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Think Personal Touch Doesn’t Matter To Your Brand?

Think again, amigo. Today’s reminder comes from Klout, who actually did much to redeem itself by not hiding behind a faceless corporate persona. When it made a mistake in an email, the mea culpa came from their marketing associate’s personal Twitter account.

It started with an email received this morning from Klout letting me know about a perk. Note who it is addressed to.

Not sure who Lan is, but I semi-joked with Klout that if they think I’m Lando Calrissian they may have a slight problem (though, I do think I still have my smooth old-school Billy Dee moments).

The response I got back was not an anonymous, sorta sincere “Sorry about that” from the Klout account. Instead, a response came from Lan Nguyen, Klout’s marketing associate who constructed and sent the email.

Turns out Lan messed up the personalization and came clean about it. And you know what? Name me one marketer who hasn’t done the exact same thing when working with email. We all usually test but we can also get impatient, particularly when we have a gazillion other tasks to accomplish. And sometimes we’re working with email marketing platforms that make it exceptionally difficult to test even the simplest of personalizations let alone complex segmentations.

What’s the learning here?

  1. Make it easy for your customers to empathize with you. Don’t hide behind anonymous social media accounts. Smiling faces – like Lan’s – really do make a difference as to how people feel about your brand.
  2. Keep hammering away in your internal branding docs the value of being personable, real, and yes, vulnerable. Your customers are smart and they know when they’re getting the corporate treatment. Screw up? Then fess up and learn how to do better. I very much believe that Lan – after she deals with the barrage of confused/irritated tweets – will work doubly hard to not make the same mistake in the future.
  3. And reward employees for being human and putting a face on your brand. They only hide in the shadows of anonymity when they know they’re going to get shredded by management for screwing up.

What are your favorite examples of brands that know how to humanize their customer experience?

0

How To Mismanage Your Community The EMusic Way

Since 2005, I’ve been a loyal member of eMusic, a monthly music subscription service. What initially attracted me to eMusic was their terrific catalog of DRM-free indie music from bands like Mogwai, Mates of State, Spoon, and Pretty Girls Make Graves. And the subscription rate was a great value.

However, in the past couple of years, eMusic clearly started to shift its emphasis toward competing with iTunes. They started to bring in more major labels and subtly raised the subscription fees. At first it sounded like a good idea…who wouldn’t want to have access to some White Stripes and Foo Fighters along with their New Pornographers and Metric? But as eMusic transitioned, the member forums started to show signs of discontent. Then last month eMusic completed a deal with Universal Music Group to add several thousand new tracks from mainstream artists. That’s when things took a turn toward the ugly side.

Nowhere has the ugly become more obvious than on eMusic’s member forums. Here are five things eMusic is doing that you can’t afford to do if you want a thriving member community:

1. Not address issues raised by members
You don’t have to dig very far to see just how pissed members are with eMusic. Here’s a sample of post titles from the forums:

  • Have credit, can’t download; lousy customer service
  • Well, it ain’t an improved service we’re paying for…
  • Goodbye emusic
  • Money taken but no credit.
  • How to destroy customer loyalty

Want to know how many times a rep from eMusic responded to these particular posts? Zip. Zero. Zilch. Review the forum and you’ll see that most of the interaction is members consoling other members and lamenting how things have changed for the worse. When it comes to actually addressing the issues raised by members, eMusic most often chooses the silent but deadly route.

Here’s a better way: Hopefully, it’s crystal clear. Deal with your members’ issues as openly and quickly as possible. Yes, sometimes an instant response isn’t the appropriate thing to do (particularly where investigation or research is necessary), but people will tolerate bad news a lot better when they’re treated like intelligent adults.

2. Speak mainly in PR-ese
When someone from eMusic does bother to communicate with members, its usually their VP of Corporate Communications, Cathy Nevins. I don’t know Ms. Nevins but what I can tell by her background and her interactions on the forums is that she clearly doesn’t understand the differences of PR, customer service, and community management. Find any post or response she writes and it oozes with PR-ese, rarely addressing the actual issue and sometimes providing misinformation. Case in point is this question regarding a change in service: http://www.emusic.com/messageboard/viewTopic.html?topicId=263393#1487316. After Cathy does offer a response, notice how many subscribers call her out on offering a less-than-truthful explanation. There’s also an interesting related conversation going on at non-affiliated emusers.org.

Here’s a better way: Talk to your members like they’re people you give a damn about. Be specific as often as possible. Apologize for screwing up. If you feel the overwhelming urge to spin and micromanage a situation, you need to nip that in the bud. Communities of passionate members are built around relationships of respect and honesty. PR-ese isn’t part of that equation.

3. Allow VPs to run the community
I hope my criticism of Ms. Nevins isn’t seen as personal. It’s not. (In some ways, I do feel bad for her. It’s horribly apparent that she’s in way over her head, perhaps even close to burnout.) But what I find curious is that eMusic puts the responsibility of interacting with paying members in the hands of a VP whose background is public relations. Know what this tells me? That eMusic executive management doesn’t really know what the hell it’s doing, and definitely doesn’t know how to maintain an online community.

Want further proof that this company has a deaf ear toward online interaction? All posts at eMusic’s blog, 17 dots, written by their CEO, Adam Klein, have the comment function disabled (though notice all other posts have no problems with comments). And yet more proof is on their Twitter account where they mostly RT and respond to positive tweets, but ignore respectfully critical questions, issues, and comments.

If eMusic really understood the importance of a positive, thriving community, they’d realize that talking with their members – even if they are pissed off members – would help. It would also be a good idea to hire a community manager immediately who knew how to communicate openly with people, listen with empathy, and calm tensions by providing needed information (on the other hand, the lack of a true community manager and the impact on eMusic’s member satisfaction isn’t a new issue).

Here’s a better way: Nothing against VPs or execs managing communities, but often they’re not in the right place to do it well. It’s vital to maintain their buy-in and keep them involved when necessary. However, managing a community is work that takes focus and a wide variety of skillsets. If your online community is foundering, hire an experienced community management professional.

4. Allow critical issues to escalate
By not immediately and adequately dealing with those tensions expressed by members who felt cheated and ignored, eMusic lost their shot at quelling the criticism. These issues didn’t just arise overnight…they were slowly percolating over the last several months. One could almost argue it started last summer during a particularly significant subscription rate hike when eMusic added Sony to their catalog.

Here’s a better way: It’s a no-brainer but it’s so easy to let problems snowball until they turn into full out avalanches. Then, it takes a herculean effort to dig your company out of the pileup. Don’t let the avalanche occur. Build an issue escalation plan that includes a clearly defined process for what to do when a significant issue arises within the community. Know who will handle the situation, the timeframe for handling it, and the various communication points for response.

5. Treat your longtime members with lack of respect
For what it’s worth, I’m probably leaving eMusic after five years of membership. I can’t say how much I appreciate what eMusic did to expand my musical horizons. But like many members who’ve been with the service for years, I’ve hit my breaking point. It finally came when indie labels like Matador exposed eMusic’s new terms that seem to benefit the big media conglomerates over the companies that made eMusic great once upon a time.

One of the most reasoned responses came from fellow longtime member EVDebs:

Much of the anger expressed at 17dots and elsewhere flows from the rampant dishonesty that has marked emusic’s communication strategy regarding this price increase and the seeming contempt with which you have treated your longtime subscribers. You have made it much, much harder for yourselves to make a convincing argument that this price increase was anything but a result of your questionable decision to focus on bringing major labels on board. The problem with any strategy built on lies is that even the truth ends up sounding like a lie once everyone has caught on to the fact that you’ve been lying.

Here’s a better way: Your longtime members are the ones who likely saw your community through the tough times and probably evangelized your brand to spread the good word-of-mouth. Why in the world would you kick them to the curb, even if the focus of your community changes? Don’t be arrogant enough to think you can just go and get more members like they grow on some kind of magical tree. Instead of pushing them further away, draw them closer to your community and business. They contributed to your success. Thank them accordingly.

image credit: Crawdaddy! Magazine

15

Mind Your Traditional Customer Service Channels

Still trying to figure out whether to give higher precedence to resolving customer service issues via social channels (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) or stick with traditional methods (phone, email, etc.)?

I think there’s a hypothetical, “perfect world” answer and there’s also a more realistic, “down to business” answer. The perfect world answer is they should be dealt with at the same level of precedence. When a customer has a problem, their primary – if not only – focus is that it gets resolved. The only difference is the method they choose for communicating with the company.

Where it starts to veer in some strange, uncharted territories is now customers can share their complaints for all to see via social channels. If I complain about a lousy service on Twitter or my blog, not only will my followers and readers see it, but it can be instantly and easily shared far beyond my first-level network. And it’s that very public airing of grievances that scares most companies into focusing more on resolving problems raised on social channels than those raised on more traditional channels.

However, here’s another reality that all companies must grapple with…and why they need to give each customer complaint the same precedence regardless of the communication channel. If I make a call and get no satisfaction, I’m going to blog about that experience. If it’s my father or grandmother or friend who has had a lousy customer service experience, I’m going to Tweet about it. But if a business effectively deals with the situation in whatever way it first arises, there’s no need to complain publicly. Rather, I might just tell my network about the wonderful customer service offered to make up for a problem.

My bottom line is: train all your employees to deal with a customer problem in whatever way it shows up because you never know how it will escalate beyond that moment.

Join the conversation at Forum Q&A

0

How Not to Be a Social Media Jackal

Yesterday, Matt Singley (@mattsingley) asked a simple, but rather provocative question via Twitter:

What ensued was an interesting mini-conversation about how to successfully and effectively engage with a competitor’s customers through social media.

The set-up
Let’s say you work for Company Y in Matt’s scenario and have a social media/online monitoring program that watches not only for mentions of your company’s name but your competitors’ names, as well (and if you don’t already have such a program in place, I happen to know a very good agency that can help you).  In the course of your monitoring, you discover that Company X has screwed up and now has some royally discontented customers. What do you do?

Your first instinct may be to jump on this golden opportunity quickly so you can grab some new customers…and I’m going to suggest you squelch this instinct. By being overzealous in your online efforts, you can actually do more harm to your company’s online reputation than good. Don’t be the jackal eagerly waiting to pick off the discontented carcasses of your competitors’ customers.

What should you do, instead?
First, listen, do a little legwork, understand. Find out what happened. In our online world, it’s not that hard to uncover what’s going on when a competitor screws up. Do not – REPEAT, DO NOT – wade into any tweetstream or blogpost until you figure out what’s going on. Failing to grasp an initial understanding of how the customer feels will only make you appear insincere and predatory.

Second, be a human being. Sorry if that seems overly simplistic and obvious, but its astounding how often we forget that long-term sales relationships starts with treating customers like humans with respect. After gaining an understanding of the situation, practice some empathy. Ask yourself, “If I was this individual, would I want someone to start aggressively hawking their wares under my nose right now? Or would I prefer someone to treat me better than I’ve just been treated by Company X?” A little empathy goes a long ways.

What might this look like? Here is a fresh scenario from Twitter:
A customer becomes irritated with a rival’s product or service. Here’s an example from @Dotpage who is calling out @logitech’s slow driver updates:

Let’s say you work for Altec Lansing and uncover a tweet like this. Now maybe no one – including your own company – has drivers ready for Snow Leopard, but here’s a prime opportunity for you to approach a competitor’s disgruntled customer. A course of action might be to research the social media chatter coming from Twitter (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=+to%3Alogitech) where you’ll find this issue is significant source of irritation among Logitech’s customers. Then, your first @ reply should be to note the problems faced by the individual – in this case, a lack of updated drivers. Perhaps send a tweet such as “Sorry to hear about the problems you’re having with speaker drivers…it sucks to not be able to hear sounds from your Mac.” Resist the urge to openly sell your product on first tweet. Remember, your aim is to build a long-term relationship not make a quick sale.

Not everyone you send @ replies are going to respond and that’s okay. For those individuals who do reply, here’s the opportunity to guide your competitor’s customer toward your own products and services. Ask what they want from a product, what drives them crazy, what a company can do to improve their experience. You now have a personal, one-to-one conversation with a buyer that can turn them into a raving fan. People become passionate about purchasing from other people, particularly those who genuinely want the best for them. This interaction can be a catalyst for introducing a customer to your own products and services without the need for even making an open sales call.

After you’ve made contact with the individual on Twitter, then follow them. Don’t make following the first course of action – this is the type of behavior that bots employ and again can be seen as an overly aggressive predatory tactic that will turn off the potential prospect.

Third, make sure every single person in your company is working from the same playbook. This is where breaking down silos and cross-functional planning cannot be under-emphasized. If just one person from your company leaps in like a jackal, then there’s a better-than-average chance your company’s image will be tarnished along with that of Company X.

Any thoughts or counterarguments here? What’s worked for you as a disgruntled customer? What’s worked or hasn’t worked for your company in having conversations like these?

4

Three Reasons Why Micro Wins Business

From Marketing Vox comes Half of Communicators Think Twitter’s a Fad. Actually, I would wager that you could substitute just about any business-related profession in place of “Communicators.” It happens every time a evolutionary shift takes place and individuals are confronted with the need to change. The data behind this latest article comes from Ragan Communications and PollStream. And for more commentary on the study, definitely read blogposts from MarketingCharts and Ragan (the comments are insightful, as well).

For me, here’s what the study drives home.

1. A shift from the masses to the micro.
Here’s a quote from Bob Hirschfeld, senior public information officer for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

“[Twitter’s a fad] because everybody’s doing it. Ashton Kutcher and CNN have a steady supply of fans who want to know what they do. People like us, people with a job to do, every so often we do something of interest to the general public [but] we don’t have that steady supply of stuff that the public is interested in.”

I think this viewpoint spotlights how professionals are struggling to overcome the old focus on how to speak to the masses. If you can’t speak to as many people as possible, then the effort is futile. You see this every time someone uses generalized words like “public”; in this case, Hirschfeld is concerned there’s just not a “steady supply of stuff that the public is interested in.” I’ll submit that aiming for the masses is no longer an efficient or productive action. The individuals and organizations who will succeed in the new world of business will be the ones who know their power niches and can communicate with them in a personally relevant way.

2. Broadcasting might not be dying, but it’s no longer the sole answer.
With that said, I don’t believe that broadcasting is dying. There’s still a place for it as a communications vehicle. Websites such as CNN, BBC News, ESPN, etc. still serve up broadcasted information. But the critical difference is that broadcasting is no longer the only mechanism for communicating with your audience. Most of the better sites understand this and allow visitors to personalize their delivery (see BBC News for a good example).

Other sites build around smaller, more interest-focused communities, which takes the micro to deeper level (see what Sony has done with their Backstage 101 or what DadLabs.com is doing with fathers). Someone tied to the old ways of viewing business might see this as a negative fracturing of their audience base. They’re liking thinking, “Crap, now I have to have multiple talking points for all these different audiences.” And again, that thinking exposes the mass approach that is no longer viable.

But rather than freaking out and seeing this as yet another sign of the apocalypse, consider what incredible advantages the micro-level offers to business. Rather than taking the shotgun approach that tries to hit as many people as possible (with the inherent dilution of overall message), communicators can approach each community and audience niche as a tailor-made occasion to develop messages that are relevant to the individual.

3. The future will require changes to your business thinking and operations.
We’re in the midst of a huge shift away from one way communication (at both mass and micro levels) and toward multi-vocal dialogue. And yes…this will require some changes to the way organizations think and operate, as well as to the way they communicate internally and with customers. As Josh McColough, a communicator at Sherman Health, notes: “The trick is to keep information coming and conversation active.”

Effective business is going to be about building relationships and personally-relevant dialogue rather than continuing the old trick of blindly bludgeoning a public with broadcasted communications. The only question is: Which side of this divide do you want to find yourself on?

0

The End Of The Industrial Age And Social Media

In David Armano‘s post for the Harvard Business blog, Debunking Social Media Myths, he writes:

It’s worth noting that seeding, feeding, and weeding all take place after any social initiative has been launched. But not taking into account the manpower that’s involved in these as you develop your social business design strategy can lead to a lack of adoption or participation–essential elements to any social initiative. Ignoring these realities will continue to propagate the myth that social media is fast, cheap and easy. As organizations look to grow or scale their current initiatives, it’s proving to be anything but. (emphasis added)

This post brought to mind something I thought about this past weekend: that social media is serving as a leverage point for guiding businesses away from the industrial/post-industrial practices that guided them in the twentieth-century. The new way forward is in the comment I made to David’s post:

David, I think what you’re noting here is one significant aspect of the upheaval social media tools have put into play. Thinking back to when the internet first caught fire around 10 years ago as a business tool, most of the activity was centered around doing what organizations had been doing for decades – just faster and more efficient with less overhead. The early internet held incredible promise to enterprises wanting to continue to operate with their industrial/post-industrial practices of engineering the human out of the service and delivery equation.

Now, enter social media which puts the human back in the center of the equation and these same organizations now are confronted with a problem: try to continue with legacy operational thinking or enter a strange (though somewhat familiar) environment that means changing some core processes.

There’s going to be a sort of cognitive dissonance that propagates the myth that “social media is fast, cheap and easy.” It’s because it tramples on the promises of an industrial/post-industrial age that’s passed. We’re entering a whole new territory where business growth isn’t the hare, it’s the tortoise who knows that relationships (which, at times, can be slow to evolve and challenging to maintain) between people are always at the core of every single transaction.

0

How To Bludgeon Your Brand In 140 Characters

Habitat, a UK-based home furnishings company, received a lesson this week on how NOT to market its brand. Turns out whoever is minding their Twitter account decided to take advantage of all the buzz surrounding Iran and use related hashtags such as #MOUSAVI to peddle their wares.

Shameless? Yep. Brainless? Yep, again. And it’s not just isolated to piggybacking on #Iran – apparently, Habitat has been riding other trending tags such as #apple and #phone. I’m still a bit mystified by who actually thought this was a good idea. The company has deleted the offending tweets and issued an apology, but the damage is done.

A quote from the BBC News article:

“The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to. This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offence that has been caused.”

The BBC writer is quick to pick up on what is easily inferred from this statement: that a third-party agency is responsible for Habitat’s online marketing strategy and – perhaps more interesting – their Twitter writing. Letting someone outside your organization write your tweets and post to social media shows is a quick way to get into some seriously hot water. If your organization is thinking of using Twitter and other social media tools to engage with customers, for heaven’s sake, don’t let someone else do it for you. This is a DIY initiative.

3

The (Weak) Ties That Bind: The Jobhunting/Social Network Connection

Today, my good friend and fellow deep thinker Tim Walker pointed me toward an article from Time.com called Using Twitter and Facebook to Find a Job. This prompted a short, private back-and-forth on Twitter about the benefits of social media for work seekers and the overarching connections to Richard Bolles. It’s Richard Bolles who has come to be most commonly connected to the high-value idea of developing “weak ties” in our professional networking.

What are these weak links and why are they so darn valuable? I know one of the first groups we tend to reach out to when we need new work are close friends and family. It makes a certain amount of sense: if these folks won’t come to our aid, then who can we really rely on in our time of need? It turns out our strongest links may not be the most effective, however. Here’s the counter-intuitive approach from Bolles:

It makes sense that the people you are closest to will have more in common with you; they will tend to have the same interests as you, and they will tend to know the same people as you; there is a lot of overlap between your circle of 250 and their circle of 250. And because of that overlap, they will be more likely to know what you know. And in the same way, they will be less likely to know what you don’t know; in this case, of possible job-openings. It is when you start getting farther away from your core, and start finding people with less overlap between your 250 and theirs, that you will find the people and information that you, and those closest to you, are less likely to know. Though it seems paradoxical, it is the people that you know the least well, who are most likely to be helpful in your job hunt. This is called “The Strength of Weak Ties.” (emphasis added)

Bolles’s work is a wonderfully useful extension of the work proposed by Mark Granovetter around the same time in the early 1970s (and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they built off even earlier work). If you’re inclined to read up on some truly outstanding academic work, take a look at this later article from  Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. You’ll find many of the same principles. Here’s a wee snippet:

It follows, then, that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend, as I have documented elsewhere (1974), on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time.

So what can we quickly draw from these juicy bits of knowledge? Don’t be afraid to reach out to individuals not in your tight inner circle. Even the most tangential connection may be the one that helps you settle into your next work gig. If the thought of contacting people you haven’t spoken to in years is daunting, start smaller. Reach out to people you know, industries you’re familiar with, groups you belong to and then take it one step outward.

  • Use LinkedIn to find new colleagues and groups who are connected to your own contacts.
  • Join in on Twitter and seek out interesting people. Start up a dialogue there and expand your network.
  • Go offline and volunteer with a nonprofit. Give five hours a week and you’ll be amazed at the diversity of people you’ll meet in your work. Plus it has the bonus of making a contribution to a worthy cause.

If you’ve had success at developing your own weak links to find work, what did you do? Love to hear your stories.

3

The Fallacy Of The "Don't Be Stupid" Policy

Apparently, some well-known companies have a social media policy that goes like this: Don’t be stupid. The underlying assumption is that hiring smart people means these same smart people interpret stupidity the same way. Really? That’s a pretty stupid assumption but I think I understand it. Hear me out and let me know if I’m off-base here:

Companies either…want to overcontrol the mischief their employees can make via social media so they impose a laundry list of legal “do’s and don’t’s” that make everyone paranoid about doing anything online. The results are bad relations with employees, a stifling of innovative external outreach and a reputation for being a stodgy, stick-in-the-mud company.

Or…companies want to let their employees feel free to sow their wild social media oats but acknowledge that some protection must be used. So they tell their folks, “Hey, go forth and have fun, but don’t do anything stupid.” The result is that no one knows what they hell “stupid” means. It’s rather like a parent handing their 16 year old teen driver the keys to the car with an expectation that the kid is smart and nothing dumb will happen. So what does happen? The kid gets caught up in the moment of unfettered freedom and wrecks the car anyway. How many smart people has that happened to? Plenty…and I’m one of them.

So we clearly have a problem with the whole “Don’t Be Stupid” policy. Might I propose something slightly more realistic: Put a fence around your organization’s social media activity.

Yes, I’m advocating for something in the middle of the two extremes of strict legalistic policies and loose freedom. It’s something akin to what my wife explains to me everyday in her work as a preschool teacher. We all need to know where our boundaries are, regardless if we’re 4, 24, or 44 years old. The key is to set boundaries that give a person room to roam and explore their space. Set the boundary too tight and you impede curiosity and growth; set it too loose and you risk losing focus and consistency.

What to do? Here are two key ideas but remember to put them in context with your own organization’s business strategy, organizational structure, and people policies.

Purpose: Why are we engaging in social media dialogue with our customers?
It’s a simple question that far too many organizations don’t have a consistent answer to. But using social media tools without a purpose is like taking a hammer and banging on your walls: yes, you’re doing something but you’re not really sure if it’s anything constructive (probably not). Every single organization that is using or thinking about using social media tools needs a purpose. Without that purpose, then everyone’s reasons for Twittering or Facebooking or blogging is acceptable by default.

Policy: How much room do we have to roam about in the social media space?
I didn’t say I was completely against policy. What I am against are policies created solely from upon high in the organization (likely with Legal’s review) and then set in stone. What this manages to do is disconnect the actual employee practitioners from the process. More command-and-control that regards employees as cogs that can be moved as needed by management.

Policy needs to be created like this:

  • Based around your organization’s purpose, involve a diversity of perspectives and gather input into the creation process.
  • Revisit your policy on a frequent basis. Anything need to be changed? Added? Deleted entirely? Policy should be a fluid, evolving structure that gives everyone an idea of where their boundaries lie.


Peer-Observation: How will we monitor our actions and progress?

Your organization has a purpose in using social media tools. And it has a set of policies to guide activity. How will you make sure they’re used appropriately? Rather than set one person up as the brute squad enforcer or make it just management’s responsibility to curb questionable activity, create an expectation that all participants will monitor their peers’ activity. And build a process where these issues can be addressed as learning opportunities as opposed to sanctioned beat-downs. If you’re not sure if this will work based on levels of trust or camaraderie in your organization, then you might have another problem to deal with first.

The thing about social media is that you better trust your people to speak honestly about their work and their experiences. If you’re thinking of launching any social media initiative and you don’t trust your folks…well, that would just be dumb.

7

The Power Of A…So Close Yet So Very Far Away

When an influential organization has an outstanding opportunity to change the game and create a new movement, you can be excused for feeling disappointed when the organization wastes it. Such is my reaction to ASAE’s Power of A initiative.

All I can do is shake my head and wonder if this is the product of a committee? You know, when a group of extraordinarily well-intended people get together and then beat a good idea senseless with a lot of weak-knee compromises and watered-down solutions. What’s wrong with the campaign?

Persistent Navel-gazing. If associations can be accused of anything, it’s an internally-directed focus on themselves and the issues affecting their membership. This is only reasonable since it’s a core concept that’s driven associations for quite a while. I will not argue with the need to rally together with other like-minded individuals as there is truly strength in community. But that strength becomes a weakness when it neglects to acknowledge the community’s existence within a wider society. Too many associations exhibit an excessive self-absorption and The Power of A does nothing the reverse this trend.

Social Media Mediocrity. The campaign’s site has the look of a truly interactive community except without any of the interactivity. Well, that’s not quite true: there’s a place to add your association and add a blog post. Note, though, that the blog post is only to be used by associations (your Association is a required field for posting). So far, it looks like a way for associations to just toss in their boilerplate PR message which is hardly blogging and definitely not going to yield comments.

There are other half-nods toward social media. There’s the inclusion of a Twitter feed using the #pwra hashtag and a Social Media Room which is little more than a collection of ASAE resources (and a “Power of A Badge?). None of this I would go to the trouble of categorizing as social media.

Audience Confusion. I could almost forgive the above two problems if there was a sense that ASAE knew who its audience is. But its painfully apparent that there is no clear understanding of who this campaign is targeted toward. Witness on the front page these two statements:

  • Help us share The Power of A with all Americans.
  • ASAE created this site to stimulate discussion among association leaders, policymakers & other stakeholders, so that the best and brightest ideas can be shared & help resolve issues of importance.

So who in the world is The Power of A speaking to? In an online world with intense competition for attention, where is the value proposition for anyone to learn more about the work that associations are doing? It may be an attempt to generate awareness, but with without individual interactive engagement it still equals boringly old-school broadcasting. Again, it seems that the focus of this site is a whole lot of “look at us, aren’t associations grand!” and “please pay attention to us, we’re very important.” but very little “what can associations do to be relevant in your life?”

One reason why I’m so critical of this campaign is because I really want for associations and ASAE to succeed. There is so much great work being done through this sector of our economy and a lot of good people put their heart and soul into this great work. So rather than contribute little more than armchair sniping, here is what I hope The Power of A can truly evolve into:

Engaging Public Dialogue. Speaking with policymakers is fine and it should be what every ASAE member expects from you. If it takes a special campaign to do it, then something is going wrong. And frankly, even if this is a problem, I don’t think this is the critical issue facing associations. The real issue is relevance. The question is always, “How are associations relevant to the betterment of our society?” For goodness sake ASAE, if you’re still wondering if public awareness is important, then act like you don’t know because you probably don’t. We live in a golden age of communication so here’s a start:

  • Engage individuals not involved in associations with provocative questions.
  • Stop talking at people. Instead, listen, understand, and share.
  • Open up www.thepowerofa.org to allow these people to ask questions, truly learn more, and develop meaning for themselves.

Connecting Value. If the general public doesn’t understand what associations do, throwing high-minded generalities at them probably isn’t going to help. If you want to build lasting awareness, then help people connect the value of associations to their life on their terms. That last phrase is important. Marketing, PR and the Communication trades are learning the painful way that bludgeoning an already overwhelmed audience with their corporate-driven message is a losing proposition. If you want people to listen now, you have to develop a relationship where your audience wants to know you, wants to know your perspective, and wants to share their own. Connecting value is a two-way dialogue.

Exciting the Imagination. Dang it, ASAE…surprise me! Help me believe more fervently that associations are worth having. If every single association shut down tomorrow, why the hell should I care? Again, don’t pitch me on some high-minded generalities. I’m not an association professional any longer so think of me as one of your target audience members. Make me a believer. And then help me make others believers. Do it soon because right now, I’ve got a strong case of the “whatevers.”

05.03.09 – Update #1
Other folks have similar criticisms of and suggestions for The Power of A campaign. All recommended reads if you’d like to get a flavor for the reaction:
Deirdre Reid’s The Natives Are Restless – How Do You Respond?
Maggie McGary’s The Power of..Huh?
Lynn Morton’s Power of A, lets take it to the next level!

05.04.09 – Update #2
Two more blogposts today related to The Power of A campaign:
Dave Sabol’s The Power of Missed Opportunities
Jamie Notter’s The Power of Frustration
And finally a response from John Graham, President and CEO of ASAE and The Center:
The Power of Conversation

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