Pulling it All Together: The 360 Degree Marketing Communications Strategy

We’ve seen several distinct stages in the association sector’s journey into and through the world of social media.

At first, the evangelists spread the good news, and a few eager souls experimented. Early adopters followed their example, and soon, the growth from seed concept to mainstream was amazingly rapid – three or four years, depending on how you count.

At each stage, there were successes, failures, and lessons learned. Most of us are continually refining our objectives, strategies and technologies. And we’re learning from each other, which is absolutely AWESOME. As somebody said at an ASAE Annual session in Chicago, we’re all figuring this out together.

I'm speaking at the ASAE & The Center 2010 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, CA!These days, we’ve seeing another branch of the conversation emerge and begin to dominate: How does everything fit together in a single, cohesive marketing communications ecosystem?

For every association, every community, and every audience, the details of the answer will be different. Each of our communities has different inclinations, biases and preferences. There are great limitations to what we can crib from each other. But there are some universal principles, I think.

  1. There is no magic pill, and no killer app. No single channel will get every job done.
  2. Nothing goes away; every tool has value. This is a corollary to #1. I used to think that perhaps fax was an exception to this principle, but if you’ve recently bought property or had a major medical engagement, you can’t avoid the fax.
  3. They all have to work together. Each of our tools can, and must, work together. Remember that our members and audiences don’t relate to us through our technologies, but through the experience we provide them. So our platforms and channels must support the same brand proposition.
  4. The marketing funnel is still relevant. It’s evolved some, but it’s still relevant. I think marketers’ biggest mistakes occur when we apply the wrong tools to the wrong parts of the funnel.
  5. Know thy communities. Unfortunately, there is no short cut to obsessively learning about your members and your members’ communities. Your community of engineers acts very differently from my community of doctors. Even different communities of doctors have differences.
  6. Experiment and learn – quickly and cheaply. An old principle, but it still applies. There’s still no playbook, no “Ogilvy on Advertising” to rely on. We’re collectively writing today’s equivalent of that book as we go along.
  7. Communicate to your outposts, and bring them back home. Our members are playing all over the digital landscape. Find them, and show them the way back to your website and your blog.
  8. Prioritize and focus. You can’t do everything well, so don’t even try. Your member research should tell you where to focus.
  9. Measure, measure, measure. It’s the only way you’ll know if you’re succeeding.
  10. Warning: This WILL disrupt your business. This project will make silos teeter, and encroach on long-existent turf. Be prepared to deal with this. Do it well, and it will be an exhilarating experience!

My colleagues Jaime Nolan, Nan Dawkins and I will discuss these and other issues at our Learning Lab at the ASAE Annual Meeting this coming Sunday, at 1:30 p.m.

Our combined handouts are here. (.pdf)

My own slideshare set is here.

We hope to see you there!


UnTech 10: A Glimpse of the Future

A couple of quick thoughts about the #untech10 conference starting tomorrow.

This is what will happen to traditional associations if we don’t get our act together. A crazy group of committed, spirited and smart volunteers can move the world – and they are more than willing to work around a traditional association to get the job done.

Traditional associations can not only coexist with such groups, but thrive. They can always be the platform for like-minded people to get together, learn something together, and do something together – but only if they’re willing to shed outmoded governance and financial structures to do it. As those of us in associations know, this is easier said than done, because there is always a powerful group of stakeholders ready to defend anything of the status quo.

ASAE and the Center is playing its cards right on this one – starting with the wise decision to keep people home, safe and out of DC, and its tacit support for what Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, and many others have put together.

This is totally inspiring. I can’t listen to every minute of every session, but I will drop in as often as I can. I can’t wait!

The “Splinternet” is Bad News, and I blame Apple

Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research has written a must-read post on the splintering of the Web, saying that the golden days of the standardized, open-source Web are over. He says we should prepare ourselves for a world in which platforms function well enough within their ecosystems, but are deaf to the rest of the universe around them.

Mobile devices and online networks are the most obvious examples. iPhone apps don’t work on a Blackberry, and vice versa. Facebook apps only work on Facebook. LinkedIn exists by itself in a corner of the world. Their citizens seem quite happy with this state of affairs.

I say it’s bad news, and Apple shares a large part of the blame.

From its beginnings, Apple has refused to play the open source game. It almost died in the 1990s when its closed-end desktop system nearly became irrelevant (except to graphic designers and school systems), but it saved itself by introducing a game-changing, closed-source music ecosystem, then by launching its closed-source, category-killing smartphone. See a pattern?

The irony is that Apple fan boys, who used to demonize Microsoft for its all-Windows-all-the-time dreams of world domination, look the other way when Apple rips pages from the same playbook. Apple will play with you, but only on its terms. Arrogance, anyone? (The same applies to RIM, Facebook and all the rest.)

But Apple’s shareholder value is through the roof, so others are emulating it. Those of us in marketing and communications must now develop on dozens of platforms, each mute to its neighbor, just to engage a critical mass of our markets or communities. Apple didn’t invent this trend, but the turtle-neck wearing guy from Cupertino made it not only acceptable, but admirable.

This is a betrayal of the ideals that made the Web such a revolutionary force – connectivity and community. Instead, these new platforms behave like toddlers on a play date – engaged in their own activities, unaware of the kid next to them. You can’t blame toddlers; their minds haven’t developed enough. Parallel play is all they can do. But these technology companies know better.

You might argue that this development is only the next stage in the 40-year-old fragmentation of communication platforms, but it’s worse than that. It’s a huge step backward for the information economy, isolating people from information and each other, and foisting exorbitant new development costs on to business. These rising costs can only exert a downward pressure on economic growth and prosperity. (Please: Don’t even try to sell me on the idea that the iPhone’s elegance is an excuse for this betrayal.)

Bernoff says it’s too late; that we can’t ask for a return of the standardized, interoperable web. I’m not willing to give up yet. If closed-source efforts at world domination were bad coming from Redmond, why are they so virtuous coming from Cupertino?

Mobile, Social and Search – The Plan for 2010

The two important things happened to marketing and communications in the last five years.

  1. Communications became a two-way street – the audience became the community
  2. We expected our community members to find us. Now, they expect us to find them, wherever they are.

The social part of this has been beaten to death for the last five years; I don’t have to go into that. But as the recent owner of my first smartphone, I finally internalized the game-changing nature of our always-on, always-everywhere world.

The ah-ha moment for me was a New York Times article last year, where a 20-something remarked that if the news is important enough, it will find her.

Guess what – she’s right. But it took me a while to realize it.

For the past month, Congress was voting on health care legislation over several consecutive weekends.  Naturally, as a health care association, we cared about this a lot.

In the old days, I would have been anchored to my desk at home, following the action. But with my phone these past two months, and with the right Twitter feeds loaded, I could do my work and continue with my weekend life.

I went to my daughter’s soccer game. I did some errands. I went to the high school football game. I picked up my car at the garage. When the climactic votes arrived at night, I got home to follow it on CSPAN, because still nothing rivals the immediacy of live TV.

During the course of this work, our organization’s Twitter reach grew. We are re-tweeted and our followership has grown. Our influence has grown, too – thus fulfilling one of our key objectives with Twitter. All because of mobile.

  • People learn from each other today through social media.
  • People find each other today through mobile.
  • People discover you through search.

It all works together. The destination site, the portal – they’re history. So while some people may bookmark us and consider our site a destination in and of itself, I am no longer trying to get everyone to do that.

More people will learn about us when we show up in their world or in their community. If we interest them, they’ll follow us back to our site, where they’ll discover what we’re all about. Then we have a chance to enroll a new member, retain an existing one, sell a product, service or education program, or influence people.

That’s what we’re in this for.

Core Competencies for Communications Professionals: Join us at ASAE Annual

Photo by TOMTEC, via FlickrFor the past year, the ASAE and the Center’s Communications Section Council has been working on a list of core competencies that communications professionals in associations should master today.

As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, we were updating a document that was only four years old, but already badly out of date. Two things have changed dramatically in the last 10 years: How people learn about the world around them, and how everyone can now be a publisher as well as a consumer of information.

It would be easy enough to update the toolset for this brief moment in time, but tougher to craft something that would have a longer shelf life than a loaf of bread. What we concluded was that the basic skills still occupy a very large amount of shelf space: writing, pitching stories, research, planning, speaking, etc. Without those skills as a foundation, no one could be called a complete communications professional.

By the same token, many of the newer social media technologies are also fundamental to our skill set. But how do we capture these when the tool set is evolving so quickly? (One shouldn’t assume everything around today that’s new will persist.)

First, by acknowledging the volatile nature of the business. I mean, there’s no way the golfer Stewart Cink would have a half million followers on Twitter a year ago, even if he had won the British Open in 2008 instead of this year. Tiger Woods, maybe. But Cink? He’s hardly a household name. But that’s how quickly our business has changed.

Second, take our best shot at identifying the dominant tools today – and we defined dominance as those which seem to command the great volume of conversation. The operative term here is core competencies. Others arise every year, but in our judgment some aren’t core yet. Next year, who knows?

Finally, recognize that as the tool set grows, few things are going away, with the possible exception of faxes. Everything else still has a place – a different place than before, but still a place.

So here’s our effort. What do you think?

After you review it, we want to hear from you. We have two questions, to start with: Is there anything you would change? And how can ASAE use this document to develop new education and training programs?

Two ways: You can comment here.

And/or, you can come and talk to us at the “un-session” we’re holding at the ASAE and the Center’s Annual Meeting on Monday, August 17, (corrected) from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. in Room 802A of the South Building of the Toronto Convention Center.

We hope to see you there!

Digital Now 2009: What Will You Do on Monday?

Digital Now logoDigital Now’s annual conference last week, as always, wonderfully captured the spirit of the association community, and its love/hate affair with technology. There was no need to persuade people that social media will be the media of the future, nor of the idea that social media is the modern expression of the association’s core purpose. That’s been done.

Instead, what arose were two things: The eyewitness experience of the potential of microblogs, and a quiet determination to do social media right.

Let’s rewind a bit.

At Digital Now three years ago, social media was just beginning to leak into the association world. It was intriguing and enticing.

Two years ago, many speakers were singing the praises of blogs, online communities, Second Life, and more. The cool tools were the drug of the day.

A year ago, there was palpable disillusionment. Memorably, one guy said, “We started a social network last year, and the crickets are chirping.”

Clay ShirkyThis year, with the euphoria gone and the hangover eased, there was a new spirit – we have to get this right. Clay Shirky, the keynote speaker on the first day, said that the public doesn’t find technology useful, until it’s technically boring. It’s not about the tools, dude.

He also began the main theme of the weekend when he said that it’s much easier to start small with a good system, and let it grow, than to start with a bad system and try to fix it.

That’s what theme of the weekend was: Go simple. It was repeated again, and again, and again.

For me this has always been difficult. I always want to do things with a splash. I like the idea of the big bang, the serial atta-boys, and so forth. But as I shared with about a dozen attendees at the small session I led, the big bang approach got us a few crickets, some bruises, and the possibility of many lessons learned. One observed, “Sometimes, it comes down to ego.”

He’s right. So simple it will be.

At the same time, the conference created a trap for the attendees. Twitter is the phenomenon of the year, right? This was the weekend that Oprah went into rapture with her first tweet, and singlehandedly slowed Twitter to a frustrating crawl.

Twitter was the wow technology of Digital Now. About a quarter of attendees (including me) tweeted throughout the conference, using #dn09 and #digitalnow. Reading back on the tweets, it’s like reading the transcript of a good baseball game: Long stretches of ordinariness and tedium, punctuated by spontaneous outbursts of spectacular brilliance.

As a whole, Twitter got the job done. Its power to create a community was plainly visible. But the trap is that it creates the temptation run home and recreate this for the folks at home. Wrong. OK, no technology could be simpler. But if you build it, they won’t come – not even for Twitter.

Charlene LiSo how does this become like the “air” of the association? On the final day, the soft-spoken and wise Charlene Li, the co-author of the great social media book “Groundswell,” wrapped it all up.

Her talk was a little about strategy, but mostly about implementation. As she said, this has to relate back to your corporate strategy. She said that when she works with a company, the first things she asks for is the company’s strategic plan. Without that link, social media is a waste of time.

Her four parting points:

1-    Find your revolutionaries, and cultivate the “realist/optimists;” the people who will eagerly try new things but never lose sight of the pragmatic impulse. These people will be your most effective at promoting adoption throughout the organization.
2-    Start really small.
3-    Measure the right things. She didn’t talk about visits, or links, or such. She talked about “net promoter scores,” and “lifetime value” of each of your customers. These get closer to the strategic heart of your business than any clickstream could ever do.
4-    Embrace failure, because it’s a guarantee that you will fail (whew!). Relationships are hard to do right 100% of the time. She pointed out that Walmart failed spectacularly three times before hitting the right note with its blog for merchandise buyers.

Charlene ended with a simple question: “What will you do on Monday?” This brought it all home. Pick one thing to start on Monday, and act on it. This started about 25 different small group discussions that could have lasted for an hour.

The conversation continues. One speaker, Peter Hirshberg of Technorati, reminded us of how recent this whole social media thing is. It was only five years ago that blogs dethroned CBS News. Yet today, as he demonstrated in a video, social media is the air that 12 and 13 years olds breathe. TV is so … old.

It will be like air for associations, too, and soon – if we get it right before our competitors do.

I’m Coming Up For Air

Photo by stratic, via Flickr

This coming week, we will launch the newest (the fifth) version our website, www.massmed.org. It’s consumed 18 months of planning, research, coding, and everything else that goes into a big site re-launch We started with a blank sheet of paper and no assumptions. The version we launch this week is by means the end of the game; lots more is coming. I have loved this project.

The last three weeks have been especially intense. All hands were on deck. We worked days, nights and weekends. We ran into problems, fixed them, and found more problems. No doubt, others remain. And all this, while we tend to the other things that the Massachusetts Medical Society pays us for.

This project pushed a lot of other things to my back burner: My RFP for a communications consultant (sorry, guys). My reading. My trips to the gym in the morning. And my writing – including this blog.

I’m happy to report that nothing urgent fell through the cracks. The bills got paid, the kids got fed, and the cars always got gassed. (But let’s forget the community meeting to which I showed up 11 hours late, okey-doke?)

I could feel guilty about letting some things slide a little, but I don’t. And it’s not because I lack a conscience. It’s because that’s what happens when life is working.

There are many metaphors for the phenomenon of a life with many elements, but there are two that work for me.

The first is rhythm. Todd Henry writes a great blog and podcast, The Accidental Creative. He is committed to coaching people who create on demand for a living, and offers tools for a continuously healthy creative life.

Todd’s biggest contribution to my life is a series of posts about how he plans his day so that he will always have the mental and emotional resources to create, manage his business, be a father, and not feel used up by life.

He purposefully nurtures his creative side. For example, he schedules one hour a day for doing nothing but reading and learning. Without that, he believes, his creative life would die as quickly as would a plant that hasn’t been watered regularly.

As Todd says, our lives flow in rhythms. Sometimes, to something done, we must work really intensively on something. Without that focus, there are no results. But if you do this forever, you bankrupt your mind, your heart and your body. So if you experience burnout, all you need to do is break this rhythm and create a new one.

Or, you could feed the part of you that you have neglected. The other metaphor that works for me is nourishment. Like you, there are many parts of me, such as work, family, community, physical, and spiritual. When I neglect any one of them for too long, I experience a certain hunger. I feel a need to feed it – by spending a Saturday working. Or volunteering. Or cuddling in the living room with my family to watch a light movie. Or attending church on Sundays. Or by going to the gym. When I feed myself, the hunger eases.

One metaphor that does not work for me is balance. This metaphor drives people crazy, because it leads them into dark mazes from which there is little escape. “Balance” implies a perfect geocentric moment. The pitfall of “balance” is that its existence is fleeting. You will be unsettled at least 99% of the time.

Seeking “balance” is really, really, really hard work. It is ultimately unsatisfying. Wouldn’t it be better just to feed yourself, or simply acknowledge that life has a rhythm, and just go with it?

Facebook is Tone Deaf – and Why Associations Should Care

Photo by Ian Wilson via FlickrOnce again, Facebook stepped in it.

Ten days after surreptitiously claiming unlimited rights to use its customers’ content forever, Facebook earned the wrath of its community, and reversed course. It’s left now to lick its wounds – and it has to opportunity to change. But will it?

Facebook thrives only because its members share their lives with generosity and candor. Some of it is intensely personal – sometimes, it is TMI. But Facebook effectively said, “It’s our property, not yours. Deal with it.”

This reminds me of a great scene in the recent movie, “The Namesake.” At one point, the main character’s new wife blurts out to his friends that he changed his name years previously, and she reveals his given name. The main character was livid, saying she had no right to divulge that information – it was his prerogative alone.

Facebook’s move felt like a similar violation. Within days, many of my friends were thinking of quitting Facebook. Had it gone on much longer, I have no doubt that they would have.

In today’s world, customers are in charge – not the business. Facebook pays lip service to this principle, but ignored it – for the second time in just 15 months. In late 2007, Facebook tried to introduce Beacon, an advertising program where private user information would have been shared with advertisers. After a big protest, Facebook backed off.

Now, we have a repeat offense, which raises doubts about whether Facebook truly understands what happened.

We could speculate about what motivated Facebook – to improve its valuation, to get better ad rates, whatever. Most of it’s probably accurate. But none of it has anything to do with the customers, and everything to do with the company’s self-interest. CEO Mark Zuckerman tried to spin it differently, but seems tone deaf to what happened.

Facebook’s community now writes the rules of the company. If Facebook continues to resist, the community will go elsewhere, and Facebook will die.

What does this have to do with associations? Everything.

Many of us operate in the historic command-and-control model. Staff traditionally controls the connections, the knowledge, and the flow of information. Many of us struggle with implementing social media because it gives the keys of the enterprise back to the members – who, remember, created the association in the first place. It’s a big change. Try as we might to resist this evolutionary change, we cannot.

Our members rule. Staff is there for the ride.

Experiments in Social Media

Photo by riccotorres, via FlickrThere’s no better way to learn about something than to jump right in. So we’ve decided to experiment with some social media tools for one of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s more popular and effective advocacy events.

Every other year, we invite our members to come to the State House for a day to listen to speakers and visit their local state legislators. Depending on the year, from 200 to 1,000 doctors participate. We have usually solicited them by letter, e-mail and newsletter. So I wondered, with the growing adoption of social media by our doctors, what would happen if we used some of those tools?

So we set up a Facebook group, Twitter feed, and a blog category for the event. We added these links to our letters, e-mails, newsletters, and web pages. We cross promote all the media with each other, and direct everything back to the web page, which has a basic registration form. Eventually we will add briefing papers and other resources for the issues we would like the doctors to discuss.

This is in service of our overall objective to engage more members, to grow the great core group of doctors we always see at these events.

If “life is a beta,” as Jeff Jarvis has written, then let’s see what happens.

The Dinosaur Rages

By 01steven, via FlickrGatehouse Media, publisher of more than 500 daily and weekly community newspapers across the country, has gone to court to stop Boston.com from publishing headlines to Gatehouse’s local news stories.

This one could have echoes across the country.

Last month, Boston.com started a new experiment with “hyperlocal” sites. They try to develop deep content about individual towns, dragging in content from its own writers, other media entities and, it hopes, citizen journalists.

Three towns in Boston’s western suburbs were the first targeted, including my own town, Needham. When it started, Boston.com ripped both the headline and story verbatim from Gatehouse’s Needham paper and dropped them on its own site. Now it just shows the headline, a very brief summary, and sends readers to the Gatehouse site to read the whole story. Sounds like Google News, doesn’t it?

Gatehouse argues that Boston.com is violating copyright laws. Gatehouse definitely gets prominent credit for being the source of the material, but Gatehouse says that compounds the offense because that infringes on its copyright, too. The suit is scheduled for initial arguments in US District Court in Boston this week. Because it’s in federal court, the outcome could have relevance across the whole country.

Of course, profligate linking by news aggregators has been going on forever. This network effect is the lifeblood of the internet. It’s the premise behind search engines, and you don’t see people complaining about being listed in Google, do you?

So blocking that practice would not only be impractical, but I can’t see how winning this would benefit Gatehouse. Gatehouse will not win the battle for readers on its own, even though its reporting in my town is good, and fills an important need. Sure, its papers are dropped at every doorstep in town weekly, but with the print media dying quickly, it will soon need big-time portals to get attention. Boston.com is one of the biggest news sites in the country – that’s a good start.

Gatehouse needs to stop hyperventilating over this one. The old media model, a historical accident, is dead. As the music industry has learned the hard way, survival lies not in keeping the old media model on life support, but in embracing and extending the new one.