Association executives should watch what they post on social media

Many of us have written something on a social media network that we end up regretting later. This is bad enough when we do it on our personal accounts, but it is even worse when we're using a professional account. These are the kinds of mistakes that association executives must be careful to avoid when expanding their organization's social media reach.

News organizations have faced the problem of separating professional and personal social media accounts since these accounts first came into existence. Reporters are often encouraged to use their Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote stories, reach out to sources and interact with readers. Many connect with fellow reporters as a way of fostering additional back-and-forth dialog. However, there is always a chance that a reporter will accidentally post something personal to a professional account, hurting his or her organization's integrity in the process.

NPR Standards and Practices Supervising Editor Mark Memmott went so far as to write in a recent memo that even posts to personal social media can reflect poorly on an organization.

"In reality, Twitter and other social media sites allow us to show more of our personalities than we might on the air or in a blog post," he wrote. "But, though the words may be on 'personal' Twitter or Facebook accounts, what we say can reflect on NPR and raise questions about our ability to be objective."

Association executives must keep this in mind when they post on their own social media accounts. Their names will likely be tied to their organizations, and the wrong post at the wrong time can have consequences. Social media can bring many benefits to an association, but there are risks that must be kept in mind.

Are association executives using social media properly?

There is a difference between an association using social media and using it well. It seems that many association executives are only doing the former. 

According to a recent report by the Kellen Company, four out of 10 associations are not aware of whether their social media efforts are actually helping them meet their goals. Though these organizations were, by and large, enthusiastic about using social media, they did not appear to be sure about how it might be solving problems.

"Some expressed a 'ready, fire, aim' approach, which they acknowledge does not make sense but said they were pressed into creating a social media presence for the organization—just for the sake of doing so," the report read.

Social media can clearly benefit an association by improving its messaging efforts and helping it collect followers, but only if the organization takes the time to make it work and develops a coherent strategy. As the report found, each association has a different way of doing this. 

The majority of those surveyed said that they spent less than 10 hours per week managing social media, and only 20 percent have a member of their staff dedicated to this task. Instead, many associations rely on a communications manager to handle the job, even though such a person may have other things to do as well.

It is common, however, for associations to pay close attention to the impact that their social media efforts are having—even if they are limited to a Facebook presence. Many are counting the number of followers they have and responses they receive on posts. As the study makes clear, associations are getting the hang of social media—some just have a long way to go before they master it.

Members may not know what they want, but association executives should

The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once remarked that, "a lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show them." Jobs was referring to computer design, of course, but his point can be applied to a number of different areas. Association executives should keep this in mind when engaging in member management.

A recent article on Associations Now posits a similar question to the one that Jobs must have been asking himself. What if association members do not know what they want out of their membership? Even if association executives ask them, they may not always get accurate answers. After all, as the news source points out, the job of developing member benefits does not lie with them, but with association leadership.

The best strategy, then is not to simply ask what members need. Rather, organization leaders should hold conversations with members about their lives and the problems they face. Through these discussions, leaders can develop benefits that meet needs that the members may not have thought of.

For example, the news source cites Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. Teicher takes the time to spend a few days each year working in one of the bookstores that is part of the association. In this way, he makes sure that he can see first hand the issues that staff members are actually facing—not just the problems that they report.

In short, leaders must be involved in the day-to-day workings of their members. This way, they can deliver benefits that make the membership worthwhile.

Use association member management to benefit the organization

Association membership recruitment and retaining is about more than simply increasing the number of people who are a part of your organization. The ultimate goal is to recruit individuals who can offer your association something that will help it grow and adapt over time.

This is why, as noted by a recent article on Associations Now, it is important to offer benefits that take advantage of a member's particular strengths. 

The news source cites the Software and Information Industry Association, which recently announced a new "curated information resource" for members. With the help of the startup Wiser, the service will offer them access to industry-specific information. 

"Wiser is for professionals and organizations that inhale news, information, and data throughout the workday," the company's co-founder and chief content officer, Andrew Whalen, told the news source.

In addition, the service will serve as a private communication for those who are interested in the industry to discuss important issues. This will allow them to learn about new trends, stay engaged, find new clients and keep tabs on competitors.

Apart from those benefits, there is one more that is particularly important for new association members: this service allows them to  get involved in the association more quickly. Thanks to this stepping stone, those members who have skills to offer the organization can do so sooner.

Getting new members involved is a crucial component of association member recruitment and retaining, because it increases the chances that they will find value in the organization and choose to stay. Association leadership could certainly benefit from this.

Association executives should not neglect new members

The key to association membership recruitment and retaining is to ensure that nobody leaves your organization because they are feeling neglected. Association executives—especially those in smaller organizations—may feel that they already give new members enough attention to avoid this. However, you might be surprised at how often groups are taken unawares.

First, association executives should ask themselves if they have a plan to welcome each new member. Do they send existing members to meet with these people and acclimate them with the way the association works? After all, if the organization does not stay in touch with new members, they may find little reason to stay involved for a lengthy period of time.

What about efforts to get new members involved with projects from the very beginning? Obviously, in any organization, it is the long-time veterans who typically take the lead, as they have the experience and the knowledge to do so. However, if these members do not make room for newcomers, they will make it more difficult for them to add their own unique contributions to the effort. This is not an optimal arrangement for either the association or the new members.

Finally, do new members understand what they will get out of this partnership? Do they have a working knowledge of member benefits and the possibilities they have for getting involved? These play a big role in a member's decision to stay.

An association is only as successful as the people in it, and it is important to never lose sight of this during the recruitment and retaining process.

Association management starts with your brand

When it comes to association management, careful cultivation of your organization's brand is vital. Branding isn't just for soft drinks and celebrities: it also affects how potential new members and donors come to understand exactly what it is that you're about. 

It is about much more than a logo or a mission statement, though both of those tools can be helpful ambassadors for the unfamiliar. What is ultimately vital to get accurate is the underlying message. What is important to your organization? What are your values? How do you curate your goals, and what are your plans to reach them? 

One powerful way of signaling the answers to those questions is via accurate storytelling. It is simple to tell somebody what is important to you — it is much more difficult to get them to  understand and believe in it. By creating a story that captures their attention, you increase your chances of fostering a connection. 

The process doesn't happen in a vacuum. Members can and should provide insight as to what they wish the world to know about their association. In fact, often their personal experience will make for a compelling story: it is in the smallest details that people find the most profound connections. 

Writing for Nonprofit Quarterly, Carlo Cuesta explores this process. 

"Through storytelling, when effectively guided, both internal and external publics can be given the opportunity to contribute to the creation of a meaningful narrative," he explains. "A stronger bond is formed when our participants, donors, and community members, along with staff and volunteers, see themselves less as stakeholders and more as story shapers."

Because people are so heavily influenced by particular stories, it's important to consider yours when identifying your association's brand. 

Do association executives always need to plan large events?

For an association executive, there is often pressure to organize a major event to put the organization on the map. However, while that can certainly be an effective marketing tool, it is important to remember that large events are not the only option. As pointed out by a recent article on Associations Now, there are plenty of ways to achieve results from a nontraditional setup.

The news source cited a study from 2012 by Active Events, which found that in five of its major markets, half of all meetings were "small-scale affairs of less than 50 people." The source added that this trend is growing.

"There has been a shift away from choosing resorts in favor of downtown hotels," the source read. "Destinations that offer more direct flights or more travel options are winning out over their competitors. Significantly, venues that are capable of offering smaller meeting spaces are finding themselves on level footing with large convention halls, competing for events that had not traditionally been available to them."

These options make sense in particular when dealing with smaller associations, which have limited budgets and are more focused on convenience, rather than extravagance.

The news source added that, when planning, association executives should focus more on useful perks such as speedy wireless internet access, videoconferencing equipment and even on-call support staff. Sometimes, the convention center is actually one of the least important aspects of the conference. Above all, it is important for planners to determine exactly what they are looking to get out of their efforts before commencing.