14 Takeaways From the ASAE Annual Meeting

Photo by e453753With apologies to other bloggers for stealing this format idea …

1- The online annual meeting “hub” was a fabulous experiment. I always felt connected with everything going on. There’s lots to learn from this – starting with the value of keeping it simple on the surface, and hiding the complex technology underneath.

2- Twitter was the way to stay connected. But I found myself wanting the content to be aggregated into something more permanent and findable, so I could look at it later, without scrolling through screen after screen after screen. The next stage, perhaps?

3- Kudos also to ASAE for not letting the hub experiment get hijacked by worries that non-attendees would hijack content for free. ASAE took the long-term view, which is that it all adds great member value.

4- People really do get the strategic imperative of social media, but many remain intimidated by the chunks of time the tools seem to demand. This was especially true of those small-staff saints who have to do the HR, plan the meetings, take care of the board, work with the vendors, recruit the members, wash the dishes, and turn the lights off at the end of the day. The next step is to mainstream the productive tools that make social media as easy to use as a good cell phone.

5- The compelling connection of social media to business goals must be more powerfully articulated for the C-suite folks. The “ROI” questions are still getting squishy answers. “Engagement” is not a business metric. “Meeting registrations” are.

6- Advocacy and social media is the new field waiting to be plowed. Obama was elected partly because social media awoke and energized a dormant base. His opponents in health care reform are now using both social media and talk radio to energize and organize themselves. But are social media platforms effective for influencing the undecided middle? I doubt it. Maybe other media channels remain better suited to that task.

7- Social media is transformational, but we can’t forget the rest of the marketing/communications toolbox. One of the sessions I attended was about the defining and messaging your association’s unique value proposition. Another was about engaging and nurturing a vibrant volunteer community. These are the kind of fundamentals that determine whether an association is relevant, and we can’t take our eyes off them.

8- Some people still don’t know how to do a presentation. One session I attended had two guys sitting behind a table talking for 80 minutes flat, rambling on about a report that we could all read on our own. Discussion, dialog, and debate? Not there. I literally dozed off for a spell!

9- Long live face to face meetings! That’s where the bonds of trust become ironclad.

10- I really have to get my staff to more of these things.

11- Connecting people has become one of my favorite things to do. One of my most fulfilling moments was to introduce a friend from the council on which I serve to a vendor/good guy, and then watch their conversation open new business possibilities for each.

12- Volunteer – NOW! Serving on the communications section council for the past two years focuses my thinking, brings themes into much sharper relief, and takes the meet-and-learn benefits of any conference to an entirely different plane. It’s the difference between watching a ballgame and playing it.

13- Seeing and admiring the great work of ASAE staff gives me a good sense of how our own members feel about our staff.

14- I’m truly ready to go home, but it would have been nice to catch the Sox here at Skydome/Rogers Centre. Guess I’ll have to settle for my seats for the Sox-Yankees at Fenway this Friday … !


What We Need to Know

The Tree of Knowledge. By Knilram, via Flickr.I saw this post on the ASAE’s communications listserv last week:

“ I would like to hear from other associations on how they are using social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) – Which ones? Benefits? What’s worked?”

Wow … how many days do you have to listen? There’s no bigger question in communications today.

I sense stratification in our professional community. At a panel that I moderated at the ASAE Annual Meeting this summer, it was possible to pick out the genetically encoded early adopters from those who were struggling to catch up. You could almost tell by the body language.

The early adopters were foraging for ways to exploit what they had already mastered. The others were still learning. They seemed frustrated and fearful.

It was demonstration of what Seth Godin meant when he wrote in his new book, Tribes, that the cost of innovating too early is small, compared to the cost of acting too late.

But not everything new today will prove useful tomorrow. I think we can count on that. Since time is our most precious commodity, what must people know today?

That’s the challenge that the Communications Council for ASAE has taken on. We’re updating a document that outlines today’s core competencies in communications. No offense, but the current version, written only a few years ago, is badly  out of date.

Still, the basics are the basics. You gotta know how to write, pitch stories, research your markets, plan campaigns, etc. But of the new social technologies, what is now fundamental? And if you can’t experiment freely, what can you safely observe from a distance, for now?

We’ll take our best guess, because we can only guess at the future. No one on our team is clairvoyant, as far as I know. Maybe through the wisdom of our little crowd, we’ll get it right.

We hope the document will be a career roadmap for new communications professionals, and a learning menu for experienced pros. It will evolve rapidly and often.

We could use your thoughts. Among the new technologies, what is already a must-know? Conversely, if you must choose your experiments carefully, what is OK to watch for a while?

Media Relations – The New World According to Brian Solis (from the ASAE Annual Meeting)

Brian Solis, one of the superstars in social media strategy, spoke at the ASAE Annual Meeting in San Diego last week. He talked about how public relations professionals can still influence opinion and behavior even though mainstream media is in its death throes.

Sadly, the session wasn’t recorded. But its content was too good to let it disappear. From my notes:

  • PR professionals have to be the new influencers. In the past, we influenced opinion and behavior mostly by reaching the influencers (reporters and editors). Now, we’re it. “We have to become experts in the industry we represent . …You should get really smart and passionate about the industry you represent. If you’re not, you should find another job.” (Gotta love that kind of straight talk.)
  • News releases aren’t just for reporters anymore. There is a bigger audience than just your A-list (or even B-list) reporters. Half of IT professionals get their daily updates from news releases on Yahoo or Google. So it’s still important to do your news releases right. One way – write them tight and bulleted, and weight them well with SEO keywords so they can be found.
  • Kill the ghost-written quotes. Puffery never had any value … even less today. If you must quote, make sure it’s compelling.
  • Getting on bloggers’ radar screens is art + science. You could buy lists, but Brian built his own list. How? Read on.
  • Some ways to build blogger relationships:
    • Leave comments as you vote on Digg
    • Make sure your headline rocks (SEO loves great <H1> headlines.)
    • Befriend a Power Digger, the same way you would befriend an A-list reporter. If a Power Digger notices you, they tell their networks. It’s almost impossible to get to Digg’s home page on your own.
    • Digg’s home page is solid gold. Brian says a home page listing on Digg “guarantees” you 10,000 to 30,000 unique visits within a single week. (whoa!) Getting placed on the home page of StumbleUpon gets you the same in about a month’s time.
  • Target the “Magic Middle” of bloggers. You could try to get to the Technorati Top 1000 (Brian is in the top 5000), but you’ll get more activity and more long lasting relationships with the Magic Middle (blogs with 20 to 2000 links) than with the A-listers.
  • Metrics: No consensus yet. But think “profits.” If your goal with metrics is to persuade the C-suite, then think – what do they care most about (hint: … sales? profits? membership? Yes, it’s that basic.) Then track back to the social activity that will move that number. For example: Have targeted landing pages for social media PR campaigns to track something like meeting registrations or product downloads.
  • Monitor the social network conversations! “Just because a conversation was taking place and you weren’t there to hear it, does that mean it didn’t happen?” Brian shared “The Conversation Prism,” a dastardly image that pulls together a sampling of the social networks on the web today. This where the conversations about your brand are happening. As Brian noted, “This is overwhelming to say the least.” The image is on Flickr. He’s going to publish a wiki soon that explains all of these in detail, to help you figure out what’s pertinent to your markets and conversations.
  • Twitter: Yes! At least 200 journalists use Twitter right now, Brian said. Do you need a better reason to do it? The 140-character limit focuses the pitch line like nothing else.
  • How do you find influencers on Twitter? On search.twitter.com, search any keyword that is specific to your industry. Do that keyword, plus conference, or plus events. You’ll see the people who are starting those conversations. Then find out who’s following them. Befriend them – not just for what they can do for you, but simply to start a conversation. It’s doing that over and over again, building relationships. (That’s not so different from traditional PR after all, is it?

(Sidebar: Ben Martin just wrote a provocative post about data mining on Twitter. He says it’s evil. Others (like Wes Trochlil) say it’s the price we pay for playing in social media. Reluctantly, I’m agreeing with Wes’ point of view. But as Bill Parcells said, I reserve the right to change my mind. This conversation isn’t over, by a long shot.)

Other resources

The Conversation Prism

The Social Media Manifesto

It was my personal privilege to moderate this session. Thanks to all who came and spoke up. And thanks especially to Brian and his co-panelist, Chris Jennwein, of Greenspun Interactive of Las Vegas.

ASAE Annual Meeting – So Social

(My first post!)

OK, the ASAE annual meeting ended almost a week ago … but I was on the beach in SD, so cut me a little slack, OK?

Social media continues to be the major theme at these association meetings. Everyone – not just the techies – is trying to figure out how to do it right. But who really knows for sure? But as a speaker at last year’s ASAE conference said wisely, “Relax. We’re all learning about this together.”

The best we have are good, reasonable models for getting going.

Full disclosure: Our own social media program has been neither a slam dunk nor an utter disaster. Our effort, MMS eCommunities, is available only to our members. Some areas have done OK, and others have not. More on that at another time.

Yet because we started this stuff two years ago, we have more bruises than most. So I think we’re qualified to share something about what we’ve learned.

1. Strategy matters. A LOT. I thought we had it figured out 2 years ago, but not well enough. We need to go back to our purpose over and over and over and over again. Still working on it.

2. Know your audience. REALLY. The genius of Groundswell is that Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff nailed a great method to get that done. We licensed their survey tool and got three results. One, it  validated some things we thought we were true. Two, it debunked others. Three, it blew us away with the unexpected.

One of my personal contributions to the ASAE meeting was sharing the results of our Forrester survey with some folks. Lindy Dreyer interviewed me onsite to talk about the basic findings. (I’ll share more of it with you, real soon. If it helps you think through some things, great.)

3. Execution matters. In retrospect, we may have messed up a few things in the execution of MMS eCommunities (member ID needed). The user experience may be confusing. And maybe we made a big mistake giving it an entirely different visual design from our main website. I think we — no, I — got carried away with the “hey this is new and cool and you gotta use it” thing. I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last.

So now while we’re upgrading our entire website – from the basement to the attic – we’ve been thinking about how it will use social media. Haven’t yet figured it out … I think we’re getting there.

So let’s learn together.

(Yes – the meeting was lots of fun, too. I think I can say with some accuracy that I was mostly able to keep up with the YAPs.)