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.


The Un-RFP: A Follow-up

Photo by caseywest via flickrA few weeks ago, I discussed how the RFP (request for proposal) had run into disrepute, mostly among consultants and vendors to whom they are targeted. I also discussed how people like me need a good structure to solicit outside help, review their proposals, and make the best decision possible.

A good number of comments followed (thank you!). Definitely, I touched a nerve. I listened to what you all said, and recently issued this “un-RFP” to a number of possible consultants and agencies. I’d be grateful if you’d take a look and share your thoughts.

Currently …

  • The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) has lots of experience and success working with traditional media. But we also know the effectiveness of traditional media is rapidly diminishing.
  • We were one of the earliest medical societies to experiment with social media technologies, starting in March 2007. We appreciate about social media technologies can help us accomplish our goals, and we have learned a lot about how our members use social media technologies.
  • But we don’t know as much about how to implement these tools to produce specific measurable results, nor do we understand very well how to integrate these tools with traditional media. As a result, the success of these experiments has been uneven.
  • MMS plans to launch the first phase of a website upgrade in Q1 2009
    • In Phase 1, the principal enhancements will be in the site’s information architecture, visual design, search, back-end integration, and site analytics
    • In Phase 2 (Q3/Q4 2009), we will introduce agile technological tools (.NET) and upgrade our social media offerings

What we’re looking for …

  • We want someone to shorten our learning curve in social media technologies and show us how to produce results from them.
  • Our focus is in three areas:
    • Advocacy: How do we leverage social media technologies with traditional media to increase our voice and influence in the public conversations about health care policy and clinical issues?
    • Education: How can we leverage social media technologies with traditional media to improve our business results for both live and online continuing medical education programs?
    • Membership: How can we leverage social media technologies with traditional media to improve our ability to a.) strengthen our bond with existing members; and b.) grow our membership levels among practicing physicians in Massachusetts who aren’t yet members?
  • We want a partner who has produced specific measurable business results for customers and clients integrating social and traditional media. Theoreticians without a track record need not apply.

What Success Looks Like …

  • More member activity. Members will find that our social media offerings help them become better doctors and make their membership in the MMS invaluable. They will use these tools frequently, and they will become fervent MMS evangelists to their colleagues.
  • Better business results. More people will register for our live and online medical education programs. We will be more effective in our membership recruitment activities.
  • More influence. MMS physicians will have a more vital and influential voice in the critical health care policy and clinical conversations of the day.


  • Send me a description of you and your company. Tell me about the work you’ve done for yourself and others to employ social media and traditional media to produce specific measureable results. Give yourself enough space to impress us with your expertise. Provide some detail but you don’t have to go crazy.

After that …

  • We’ll review what we get, and get in touch with those who interest us the most. At that point, we will probably ask to meet and talk some more – you’ll learn about us, and we’ll learn about you, and we go from there.

If this interests you, send me your reply by end of business, Feb. 20, 2009.

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?

Get Humble: Why You Need to Do User Centered Research

The best websites have an obsessive single focus. They get out of the way and help users meet their goals. If users can’t do what they want, they go away, and you lose. If your users succeed, they win, and you win.

To know what your user’s site goals are, you have to get humble. You have to accept the proposition that you don’t know your users, or your members.

Don’t you know your members? Sure, you work with many of them every day. They call you; you call them. You know their kids’ names, their dog’s name, even where they vacation. But they aren’t your members. They’re your volunteer leaders, and they’re different. Their views of the organization and the website have been distorted by who they are, and what they do. (Same with you.)

Most likely, your site works well enough for your staff and your leaders, despite its flaws. But if you want to expand the appeal of your website (and hence your association), you have to get in the head of the non-committed, the non-leader, or the checkbook member. If you don’t, your new site will serve the same leaders in the same way. You will not make progress. Your site will look like an org chart, or the hobby horse of your most vocal volunteers.

Do the more of the same, get more of the same. Do something different, get something different.

How do you get in their heads? Research.

If you do it well, three things will happen.

  1. Some of your assumptions will be proven right. That’s OK. It means you at least have a clue.
  2. Some of your assumptions will be dead wrong. That’s OK. It means you’re human.
  3. You will be blown away by the unexpected. That’s great! What was once your blind spot is now visible. Now you can do something about it.

Ready to get started? This doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Next post: User-centered website research on a shoestring.