What Social Media Means for the Way We Work

social fish
social fish

Here are the slides from a presentation we did last week with Jamie Notter at ASAE’s Social Media Workshop.

What Social Media Means for the Way We Work

Social media tools are not only changing the way we do specific association management work such as member communications or marketing, they are also changing at a deeper level how we work on a daily basis. Internally, if done right, social media is fundamentally changing specific behaviors, processes, and organizational structures by breaking down hierarchies and silos. Externally, we find ourselves on a steep learning curve as we figure out how to operate in a world that blurs our personal and professional personas and demands that staff at all levels be empowered to speak for the organization. This session will help you understand the challenges social media will present to traditional ways of doing things in associations and how to effect that kind of change from the inside out.

First, we asked everyone to write down their number one biggest challenge for getting started “back at the ranch”.

We predicted that everyone’s challenges would fall into one of three buckets: behaviors (individual self), processes (internal relationships), or structures (organization as a whole). Jamie summarized some of those likely challenges:

1. Individual challenges:

  • Managing time
  • Difference between work and personal
  • Managing relationships (different mix of virtual and face to face)
  • Communicating better (you represent the company)

2. Internal Process challenges:

  • Competition about message and time. Different departments have different priorities
  • Decision making. Who gets to decide and how decisions are made will be challenged by social media
  • Knowledge. Archipelagos used to work but now can derail efforts.

3. Structure and Culture challenges:

  • Leadership. Authority and hierarchy is challenged. People who didn’t have power now do, so will your organization accept that?
  • Leadership again. Capacity has changed. We used to funnel information to smart people at the top, now capacity needed more at all levels.
  • Transparency. People will know more about you sooner. Can your organization handle that?
  • Failure and Risk. The calculus for these has changed dramatically, but no one has told our leaders yet.

Next, we explained that regardless of what tools you use and what social spaces you are operating in, social media “work” really boils down to one thing: how you are going to manage the process of listening and responding. We led the participants through a group exercise to discuss the pros and cons of centralized versus decentralized monitoring.

Centralized: A single department responsible for monitoring, reporting, coordinating responses from official spokespeople.
Decentralized: Interdepartmental cooperation for monitoring, reporting, coordinating responses from multiple spokespersons.

We included a handout (a real one, with actual sentences and stuff! Hehe).  Check it out.


Many associations will go through a phase of trying to exert some control; the centralized model is a perfectly legitimate way to start, however ultimately you’ll reach less people and limit your success. Small staff associations have a HUGE advantage here, because they already know how to share all the internal work of the organization and how to be clear about roles, responsibilities, workflow and what it’s all for (the mission).

Going forward, you can work towards a decentralized model by providing clarity.

Clarity means that everyone knows:

– what the objectives are for having a social media presence
– who will be doing what, inventory of activity and responsibilities
– how people will communicate about what they hear on the social web
– how and when responses are handled, escalated when necessary
– how new projects can happen
– how online activity relates to offline activity
– what particular business timelines are relevant

Going back to the original three buckets, clarity for individuals means you’ll know:

– what’s my role?
– how do I build relationships personally and professionally?
– how do I measure the progress of the activities I’m managing?

Clarity from an organizational standpoint means we’ll know:

– what the benefits are for our association as a whole and/or for the industry
– what particular risks we must always bear in mind (HIPPA, antitrust)
– who our members are and how this helps us communicate with them
– how we can teach members to use social media and bridge the digital divide
– what value proposition we have that we want our members to share freely

Clarity over control ultimately means that everyone, staff and all stakeholders, can be empowered to share the love.

The workshop had lots of other great stuff too.  Here is the full list of sessions and accompanying handouts, and here’s the Twitter search stream for #smw09.

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