People are the New Social Channel
Many associations see
social media simply as a means to push content out to members. Instead, we need
to put our members at the center and recognize that they are the ones
facilitating the interaction and transferring content back and forth.
By Karen Perry
Associations were the original social networks, created to
bring people of like interests and expertise together and connecting them to
the right information. However, what effectively connected people in the 1990s
no longer works today. No longer can organizations simply push information and content
out to their audience. Today, "people” transfer content back and forth. People
are the new channel. The challenge for associations is embracing this new
paradigm and connecting with members where they
are having their conversations.
So began Anthony Shop’s presentation at a recent Association
Media & Publishing Chicago Conference. Anthony is chief strategy officer
and co-founder of Social Driver, a Washington, DC-based digital agency that
helps organizations connect with people online through social media, web
development, and mobile apps.
Many associations see social media simply as a means to push
content out to members. Instead, we need to put our members at the center and
recognize that they are the ones facilitating the interaction and transferring
content back and forth. Rather than pushing out content, we need to find out
where our members are having conversations and how we can share in those
conversations. "Social design is not about taking content, making it look pretty,
and sending it out there,” says Shop. "Social design is all about unleashing
the energy in people and making a connection.” But how?
First, he says, think about social design from the outside
in. Where are there communities of people already engaging in conversations?
What conversations are they having? Are they talking about the same issues we
are talking about, in the same manner? Or are they addressing the issues in a
different way that we need to embrace? Going from the outside in provides us
with a much different perspective and helps us understand and connect with our
"Successful organizations recognize that today people are
writing real-time autobiographies of themselves,” says Shop. "They are
literally and figuratively taking selfies, and if we want to be a part of that
we have to put people at the center of everything we do. It can’t be our brand,
it can’t be our acronym, it has to be our people.” We need to ask ourselves what
we can do to be worthy of being included in our members’ selfies.
The key is to listen first before designing content. Whether
we are going to tweet a headline from our magazine or promote a conference, we
need to gather intelligence. What is important to our members and why? What
language and tone do they use in their discussions? Why would our members want
us in their selfie with them? Only by answering these questions can we hope to
find really interesting and innovative ways to put our audience at the center
and engage them. In this way, we connect what we are doing to what matters to
our members. We are putting people at the center.
Successful associations also recognize that their
organization’s goals are different from their competitors and peers. Your own
team is different, and your customers are different. Therefore, you must
innovate instead of imitate. Shop gave the example of the ALS ice bucket
challenge. How many organizations asked, "How can we do our own ALS challenge?”
But this is the wrong question to ask, he says. We should not be looking for
ways to imitate what someone else did because their goals, skills, and customer
base are different from ours. Often, we see a great idea and think we can or
should imitate it. But the fact is it most likely will not work for us the way
it has worked for them. We can use their idea as inspiration but then we need
to tailor and realign to fit with our goals. Find something that resonates with
your unique membership and plays to your organization’s unique skills and
Finally, we interact with the world through our devices and
21st century tools such as Twitter and apps. These tools can be very
effective, but they only work in the context of the 21st century
culture. "If I launch a Twitter account but use my 1992 press release policy to
guide how I tweet and get things approved, it is not going to work very well,”
He went on to use the analogy that the 21st
century culture is like a sports car: It’s flat, it is fast, and it is fun. By
flat he meant that we have to cut down on the hierarchy. If we have to go
through eight steps to get a tweet approved, we have failed before we have even
started. While attempting to change the culture of the entire organization may
be too daunting a task, sometimes just bringing the right people together for a
specific project can move the decision process along.
By fast, Shop referenced the need to be nimble. If we are
testing a new idea, we can’t have a long, drawn-out time horizon to see if the
idea will work. It is important to have a few quick wins to know if we are
It is also very important to match our tone to the tone of
the conversations members are already having. People expect us to approach them
where they already are. For example, if you are releasing a promotion for a
magazine article or a conference, and it sounds like it went through the State
Department’s bureaucracy for approval, chances are it will not resonate with
your members. Have fun with the messaging and with the delivery channels. Make
it easy for members to share your content.
To summarize, there are three things that successful
organizations do to engage members and create a connection with them:
people at the center. Recognize that people are writing real-time
autobiographies of themselves. To be a part of their conversations — their
"selfies”— put them at the center of everything you do.
not imitate. Do not imitate what others are doing. Use their ideas for
inspiration, but customize and align with your own business goals.
the culture. Match the tone of your conversations to those of your members.
And understand the technology members are embracing, both in and outside of
work. Make it easy for them to share your content.
Karen Perry is publications manager at the Society of
Actuaries. Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks her for covering
this education event for our members who were unable to attend.