming opinions, or donations. I may not commit to real activism, but now I’m aware and may even do something low-risk.

Weak ties can grow into true friendships over time, if people make the effort to develop relationships whether by phone or meeting face-to-face. If not for Twitter, I never would have met the friends I have now in Raleigh. We met and broke the ice on Twitter; hanging out in real life cemented our friendships. I would have lost touch (because I am lousy at phone calls) with my friends in DC and California if not for Facebook. Social media enhances my world of relationships. Yes, I have more shallow friends than deep friends on those networks, but shallow can turn into deep if some effort is put into the relationship.

Gladwell does understand this, “There is strength in weak ties, …. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information.” That’s an important observation. Our Twitter friends bring us diverse perspectives and different resources than what we have around us. That’s one of the reasons Twitter is my most valuable professional development tool.

However then he blows it by saying:

“The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.”

Really? We don’t get that distinction? Who is he talking about? Does he really think that we don’t understand the difference between our types of relationships?

He then points out a critical factor about social media, its lateral network structure as opposed to the traditional vertical hierarchical structure of most organizations. But he adds:

“Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?”

Is this true? Or is this a Boomer way of looking at how new groups work? I don’t know yet. But I can imagine social networks that gather momentum, and spin off leadership groups who strategize off-line via web conferencing, and then leverage their network for action, some low-risk, some high-risk activism. Networks can be a feeder system, recruiting ground and publicity machine. There are more benefits than detriments to this type of organization. By working together, weak online ties can develop into strong personal ties; I’ve seen this happen countless time between association members.

His article, despite my issues with some of his points, is worth reading. It’ll make you think about social media in our society. In making comparisons, he brings us back to one of our history’s shining and troubling times – the civil rights movement. Why does he assume such grand ambitions for social media? It’s changing weekly; it’s barely in puberty. We’re all part of it and we’re still trying to figure it out. You can have expectations and compare it to older ways of community and communication, but if you do that, you’re bound to find ways to be let down. Focus on the good that it can bring to people’s lives. Why be so grumpy, Malcolm?

Leading Change: Getting Your Organization on Board with Social Media

Published originally as a two-part series on SmartBlog Insights.

I was recently introduced to John Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change. How could his process be used to introduce social media to an organization? Social media can sometimes be perceived as annoying, threatening or unnecessary. However, it can also be welcomed as a catalyst for further organizational change.

Kotter says many change efforts fail because organizations don’t take the holistic approach required to see change through. Here are his eight steps to ensure successful change:

  1. Create a sense of urgency. Members now have free online access to knowledge resources and new ways to connect with peers and clients. We need to be the first place they go to for these needs, not another online community or resource. This sense of urgency must be accepted and conveyed by leadership and staff. Dispel any doubts with social media usage statistics, member survey results and market research. Are younger prospects joining at the same rate they used to? Are we meeting their needs? Don’t talk about these issues behind closed doors, share concerns with your entire leadership and educate them about these issues. They might not realize that your association is at risk of becoming irrelevant to some demographic sectors.Are there some on your board who believe there’s no need for change? Isn’t there always a need to adapt, improve and innovate? If they don’t think so, are they truly leaders, or languishers?
  2. Gather your guiding team. You need a cross-departmental team that’s willing to invest their time and professional reputation into making social media work. They’re willing to give new ideas a chance – they’re not the usual devil’s advocates. They’re communicators who naturally share and listen to others. They have influence or power; they’ll help others understand what’s going on and encourage them to buy in and participate.
  3. Together, create a compelling vision and strategy. Paint a picture of the ideal association that could emerge as a result of this strategy. Show how the association’s goals will be met, how member needs will be met (and perhaps exceeded), how members will interact with the association and each other, and how the association will be different and better. Outline how that’s going to happen – the steps of your strategy.
  4. Communicate this vision and strategy clearly so everyone else (staff, leaders, members) can understand and buy into it. Explain why this new vision and strategy is necessary, what that future association looks like, why it’s better and what’s in it for them. There will always be naysayers — those who don’t see the need to change and improve. That’s their baggage; they carry it with them everywhere, not only in your association. Don’t let them hold you back. The vision and strategy you share will encourage others to support your plans and maybe even get involved.
  5. Empower others to act on that change vision. Identify the organizational barriers (both real and perceived) that prevent others from buying into new programs like social media. These barriers may originate in existing systems and procedures, or in staff attitudes. Social media is a learning process for everyone. Encourage and support those who propose new ideas and are willing to take risks or even willing to try new things. Do your performance evaluations reward innovation or convention? Brave hearts or weak spines? Don’t reward the “I’m just hanging in until my 401(k) is vested” crowd. Educate those who aren’t wired for change in a non-threatening way so that they see the benefits, both for your members and your organization, and get on board.
  6. Aim for short-term wins. Although social media is a long-term effort, establish a few short-term measurable goals and share those early success stories so everyone knows that the investment of time (and reputation) is worth it. Hopefully this will stifle your doubters. Recognize and reward your team. Boost their morale and motivation, especially if their workload or stress increases in the short-term.
  7. Don’t let up. Keep fine-tuning. Review what’s not working and make changes to improve your efforts. Use the experience and resulting credibility from social media adoption as a lever to make other organizational changes. Take a hard look at existing systems and procedures. How much time does staff spend on this “make work” instead of actually getting things done? Where can your association become more nimble and less bureaucratic? Get fierce with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality that can undermine any vision. Continual education and communication can help ease discomfort and pave the way for needed changes. Relapse to old ways will be tempting for those who may outwardly celebrate your achievements but who inwardly feel threatened by new relationships and programs they don’t fully understand and long for the safe and predictable.
  8. Nurture a new change culture. Institutionalize the change mentality. Make change management a part of your staff and leadership training to ensure that incoming leaders will not revert to old ways. Change will lead to new behaviors – collaboration, openness, releasing control (gasp!) – that must be encouraged. Know that the risk-taking involved will also lead to some failures. However, failures are a chance to learn and improve. A change in organizational culture will take time and may result in the loss of longtime staff, and even leaders, along the way. It’s up to your leaders to persuade others that change is necessary for the association to succeed and survive. Change is the new normal.

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It’s Love a Lurker Day

Today, March 19 is Love a Lurker Day. Yes! I love lurkers! Many thanks to Kiki L’Italien who way back in December came up with the idea for Love a Lurker Day.

Anyone who blogs loves their readers. We love you truly deeply and ardently, those of you we know about and those we only know about because of blog stats. I know you’re out there. I love it when you comment because you make me think or just make me happy. And even if you don’t comment, I’m still happy you visited. You chose to come here and read. That’s really cool, and I am very grateful.

According to Forrester Research’s latest data, 70% of online adults are Spectators, aka Lurkers. When you think about your members, most of them are lurkers or “mailbox members.” They don’t actively participate or volunteer in any way. In ASAE’s Decision to Join we learn that those who don’t volunteer are much less likely to recommend membership than those who are involved, even those involved in an ad-hoc (or episodic) way — an hour here, an hour there. Why? When they stop lurking and start participating they have an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, use their skills or talents and belong to a community. That is the benefit of volunteering that we don’t always talk about, maybe because it’s too “woo woo.”

flickr: Theresa_Thompson

Most of us bloggers started out as lurkers. I was a lurker for a long long time. You could say that I wasn’t so much an Early Adopter as an Early Lurker. Way back in the 90’s I first discovered the web, courtesy of a Brazilian colleague at the World Bank who showed me this really cool thing called Mosaic. Then I discovered newsgroups, remember those? That’s where I got recipes and beer and restaurant recommendations for several trips to Europe. I was a lurker there.

In the early 2000’s I discovered Readerville, an online community for, yes, readers. Again, I was a lurker even though it was a really active community that provided me tons of good book recommendations. Newsgroups and Readerville — they were social media, way back then. Later I started reading blogs, again, as a lurker. I kept reading about this Twitter thing, thanks to my tweeps who attended ASAE’s San Diego meeting in 2008. Finally I created a Twitter profile and slowly came out of lurking mode.

I remember always thinking, what if what I say isn’t important, or it’s too shallow or even wrong. Then I realized many twitter users, none I knew personally of course, were offensive and obnoxious, so I couldn’t be any worse than that! I started participating in LinkedIn group discussions, then commenting on blogs, then tweeting more. One day last spring I took the biggest step and started this blog.

I write because I love the act of writing — finding just the right word or phrase, seeing the disheveled thoughts in my head somehow find clarity on my laptop screen. But I also write because I want to share, to help, to stimulate and to maybe spark a good thought in someone else’s head. I write because I want to be a positive giving part of the community that I found and love here online.

You’re part of that community too, whether you peep up or not. You might decide one day to stop lurking and write a comment or start tweeting, or you may keep on lurking. Either way, it’s okay. Your visits keep me going.

Thank you lurkers! Your presence always makes me smile. Cheers!

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