This article first appeared as "5 'must' steps to do social networking right" in Association TRENDS.
By ELLIOTT B. JAFFA, EdD
Ask 100 association executives what Web 2.0 means, and you'll get 100 different answers, along with a lot of "I don't know's." Yet ask the same group, "Are you on the social networking bandwagon?" and you'll hear, "Yes we are. You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter." Big deal!
Associations must reach out through social networking. Why? Because members are more open to new ideas and are (becoming) younger and more educated. They’re bloggers, they want their information faster, they’re web savvy, more wired than ever, and embrace interactivity.
P.T. Barnum said "one a minute." How about one a second? It amazes me that all of those associations who believe they are part of the Web 2.0 revolution actually made some technology company rich by buying something they neither understand nor know how to use. Why am I being so cynical? There are books, conferences and seminars galore telling you to get involved with social networking, but no one tell you how. Organizations have no idea of what they are buying because they have never bought this service before and have nothing with which to compare it. For example, you go to the supermarket on your way home and buy a loaf of bread. The cashier says, "$19.50." Without a second thought, you put the loaf down and leave. Why? Because you've been buying bread your whole life. Comparing Web 2.0 to other communications efforts is not even like comparing apples to oranges. Rather it's like comparing the whole produce section to the rest of the store.
Social networking is a major marketing tool for associations...if used correctly. Right now your members are writing about you on blogs, Wikipedia, and commenting on numerous social networking sites. How well does your marketing department and its director understand social networking, Web 2.0, what it really means, and how to use it? Below is a list of "must" steps your association needs to address, NOW!
1. Develop a "real" social networking marketing plan in writing rather than simply telling your members to follow you on Facebook and Twitter.
The goal: To tap into the intelligence of your members using subtle marketing strategies. Did your social networking vendor show you how? Probably not. Your members are itching to tell you what to do. They know what's wrong and how it can be fixed. Listen to them. It's a long-term conversation. They have ideas your staff have not thought of, and can help you continually improve. Your objective is to strategically embrace and motivate your members to interact with you and each other on a regular basis to increase business. This will include recruiting new members, attending your meetings and conferences, sharing positive experiences about what your association has done for them, and more.
2. Develop a "social technographics" ladder of your members and their behaviors to turn the inactive, spectator, passive member into an energized contributor.
The goal: To segment your members to come together, communicate with each other, and become content producers using blogs, videos, reviews, multimedia, etc.
3. Decide which tools need to be in your social networking arsenal to achieve your goals.
The goal: By listening to your members, you first bring them into your inner circle and then give them the freedom to bring more and more members together by creating niche sites that share a common interest, their passion.
4. Visit many web sites, and read case study after case study to see if the information can be applied to your association's goals.
The goal: To educate yourself above and beyond what your vendor sold you.
5. Decide how much money and time to invest in social networking: Unfortunately, “It ain’t free!”
While corporate America already reaps the benefits of social networking, many associations aren't there...yet. My Rxs to associations are to develop your vision and a plan. Ask, "What do we want to accomplish by getting involved with social networking?" If your response is, "Because everybody else is doing it," then Web 2.0 is not for you. Get the leadership buy-in. Begin slowly and move in small concrete steps that have a big impact. Involve the "right" people to run your strategy. Establish a partnership between your marketing and IT staff, social networking consultant, and technology partners. You're all going to be in this together for the long run.
Jaffa is a behavioral and management psychologist based in Arlington VA. He writes "The Tradeshow Floor" column for Association TRENDS, as well as other articles.