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June 26, 2008

What a twisted web we weave: Association politicking spills into the blogosphere

One of the CAE exam's maxims is "always put a member between the staff and another member," especially when conflict arises. Pragmatically speaking, sometimes that's generally accepted as a best practice, and sometimes it's just, well, complete B.S.

I continue to be amazed, though, at how real-world association politicking has spilled over into the virtual world. However, I'm not at all surprised about how social media efforts from members frequently carry more weight and exercise more influence than the association's efforts. Realizing this, recently I've felt it necessary to ask members to leave comments on blog posts critical of some association decisions, compose blog posts to help support certain association activities, and respond to negative comments left on our own association's blogs.

Simultaneously, I've also been working some social networking sites to build coalitions and drum up support for certain association initiatives. Good initiatives, mind you, but ones that need some one-to-one personal touches to really make them work.

I think about this stuff constantly (I was up past my bedtime the other night thinking about how to mitigate negative comments on a blog post about one of my association's initiatives), yet it's still hard to put into context employing social media, and directing members' use of it, to advance our association's objectives. Honestly, I never thought I'd be doing this kind of thing on the interwebs -- and getting paid for it, nonetheless -- when I first started blogging four years ago.

This much is for sure: You can't escape association politics, even on the web.

Tagged: ; ; ;


Hatch-Eric said...

To Ben and readers,

My questions come first, then my context.

What does your management expect from Web 2.0 features? Does the web-based squabbling (read: politicking) between your members and stakeholders occur weekly / daily / not at all? When you are getting started with Web 2.0 tools, are the desires for cohesive message and polished presentation roadblocks to implementation?

Context -- I am a young buck in the Association field: 33, membership in two local chapters started last year. I have a little experience, though; I have been in the trade show industry since the early 80's because of familiy ties and in Event Management Software for four of the past eight years.

Mostly, I have found little politics in associations -- AS OF YET.

So, my experience with Senior Decision Makers at associations focuses primarily on the money that they spend on their members and stakeholders. I hope that this helps you all answer my question.

Matt Baehr said...

A little Friday debate...I will play devil's advocate here.

If members are posting negative things, and no other members are combating them without a nudge from you, are you sure they are good initiatives/decisions?

Isn't one of the points of allowing comments to hear the negative?

Lastly, what happens if you just have no responses to the negative, from the association or from other members?

(I have my own answers to these, I just want to spark some debate.)

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@Matt It's not that they aren't. It's that they hadn't yet, either because they weren't subscribed to that blog, or because they hadn't yet seen that comment. Responding quickly is important and effective. Therefore, much of what I'm doing is NOT putting words in members' mouths, it's only trying to accelerate their responses to the blogs. I would argue that the "point" of allowing comments isn't just to hear the negative. The real point is to hear and respond to the negative. I'm not sure what other alternative there is, other than invite the negative and then ignore it (which isn't a viable alternative, in my view).

ljunker said...

I don't think you can avoid politics anywhere, sadly. Maybe it's just human nature.

I remember doing the exact same kinds of things almost 10 years ago when members sent negative e-mails to the listservers at the association where I worked at the time. I wish I had some good advice based on that experience that would make your life easier, but I think this is just one of those aspects of association management that's always going to be challenging and painstaking and built up one relationship at a time, one comment at a time.

For what it's worth, I do think it's great that your members are willing to take the time to express their opinions and engage with you in this way--that shows they value you, even if they don't agree with a particular course of action. (Right? I hope!)