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People are the New Social Channel - 4/6/2015 -

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 members’ identities.

"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 goals.

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,” says Shop.

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 being effective.

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:

  1. Put 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.
  2. Innovate, not imitate. Do not imitate what others are doing. Use their ideas for inspiration, but customize and align with your own business goals.
  3. Embrace 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.


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