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October 14, 2008

Leadership in social media. It's more than just being first.

I agree with Lindy. All associations should invest in social media. Here's why (get comfy, it's kind of a long story).

I've recently become aware of a pretty sizable association that has decided to hire a social media staff position. So far, so good: Right?

The trouble is, this association has a not insignificant segment of members that's waaaay out in front of the association as far as social media goes. So this segment of members, clearly intrigued by this current event, is chatting on the social web about it. They're all blogging, commenting, tweeting and so forth about the new position, second-guessing the particulars of the job description, evaluating the hiring practices at this association, scrutinizing the benefits, and on and so on.

The conversation has gotten so big that if you Google the name of the association that's hiring the for social media position and the title that this position has been given, what Google returns is not the job announcement (posted on an SEO turbo-charged national job board, by the way), but a page full of blog posts and tweets about the job. Many of those results are not favorable. And that's putting it lightly, in some cases.

So this association is in a catch-22. It will either have to ignore those posts and make its hire how they think they should hire, or it'll have to try to hire someone in line with the consensus of the socmed superstars (if one can even be ascertained) in order to placate them. After all, the person who gets this job will have to engage with the aforementioned socmed superstars.

So it's not enough that the eventual hire will eventually be scrutinized, but now the process by which the incumbent gets hired is also being dissected. Glad I'm not the hiring manager!

But wait, there's more! They've also created a bit of an image problem with prospective hires: The best candidates will do their research by Googling the position and will see all the chatter. This may excite some prospects, but if it were me looking at it, I'd be very cautious.

Two lessons here:

  1. Even if you think your members aren't hip to social media, it wouldn't be a bad idea to develop your expertise now and become a leader to your members, not a follower. To the extent possible, wouldn't you rather be out ahead of your membership on social media? If this association had made a commitment to it a year or more ago, they would not find themselves in this situation now. This isn't just a matter of being out in front. As this episode shows, failing to be a social media leader can actually put your association into a strategically disadvantaged position.
  2. If your membership is already socmed savvy, be extra smart about how you hire a social media staff position. You might consider an unconventional hiring process for the position, or just seek out the right person secretly and just announce the hire.
Is there still time for associations to get out in front of their members on social media? For most associations, the answer is yes. How much longer will it last? Not much longer is my guess.

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