As many of you know, we frequently take the temperature of our readers and other association thought leaders to see what’s keeping them up at night. Over time, we’ve collected mountains of data and novels full of verbatim responses, but in many cases, we weren’t sure if the thermometer we’ve been using was still accurate. So we set out the old-fashioned way and talked to as many folks as we could to see if we could get to the heart of the “disconnects” we were seeing between our reader poll results and our original hypotheses. (See related story by Charles Popper in today’s issue).
For instance, nearly two in five readers (39 percent) told us their social media strategy was fully integrated into their communication platform or would be integrated within the next 12 months. Did we buy it?
“Either you have a very tech-savvy readership or your respondents are deluding themselves with a lot of wishful thinking,” said Renato Cruz Sogueco, chief information officer for the Alexandria, Virginia-based Society of American Florists (SAF) and a frequent speaker at association technology gatherings. “The thing about social media is that it’s just so dynamic. It changes all the time – remember MySpace.com? You’ve got to keep experimenting and almost treat it like a serious hobby instead of your occupation. For example, Facebook is not our official arm: it’s just an outpost for us. But we’re gleaning good intelligence from it. For example, it’s not just younger members using these tools. Our stats show 35- to 55-year-old women are our fastest growing segment of social media users, and you can bet that group is a very heavy consumer of flowers both online and in stores.”
Richard Fischer, Naylor’s west coast director of business development, also thought the social media adoption rates were a tad on the high side. “Just because you have social networking capabilities doesn’t mean you have the rest of your communication strategy fully integrated,” he said.
The only truthful answer any association leader can give is: “Still experimenting,” said Marcus Underwood, vice president and general manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC. “Since these technologies change all the time, in my opinion, it will never be ‘fully integrated,’ because as soon as you do it, it needs to be redone. I think those responses are from people that think that they can just build it, check that box off in their workload, then move on. Social media (and the Internet in general) doesn’t work that way.”
SAF’s Sogueco agreed. “The thing is, you can say you’ve got social media integrated – but you’ll never fully nail it down. All the social media tools – Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and LinkedIn – are good, but temporary, places to extend your brand. They’re getting the lion’s share of the buzz right now, but in two years’ time, something else much bigger will come along.”
Tom Greve, publisher of Credit Union Times (CUT) and longtime associate publisher of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ 360,000-circulation Journal of Accountancy and other print and digital publications, said his media group is using social media pretty successfully as a directional tool to get his readers back to the flagship magazine’s website. One of his editors has accumulated 1,200 followers on Twitter and many readers seem to be networking with each other on CUT’s LinkedIn channel. While credit unions for the most part are not early adopters, some of the younger associates and older, more aggressive CEOs are embracing the new technology, Greve said. So are the bigger associations in the credit union arena.
“CUNA [Credit Union National Association] and CUES [Credit Union Executive Society] are the bigger associations in our industry and they’ve been pretty aggressive about social media as a communications tool,” said Greve. “The smaller associations have not gotten the same traction with their members. It doesn’t mean they don’t understand it, it’s simply not having enough staff, time and resources to manage it.”
So can you really have a social media policy and strategy?
“I kind of laugh when I hear about organizations trumpeting their new social media policies,” said SAF’s Sogueco. “The focus should be on play, not policy. The policy has to be dynamic, too. The rules keep changing and that’s hard for many associations to accept.”
Naylor’s Fischer maintains that the old expression “content is king” still rings true. “How well is our content branded to your association and how unique is it to your association?” he asked. “Just because you have 200 Facebook fans and 1,000 Twitter followers doesn’t really mean anything in the context of a communication strategy. What is the objective of your tweets? Are you tweeting to show you can do it, or are you really saying something that the majority of your followers (and potential member followers) find useful? And why did you choose Twitter to make that information available to your followers instead of Facebook, LinkedIn, your blog, your newsletter or website, etc.?”
Using social media to build your staff leaders’ brands
SAF’s Sogueco said one area in which associations can shine in the social media realm is by having their staff leaders post regularly about their areas of expertise and build out their personal brands from beneath the organization’s umbrella. For instance, your technology leader, your public affairs leader, your membership director, or your association magazine editor can all be posting regularly and putting their unique spin on topics that are relevant to members. And to keep it all on message, you have an overall “content curator” who keeps the flow of information coming regularly. They don’t need to supervise the postings as much as keep the discussion flowing and ensure the posts stay relevant and don’t duplicate each other.
Source: Naylor LLC, 2010
“I’m surprised your number is not higher about Gen X and Gen Y members being more demanding,” said Sogueco. “Demographic shifts demand a new kind of service and a more customized level of engagement.”
Younger members are “unequivocally more demanding,” said Credit Union Times’ Greve. “Not only do they want the news in a timely fashion, they want it more targeted, more customized and highly relevant to their businesses. They want home pages on the fly and built on their personal preferences. The days of readers and members looking for news are long gone. Now the news finds you thanks to RSS feeds, mobile media, geo-targeting and social networking.”
As Naylor’s Fischer indicated, the median age of association members keeps getting lower and members’ media consumption habits are very different than the previous generation’s habits. “You not only have to have a useful website, e-newsletter and social media capabilities to support your traditional communication channels, but younger members expect you to know how to use those new channels effectively,” he said. “That means being able to listen to them, not just push stuff out, and have back-channel discussions with your members where you can actually contribute to the discussion without preaching. The only way to get listened to today is to have something relevant to say.”
SAF is completely revamping its website, related Sogueco. The site itself is going to be more of a social networking hub for its members and less an “About Us” place, he said. “We’re going straight from Web 1.0 to Web 3.0. By that I mean you have to go from pushing out information and knowledge to your members to being the ‘curator of that knowledge.’ In our case, it’s all about flower owners, not flower shops or the flower industry. It’s about empowering individuals to talk to their peers and learn from each other, not just from the association. The Internet is just a large collection of individuals. Just like florists. It’s not a collection of businesses, it’s a collection of like-minded individuals who happen to own and run flower stores.”
|From Web 1.0 to Web 3.0., Where is your organization?
Courtesy of Renato Sogueco, Society of American Florists and Naylor, LLC 2010
We want members to be satisfied. Are we asking them the right questions?
N= 241, Source: Naylor LLC, 2010
If you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a long time, you know that the response “fine” very often doesn’t mean things are acceptable. To that end, Association Adviser eNews polls found that nearly one in five associations (19.5 percent) do not survey their members at all and more than two in five (41.8 percent) rely on anecdotal member feedback or occasional member satisfaction surveys. So how can they do things better if they don’t know what to improve upon?
Historically associations don’t do a great job of asking members what they really need, said Greve. “They tend to shy away from asking the tough questions.It might not be what the board wants to hear, but it’s what will lead to greater member satisfaction.”
“It’s just amazing to me how little associations know about their customers – i.e. our members,” remarked Sogueco. “As a group, we don’t like to do analytics and look at behavior patterns, which are so much easier to measure and track on the Web. We’re still stuck doing things the same old way we always have. We tend to want to play it safe. We don’t understand the customer, how they consume products and information.”
For example, our member surveys may tell us that 20 percent of members own an iPhone or similar device and carry it with them all the time. So how come we rarely communicate with members via that channel? It’s kind of funny, because they keep these devices on them all the time, even by their bedside. They certainly don’t do that with their computers, let alone their physical mailboxes. So why do we still put so much emphasis on communicating that way?
Are there any suggestions for getting better and more meaningful feedback from members?
“I’m a big believer in the saying, ‘You don’t get if you don’t ask,'” said Greve. “At the same time, you need to use all the tools you have, not just one, and by all means keep it short and sweet. Even if you have only eight ‘need-to-know’ questions, why not ask one question a week for eight weeks instead of all at once? You can use your website, newsletters, social media, etc. to get the word out. And give respondents the answers right away. The more you give back, the more they will give.”
Next month we’ll look closer at the impact of virtual trade shows on association conferences, as well as membership sustainability issues, membership satisfaction techniques, association communication best practices and association career paths among other topics. Drop me a line any time if there’s another topic keeping you up at night that you’d like us to explore.
Hank Berkowitz is the Moderator-in-Chief of Association Adviser eNews.
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