Working with Social Networks

Case Study

The emergence of social networking has changed the way we operate and effectively do business. One sector that has been affected by social media is associations and other membership-based organizations. We spoke with Jay Moonah, chief marketing officer for Wild Apricot, a membership-management software company, on how associations can work better with social networks. As an avid tweeter, he has a lot of experience working with his clients in making the social networks work for them. "We are interested in helping our customers manage their media networks online, and better use technology."

Getting started with social media can be daunting for over-tasked association employees and volunteers. "I would just encourage people to try it and be open-minded," he says. However, effectively managing social media is all about trial and error. He stresses that you need to keep your expectations in check. "Do not go the other way, drink the Kool-Aid and think that it's going to fix everything. There is a balance, it is not a magic bullet, but there is a halfway point."

We spent a few minutes discussing this no-longer emerging media with him.

Q: How has social media changed the role of a business association?
A: A big part of why you might join an association is the business and networking opportunities. It is the ability to connect with people in your sector and to share best practices. You can now do this via a LinkedIn group or various social media platforms. While associations are able to facilitate the face-to-face meetings, I know people that have created business relationships with people that they have only met through online connections. In some ways the traditional-style associations are working the same kind of connection from the opposite end. Now associations have to prove the value that they are bringing to the table in this new environment.

Q: Why should associations engage in social media?
A: The wrong thing to do would be to create an environment to keep all of that information in. It is a big opportunity if you are looking at channels like Twitter and use something like a hashtag where people will see a bunch of information coming out of a particular event or meeting. They get a partial picture of the event and they will see a reaction from the program. There is nothing like being in the room, but the value of that is accentuated through social media and it has a greater reach. Companies that don't use Facebook are having a harder time recruiting members. You can get a whole lot of content for free and expand your reach. What can be better than your members posting information on your page that can lead to future discussions?

Engaging in social media can attract a younger audience, and if you forgo using social media you will alienate the younger audience.

Q: How can associations direct the conversation on social media?
A: Setting up groups or pages prior to the start of a conference to discuss some of the topics, answer questions or receive feedback before the conference event starts – we are seeing a lot more of this on Twitter and Facebook groups. You might have pre-conference material posted online ahead of the event and get valuable feedback.

Free reign on social networks worry some, so have a policy if the dialogue is something you are concerned about. This opportunity is to say to people here are the things that we would really like to see, and here are the things that we would really encourage you to do. We don't mind if you post into Facebook, but can you post it into our page? If you can steer people in a direction with the channels that they are already using, you will get more traction. Mention that this is your official or unofficial channel, please contribute here – try to direct it. This will create buzz around the event especially for people who opted not to attend.

People are using the hashtag on Twitter for the event or particular industry topic. Create the specific hashtags so that the dialogue is referenced in a uniform manner and more people can join the conversation. Planners have printed the hashtag and other social media information on the conference program so that attendees know that they are allowed to tweet and should use the provided hashtag when referencing the event.

Q: How would you recommend that an association delve into social media?
A: Find out if and where your members are interacting. Tell them that you are setting up an account and ask them what they want and what would be the thing that would serve them the best. Start small and find the thing that will resonate with your membership and really work for you. Start to look at what other platforms can do for you. Maybe you like a certain platform and you want to steer your members or potential members in a certain direction, you have to establish yourself. For a lot of the customers the idea of maintaining many social media platforms is daunting, so do not over extend your resources. There are a lot of great tools if you are managing multiple sites and you can post to both platforms, but you are still splitting your attention in two places – especially if you want to see what other tools are out there and what other people are saying. We talk about a lot of that on our blog. I don't think anything replaces a good strategy and a good commitment. If you can do more, do more.

Q: What are some other resources you recommend?
A: Beth Kanter is the person to read in the nonprofit sector. She is the person on the nonprofit new media front and her blog has a lot of good information. We have a website called associationjam.org. It is sort of like a mini Digg for association and nonprofit news. We all post to that and we get the community to post on it – it has a lot of great resources.

You can follow Jay Moonah on Twitter @jmoonah and learn more about Wild Apricot or the software at wildapricot.com.