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February 27, 2009

Blog Watchdog February 2009

Welcome to the February 2009 edition of McKinley Marketing's Blog Watchdog (that's me) column. Remember you can get this column and articles from McKinley Marketing's talented consultants by subscribing to their newsletter .

As the global recession continues, association executives are learning to deal with its impact. This month's Blog Watchdog reveals what association professionals are thinking - and writing - about the
economic downturn and its effect on both day-to-day and strategic decisions.

In addition to McKinley's report on the economic downturn's affect on associations
, ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership released its Winter 2009 Impact Study (443 KB PDF download). This short blog post from the Great Ideas Conference highlights several practical ideas from a session about the study. ASAE & The Center has  also created a section of their Web site devoted to helping association executives weather the ongoing financial turbulence.

In times like these, you might be tempted to see what kind of cash you can extract from customers at every turn. Bad idea. But, ensuring that members don't bail on you when they're attempting to complete an online purchase? Well, that's a grand idea! Web strategist David Gammel offers three tips to help you do just that.

Have you noticed a heightened focus on measuring things when the money gets tight? Jeff Cufaude writes about measures that matter and measures that don't. He points to a couple of interesting stories that may force you to re-think the difference between meaningful measures and meaningless measures.

As always, if you have feedback or a tip, e-mail
B at BenMartinCAE dot com.

October 24, 2008

McKinley's Blog Watchdog October 2008

Welcome to Blog Watchdog! As always, I must remind you that I'm a paid freelance writer for McKinley Marketing.

You have no doubt been inundated recently with horror stories about the economy and the fiscal future (and present) of our country. What's an association executive to do when faced with the question, "
How does all this affect me and my association?" The October 2008 edition of McKinley Marketing's Blog Watchdog focuses on weathering the economic downturn. Read carefully and think about bookmarking them as part of your regular "must-read" list!

First up we hear from a relative newcomer to the community of association bloggers, Bruce Hammond. Sometimes, a tough economic period can be a sobering wake-up call for associations. Bruce recommends taking a step back from the crisis to evaluate products and services with a discriminating eye. Specifically, he suggests asking these questions: What are specific ways to bring in more non-dues revenue? What tactics might stretch our dues revenue further? Read the rest of his questions and more.

Associations that rely on donations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of an economic crisis. The theory goes that as disposable income decreases, donors will be less inclined to give to causes they might support in good times. Nonprofits need to be extra smart to meet their year-end fund raising goals. Not to fear! On the NTEN blog, Randy McCabe of M-Power shares five practical tactics that can help your foundation "do it right when the money's tight."

In another fascinating blog posting, a tenured association executive and blogging newbie has something to say about strategy during a down economy. Kerry Stackpole says don't panic and don't get distracted. "Stick to the knitting," he says. "Knowing where your organization excels, revisiting your core
competencies and making sure you are executing on plan are more
important than ever in difficult financial times." His recommendation is that staying focused gives you a better chance of weathering the storm.

Not satisfied with simply weathering the storm? Then let's rewind the clock and go back to August, when Kevin Holland offered up a few tips on how to increase revenue in a shrinking economy. In a nutshell: 1) Create tangible products that meet a member need, 2) Continue to spend your marketing budget, 3) Focus on membership retention efforts, 4) Create programs for niche audiences in your target market and 5) Experiment. This post is definitely worth reading in full.

As always, if you have feedback or a tip, e-mail bkmcae at gmail dot com.

October 22, 2008

Too cool to keep to myself

Fail Whale o' Lantern
Originally uploaded by RealEstateZebra
Fail whale pumpkin carving.

October 21, 2008

Social media yields engaged members and even cash

I was recently invited to write an article for the Avectra Institute newsletter. In case you missed it, here's my contribution.

There's a lot of talk about using social media as a means to engage members. And it's not just talk. If you read research from ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership (if you don't, you really should) you know these three facts:

  1. that social media is a new and potent way to engage members,
  2. that the extent to which a member is engaged in their membership association is tightly correlated to their likelihood to renew their membership and to talk to friends and colleagues about their association, and
  3. that the number one way that members first learn about their membership association is from another member.
All of these are great reasons to embrace social media and can certainly stand on their own. But sometimes association leaders are looking for a more direct effect. And seriously, who can blame them? I mean, who doesn't want to see some honest-to-goodness cash flow in these challenging economic times? It can be done. Here's a case study from my association on how we used social media to get new attendees at our annual convention. And keep in mind, our convention was sited outside the state we represent and our members are Realtors (if you hadn't heard the real estate market is a little tough out there). In a nutshell, here's how we did it.
  1. Personally invite members who use social media themselves. We keep watch for new bloggers within our constituency by subscribing to Google Alerts about our industry. When we learn of a new blog, we leave a comment, e-mail or call to ask them to come to our next major event.
  2. Use social networking sites. About a year ago we set up a Facebook group for our membership. Over time, the group has grown to about 300 participants. We messaged everyone in our Facebook group to let them know about convention sessions that would be relevant to them, as people using social networking sites like Facebook. We also have a number of members using Twitter, and used that medium to spread the word about our convention. Through Twitter, we were actually able to recruit people who weren't in our target market to attend the convention, although it should be noted that credit for the recruiting should be assigned to volunteers who willingly recruited those non members to attend.
  3. Give them stuff to do that screams social media. We invited a number of members to contribute to our convention blog, scheduled a conference session specifically for bloggers, and worked with volunteers to arrange an unofficial after-party for anyone who wanted to attend, regardless of whether they had registered for the convention. Two keynote addresses were delivered by authors who believe in the virtues of social media, and we even streamed Twitter posts tagged with a special keyword (which we announced in advance) into our convention website, so that anyone could publish to it from their cell phone or laptop. The same tag was used to tag photos of the convention uploaded by members to Flickr. And we immediately displayed the posts of any blog that linked to our convention website. The on-site internet cafe presented this dynamic conference website to all who approached.
Hard results? Well, how about 15-20 attendees who never would have thought about attending our convention before we started our social media initiative? Here's a Twitter post from a member who attended: "I am glad I am an agent in Virginia. The other associations should be jealous."

Think he'll come back to our association's events in the future or tell others about them? He already has.

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October 20, 2008

Social technographics stats updated

Hat tip to Frank Fortin for pointing to these new Social Technographics stats from Forrester, released today.

Short version: More people are doing interactive stuff online.

Discovered via comments-o-matic.

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Ask the CAE: Using Twitter for text announcements

I got this question from a reader the other day:

In addition to the paid gig, I am the president of a community based non profit - all volunteer of course! We use mailman for group emails...but I am looking for a similar platform for blast text messages for both the adults as well as the student constituents. I know I could set something up in Twitter but that is frankly a way more powerful technology than I need and it would overwhelm many of the adults who are still struggling with texting. I really am looking for one way technology to keep people updated on what the organization is doing. Can you recommend an easy technology that we could run with volunteers? And of course free is good...
Actually, dear reader, in this case, I think Twitter would be just fine for sending text based alerts to your constituents. It is free one-way texting, after all. I'd suggest that you ask them to sign up by using their cell phones (i.e. send 'follow org_name' to 40404).

Where you may encounter difficulty is when your constituents are already using Twitter, and they've turned off the SMS alerts because they're following more than a few people. (Or if they start using Twitter more extensively after signing up for your alerts and subsequently turn of SMS alerts.) But provided that they don't disable SMS alerts, I think Twitter should work just fine for you.

But if this sounds like too much to worry about, look into TextMarks. I've never used it, but they say you can send text alerts of up to 140 characters to a subscriber list for free. Opting in is easy; all you have to do is text a keyword to 41411. The ony catch: There are ads in the message footer.

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October 18, 2008

Cool little thingie: forwards RSS to SMS

You might think I'm crazy, but I actually find SMS to be less intrusive than e-mail. That's why after writing about TweetBeep this week, I decided to look around for a way to get filtered Twitter alerts by text message. I found, which is so gosh-darn simple (including the design), I just love it. It forwards RSS to SMS and only asks for three fields when you sign up: Cell number, email address and RSS feed.

So I went to, picked up the RSS feeds for my important Twitter search queries (such as this one, plugged them into Pingie. The alerts usually arrive by SMS within 30 minutes, which is about as real time as you can get for the price (zero bones).

And of course you could use Pingie to get nearly instant updates from any kind of RSS feed. highly recommended.

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October 17, 2008

Porn is less popular than social networking and other "social media is a fad" facts

"Those of us with considerable real-world experience are often at an advantage relative to young people, who are comparative novices in the way the world works. The mistakes novices make come from a lack of experience. They overestimate mere fads, seeing revolution everywhere, and they make this kind of mistake a thousand times before they learn better. But in times of revolution the experienced among us make the opposite mistake. When real once-in-a-lifetime change comes along, we are at risk of regarding it as a fad." - Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody

In other words, I agree with Jeff.

Some other stats to help you make the case that social media is no fad:

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October 16, 2008

Call for papers: Marketing & Membership Conference

Just a quick note to let you know that the call for papers just opened for ASAE's Marketing & Membership Conference.

As chair of ASAE's Membership Section Council, I command you to submit a proposal.

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October 15, 2008

DMAW schedule update

My session at DMAW tomorrow has been moved to 2:45 p.m. to accommodate another speaking engagement that I have tomorrow. 2:45 p.m. in the Statler B Room: That's where you can make some money.

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Just leave a comment and you're blogging! Experimental: Comments-o-matic

Here's something new that maybe you'll find useful. I know I do, because I made it.

Introducing associations comments-o-matic (aka c-o-m), a blog (and accompanying RSS feed) that compiles comments made all around the association blogging community into a single spot on the web. It's still in beta, okay?

Here's how it works. You leave a comment here on my blog, or on any of the 20 association blogs that are publishing a comments RSS feed, and within a few minutes to hours, it shows up at c-o-m. By reading c-o-m, you get a flavor of which are the most compelling conversations on association blogs (according to the wisdom of the crowd, at least).

Head over to c-o-m to give it a try. If you're an association community blogger who isn't on the list, there are instructions at c-o-m on how to get your comments added to the site. There are also instructions on how to get your blog's comments taken off the list, if for some strange reason you want that.

And big props to Scott Oser for sponsoring comments-o-matic.

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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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October 13, 2008

TweetBeep falls somewhere between useful and annoying

Here's a service that will search Twitter and e-mail alerts to you. Pretty cool for getting alerts on tweets about your company or conference when you're out and about. Since only sends alerts by RSS, this gives TweetBeep a slight edge on urgent delivery.

TweetBeep also (and this is VERY cool) follows all of those shortened URLs on Twitter and alerts you whenever someone tweets a link to your website or blog. Until now, when URLs were shortened by TinyURL or Is.Gd, there was no way to accurately search for the mention of your company's URLs. At least, I'd never heard of a way to do this.

But part of the allure of Twitter and RSS alerts is less e-mail. So for me, TweetBeep is a borderline tool.

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October 11, 2008

See me in DC this Thursday for some social media marketing mayhem

Scott Oser has put together a lineup for DMAW's Sixth Annual Association Day that can only be described as social media marketing mayhem. There's still time to register for Thursday's event at the Capital Hilton.

At 9:45 a.m. I'll be presenting a session called Conference versus Unconference that I swear will be more interesting than that title (I assume full responsibility for its suckiness). In my session, you'll hear about my real-world experience organizing and promoting not one, but two unconferences, and how the tactics I used were, well... Let's just say I'd never done THAT before! Plus, I'll explain how I took what I learned from recruiting people to attend an unconference and applied it to recruiting members to a more *ahem* conventional conference. I'll be sharing some cool, cheap, and creative stuff in my presentation and I'll leave plenty of time for Q&A.

Of course, DMAW has done me no favors in scheduling my session opposite two others that I'd like to attend if I weren't presenting. One is led by the Social Fishes (Lindy & Maddie) and the other by Kevin Whorton. I hope you'll come to mine, at least for a little while.

Here's my differentiation strategy: I won't use nearly as many big words as Whorton, and I'm sure that will be appreciated by those who aren't yet fully caffienated at 9:45 a.m. As for the Social Fishes, well, I'll just have to resort to bribery. These are tough economic times, or so I have read. I'll do a re-run of this gimmick I pulled at the first ASAE Technology Conference. Be the first to ask the question during my session and get paid like Misty did!

Unfortunately, I can't stick around for the whole meeting, but I hope to see you on Thursday!

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October 09, 2008

If you build it, they will come Vs. If I don't build it, what will they come to?

I got this question from a friend a few days ago...

Any suggestions about where to find info about external social networking started by members VS. by staff? I think you set up a facebook page for your members, right? Are you the administrator or members? Seems like if it’s not allowed to be organic that it misses the point vs. if you build it they will come.
I have experience on both sides of this and would advise that you not completely cede administrator rights to your SNS to members. It isn't a bad idea to delegate to members some control over the SNSs you set up. After all, when you give members some ownership over the SNS, they'll be more likely to encourage their colleagues to join. But you want to position your association as the administrator. If you're looking at Facebook, I recommend starting a "Facebook Fan Page" instead of a group, and titling it something like "Our Association Name (official)".

UPDATED 10/17/2008: In the comments on this post, Lindy points out:
Messages from Groups go to the Facebook inbox and trigger an e-mail alert to group members' real inbox. [Fan Page] Updates go into a magical mystery Facebook tab that few people ever visit...and no e-mail alert.
This is a huge drawback to Fan Pages. [end update]

And I wouldn't recommend that you wait around for members to start an SNS presence for you, or request that they do so. I believe your association will want to be the one who starts it in order to reap the benefits of being the initiator.

Of course, if you've already got SNSs in your industry that were started by others, you definitely should join them, participate, and conduct yourself as if you were a guest in someone else's home.

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October 08, 2008

Coming soon to an association conference near you

I have it from a reliable source that the one person association executives need to hear from more than anyone else in the world right now will be speaking at an upcoming association-related conference. I'm not saying who it is or which conference it is, but watch for an announcement soon. I'll update here as soon as the news goes public.

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