One of the biggest status-quo traps for associations is their cautious, iterative moves towards the use of the new social media tools. Fear of loss of control is big - just as in corporations. Yet, association leaders might consider crossing the chasm before a college drop-out does. The Nature Conservancy dove into the social media pool and you can too.
In brief, many associations are vulnerable. They can be co-opted by a member(s), exhibitor(s) or a complete outsider who chooses to launch an online social network to serve their kind of members. One might even launch one for free via Ning.
Beating out a national association, a small state could start with these low-cost and free tools. (Who knows? They might attract more participation - thus more sponsors dollars - than their national counterpart. That would spur social media tool adoption by more associations.)
Some social media tools could include a tagged directory of members and another tagged "community center" of member-generated tips, tag clouds (to see what topics are most popular and members most mentioned - in real time), a forum (where members start a discussion, propose conference topics or projects, form committees, get credible advice, recommend books, etc.), group and individual blogs (also tagged), captioned photo albums (from the conference, committee activities, etc.), listserves (using google or Yahoo groups (for quick bites of information and requests, compiled by and for opt-in individuals) and vlogs and podcasts. One day this group might even go for a made-by-us video channel.
Design your social media to let the cream rise to the top. The people with the most popular input become most visible (on the site and elsewhere) and rewarded. Here's one way to support excellent input. This association replacement entity could attract smart tips, video how-to's or e-booklets at the community center. Each month, contributors of the "Top Ten" best tips/content win prizes. Only registered members who joined the free network can vote. This attracts more registered members. Prizes are provided by contest sponsors that want credible, constant visibility in front of this niche audience. Some gifts can be provided via e-gift coupons. As the community grows, the number and value of the prizes can grow too. Thus everyone benefits form this social media model.
Once this solidified and thriving group attracts 25,000 members minimum, according to social media expert, Bart Barden, it will attract underwriters/advertisers. Some may come from the same pool of people who advertise in the association's publications and/or exhibit at the conference. Yet, via social media, other kinds of sponsors will be attracted to the niche market because of the demographics. Such sponsors could underwrite the cost of serving this peer2peer member-based community - and turn a profit for the people who founded it. As the community grows, the sponsorship revenue grows.
Over time, the owner of the online social network could organize MeetUps and/or sub-contract with a professional meeting planner to plan events and the annual conference and tradeshow (with, of course, yearlong follow-up via the blogs, etc. to keep the community converations going.) Alternatively, perhaps Federated Media Publishing might sell ads for it and turn this membership service into a revenue generator for the association - rather than steal its members. Which future do you want for your association?
I'd love to see more of these social media gurus (mashable, TechCrunch, PaidContent, Federated Media Publishing, etc.) in a MC-led panel at MPI, PCMA, ASAE and/or SGMP - or maybe sponsored by Primedia’s Betsy Bair. Give each panelist 10 minutes to rock our world with their best two pieces of advice. Suggest success scenarios that associations could adopt for "the Power of Us" to flourish. Then take questions (Twitter too?) from the "audience." Vlog, blog and podcast it all of course. As a non-geek who speaks at conferences I am eager to see ways that more organizations can support and deepen the community-building that starts at them. Let's involve the social media experts as partners to see how we can multiply the times, ways and places that members, vendors and others in the group can connect and collaborate.