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April 21, 2008

Here Comes Everybody is the association industry's must-read book of the year

Association professionals: Put Clay Shirky's new book at the top of your reading list. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations is a thoroughly considered, articulate demonstration of the revolutionary change social media is imposing on our society. Never before have I dog-eared a book like I did with this one - I've bent and marked up over 100 pages in this book.

From the title, you might consider this book a naked threat to associations (Steven Colbert felt threatened 50 seconds in). Associations are at risk because of the social web phenomenon, but not in the sense that a single social networking site or online community will directly challenge, and ultimately unseat them. However, wave after wave of ad hoc groups that organize with ridiculous ease have the real potential to eventually erode the power and influence historically enjoyed by associations.

Shirky scarcely mentions the not-for-profit sector specifically, but the writing is on the wall. Towards the end of the book, though, he does bring up membership associations. Here is the most eye-popping passage from this practicing association professional's perspective:

"The jury is still out on whether any of the current interest in reforming the US health care system will change anything, but if I had to pick between MoveOn and groups like the self-organized strangers in Dallas for having the more profound effect, I'd bet on the ad hoc groups. These kinds of efforts are unlikely to be long-lived or self-sustaining--no office in DC, no budget from donations--but the unpredictability of that kind of effort makes it a signal of a kind of commitment that is hard for any ordinary membership organization to produce effectively." -pages 301-302
Check out Jeff De Cagna's podcast with Clay, and get this book.

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Anonymous said...

Hey Ben. This is a great wake-up call, although the writing has been on the wall for a while now. I'm forwarding your blog post to our board of directors and advisory council, who are meeting next month to discuss the future of PAII. I want them to understand how associations are being challenged and stretched by social networking and these "ad hoc" organizing opportunities.

I'm posing a few questions to them to consider in advance of our conversation:

1. In what ways are innkeepers organizing among themselves without the aid or leadership of PAII or associations? I can think of a few off the top of my head.

2. Should PAII only concern ourselves with providing networking and collaboration opportunities to PAII members? What about the THOUSANDS of non-member innkeepers out there? How much can we abandon the old model of “you must pay association dues to play,” or do we abandon it at all? Can we provide the self-organizing tools behind the members-only wall, or do we open it up to the world?

3. Is this or should this be a priority of our organization? Is the need to collaborate/organize/network/share online an important one for innkeepers?

Thanks for providing some stimulus for us.

Jay Karen

Greg Fine said...

I just finished reading this book. I didn't find it as compelling as I thought I would. The examples were great, but in many cases, thy highlighted how unconnected people are using social networks to connect together. Association members are not unconnected. There is a common connection. Albeit, not always a strong one with every organization.

The one thing that the book did highlight to me was how people are using technology to fill a vacuum that in the past could not be filled.

To me, this is the REAL wake call. If an association has a vacuum or void, then the members can easily find a way to fill it without the need of or spite of the organization in the first place.

The "Where Winners Meet" study indicates that successful people want to be part of a club, and this book demonstrates that people still want to meet face-to-face. Put those two things together and I believe there is a strong future for associations. Not every association, but the ones that understand the shift.

The sky isn’t falling, it is changing and as they say, "change or perish."

Greg Fine said...

@Jay...You nailed it. This is exactly the thinking that needs to take place!