Category Archives: Association

Why You Should Join Me at ConvergeSouth

Let’s just make this short and sweet: you really should make time to attend ConvergeSouth next Friday at Wake Forest University. Why? It’s the best event in the Triad for learning about:

  • The ever evolving online social world and how it can impact your business
  • Content strategy
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Podcasting

That’s just for starters. The afternoon features hands-on DIY labs dedicated to:

  • Podcasting
  • YouTube
  • Tumblr websites
  • SquareSpace websites

This is a fantastic venue for anyone interested in learning how to build their businesses/non-profit organizations or their careers using the tools of the trade in today’s world. If you’d like to attend I can set you up with a special 25% discount so just reach out to me via email or in the comments. Hope to see you there!

Code of Conduct

Until reading Anil Dash’s blog post about it I’d never heard of ConfCodeofConduct.com. What is it? In a nutshell it’s a “rules of the road” for conferences, trade shows, etc. Here’s their short version:

Our conference is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion (or lack thereof). We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks, workshops, parties, Twitter and other online media. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference without a refund at the discretion of the conference organisers.

Thankfully I’ve never had to work an event that would have had to invoke this code, with perhaps the exception of some costumes worn by folks at one or two trade shows. (There are some things I really wish I could un-see). Still, I’ve heard tales of conferences where this code would have been necessary and I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it.

I’d say this is a pretty good code for any gathering of 2+ humans, not just conferences.

“Professional” Education

For my day job I work for a local trade association and one of our core services is to provide professional education for our members’ employees. We spend a great deal of time trying to make sure we provide the best training and continuing education possible. We have a staff member who, along with a committee of volunteers from the industry, spends a tremendous amount of time recruiting instructors for the various classes and seminars we provide, staying on top of emerging trends in the industry, organizing instructor training and anything else necessary to make sure we have a top-shelf education program. In other words, it’s something we pay a lot of attention to.

Perhaps that explains why I was irked when a friend shared a link to a calendar item on a chamber of commerce’s website. It’s a free seminar on social media that the chamber and a small business center are hosting, which on the face of it sounds pretty straight forward. The problem comes when you do a search on the instructor, which my friend did, and find out that the instructor’s Facebook page only has a few dozen “likes”, the instructor has fewer than a handful of Twitter followers and has a website that can best be described as looking like the campaign page of a kid running for junior class president in 1998.

As I said to my friend I have nothing against the person trying to build a social media business (I think that’s what’s happening), but I have a huge problem with a chamber or other business association not doing its job well by providing quality professional education opportunities. Normally I’d dismiss it as a one-off mistake, but I’ve suffered through some of this particular chamber’s educational offerings in the past and I can tell you this is not the first time it’s happened.

You might argue that it’s unfair to judge the course, or the instructor, without sitting through the seminar. My reply would be that in the world of social media you can’t simply teach theory out of a book – experience matters – and there are SO many people in this area who do have that experience and could teach this course that there’s no reason to recruit someone who clearly hasn’t walked the walk.

Doing a seminar just to say you did it, or because someone raised their hand and said, “I can do this for free” is a terrible idea. You end up diminishing your value to your members, and before long they start running away. Obviously a chamber is more than just education, and this chamber in particular has long seemed to see their small business members as a necessary evil, but if you’re going to do something you might as well do it right or not do it at all.

Trade Associations Spending More on PR and Less on Lobbying

According to this article in Associations Now, a trade magazine for those of us in the association management business, trade associations are moving dollars away from lobbying and into public relations:

Overall, the trade groups spent $1.26 billion on advertising, far more than any other service, and nearly twice the $682 million that was spent on lobbying, legal services, and government affairs. A huge portion of the $1.2 billion total came from just one relationship: The $327.4 million the American Petroleum Institute paid public relations firm Edelman over the four-year period. The amount was most of the $372 million the association spent over the period.

In its report, CPI portrayed advertising as an area where trade groups had more freedom to push their message, compared with more traditional means.

“The public relations industry is on a growth tear while the number of federally registered lobbyists is actually shrinking,” CPI reporters Erin Quinn and Chris Young wrote in their story. “Public relations work, unlike lobbying, is not subject to federal disclosure rules, and PR and advertising campaigns can potentially influence a broader group of people.”

I’d imagine that another factor is that with the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court, many companies that would have funneled “political” dollars through trade associations are now taking the DIY route.

Should You Treat the New Customer Better?

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the local apartment industry. The way we’re set up is pretty typical for a trade association, but it can be pretty difficult to explain to people who aren’t familiar with how these types of organizations work. So here are the basics:

  • We have two types of members which is association speak for customers. Our primary members are owners and managers of apartment communities. Our other class of members are “affiliate” members who are basically vendors who sell products and services to our primary members.
  • Our primary function is to provide education and advocacy services, plus networking opportunities for apartment owners and management companies. Our affiliate members are most interested in those networking opportunities because that’s where they can interact with the primary members and hopefully do some serious selling.

One of the questions we get all the time comes from companies that are interested in becoming affiliate members and it’s this: “When I join will I get a chance to speak in front of the members at the next event?” A lot of them are surprised when we say no and of course they want to know why. Here’s our answer:

We don’t allow new members to stand up and give their sales pitch because we have members who have been with us for years, decades even, who don’t get that opportunity at every meeting. We also have sponsors who pay extra to be recognized at our events. Why would we treat a new member better than a member who’s been with us and supported the industry for years on end, or give a new member the same exposure as sponsors who have paid for the privilege? What we can promise you is that when you become a member we’ll do everything we can to make sure you’re treated as well as every other member, that you have equal opportunity to build relationships with the primary members and that you have access to all the sponsorship and selling opportunities that every other affiliate member has.

There are many associations that disagree with this approach and do allow new members to get up and speak at their meetings. I’m sure it works for some folks, but at our place we just feel like it sends a terrible message to our long-time affiliate members who have supported the industry with their time and treasure if we treat the new kid on the block, who might be their competitor, better than we treat them. The analogy I use is this: how do you feel when you see that your cable company is offering a special deal to new subscribers, but when you call to see if you can get in on the action they tell you that you aren’t eligible? Pretty crappy I’ll bet, and the last thing I want is for our members to think of us like the cable company.

Marriott Wants to Block Guests’ and Exhibitors’ MiFi

This article at Boing Boing about Marriott’s petition with the FCC to be able to block personal WiFi networks on its properties is also a very informative primer on how these networks work:

Marriott is fighting for its right to block personal or mobile Wi-Fi hotspots—and claims that it’s for our own good.

The hotel chain and some others have a petition before the FCC to amend or clarify the rules that cover interference for unlicensed spectrum bands. They hope to gain the right to use network-management tools to quash Wi-Fi networks on their premises that they don’t approve of. In its view, this is necessary to ensure customer security, and to protect children.

The petition, filed in August and strewn with technical mistakes, has received a number of formally filed comments from large organizations in recent weeks. If Marriott’s petition were to succeed, we’d likely see hotels that charge guests and convention centers that charge exhibitors flipping switches to shut down any Wi-Fi not operated by the venue…

The FCC reserves all rights to the regulation of wireless spectrum to itself. Even licensed owners of spectrum—such as cellular networks—aren’t allowed to employ techniques to jam other users. Rather, they pull in enforcement from the FCC, which tracks down, shuts down, fines, and even proffers criminal charges against violators.

Marriott is asking, therefore, for a unique right: the right to police spectrum privately based on property rights. As Cisco put it in its comment, “Wi-Fi operators may not ‘deputize’ themselves to police the Part 15 radio frequency environment.”…

So far, there’s no organization representing consumers, small businesses, trade-show exhibitors, or business travellers that has submitted a comment, though a couple dozen individuals have. The affected parties are these groups. The original complaint against Marriott came from a savvy business traveller who saw what was up. Should Marriott get what it wants, we’d all have to use hotel or convention Wi-Fi; portable hotspots would fail, and our cell phones’ Wi-Fi sharing would be disabled, though USB and Bluetooth tethering would continue to work.

There’s also no representation from businesses and people adjacent to hospitality operations. If a hotel is in a city, how can it possibly protect just its own network without disabling all the dozens of networks around it without whitelisting those networks—in effect, requiring neighbors to register with them.

I’ve been involved in managing and organizing trade shows and conferences for multiple organizations and I can tell you from personal experience that the hotels and convention centers charge incredibly high rates for often spotty internet connectivity for exhibitors and guests. I’ll be interested to see if one of the organizations I belong to, the ASAE, comes out against this. Its members are people who work for associations, many of which spend a significant amount of their time and budget on trade shows and whose own members would be subject of these “jamming” techniques.

The Power of Blogging for Associations

I work for a local trade association that is affiliated with a national association. A few times a year the national association hosts meetings at which all of its volunteer leaders get together to discuss the association’s business. Last week I attended one of those gatherings and sat through several committee meetings and general sessions, and at one of those sessions a staff member from the national organization excitedly described several new initiatives upon which they had embarked. Most of the announcements were good news for my organization and the other affiliates from around the country, but one was not so good – the service they were launching had the potential to compete with one of our services and have a negative impact on our income and to confuse our members/customers. I instantly messaged one of my counterparts from another affiliate to see if she felt the same way and she immediately replied with a strident YES!

This came to mind as I read the following excerpt from an article written by an association executive who is arguing that blogging is a powerful tool for associations:

As a member of several associations myself, I much prefer an association news stream that talks to me like a colleague and gives me updates on the good work (and sometimes risky experiments) that the association is doing to advance its mission and the industry it represents. The people closest to those projects should be reporting on them, not just describing the work they are doing, but the reasons certain decisions are made, and how they tie back to something that is of value to the members.

Blogging is a much better platform for this kind of communication. Using the traditional method, a staff person may work an entire year on launching a new product or service, and say nothing about it to the members until it’s ready to be sold to them. With blogging, the staff person can share information about the developing program throughout that year–its impetus, its initial framework, challenges it encounters along the way–all of it inviting and encouraging feedback that can be used to make it more attractive to members when it’s ready to launch.

As you might imagine I’ve always been a big fan of the blog as communication tool for an association, or any business for that matter. We’ve had one at our place for years, but until now I hadn’t really thought of the power of using it to communicate our “works in progress.” What a fantastic idea, if for no other reason than to avoid scenarios like the one I described above. Until now we’ve used our blog to cover industry news, share “members in the news” items and to promote some of our events, but I’m thinking we should use it to communicate some of our “skunk works” projects and, hopefully, get helpful feedback from our members.