Reads of the Week: March 1, 2013

On Monday, it looked like all the smarty pants in DC were tweeting from the xPotomac conference. Search for the #xpotomac13 hashtag to get a taste of the brain candy, or check out Jay Daughtry’s notes and links to other xPotomac posts.

Hopefully, if your job requires you to develop relationships with the media, you use Twitter to do that. If not, start by creating Twitter media lists. Lauren Bubser at NPtalk explains how.

As you can tell from my baby blog, I’m pretty basic when it comes to websites. When I do graduate to a big girl blog, I know I’ll have to brush up on Google Analytics which is why I’ve bookmarked this Guide to Getting Started with Analytics from Dave Davies at Search Engine Watch.

Have you heard about the Copyright Alert System that was launched this week? Those darn kids and their Napster, look what they’ve done! Mario Aguilar at Gizmodo explains how it works.

One of my favorite posts this week is by Kivi Leroux Miller, a nonprofit communications consultant, author and trainer, who also happens to be a North Carolina gal. She writes: 

“As I have been interviewing nonprofits for my new book on content marketing, it’s become crystal clear to me that the organizations that are most successful at using content to engage their communities consider the combination of a good CRM (customer relationship management software), CMS (website content management system), email, and e-commerce technology to be just as important to their success as having thoughtful and creative staff members who can write well.”

Kivi goes on to say, “If your choice is between more staff and this kind of technology, seriously think about the technology over the additional staff.” I agree. By wisely leveraging technology, your organization can go so much further than you can imagine. Read her post to find out how.

You may think you know, but do you really know how technology is transforming associations? We’ll all know once Digital Now’s Technology Leadership Survey is released. Today’s the last day to participate in the survey if you want a chance to win free registration to next year’s Digital Now conference. The survey takes five to ten minutes. I’m so excited that I’m going for the first time to this year’s Digital Now conference in April. Are you?

Long ago, when I first started reading blogs, I found one about a guy’s experience studying for his Certified Association Executive (CAE) exam. I was years away from considering the CAE exam, but his blog, and those of a few other early association bloggers, reignited my interest in my profession. Good news, fellow association geeks: Ben Martin, CAE is blogging again!

Ben’s a master of online community management and is now sharing his wisdom on his Online Community Results blog. This week he answers the question: what kind of content strategy drives community engagement?

Since I’m heading to Avectra’s User & Developers Conference this weekend and then, after a day and a half at home, to ASAE’s Great Ideas, I’m sure to see a Speaker with Jazzy Socks and The Guy who Tweets Everything. Heck, these people are my friends! I think you’ll enjoy seeing the other conference types that Kristin Kovacich at Digiday identified.

I read far too much good stuff this week, so here’s a quick list of other useful and interesting reads:

  • Microsoft, damn them, is limiting Office 2013 installations to one per computer, meaning, if your computer crashes or you have to reformat, you’re SOL. (Digital Trends)
  • I love Waze. It’s my go-to app for navigation while driving. It talks to me about traffic jams and other hazards. And it keeps getting better. (Wired)
  • Is there anything more annoying than auto-play video? You end up clicking on all your tabs trying to find the obnoxious page. Soon Google Chrome will let you know which page is the offender. (The Next Web)
  • This is the most accurate (and scathing) review of the irrelevant Oscars that I’ve read. And just so you know, I love Seth McFarlane. Yeah, he’s sophomoric and offensive, but Family Guy has genius moments. Lighten up, people! (Lefsetz Letter)
  • One of my favorite movies of all time, “a modest masterpiece,” is Local Hero. I love it because it’s about community. And it’s set in Scotland. Rent it. Bonus: Mark Knopfler does the score. (The Economist)
  • I once spent a night in Portugal riveted to the TV because the bull fights were on. I couldn’t believe the bravery (craziness) of the pega guys. Watch the video that accompanies Andrew Sullivan’s post and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t worry, they respect the bull in Portugal; they don’t kill him. He retires to a satisfying life with a harem of cows. (The Dish)

That’s all, folks, happy Friday!

Photo by Alex Brown (Flickr)
Photo by Alex Brown (Flickr)

New Association Benefit: Social Dining

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

Game Thinking: An Epic Win for Associations

I hear you. “Games, yes! It’s about time we looked at games.”

And I hear you too. “Games? You can’t be serious. Not at my association.”

Full disclosure, I’m not a gamer, so this is all a bit foreign to me too. I first started paying attention to games two years ago at a TEDx conference where I heard an IBM game designer talk about using games for training and education. Ever since I’ve been intrigued by the idea that game thinking can help associations deliver a better experience.

I’m not the only one. Game dynamics was the topic of last week’s #assnchat.

It’s tempting to dismiss any consideration of games by saying members are serious professionals and wouldn’t go for those shenanigans, but they do.

Games are the most downloaded apps. 72% of households play computer or video games. The average gamer is 37 years old. 42% of gamers are women. 55% of gamers play on their phone or hand-held device.

Here’s what I’m wondering: how can we leverage the principles of game design to make the membership experience or professional development journey more meaningful, or encourage online community participation?

Please read the rest of this post at the Avectra blog.

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

Open Community Q&A with Lindy and Maddie

open community associations social media onlineI’m taking part in the virtual book tour Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. In this post, Maddie and Lindy answer a few questions I had after reading the book.

So for my readers who haven’t seen the other posts about Open Community, give us a little background.

Lindy: No problem. Let’s start with the definition. Your Open Community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online. Connecting with and supporting your Open Community is really important, because if you don’t, someone else will.

Maddie: We decided to write Open Community as a way to address the frustrations association executives have been sharing with us, and to redirect their thinking about using social tools to build community online. There’s a lot of talk about how social media changes things outside the organization. This book is about how it changes things INSIDE the organization.

What can associations learn from listening (social media monitoring) that will help them build their online community?

Maddie: Great first question. “If you do nothing else, listen and respond.” That’s a title of one of the sections in the book, and it’s really the essence of using social media.

Lindy: Listening helps you see where people are gathering online to talk about your organization or your industry. You’ll get a sense for how your stakeholders feel comfortable engaging with one another. You’ll see who’s joining, who’s contributing, who’s especially outspoken, who’s wearing the leadership mantle. You can also pay attention to the topics that are resonating with your open community. In our experience, your open community can be a great sounding board for emerging issues–you can really get ahead of the curve when you’re paying attention to the thought leaders in online social spaces.

Let’s pretend. I’m a CEO and I’m trying to figure out who on staff is the best person to drive the building and nurturing of an online community. What are some of the characteristics I should look for? Oh, rest assured, I won’t just add this to the staffer’s plate, we’ll do some reshuffling of responsibilities.

Maddie: What an association needs is what we describe as “skill sets for a social organization” – listening, curation, conversation, social etiquette, facilitating and mediating, and collaboration.  (We talk in the book about the specifics of these). For some orgs, a great individual community manager will have all of these abilities. For others, a team might work just as well, and for yet others, every single person in the organization will do the work of community building and management.

Lindy: We also talk in the book about the role a community manager needs to play in the organization. You need someone who is willing to be down in the trenches doing a lot of daily grunt work. Listening isn’t glamorous. Tracking Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and other outposts isn’t glamorous. Doing editorial calendars and posting short-form content isn’t glamorous. But the person also needs to be respected and supported by senior staff, because as community manager, they will be helping senior executives make meaning out of the open community on a strategic level as well.

What do you think about unleashing staff personalities, if they’re willing? Showing a face and personality to the world, rather than just an institutional logo?

Lindy: “People interact with people, not organizations.” That’s another section title in the book.

Maddie: It’s so true. How weird is it to tweet with a company logo? There’s a dominant culture online, and that culture celebrates the individual. Also, it’s harder to criticize (and easier to praise) an organization when you’re Twitter pals with half the staff.

Lindy: Right. Would you wear a logo over your face at your Annual Meeting? LOL. I’m enjoying that mental picture.

But seriously, associations need to strike the right balance between celebrating the individual and being clear about the brand. And there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It all comes down to making good hiring choices, and then trusting your staff to work towards the goals of the organization.

open community online associations social media

How can blogs help build community? Why do you think so many associations are hesitant to start a blog?

Maddie: In the online ecosystem, we talk about the organization having a homebase and outposts. A homebase has some defining characteristics, including frequent updates, openness, and shareability. Blogs make a great homebase.

I think there are a lot of obstacles to blogging that associations find difficult to overcome. Resources are one–blogging is a big, ongoing commitment, and if you can’t commit the resources to build a dynamic blogging site, then you’ll fail.

Lindy: Yep. Resources is what we hear the most. But to be honest, I think that’s just a convenient excuse. If I don’t really understand the benefits of blogging as a web publishing model for my association, then I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. And I’m busy, so that must mean there’s not time for blogging. Here’s the thing though. Most association websites are built to sell. There may be a news component, but selling products, events, and membership are the focus. That kind of website is great for someone who doesn’t know you well, but for your open community, you need something different. Something more. You need a real homebase.

I used to work with builders and contractors, many of whom spent most of the day on a construction site, not in front of a computer. There are probably many professions like this where the office might be the front seat during the day and the kitchen table at night. Are these members ready for online communities?

Maddie: Don’t ask us. Ask the members. And listen. Like we said before, the work of social media monitoring will give you a good idea of whether your members are interacting online.

Lindy: And these days, when access to the mobile web is so prevalent, you might be surprised by what you find. But it has to be worth accessing on-the-go. In the book, we ask “What’s your association’s social object?” If you have a social object–content that inspires social interaction–that your members need at the construction site or at the kitchen table in the evening, than you should be able to build community around those social objects.

I liked your idea that citizens (non-members) have much to give to a community and shouldn’t be left out. Many associations think “members-only” is a benefit to brag about. What are the advantages of building an open community rather than a members-only community, for example, closed LinkedIn and Facebook groups or private communities.

Maddie: I’m a big believer in the power of the periphery. The fourth chapter of the book is titled “Open Community Means Empowering the Periphery” which is all about paying attention to new voices.  Organizations are used to knowing where the power is–namely within traditional staff hierarchies or volunteer committee structures–but in the age of the social web, some influencers might be operating completely outside those structures.

Lindy: Right. And part of that chapter is “Who belongs? It’s your open community’s call.” That can go both ways. We’ve seen member-only communities thrive, precisely because they are limited to a group of people who prefer to speak amongst themselves. But we feel it’s imperative that organizations engage outside of those member-only communities. Engaging the periphery means engaging with future members, sure, but also with thought leaders from outside your industry who might just share an idea that changes your members’ lives forever.

Huh. Such a big idea for such a little book. A note for my readers — I’ll be helping Maddie and Lindy gather stories that illustrate open community in action at associations. If you have stories to share, please let me know so I can write about it and make you and your organization look really smart and fabulous.

Xtreme Communities

This post is from my weekly column, New Insights from a New CAE, on SmartBlog Insights. I really like this post and I hope you do too.


My knowledge of evangelical churches is limited to driving by mega-churches with gigantic parking lots, the kind that cause traffic jams on Sundays. But I’m captivated by their approach to community.

Xtreme Ministries, a church in Nashville that’s also a mixed martial arts academy “where feet, fist and faith collide,” is one of a growing number of evangelical churches where ultimate fighting attracts and retains a hard-to-reach demographic – 18-34 year old men. We know this lesson – provide activities that appeal to young adults if you want them to pay attention to you.

flickr: au_tiger01

Brandon Beals, lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church, created the church he’d always wanted as a spiritual home, a place where he’d want to hang out — one that recently had 100 men show up to watch ultimate fighting on big screen TVs. Half of them weren’t members but came because they heard about the party. Maybe they’ll also come to his lectures that draw parallels between ultimate fighting and Christ’s life, “the ultimate fighter.”

Beals says this is “not a gimmick to get 20-somethings into our church. Canyon Creek doesn’t need a gimmick to encourage them to come.” I was skeptical about that until I read his description of the church’s Culture:

  • Expect the unexpected
  • Irrelevance is irreverence
  • Love people when they lease expect it and least deserve it
  • Playing it safe is risky
  • Everyone is invaluable and irreplaceable
  • Everything is an experiment
  • The church ought to be the most creative place on the planet
  • Maturity does not equal conformity
  • Go the extra mile

Make no mistake, this is a seriously evangelical church, but they’re doing it on their own terms, in ways that are authentic to its members. In addition to services, they have cook-offs, movie nights, book clubs, yoga, sports, a Facebook fan page and podcasts, all aligned with their Core Beliefs — be Real, Relevant, Relational, Reproductive and Rousing. They’re creating an innovative spiritual community.

Are we providing Real, Relevant and Rousing professional communities for our members? I agree, being relevant isn’t enough, but here’s how their definition of Relevant:

  • Understand the emerging culture
  • Utilize creative innovative means to present truth
  • Encourage diversity
  • Willingness to change
flickr: Flickmor

That aims higher than our usual definition. Why do we settle? Think about it: how many communities can people have the attention, time and energy for? Maybe several, but if your association is not meeting their need for a Relevant and Rousing community, it’s not going to remain high up on their relevance scale, or their attention, time and energy scales.

Their church evolves so it remains Relevant to the community. Do our traditions, activities and ways of operating really work for everyone, or just those who actively participate? Do they prevent us from evolving? What happens if someone proposes something new? Do they dare to even do that?

Churches like Canyon Creek are successful for many reasons. Take a look at churches in your neck of the woods through an organizational development lens. You may find that they are fulfilling their primary organizational mission while remaining flexible and innovative in how they serve their members. Their parking lots are full. Are yours?

Bookmark and Share

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!

Ignite Your Conference!

Last night I attended Ignite Raleigh. It’s been described as a technology variety show but that description doesn’t do it justice. Here’s how it works.

Lisa Creech Bledsoe aka twitter/glowbirdThere were 19 speakers. Each one gets five minutes and 20 slides. The slides automatically change every 15 seconds. They can speak about anything they want. They are chosen by the community. We voted for the speakers and topics we wanted to hear. Once we registered on the show’s web site, we received ten votes. We could give all ten votes to one speaker, or spread them out any way we chose. And if we changed our mind, we could take our vote back. The community chose 15 of the speakers and the organizers invited four speakers.

It’s a fast-moving show hosted by an emcee who kept it lively. At the end of five minutes, you are rickrolled off the stage. Some of last night’s topics:

  • A Day in the Life of a Meteorologist
  • NerdGirls Unite! Fact: Women Don’t Have to Be Lame
  • How to Save $100 with a DIY Home Energy Audit
  • 20 Little Know Facts About Sex & Pleasure
  • What Happens to Your Digital Identity After You Die
  • 13 Reasons Women Should Take Up Boxing
  • Everyone Needs a Dumb Guy
  • Mayberry Modernism: Why the Triangle is America’s Hotspot for Way Cool Houses
  • Ignite Night of the Living Dead
  • Why My Cat Can Get a Job Before You

Ryan Boyle aka twitter/therabAs you can see, it’s not a tech geek night, unless you call PowerPoint techy. It was fun and educational. It brought together about 500-600 people for a free night of entertainment.

Why would an association want to do this at a conference?

  • It’s a low cost (or free) night of entertainment for attendees where they can hang out and have fun with others.
  • We get to see another side of fellow members.
  • We also get to see members in the spotlight that might not normally get that exposure, a new set of faces.
  • It will be talked about. Believe me, this type of event gets lots of buzz – tweets, Facebook posts and lots of blog posts, lots.
  • It’s a great way to experiment with crowd-sourcing.
  • You can offer something to those members (perhaps younger, perhaps easily bored) who aren’t interested in your usual evening fare.

emcee Zach Ward aka twitter/zachwardWhat does it take?

  • Organizers – Ignite Raleigh was organized by the three man team of OurHashtag with the help of a volunteer coordinator.
  • A large room with a stage, screen and two mics (one for the emcee, one handheld mic for the speaker). The venue last night had some bridge chair seating in the front and in the balcony, but most of it was standing room only.
  • Voting tool – Ignite uses Uservoice on their web site.
  • Registration tool like Eventbrite – Ignite Raleigh was free and they closed registration when they reached the room’s capacity plus an additional no-show allowance.
  • Technical help to run the automated Powerpoint, sound, lights, video camera, livestream (optional) and photography.
  • Volunteers to check folks in, do crowd control and assistance, act as runners and shuffle speakers on and off stage.
  • An entertaining emcee – red tutu not required.
  • Sponsors to cover expenses – Ignite Raleigh ran short videos at the beginning of the night and at intermission and gave them lots of stage/on site love but not the microphone.
  • Brave speakers.
  • Cash bar for the audience.
  • Marketing in conference materials and through social media.

Instead of going to an association awards dinner, I would much rather attend an Ignite-like evening, and I’m a Boomer/Gen Xer (Generation Jones), imagine what your young members would prefer. This is a great alternative to your regular evening programming for those who frankly aren’t interested in what you’re offering, or can’t afford it.

UPDATE: After posting this I learned from Shelly Alcorn that the California Society of Association Executives will be doing an Ignite night at their annual conference. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

%d bloggers like this: