How to Destroy Members’ Trust in One Easy Step

June 22, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

Photo by rogiro via FlickrI’ve run into two instances recently where vendors or association managers demonstrated a tin ear to the fragile nature of trust.

First, my example. We were trying to start an experiment with a small social media vendor. Along came the proposed contract. For the most part, it was standard-issue, except for a clause which gave the vendor “an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license” to do whatever the hell it wanted with user (i.e., member) content.

What? I am NOT going to be the guy who has to explain to Dr. Marcus Welby why his comment on health system reform ended up on, say, a movie celebrity gossip site. (Not that the vendor would have done that, but it would have been theoretically permissible.)

So I said no way; we can’t do that. The vendor initially didn’t want to change anything, so we started to walk away. Well, the vendor relented, and we started talking. Soon we understood each other, and came to a verbal agreement that suited our needs and theirs. (We’re still buttoning up the paperwork.)

I didn’t think much more about this incident until a colleague shared recently that someone else in her association came up with the idea of selling user-generated content to others. (Not sure who would buy it, but that’s a conversation for another day…) To enable this idea, they came up with Terms of Use language similar to the above. She was arguing strongly against the clause, but getting nowhere. I found myself taking her side, and quite passionately at that. Something really burned me about this. What was it?

I have to admit that until then, the consultant-speak about the primacy of trust seemed liked a lot of hoo-hah to me. A nice book, something nice to think about, but the be-all and end-all of business? Not so much.

But consider what associations are all about. Our members (and presumably staff) share a common interest, and maybe even a passion, about something. The members send in their money, we do some work together, and hopefully we do something that makes a difference. It’s a relationship of sorts – not a terribly intimate one, but a relationship nonetheless.

How do you violate any relationship? Blow up the trust you’ve built. In the two examples above, members would sign up for something. They would get a screen of “Terms of Use,” and if they’re like me, they put a check in the box and blow by that puppy in no time flat. (Reverse-engineer software? Puleeze. No problem, Bro!)

Then the comment by our Dr. Welby ends up on that hypothetical gossip site, and he’s mortally embarrassed and offended. Do you really think he would feel better if I told him, “You should have read the Terms of Use before you wrote something, doc.”

I didn’t think so.

The better solution: Have members proactively opt in to allow their content to be sold or shared. This gives them control over their identity and their content, and preserves their trust in you (it may even build trust). Establishing this as an opt-out decision treats them simply as a limitless revenue stream. In times like this, an opt-out strategy can be tempting, but it’s a losing proposition.

Why? Being a member of an organization is different from being a customer. The relationship is different, even with money involved. There are many ways to screw up trust, and treating members like ATMs is only one of them.

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Entry filed under: management, web strategy.

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2 Comments

  • 1. Michael Wilson  |  June 25, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Frank,

    Nice post. Trust is the cornerstone of associations. People look to them as connectors and shepherds towards a cause. Surreptitious use of PII (personally identifiable information) is a no-no.

    BTW, if the social media project you’re talking about includes an online community/social network or a social media marketing application, we’d love to help.

    Michael Wilson
    Founder & CEO
    Small World Labs
    512.474.6400 x11

  • 2. Howard  |  July 2, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Thus the reason I believe that iMedExchange will emerge as the clear leader in the social media space reserved for physicians.


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