What do I do when I’m not writing?

Every now and then I share what I know with others. Recently I did a few presentations that I thought I’d share with you too. Of course it’s not like the real deal when you get to experience my witty banter and stories. Consider this the Cliff Notes version.

In March I went to Chicago to speak to a group of association volunteer leaders about creating and nurturing an online community – Community 2.0 – PowerPoint or PDF version with slide notes. My slides for this presentation are more text heavy than usual because they were recording the audio for a webinar for the members who couldn’t attend in person.

online community, associations, membership organizations, community

Ignore the icky template. That asked me to use it, I did. I'm a rule follower.

I also did a short session for the same group on Writing for the Web.

writing for the web, online writing, blogging

When writing, always start with a good breakfast. Yes, another template.

Last week I spoke to a group of association professionals here in North Carolina on the basics of blogging – And Now You Want Us to Blog Too? – PowerPoint or PDF version with slide notes. I love that title! I can’t take the credit; it was AENC’s idea. In this presentation I talked about objectives, strategy, content and making a blog work.

blogging, associations, membership organizations, nonprofits, blogs

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

I’ve been cheating on my blog again. Here are some of my posts on other blogs — Avectra and Socialfish.

Yes, You Can Be Private in Public

Do you have a hard time convincing your members to get active online? Even the lure of curated resources, scintillating conversations and new friendships might not be enough to get them over a huge mental barrier – loss of privacy and, in their minds, loss of control.  Read the rest at Avectra…

Gratitude is the Best Attitude

Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book, The Thank You Economy, hit bookstore shelves, iPads and Kindles yesterday. Vaynerchuk believes companies are “going to have to relearn and employ the ethics and skills our great-grandparents’ generation took for granted” when building their own businesses. By using social media platforms, organizations can give “personal, one-on-one attention to their entire customer base, no matter how large.”  Read the rest at Avectra…

Open Community Case Study – GoPlow

The first goal in SIMA’s vision statement is: “be the ‘go-to’ resource in their industry.” Brian believed they couldn’t do that until they had a open community website generating solid content.  Read the rest at Socialfish…

blogger writer associations community social media

Photo by Mike Licht (Flickr: notionscapital)

Making Your Community a Good Habit

Any community manager can tell you: “If you build it, they will come” only works in the Field of Dreams, not with online communities. What if you did your research, filled your community with valuable content, marketed it in all the right places and your members are still MIA?  Read the rest at Avectra…

Open Community Case Study – Food Bank

I first met Jen Newmeyer, who is the Food Bank’s social media person, at a Raleigh tweet-up last year. She’s done a great job using social media to create a very supportive community of donors and fans, so I immediately thought of them when planning the first case study for Open Community. And do you see what I’m doing here? I’m fulfilling my role as an accidental spokesperson by giving them the spotlight and spreading their message. See, it works!  Read the rest at Socialfish…

Lessons from Weekend Camp: EventCamp

I went to camp on Saturday: the EventCamp National Conference in Chicago. But, I didn’t fly to Chicago; I enjoyed the hybrid conference from the comfort of my home office.  Read the rest at Avectra…

I’ve been a busy blogging bee lately. Here are a few of my posts on other blogs.

Give New Life to Your Press Release

With the rise of social media, some pundits have declared the press release dead. Others say that’s an extreme view; a good release still plays an important role. However, too many releases deserve the dustbin — poorly crafted, irrelevant and self-serving announcements disguised as press releases.

Read more…

The Power of Personal Learning Networks

It’s an exciting time for lifelong learners. Sources for news, information and knowledge were limited when I first entered the association management industry, but now, thanks to social media, options for learning are unlimited. As a result, we’re bombarded with words and ideas.

Read more…

Is Boomer Leadership Failing Millennials?

Millennials have been pushing my buttons lately, but in a good way. In my last post I looked at the online discussion about the value of association membership that Joe Flowers’ post provoked. This week I read a post by another Millennial blogger, Josip Petrusa – Attracting Millennials to Your Event and Why You’re Failing at It. He wrote of a recent PCMA conference. “It’s as if no one had a true grasp on who and what the Millennials are all about.”

Read more…

To Be or Not to Be, a Member

Last week Joe Flowers tweeted, “After a lot of thought, I decided to not renew my (ASAE Young Association Professional) membership.” I suggested he blog about his decision. His reasoning is probably shared by many association members so his peers would benefit from hearing his views. His post spurred a passionate conversation about associations and membership.

Read more…

Social Media and Political Action Lessons from Egypt

“Every Egyptian I talked to on ground this week laughed when I told them some think tech was not a vital tool for organizing.” Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas and an Adjunct Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, sent that tweet last week.

Read more when it’s published on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

associations social media press releases grassroots membership

Graphic by Mike Licht

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?

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?

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.

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?

On Monday night, I saw a few tweets about a Blog World Expo contest, a conference I’d love to attend if I had the budget, but the budget is spent. The lucky winner will get a full conference registration courtesy of Blog World and roundtrip airfare courtesy of Southwest Air. A friend contacted me to see if I saw the announcement. I did, but the contest was at the Dads Talking blog so I figured only dads were eligible.

However, when I went to the post about the contest, there was nothing that said you had to be a dad. There also weren’t any comments from entrants. Tweeting about your entry was one of the requirements. After doing a couple of different searches, I could find no entry tweets. It looked like no one, not one dad, had entered the contest. It was fair game! I don’t like having to ask folks to shill on my behalf, but I couldn’t let my ego stand in the way of a good opportunity.

What the heck. I opened up WordPress and started to write about blogging and why I wanted to go to Blog World. I even posted a few photos of me and my Dad, just to keep with the dad theme. How cool is it now for me to see those photos on my blog? Priceless. I published my post and sent out a tweet.

And then, there they were. Two dads. They must have been writing at the same time I was because they weren’t there before.

Gulp. I should have known. But late at night with one day left in the contest, not one entry? Wouldn’t the blogging dads have already jumped on this and entered? I guess not. Now I felt like an interloper into their community, trying to wrest a prize from one of their own very worthy aspirants.

Again, there was nothing in the rules or blog post about the contest being only for dads. Running a contest like this is a good way to get the word out about your community so I could see why they might want to leave it open to all. They’d get more buzz.

Then I discovered this morning that the comment I left last night on the Dads Talking contest post was still awaiting moderation, while a  comment posted after mine by MrMomWorld had been published. Also, in the daily paper for #DadsTalking the posts from the other two entrants are featured (go down to the bottom right), but mine is, surprise surprise, missing.

Message received loud and clear. I went from feeling overly sensitive about intruding on their community to feeling snubbed and dismissed. I started thinking about the lessons in this story. My social media spidey sense tells me that’s not the way I would have handled the situation if it were my community. I would have said in a reply to my comment. “So sorry, Deirdre, we appreciate your entry but this contest is only for those in the #DadsTalking community. We should have made that clear. Blah blah blah. Nicety nice.”

We’re all still learning about the best ways to act in social media. It’s really just like real life but to an exponential degree. Here’s some lessons I drew from my experience.

  • Be clear about your intent and process. Misunderstandings can be confusing, hurtful and/or frustrating to both parties.
  • Twitter extends the reach of your blog or website to many people outside your community, especially when it involves a popular hashtag. Are you expecting that?
  • Expected the unexpected. Think about the different scenarios that might occur with any new project or program. Don’t be caught off guard and then react with silence.
  • If you do come up against something unexpected, face it. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Explain yourself. Apologize, if necessary. Always make nice.

Thanks to those who retweeted my contest entry, I appreciate that. I probably shouldn’t have entered in the first place, but the dad’s weren’t biting and I really want to go to Blog World, so I bit. If the contest is in fact only for dads, I’ll throw my support behind the entry that spoke to my heart, Bob Snitchler (@MrMomWorld). He describes himself on his blog as an “insufferable optimist.” I can relate to that. Good luck, Bob!

UPDATE (Thursday, September 30, 7:49 a.m.): My comment was finally approved on the DadsTalking blog. Must have happened late yesterday.