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February 10, 2008

Associations, social media, Web 2.0, the illusion of control and risk avoidance

While the association blogosphere has been discussing the above, I've been watching a case study on the topic unfold this week. I'm not going to re-trace the well-trekked ground covered in these four places, and I'm not going to name any names in the saga I've witnessed this week, but here's a summary of what I've seen, and my morals of the story:

  • An association member creates a facebook group for the association, identifying it as "Association Name (unofficial)". The group grows organically without the association's help to a few dozen members.
  • A few weeks later, the association learns about the group and demands that the member rename it. The member offers to hand the keys to the group over to the association and let them run it instead. The association declines and asks that it be renamed.
  • The member relents and tries to rename the group. Facebook doesn't allow renaming a group, so the member is forced to kill it and start a new one. All the social capital developed on the original group dies with it.
  • A few weeks pass and the member has another experience with the association that conjures up some negativity. Out of frustration, the member posts about the earlier facebook incident on the wall of a large facebook group in the industry.
  • The wall post gets picked up by a widely read blog in the association's industry. Then another, then another. Then the trade press picks up on the story.
Lessons learned:
  • Self-forming groups just happen. Members network and discuss association business over coffee, lunch, by trading emails or by setting up groups on facebook. There is nothing associations can do to prevent it. Association executives need to consider it a fact of life and learn how to manage it.
  • If a self-forming group is discovered, the best first option for the association executive is to try to join in the conversation.
  • The damage incurred by demanding that a self-forming group break up may be greater than any damage caused by just letting it be. In this story, the attempt to avoid risk by quashing it was not good risk management. In other words, risk avoidance was not a good risk management strategy in this scenario.
Tagged: ; ; ;


Reza said...

Dear Friends,
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Your participation is greatly appreciated. You will find the survey at the following link.
This group has already done another study on Weblogs effects on “Social Interactions” and “Trust”. To obtain a copy of the previous study brief report of findings you can email Reza Vaezi at

Peter Turner said...


Your observations are on target.

Having gone through the challenges of defining and implementing a strategy for online collaboration several times with associations, there seems to be a number of commonalities as to why associations act this way.

Control is a symptom of a larger problem that can extend to the organizational culture which shapes tangible practices (like procedures and policies) and intangibles (like entitlements and unwritten rules) all of which can create barriers or blinders.

Forrester Research completed a study examining generations and how they create, collaborate or consume online content. The results are really enlightening. They suggest that just like learning we all have different online preferences for creating, collaborating or consuming content. The younger the generation the more active they are in various ways while the older you are the less active.

So this suggests that the whole dynamic of how we govern, create a product or service or how it is delivered needs to reflect preferences in the demographic age group of your audience.

If you want younger people to engage, you need to design your experience with a compelling online component.

Happy to forward the diagram if you like.