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.


Four Books that Made a Difference in 2008

Too many good books, too little time.

Many of the books I read are eventually forgettable, but some endure. Here are four business books I read this year that have remained with me.

By Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
These two folks from Forrester Research (Charlene has since moved on to a solo life) wrote the defining social technology strategy book for the year.

Their methods for developing your strategic intent and your audience or organizational readiness are amazing. My copy is already dog-eared. We licensed their survey tool in July, and it provided critical information to developing our approach.

Their fundamental contribution to the world is the Social Technographics Ladder, which identifies peoples’ behavior in their use of social technology better than any before.

It provides far more openings for action than the 90-9-1 rule. Once you have nailed your strategy and your audience’s places in the ladder, then you can define your implementation plan – but only then. Technology choices come LAST.

While this has dozens of great case studies, it is not a detailed how-to book. But after digesting its wisdom, you won’t need them to tell you what to do. You’ll know.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
By Clay Shirky
Like Groundswell, this book is indispensable to those puzzling through the strategic and contextual questions of social technologies. But it also provides compelling specific examples of how social technologies are changing life today.
Plus, it has the single most mind-blowing line of the year: “Every web page is a latent community.”

Secrets of Social Media Marketing
By Paul Gillin
A great tactical book. I finished it only recently, and I suspect it will be dog-eared by the spring. Paul understands the interplay between the social technologies and traditional media.

Perhaps his wisest words are early in the book, where he asserts that social media is not right for every job. And then he explains why. That’s only the start.

By Seth Godin
I understand that Seth isn’t for everybody, but I am definitely a fan. I first consumed this book on my iPod, then ran out to get the paper copy because it is so freaking wise. It inspires, it directs, it cajoles.

To paraphrase one amazing passage:
–    If I don’t persuade you
–    If you don’t learn from me
–    If you do not follow me …

… it’s not your fault. It’s mine.

It might feel better to blame the other guy for the above, but at the end of the day, it makes you a victim and robs you of your power. If you assume from the start that you are responsible for your own life, you can learn from anything – especially failure.

What books made a difference for you this year?

The “Stop Doing” List

There was story in the local paper recently about a government commission which hadn’t met for 12 years. No one noticed it was dormant until someone pointed it out. Then there was this hubbub about getting it going again. Why? No one noticed it was dead. Isn’t that the classic definition of irrelevance?

That made me think of Jim Collins. I love his work. Built to Last and Good to Great cut through the noise and nail it.

Lots of big challenges abound in both books. I’d bet that the biggest one for associations is the “stop doing list.” The meaning is straightforward. But doing it is really hard, especially for associations which are member-driven and not necessarily good at being results-driven.

When I worked at for-profit companies, the ultimate test was whether a project or product would make us money. Either it does, or we think it will, or it won’t.

In associations, we talk about “mission.” We ask whether it creates “member value.” If we’re sloppy about defining it, then anything can be rationalized. The costs are lost focus, and frazzled staff pulled in a million different directions.

In the end, members always notice. They will see that things happens slowly, or not at all. Or they will notice when things are done sloppily just to get them done. Or the VIPs will notice that they have to be the squeaky wheel. We may think we’re fooling them, but we’re not.

None of that’s good.

We all have these kind of projects or products. If we stopped doing X, would anyone really notice? Continuing to do X may be the greatest barrier to greatness in associations.