ep. 28, 2009 - Developing Online Communities: Step Five
Take advantage of your association face-to-face activities to grow your online activities!
“How many of you went to the last AE Institute? Raise your hands.”“How many of you didn’t go?”“Me! Me!” I say. “But I WANTED to!”
And in a way, I did. Because I followed the Tweets. That means I listened in the electronic hallway. I knew who were good speakers. I overheard short, memorable statements and words of advice from speakers. I knew where the ‘meet-up’ was for the Tweeters, and I even got a couple of photos of half-full (or was that half-empty?) beer steins. I watched a couple of real time broadcasts on social networking. And then, later, I was able to review the presentations on-line.
Was I glued to my computer the whole time you all were meeting? You betcha!
Did I feel like I was missing out on some really good stuff? Absolutely!Would I do almost anything to get to the next event? In a heartbeat!
Using online communities to reach out to people who can’t attend certain events is a terrific way to generate interest and extend the conversation to many more members. So as you’re planning your event, make it easy for people to share photos, blog the event, and use Twitter to comment and converse. It will add a new dimension to the event and create a new audience.
Above all else, it’s important to be interactive, whether online or in person. Though we’re talking about online communities in this series, your image of listening to your members has got to be proactive and consistent. Association blogger Maddie Grant suggests an interesting idea for face-to-face events: “Create a Wall of Feedback at your annual conference – give each attendee 12 post-its (6 critical, 6 nice to have). Arrange post-it’s under topical areas, and use the closing general session to recap people’s comments. Next year, report back on progress. “Paper Tweets, that’s what we’re talking about here.
But whatever medium you choose, it’s the community that counts.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Sep. 24, 2009 - Developing Online Communities: Step Four
No matter what format you select for building an online community—your association site, Twitter, Facebook, Ning, or any number of others—you’ll need a content strategy. Again, remember, this strategy will be instrumental in developing the strength of your community. Without meaningful content you’ll have no chance at a community.
So ask the question, “what do THEY want?” Note that this is different from “What do WE want them to want?”
I have a client with an association website that nobody ever visits. I went there to find out why that was so, and the answer was immediately clear. There were some nice stock photos of beaches and boats and suburban houses. There were some consumer articles titled “Why Use a Realtor?” And there was a “Benefits of Membership” electronic brochure. Period. All static content. Why would anyone visit this site again?
The same with your online community effort. If all your tweets are only to remind people of meetings or to advertise listings, your audience will soon lose interest and decide that your communication is just a nuisance. They’ll shut you off, and they certainly won’t initiate a visit to your site, much less to your association functions. So it’s going to be up to you to figure out what will be enticing conversation topics. Of course, sometimes these topics will erupt from the participants, but just like any cocktail party conversation, sometimes you’ll have to fuel the fire.
You may also have to ask for participation. Find people who are specialists in selling vacation homes or commercial properties and ask them to participate in an online conversation on the association website. Suggest to regular committees that they might consider an online component to their committee activities—for instance, a group of members who might be underserved because of location or specialty area. The committee work may be stronger and more comprehensive because of the additional participation.
Also, make it easy for members to hear the conversations. If you have a Facebook site, encourage members to get emails. Use RSS so members can sign up for blog entries. Promote hash tags if you’re using Twitter (hint: advertise the hashtag in all your mailings so members can join the conversation). Use plenty of repurposed material as well—from other blogs, conversations, and websites. Let your community know that it is in touch with the world at large.
And finally, promote your online community in all your traditional communications. Tell the non-participants what’s going on in the online community by summarizing the conversations, recognizing new people who have joined, and highlighting new groups which might be forming (“Did you know that there’s a group of Realtors against the new property tax proposal? Join them on Twitter!”) Let members know they may be missing out on some interesting and useful association activities that are happening on line.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I've been running successful online communities since the mid-1980s when I first got a modem, discovered bulletin boards, and wound up running one. Over the years I've discovered a few things about how to do it right. Here are seven keys to the kingdom:
- Make it a priority.
Quit whining that it's so much trouble to deal with commenting and community interaction. That's why they call it work. Be glad you have a chance to do it.
Community interaction should not be a marginal part of your online effort. Social interaction is a powerful basic human need.
The Internet is a social medium. Social-networking and forum sites get seven times the traffic of newspaper sites in the United States -- and more than any other type of site, including all search engines.
This is your opportunity to play a role at the center instead of the fringes of the online experience.
- Have a clear community mission.
Why are you doing any of this? Why is any of this of any value at all to the community? Can you explain it in just a few sentences?
If your goal is just cheap pageviews that you can convert into revenue, then you pretty much deserve all the abuse you're going to collect.
Your mission shouldn't be about your site. Your site should be about your mission, and your mission should be about your community. What value are you trying to create?
- Share that vision and ask for help.
In 2005 we launched BlufftonToday.com in a town that was growing so rapidly that it was in danger of losing its center, its identity.
We did it with this language:
This is a new kind of community website that joins with the Bluffton Today newspaper in a mission of helping Bluffton come together as a community.
With your help, we will provide a friendly, safe, easy to use place on the Web for everyone in Bluffton to post news items, create a unified community calendar, and share photos, recipes, opinions.
This is a place where you take the lead in telling your own story. ....
In return, we ask that you meet this character challenge: be a good citizen and exhibit community leadership qualities. It's a simple and golden rule. Act as you would like your neighbors to act.
- Follow up with tight moderation.
You've made a promise: a friendly, safe place. Keep it. This means a zero-tolerance policy toward personal abuse and intimidation. Stop bullies before they start.
You may have heard that you shouldn't moderate user postings. That's absolutely not correct. In the United States at least, you may be legally wise not to edit or even prescreen user-posted content, but you should always remove content that is abusive, obscene, spam, scam or otherwise detrimental to the community goals you have set forth.
It's important to be consistent and thorough about this.
- Require registration with real information.
Don't allow anonymous commenting. Pseudonyms are another matter. Protecting commenters' personal privacy may be a good thing, but you should know who your users are.
Registration -- especially when coupled with a persistent personal profile -- is a powerful tool for moderating behavior.
The single biggest mistake you can make is to fail to show up at the party where you're supposed to be the host.
Your presence is important and valued by your users.
This isn't just a place for your "community interaction expert" or "social media editor."
This is a place for reporters and senior editors, too.
You will bring much to the party, but you'll also get much from the party.
Participation gives you a new window into the soul of your community -- what people think, what they value, what they know. You'll come away with ideas, leads, new directions.
And recognize this: As a journalist, your mission is not just to report the news. It's to help people discover and understand the truth. When you see misinformation in blogs or comments, don't ignore it. In a calm and nonconfrontational way, you should correct errors and misapprehensions. Point to authoritative material.
We no longer live in a world where it's good enough to gather, order and present information.
The story arc has been extended through community conversation, and journalists have an important role to play in the tail of the process.
- Give power to your users.
Recognize, in both words and action, that your site belongs to its user community as much as it belongs to you.
If you only "allow" commenting on news stories, you're not quite getting it.
Provide ways for your users to set the agenda. This might take any number of forms, but obvious ones are community-driven blogs and forums.
And provide tools for you users to help maintain the quality of the site. Your users will gladly help monitor your site for abuse if you provide tools to flag bad behavior.
If you do these things consistently, you'll be well down the road to maintaining that shared sense of purpose that is the ultimate key to a healthy online community.
Here are Steve's Seven Tips for building an online community: it's written for newspapers, but applies to associations as well. Particularly interesting is step #1--if you see community building as a cheap quickie you can do on a Friday morning, your efforts are doomed.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sep. 21, 2009 - Building Association Online Communities: Step Three
Ok, it’s clear in your mind what you want to achieve with online communities, and you’ve identified the behavior that will signify that your community is a success. Now the next step is to begin.
Yep, go to Facebook and design your site (or Twitter, or Ning, or whatever tool you’re using), keeping your objectives and your audience behaviors in mind. When you've completed the project, you’re ready to do a soft launch—that’s step three.
Repeat these words: SOFT LAUNCH. That doesn’t mean let go of the helium balloons and clink the champagne glasses and invite everybody you know to this wonderful new service. It means, take a lesson from Google’s “Wave” product launch and letting some qualified users try it out first. “Here’s the site,” you say to four or five or ten people. “In a week I’ll call you and we’ll talk about what will make this site better for the average member.”
And you say to Alice Average, “Just hang on, Alice. This new association social networking service is really going to be a benefit to all of us. But we’ve got a few members working on a beta test to make sure everything is absolutely perfect before we release it. We’ll put you on the mailing list, and you’ll be the first to know when you can sign up!”
In the meantime, let the beta testers go full speed ahead. Encourage them to start the discussions, establish special interest groups, post links, sell used office equipment, whatever. When Alice Average finally receives permission to sign up, there will be activity going on already.
And when the your beta testers give you ideas like “we’d like to develop an interface between our Facebook site and the MLS” or “why can’t we have a link where they can click and donate to RPAC right from our site?”, listen to them carefully and act on their suggestions. Remember that their job is not to tell you how good your product is; their job is to find ways to make it better. Once the beta testers are satisfied, you'll have a better product AND a cheerleading section to support your service.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
In Step One, we brainstormed some objectives for developing an online community within your association. As you thought about what strength an online community can bring to your organization, what your ‘big picture’ objectives might be as the association CEO, you began to get excited, didn’t you? I mean, you really began to see the possibilities here, right?
And then you dumped the bucket of cold water over your own head. “Can’t you imagine Ernest R. Emeritus trying to find something meaningful on Facebook, for heaven’s sakes? I mean, he’s still putting carbon paper between the pages of his listing agreements. He’s not gonna do this. Forget the idea!”
Step Two involves defining the two or three measurable objects you’d like to have the members accomplish through social networking. You’re not thinking about the whole forest landscape here, you’re thinking about picking out a few clearly definable trees. And you won’t reach everybody, so clearly define your target market. An online community may not provide anything of value to Ernie Emeritus, but for a large number of Americans, social media tools are an integral part of daily living.
In step two, you will the performance objectives for members who will participate. Let’s say you set up an association Facebook page, for instance (or you might be doing this on your association website, or maybe using a service like Ning for your association). What do you want members to DO when they get to your Facebook site? Here are some thoughts:
- · Log in. This means they need to set up an account, and set up a Facebook page for themselves. (Hint: try offering a short seminar or online tutorial in how to set up and maintain a Facebook professional profile)
- · Add their photos! A faceless online community isn’t at all interesting.
- · Send some Friend requests to business professionals and clients
- · Obtain information on your organization events
- · Register online for an event, or respond to an invitation
- · Read the association news items
- · Participate in discussions on issues of concern to members
The secret here is to outline the expectations. You might even set up an achievement widget: “if you complete four or five steps, we will sent you our gold star award for your Facebook profile. …” Your job is to encourage use, and to define a clear understanding about what your site is intended to do. Then communicate that to the members. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that social networking is a benefit in and of itself. Members don’t want to network just for the pure joy holding hands with each other : I, for one, am always put off by all the invitations to join ‘fan pages’ or become ‘friends’ with people I don’t know
“What’s in it for me?” I ask. Your members will ask that too.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
When you see something that's taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn't have before, you're probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that's merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you're probably looking at a loser.
A good analysis of publishing (music, books, newspapers): it isn't the content that people are buying--it's the delivery. What's a newspaper? A printout of yesterday's news....
Friday, September 18, 2009
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In this series of articles, I’m going to explore with you some steps involved in launching an online community in your association. There are a series of incremental planning steps you can take as the organization manager, actions which will really assist you in building an asset which is truly capacity-building for your association.
Many association execs have ooohed and aaaahed at various seminars and education presentations over the course of the last couple of years: ‘social media’ is the new buzzword in management circles. But like any other shiny new toy, the glitter can fade quickly once the reality of daily living sets in. Who wants to tweet about the joys of collecting dues or the excitement of revising bylaws? Clearing the meeting room clutter after yet another RPAC Fundraiser just doesn’t make it for fascinating Facebook contribution to share with family and friends.
Of course, the goal in this case is much more comprehensive than a tweet or text message: you are using social media tools to build an online community. Like any other project you might introduce into the organizational culture, building an online community needs planning. Step One is predictable: define your objectives for building such a community in the first place.
Here are a few suggestions to think about adding to your list of goals:
- · Attract and empower volunteers, especially younger members
- · complete better association work through more feedback, more open participation, more voices
- · better track committee tasks and objectives
- · meet people where they are, not where you are
- · communicate faster, do work faster, accomplish things faster
- · improve outreach, communications, engagement
- · make your organization friendly and inviting
- · have a safe space for open, honest communication between staff and members (inside the organization, not in the parking lot)
- · get out of the way (as staff) and let work happen
- · assist members who don’t travel by getting them involved in ways that does not require face-to-face presence
- · let all members know (even the ones who don’t participate in the online community) that things are happening in the association!
I’m sure you’ve got other goals in mind—now’s the time to make a list. Write them down, every one you can think of, and then highlight the four or five objectives you think are the most productive to the association. Go ahead. It will only take about five minutes. Then you can go on to Step Two.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
(c'mon, AEs, you don't think you are a 'true' non-profit, do you?) . Anyway, this slideshow, written by Frank Berry and Jeff Patrick, is an excellent
introduction to how (and why) to use Twitter effectively. Don't skip over the
fundraising section--think RPAC, and consider the ways you might use
social networking to raise money. You may just come up with some new
ideas, ones that will appeal to the members who are tired of the Bowl-a-thon
or the Las Vegas party. Also, the content on slides number 43 and 44 (Twitter Tips) are very helpful,
and the resource list on slide 57 is a good place to begin your further reading. All in all, this is an excellent introduction to Twitter as a useful tool for association
managers. It's worth your attention as a part of your professional development
Friday, September 4, 2009
(As a part of a new series for this blog, I am going to focus on product reviews of interest to managers of trade associations, non-profits, and other groups. I am welcoming not only suggestions for review materials, but also your reviews as guest writers on this blog. Email me for further information and suggestions about how to write a product review for Circle Dance.)
An email came to day from ASAE: ‘Here’s a free gift for you,” it said. “We’re offering this in appreciation for your continuing membership.” (It goes without saying, of course, that the annual membership solicitation arrived last week).
Not being one to reject the price point, I decided to accept the offer. That part was simple: I kept clicking on links, expecting to receive a PDF file or some such, but intrigued by the title. So often I hear association managers saying things like “Members can’t read”, that I thought perhaps there’d be a rather difficult dance around the question of whether or not they were ready for something as mysterious as Web 2.0.
What I discovered when I unwrapped my free ASAE gift was a really worthwhile and down-to-earth presentation for managers of any association, practical advice in how to introduce technology into an association environment with a goal in mind of increasing member awareness of the association and participation in it.
The presenter of the webinar is Bob Wolfe, training director for the Solid Waste Association of North America. The presentation itself was made at an ASAE Conference on Feb.1, 2008. I applaud ASAE for selecting this presentation to highlight as its ‘gift’: it is on a topic which is timely, the presentation is filled with association-focused content. Further, Bob’s membership (“That’s GARBAGE HAULERS to you”, he says) makes his approach to the topic relevant to all of us.
Here’s a digest of some of Wolfe’s points:
• Point: don’t worry about the technology, worry about perceived member value. Choose the technology that’s accessible to members (hardware, software, and learning curve).
• Recommends: blogs, YouTube, FaceBook. Avoid Second Life as graphic intensive, and with a high learning curve.
• Remember that members don’t care about the delivery, they care about the conversation.
• Avoid the technology hype. Ask, will the technology provide value to members. How will THEY use it? If you fall for the hype your efforts will result negative word of mouth, you’ll lose your return on whatever investment you might have made, and the members will lose confidence in you.
Wolfe’s central point about introducing Web 2.0 to associations is, begin where the members are and build from there. He includes useful tips about building like have an official conference blogger for your convention, and capture the members’ conversation.
I can’t think of too many reasons not to spend some personal development time with this ASAE presentation. “Are your Members Ready for Web 2.0?” is available for free to ASAE members by simply clicking on the link and checking out, and if you’re not an ASAE member the price for the presentation is $19.95, a minimal investment.
“Oh,” you may groan, “I haven’t GOT an hour and a half to spend on this stuff. I gotta get the annual budget report done.”
Fear not. Once you access the content, you have 120 days that your purchase will be available to you to work through, and NO budget report is going to take that long.
But even if you don’t really care about the content, get this product to learn what a masterful online presentation looks like! The program is re-issue, as I said, of a live presentation, edited to make a very smooth online resource by the producing company, Content Management Corporation.
All I can say about their presentation is “WOW”! The slides are excellent, and coordinate flawlessly with Wolfe’s audio component. In addition, there’s a tracking window on the screen so you can follow the outline, and skip ahead or repeat certain topic areas. I don’t know the cost of producing a presentation like this, but I think that any association with a goal of having more members accessing valuable information ought to pay close attention to this company and its many services.
Thanks, ASAE, for the gift.
I’m going to go write my dues renewal check now.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
A real estate client in name only | Real Estate and Technology News for Agents, Brokers and Investors | Inman News
So here's a suggestion for the various real estate boards and Realtor associations: Redefine the consumer in a real estate transaction and make a clear distinction between a client and a consignor. It isn't a complicated rule: Pay me for my time, energy and expertise, and you're my client; pay me for the result and you're a consignor.
Insightful article from Robert Hahn...Note the difference between a contingency-fee attorney who gets as much as 40% of a settlement and a contingency-fee Realtor.
Hahn's suggestion of distinguishing between a client (one who pays for time and expertise) and a consignor (one who pays contingent on a favorable outcome) will, he says, restore the client-agent relationship to something meaningful. My question: is it up to real estate boards and Realtor associations to implement this? Should that be our job?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
In a recent Cooperative Intelligence blog, Ellie Naylor asks the question “Will Associations Go the Way of Print Media?”
For me, that question is an attention-getter: I’ve blogged about the parallels between print media and other professional areas— new delivery technologies creating obsolescence of current models. Think music and film, retail stores, and yes, even real estate.
So what’s endangering associations? Naylor thinks it’s technology—everyone’s nemesis (and opportunity). Traditionally, associations provided networking and information: two fundamental attractions for members. Associations have had publications, trade shows, seminars, conventions—all learning activities which gave members a competitive advantage over the non-members. They’ve had meetings and parties and committees and public relations campaigns, designed to encourage networking and cooperative ventures between members.
And we are no different in Realtor®-dom. We have the MLS as well as many of the same traditional activities as other associations and our organizational mission is a community of informed professionals, working together.
But look! Information is now ubiquitous: it’s everywhere. Nobody, including associations, has a corner on the market for information. Even the lofty American Medical Association has only one-third of US physicians as members, and is losing thousands of members each year. Information and training, one of the key reasons for joining the AMA, is now readily available through a multiplicity of sources. And the AMA hasn’t been able to produce discernable results in the two areas of AMA member interest, malpractice reform and Medicare rates. If you can’t be the deliverer of quality information unavailable elsewhere and if you can’t produce pocket-book enhancing advocacy results….why pay dues?
One can ask the same questions of the Realtor® organization and, in fact, members are asking those questions. “I can get information from lots of sources,” say members. And quite frankly, they add, MLS operations are really stifling business. Restrictive and confusing policies on VOWs and geography-limited data access are foremost among complaints—before concerns about fines and rules and business models are added to the heap of issues causing member unrest and dissatisfaction.
The other part of our cumulative vision as trade associations is promoting camaraderie among members. That’s the reason we most often give for committees (the members that work together do good business together) and parties and general membership meetings.
Wait: technology has given us other ways of forming networks, learning personal things about others in our areas of specialization, and establishing meaningful relationships. Those other ways include all kinds of social networking systems from wikis to Tweets to Facebook updates to Ning sites where specialists can gather and share. These opportunities are inexpensive, and take a lot less time than a convention or a general membership meeting.
Of course social networking and face-to-face meetings aren’t mutually exclusive…but by the same token, the opportunity to meet face-to-face (at significant time and expense to the member) is not enough reason anymore to pay dues to an association.
So what’s the answer? How do we, as associations, plan to keep ourselves more viable than the Ann Arbor News? More specifically, how to we as Realtor® associations, practice preventative medicine in order to maintain good health?
Ellen Naylor says the following:” Associations need to adapt their model to their membership in these changing times since the old value proposition won’t work. Here are a few ideas to consider:
1. Multiple, affordable means to connect members electronically
2. Free services that are interactive, like Webinars
3. Continuous PR blasts about the profession’s benefits to both users and providers of that association’s constituency
4. Strong industry knowledge by association staff…
5. Steady corporate and service provider sponsorship (financial and time)
6. Cooperative affiliation with complementary associations or industry associations which value your association’s skill”
Naylor’s suggestions are as important for the Realtor® community specifically as well associatons in general and suggest some practical applications Association Execs might consider:
A. First, admit to Naylor’s premise: The old value proposition won’t work. That’s a hard one for Realtors®, I think: our very organizational infrastructure is based on 80 year-old market areas, and we spend a lot of time not admitting that the Internet has made that obsolete.
B. Embrace many avenues of networking technology. Learn about it, and use it as a part of your daily association toolbox.
C. Have a long look at your public relations efforts, both with your members and with your association publics. Don’t count on the old loyalties to carry you through: the consumer is indeed king, and the loyalty is in the pocketbook. If you aren’t providing a perceived value, the consumer (member) is gone, gone, gone.
D. Be knowledgeable as the association administrator. Understand the real estate industry, the brokerage business, and your local markets. Learn about association management techniques. And get the designations which firmly establish you as an expert.
E. Cultivate your association sponsors. Those are not only your brokers, but also your affiliated community. Be proactive in establishing contacts and integrating these folks into your organization’s business and strategic plans.
F. And finally, look outside your licensed salesperson/broker membership to build community. Find new ways to include business affiliates into the core professional community: they deserve more than just a chance to provide golf tees or the Christmas party wine. Increasingly, other specialists are playing an important part in how Realtors® do business, whether they’re in law, banking, or cellular telephones. Bring them in! And while you’re creating new community, think about the general public of real estate purchasers and sellers. How can your association interact with them to provide a more confident and knowledgeable buying and selling public arena in which your members can work?