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May 2009

May. 31, 2009 - Standing on the Beach: Google "Wave"

 
 

I’m not a software developer—heck, I’m not even a real geek. I’m just a dedicated user of the stuff, and my creative juices start to flow when I see how new applications might be used to solve problems and – often – to create new ones. I love downloading all those little programs that do specific things that I think I can’t live without, like insert my credit card number at the click of a mouse or dive through my sent emails looking for a keyword or phrase.

Lars, my favorite uber-geek, is fond of screeching, “Lindenau, if you didn’t have all that crap on your computer…” (select one):

a.       “You could fit this new program on your hard drive”

b.      “Your computer would work twice as fast”

c.       “Your computer would work

So it’s no surprise that right up there in my information cloud  is a new app, Google Wave.   I’m fascinated by what the program might be, how it might look to association managers, and—most importantly—how it’s being marketed. 

First, what is it? It’s been described by some as The Ultimate Mash-up. If that doesn’t mean much to you, consider what Google has said in a “Googlegram” (the answer to Rumor Control…could you have an Association-gram?): A "wave" is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.” That is to say, this one program blurs the lines between instant messaging, phone conversations, email, wikis, and desktop sharing—and does it in real time (you’ll be able to watch as someone types). 

Can you imagine how that might work for you? Let’s say you want to do something simple, like craft a motion among your board of directors. Who hasn’t spent yawn-filled moments a meeting listening to wordsmithing, secondary motions, amendments, arguments for and against phrases, and long personal history relevant and/or irrelevant to an idea? What Wave would let you do is build the motion as a group--revising, editing, adding footnotes, throwing in film clips or photos, inserting quotations and sources. You could watch the conversation happening (as in an online meeting) or peel back the layers of the product (using what’s called “playback”) to see who added what and when they did it. 

Now assume that you all worked on this project on-line, perhaps before the actual meeting, and everyone had the opportunity to contribute at a time of her own choosing. Or, suppose you needed to craft a new MLS rule about, say, Under Contract status. Or how much to have in cash reserves in your association treasury. Or what to do about some other thorny problem. You could assign the project to a committee, to an advisory work group, to the interested membership as a whole, and allow collaboration to do its work building an answer for the directors’ approval or perhaps a suggest approach for staff to handle a problem that has arisen. And in using this tool, the association has involved members in ways that meet their schedules and skill levels, and maximize the results of their involvement. No more stuffing poinsettias in vases for the Christmas party to demonstrate that you are committed to the work of the association….

Ok, so I envision Wave as a really valuable tool for associations, especially those plagued with members who are not content with decorating tables or serving on slow-moving committees.  I see Wave as a tool for getting meaningful work done using collaboration and encouraging communication among the association stakeholders. So why haven’t I downloaded it?

The answer is, “because I can’t”. Google has done a couple of things that contain some real lessons to be learned: most importantly, they’ve launched the Wave as a ‘developer preview’. What Google wants is to have an open-source program and encourage knowledgeable people to ‘tinker’ with it (Google’s word) before it’s released to the users. Google wants a whole cadre of pre-release users whose goal is not to be critics who find reasons NOT to like the program, but to be inventors whose goal is to make Wave better for everyone.

This approach has a couple of advantages: first, it’s an exercise in viral marketing—all those users creating buzz about the program as THEY work collaboratively on it. Secondly, there’s a meaningful, hands-on Beta release of the product. Thirdly, those of us who are potential consumers are now chafing at the bit, anticipating Wave. “Hurry up!” we scream, and Google replies, “Give us a few months. We won’t tell you when you can have it, but we’ll put you on our mailing list. Oh, and don’t worry—by the time it’s ready it will be worth waiting for.”

So, yes, I’m on the waiting list, feeding on my supply stream of emailed GoogleGrams and developer-created buzz, knowing that Google Wave is certainly going to be the answer to my association management problems. And I’m thinking, “Wow! Wish the our association members anticipated the new MLS program (or the education course, or the professional designation, or the trade show, or the new lockboxes) with this much enthusiasm and anticipation….

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May. 21, 2009 - AE Education in your Inbox: A Resource List

 

 

Many AEs have told me they don't "have time for social media". 

"When am supposed to Tweet?", they ask. "And keep up a Facebook page?  and write a blog?  You gotta be kidding, Lindenau!"

Well, look--I do understand. But my answer is, listen up!  You don't have time NOT to use the social media tools.  Every one of us has to keep running behind the Technology Bus, and it really is our job to catch it now and then.  I've found the best way to do this is to use networking tools--they are the greatest source of immediate information you can find, and they are free.

One of the best places to start is the blog.  There are many of your peers out there just sharing away, giving you gifts of information--yours for the effort of finding the bloggers you like, and signing up for their RSS feeds.  That way, when they speak, their wisdom appears in your email box, immediately.  No waiting for a magazine to show up or a meeting to be held: the information is on your desk within minutes.

Obviously, the big challenge of today's information stream is to eliminate all the unnecessary information. In this case, find one or two bloggers who inspire and inform you about association management, and subscribe to them.  They won't all be from Realtor AEs either--check out other associations and Chamber of Commerce execs: they can bring us new, adoptable ideas. 

Here are a few of the association management specialty blogs you might consider:

 
 
*Realtor Association Exec Comments: On the Verge, http://cindyae.blogspot.com/
 
Future Association Executive: http://futureassociationexec.blogspot.com/
 
 
 
*Leading Edge insight: http://benmartincae.com/
 
Associations and the Web: http://ada.typepad.com/cae/
 
*Association Leadership in the Digital Age: http://digitalnow-resources.blogspot.com/
 
 
Association education: Beyond Certification, http://msrops.blogs.com/akac/
 
GenX blogs about associations: http://blogclump.blogspot.com/
 
*Traditional, thoughtful issue examination: http://www.associationinc.com/
 
 

I’ve starred the ones I like the best: Mine is a personal response based on the activity level and the amount of inspiration I gain from the blogger. Make your own list, add to it, and subscribe to the regular inputs, either with an RSS feed or by email.

It's an education in your inbox!

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May. 20, 2009 - Transparency in Association Management

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One of my favorite Washington insiders, Chris Dorobek, is a blogger and commentator whom I follow regularly. His insights on government and technology are a good focus point in understanding how Web 2.0 and the accompanying issues are affecting government policy and workings, and – by extension – what lessons we, as association managers, can learn from what’s happening in Washington.

 

Recently, Chris has posted several thoughtful articles on transparency in government.  Here’s an excerpt:

Transparency can be valuable. One White House official joked with me that the Obama transparency initiative will be a success if it puts my blog out of business. I joked that I wasn’t worried. In fact, transparency can be incredibly powerful. In the end, it enables people to tap into the wisdom of crowds. And transparency is at the heart of Web 2.0 core beliefs: that all of us together are smarter than each of us individually. Therefore, transparency is elemental to government 2.0. These concepts feed and depend on each other. One cannot co-exist without the others

Transparency, he continues, cannot be implemented just for the sake of being transparent: there really are many operations which need to be kept private—contents of contracts, for instance. To expose them to public scrutiny may possibly impede relationships with a vendor, exposing information which the vendor may not want the public to know. The information is private, it may impede a vendor’s competitive advantage—there are a lot of valid reasons why not everything needs to be made public.

 

On the other side of the coin, however, is the fact that shared information is the order of the day, and technology is making that sharing process easier and more pervasive than ever before. Dorobek summarizes that “the theory of Web 2.0—and I would argue of transparency as well—is that information, in fact, becomes much more powerful when it is shared.” 

 

In associations, it’s becoming clear that our members want information—in fact, they expect it. When we as association leaders protect and guard information, members assume that ‘something is wrong’, that we are hiding things and keeping secrets. It seems to me that I’ve been reading an increasing number of questions from association managers about that very topic: should we publish minutes? Distribute the budget? Reveal the staff salary structure? In an economic environment where our members are experiencing profound economic uncertainty and the re-invention of their professional roles, they are insistent in their demands to understand what’s going on around them, and to get the ‘full picture’ of what they perceive as the giant sucking sound of their dues dollars disappearing down a black hole.

 

Can we blame them? I don’t think so. But the problem is, how do we balance the two sides of the transparency issue? As association managers, how can we use the transparency tools to build a stronger organization and a community of more informed and satisfied members, and—at the same time—keep our association’s place as a successful business working in a world which changes at warp speed and demands instant decisions of knowledgeable people? 

 

The answer is complicated and worth a book, not a blog. But in brief it means that as an association executive you must embrace the following:

1.       Cultivate members’ respect. Be an executive, and position yourself to make decisions. That’s a long term process in some associations where the AE has long been little more than a gopher for transient leadership. But if you are to be successful in this career, you need to get the knowledge (try for an RCE and a CAE, go to seminars, get informed) and present yourself as a professional. Sharing information with members is totally different from making responsible, informed, and acceptable decisions as an administrator of their professional organization.

2.       Be clear about the mission of your group. A mission is something the association needs to agree on and clearly understand, and any decisions you make as an administrator need to be  based on what is helpful to the group as it accomplishes its mission. If, for instance, the association mission is to help members be more successful in their businesses, then each decision you (and the organization leadership) makes should answer the question “does this action assist in our mission?”

3.       Then, with regard to transparency and shared information, sit down and make a list of transparency initiatives that would make your association better—stronger, more efficient, with less wasted resources on sustaining controversy and frustrating the member’s need to know. Let’s take the financial statement issue. Members want to know how their money is being spent, how their association is furthering its mission with the resources it has. So, tell them! You may decide on a presentation mechanism which satisfies their need to know without compromising your business decisions, but you do need to keep members informed.   And, once they see that that travel budget they complain about is, say, 3% of the total association expenditures, the controversy may die down, or perhaps be directed more appropriately at some other expense item. (Of course, there’s always the possibility that you’re spending way too much on travel and there are ways to cut down or temporarily eliminates an item—transparency also means accountability, you see.)

What would your ‘transparency list’ look like? Minutes? Newsletters? Blogs from key leaders and staff about important trends and issues? White papers on in-depth subjects like short sale ethics or using social media to enhance business? Topical ‘tweets’ from staff on MLS matters or association programs? Forums for members to contribute information on professional topics or discuss association-related issues? Videos of highlights of the Directors’ meetings or of the annual meeting?

Chris Dorobek ends his blog with the following quotation: ” … I also think that transparency is also a significant enabler for true government 2.0 —  (it is) government as a platform. In the end, the government doesn’t have to do everything. But the government can be an enormous enabler, in the best sense of that word.”

The same can be said for our association governance: transparency can assist our organizations in becoming stronger and more effective through shared information and conversation. Transparency can enable us—in the best sense of the word.

 
 
 

 

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May. 18, 2009 - Understanding "Fair Use"

 

 

 

The world of Social Media has dramatically changed our world—the ways are obvious and often mentioned, and don’t need to be repeated “Off Stage”, because there’s a whole world of social media ‘specialists’ out there. Just ask ‘em!

I hasten to say, I’m not one of the specialists. I enjoy social media, use it, and advocate it as a part of the association management tools of our current time. As a blogger, I see a part of my job as interpreting how SM tools can be used by all of us, with an emphasis on what is practical and do-able for the average AE who spends most of his/her day job trying to herd cats. And there are also some practical issues which arise that we need to know about as we incorporate this whole new skill set into our managerial bag of tricks.

One of those areas is copyright. I don’t mean the many-tentacled copyright law and policy that snakes out from behind the MLS rock and attaches itself to listing data: I am referring to the stuff of our online education programs, promotional videos, website news clips, and video retrospectives of our association honorees. Cell phones, flip videos, and digital cameras have made it easy and inexpensive to capture live happenings. Websites and social media applications such as Flickr and YouTube have become repositories of our creations. The world is our audience.

As I said in my earlier post about social media policy for your association, you can’t put this genie back in the bottle. At the recent AE Institute, someone expressed fear of ‘what is our liability if we LET our members use Twitter.’ Hey! Members are using Twitter and other social media, whether you ‘let’ them or not. Get over it. And get busy and develop some responsible guidelines so everyone understands what’s expecting of them as far as ethics and good taste go. Then, hope for the best—in the social media world the control is pretty much out of your hands.

But what about videos? Let’s say you capture your convention speaker in a few key clips, the speaker gives you the right to utilize the vids on your website, and you post them under ‘Convention Highlights.’ What you didn’t realize is that the speaker was standing in front of the logo of your association’s largest franchise. The franchise owner took issue with the speaker’s remarks, and threatened legal action against the association for infringing on the franchise trademark clearly seen over the speaker’s left shoulder. What’s the ‘fair use’ policy at issue here?

That’s the question the School of Communications at American University has tried to address in its excellent publication and video on the subject of Fair Use Policy. AU created a white paper on the topic, in which it premises that more and more, video creation depends on the ability to “use and circulate existing copyrighted work.” Various common techniques, such as mash-ups and re-mixes, make use of the “tradition of recycling old culture to make new.” So what are the guidelines?

The courts consider two questions:

1.       Did the use ‘transform’ the original work into a new use? And

2.       Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount?

Another illustration: you are preparing a video highlighting the leadership of your outgoing association president. You have a mash-up of clips and photos and sound bites: she’s meeting with legislators, testifying at a city commission meeting, having coffee at a Starbucks. You include some background videos from her favorite musical group and an interview from a local television commentator.   Then you post your creation on your association website as a tribute to her excellent contributions to the community. Do you have to obtain permissions from Starbucks, the television station, and the rock and roll band?

The AU publication outlines the best practices of fair use as they apply to video presentation—but I think that with some modifications, those practices apply in many instances we as association staff may encounter as we utilize new technologies in our public  relations and education efforts. AU tells us that best practices permit the  use of copyrighted material

1.       When you’re commenting on or critiquing copyrighted material;

2.       When you’re using copyrighted material for examples or illustration;

3.       When you capture copyrighted material incidentally or accidentally (as in the logo example mentioned in a preceding paragraph);

4.       When you are reposting or reproducing material in order to preserve an historical event;

5.       When you are recopying or reposting copyrighted material for purposes of promoting a discussion

6.       When you are quoting or reproducing elements in order to recombine them to make a new work.

Again, these six points are guidelines: there’s really no definitive fair use law as such. It’s a topic that is as evolving as is technology and creativity. But there are general best practices which I think all of us need to understand and follow. 

The first step toward understanding fair use is to visit The Center for Social Media at American UniversityWatch the short video (it’s fun, and should set your own creative juices flowing!). Then read the post, ”Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video”. It’s thorough and gives illustrations and limitations for each of the best practices cited in the paper. I think you’ll find it contains many practical insights into your association management activities.
And by the way, while you’re on the site, note that I am following the usage instruction stated there: Feel free to reproduce this work in its entirety. For excerpts and quotations, depend upon fair use.

 

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May. 7, 2009 - Newspaper Death Watch

 

I’ve been following the online discussions about the potential demise of newspapers: the discussion is interesting because it reflects the influence the digital world has on the lives of many of us—like it or not, some of our traditional ways of doing things are being phased out.  Darwinism in the digital age, someone has said: good bye to print media, CD’s, shopping malls, traditional real estate brokerages (just saying!), classroom-style learning….you get the picture.

But newspapers are more interesting because they are so—well, ‘vocal’ about it.  I mean, recording artists aren’t the ones we hear from when we are talking about MP3s downloaded from the internet (it’s the middlemen in the entertainment industry who have the loudest voice!)  But journalists?  They don’t go down without a lot of verbal examination, much of it in blogs and online editorials.  “Is our profession disappearing?  Where will people find reliable, unbiased news?”  And so on. And so on.

Realtor associations have been making similar observations. “Our members don’t want to participate.” “If our MLS goes away, what will we do for income?” “If we don’t have an MLS, our membership will disappear.”  “These GenXers won’t participate or come to meetings.”

I recalled these association whimperings as I read an interesting commentary on what newspapers must do to re-invent themselves—and I thought that the words of advice to print media ertainly hold true for our associations as well.  The precepts are startlingly simple.

1.       GIVE THE CUSTOMERS WHAT THEY WANT.  That doesn’t mean “what you’d like to think they want”—it means, ‘give ‘em what they want.’ Don’t hide behind policy issues, outdated technology, expense, or lack of capacity.  Give them what they want.  Get rid of the stuff they don’t want, and make room for the stuff they DO want.  And do so in a timely fashion.  Yesterday, for example (that would be May 6) there was a sort of online uprising about an NAR policy on IDX data management.  The complainers were told, “Get involved and change the policy.  Go to the MLS Policy Committee meeting in Washington.”  Not!!! Not an acceptable answer in the digital age—it merely added fuel to the fire already raging.

2.       DON’T TRY TO CHARGE FOR STUFF THAT NO ONE WILL PAY FOR.  This comment was meant to apply to newspapers who want to sell micro-subscriptions for online news.  Don’t!  People will go elsewhere for a commodity that’s available at a better price (try “free”).  Even more insightful: newspapers don’t sell news, they sell community.  How does that apply to Realtor associations?  Try the simple economic principle of ‘if it doesn’t support itself, don’t do it,’ even if it’s something you really, really like, such as  General Membership lunches, or elaborate Christmas parties, or state association conventions.  This adage gives a new depth of meaning to the adage, ‘run your association like a business’.

3.       CUT BACK ON EXCESS AND OVERLAP.  Still printing your newsletters AND sending them out in digital form?  Too many staff members?  Programs that could be shared with adjoining associations, or subcontracted from them?  (Notice I didn’t use the ‘m’ word, as in ‘merge’.)

4.       FOCUS ON MORE INTERESTING AND CREATIVE WAYS TO THOSE WHO WANT TO REACH YOUR COMMUNITY, HELPING THEM BECOME A PART OF YOUR COMMUNITY.  Amazing how we Realtor Associations are still talking about how to keep people OUT of our associations—appraisers, assessors, lenders, consumers—and spending a heck of a lot of association resources in policing activities so we can do just that!  How can we, as Realtor associations, draw our community of real estate business people IN to our sphere of influence?  How can we interact with the consumer public?  C’mon—think of some interesting and creative ways.  You can even post them as comments on this blog!!

The article I was reading that elaborated those four points went on to explain that there’s nothing new here—it’s just that, like newspapers, we haven’t been DOING it.  We’ve been talking about it some, but not actually acting on it.  There are a couple of old familiar excuses: ‘NAR won’t let us’ is my favorite, usually followed up by a reference to an obscure policy formulated in 1986 or sometime, and never re-visited.  Another is, ‘we don’t have the resources’, an excuse which is not preceded by careful examination and prioritization of the current allocation of resources.    And, by the way, lack of resources is often used by people who have no clue about the huge number of free and low-cost resources provided by current technology….

Finally, if we look at the whole social networking phenomenon in general, one of the lessons learned is that people do want to become more involved with each other as individuals, in groups, and in causes.  Social media is participatory media, and it is a current cultural hot button—and that’s a clue, friends!  As associations we need to enable these activities within our own realm of influence.  It’s a time of great possibilities for us, but only if we design new products and services, and move away from our outdated delivery systems.  Newspapers must begin to see ‘news’ as a function of community, and ‘delivery’ as going beyond the kid on the bicycle. And they have got to find a new way to monetize the product.

To continue the analogy, associations must find new products as well, and new services.  They must restructure to invite community and collaboration, rather than hierarchical leadership structures.  And equally as importantly, associations must find new ways to create income and eliminate their excess resource consumption.

PS: See you in Washington?  Twitter me @gertiecranker.com

 

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May. 6, 2009 - Social Media Policy for Associations

 

 

 

(Author’s note: I’m not an attorney. I wanted to be, but my parents thought I should be an English teacher. I’m not an NAR policy or legal staffer either. Don’t take these recommendations without consulting your association attorney and the appropriate NAR expert).

Background

Policy manuals aren’t written on engraved tablets. They are, in fact, the cornerstone of any smooth-running Realtor association—they enable the strategic plan, they guarantee operational consistency and efficiency, and they clarify the values of the association in language which is clear to employees and members alike. Policies are the way an association implements the policies and guidelines adopted by its members in its bylaws.

But policy language doesn’t remain unchanged forever. Savvy AEs know that they need to be alert to policy modifications. They listen in the Board of Directors’ meetings to motions which may, in fact, be policy motions, however awkward or subtle they might be. They are alert to legal and legislative environment which may require changes to the body of association policies. And they monitor the behavior of employees and members as they anticipate the need for new or revised policy statements which correspond with the changing times.

Social media has appeared on the association management scene as a useful tool for building a membership community, and it is gaining wide recognition among AEs as a valuable component of the management toolbox, one that can be easily utilized by association managers and their staff. In fact, because using digital media is so much a part of the way our members do business, AEs find that they really don’t have a choice about using social media—our primary audience, the membership, requires it!

Like it or not, then, we are committed tousing social media to one degree or another, especially as our general membership quickly fills with Gen X and Y faces. And like it or not, that means that social media policies need to be incorporated into your association operations manual.

Of course there are several levels on which you might address the issue: public relations, leadership, and staff management. This paper is concerned primarily with the staff management part of the equation. 

By way of background in understanding what the social media topic implies for association staff, first of all you need to know that the topic of social media includes a wide array of technologies, some new and others not so new. All  are based on the principle of two-way communication, however: there’s always a statement and the opportunity for feedback.   That important concept is a radical departure from old ways of association interaction: “I’ll send you a news letter once a week so you’ll know what we want you to know/think/do.” Or, “Come to the meeting and we’ll count you as an involved member.”

Social media demands  respondents be given equal time to communicate: a concept familiar to all of us who visit websites to rate products or services, comment on news articles or editorials, join a group of people with the same interests, and share a more personal side of our lives through photos, personal profiles, and ideas. But how, then, do you raise the consciousness of your staff about the impact their social networking has on their work lives and their relationships to members and to the public? 

That’s the opportunity that a social media policy presents.

Here’s a case example. Your membership services director, Ellen, is a very pretty young college graduate in her 20’s. She’s got lots of energy and enthusiasm for her job, and you bring her along with you to the Leadership Planning Retreat held at a nearby resort. The evening’s activities include a cocktail hour, a nice dinner, and a free evening for socializing.

Ellen takes the socializing part seriously—and proudly reports on her FaceBook page that she had a great dinner with lots of wine, and then spent the evening in the hot tub with the President, followed by a hot game of Texas Hold ‘Em into the small hours of the morning. And your Realtors will think WHAT of your Leadership Retreat?  Of Ellen? And of you, her ‘boss’? Can’t you just hear it? “My dues paid for this???”

Ok, point made. And lest you think it a fantasy, consider the two Dominos employees who sabotaged the company’s food preparation on a You Tube video.  The publicity from that incident was quickly circulated around the world, and although the employees were fired and the company filed criminal complaints against them, Dominos’ reputation suffered a disastrous blow.  The question is: how do you anticipate this type of private use of public media? How can you develop a policy that embraces different social media spaces and different roles of the players, and yet encompasses the risks involved with each? According to  Eric B. Meyer, who’s an Associate in the Labor and Employment Group of Dilworth Paxson LLP, organizations should consider  the following two important points:

1. Employers need to be upfront with employees that they have no right to privacy with respect to social networking. “Employers reserve the right to monitor employee use of social media regardless of location (i.e. at work on a company computer or on personal time with a home computer).”

2. Employees “should be made aware that company policies on anti-harassment, ethics and company loyalty extend to all forms of communication (including social media) both inside and outside the workplace.” People need to remember that bashing your organization/boss/co-workers online can lead to consequences at work.

It would stand to reason, then,  social media guidelines need to be included in your organization policy manual right beside your other communications policies, and you need to offer training to all employees in how to use these guidelines effectively. Aside from minimizing risk and potential embarrassment, this training will give you an opportunity to review the Realtor organizational values and the alignment you expect employees to have with those values.

It’s important to remember (and convey to your staff) that the guidelines are not a forced external morality, but a compliance with the shared values of the organization.  

 Opportunities to use Social Media

Let’s divide the association use of social media into two types: ‘official’ and ‘unofficial”, or ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. 

Because social media is such an important tool in creating community, your association will want to utilize many of the tools available. You might want to have blogs, FaceBook pages, Twitter groups, public and private forums, strategic planning or project wikis, and media sharing. You’ll want to use these tools in an official capacity and endorse them and encourage staff to use them. A Twitter account is a good example: you might have your MLS department sending messages to members, perhaps announcing new listings or sales, or new programs or software changes.

But you should be aware that there will also be informal, non-sanctioned uses of social media as well. Ellen’s personal FaceBook page is one example. But you can also imagine a staff member Twittering away about a terrible speaker at one of your education programs, or a ridiculous motion being considered in a directors’ meeting.

In each case, the risks to the association are different. In the officially sanctioned use of social media, AEs must be aware of some very familiar risks: antitrust, defamation, and copyright violations are a few of those pitfalls. In informal use, the previously mentioned risks are still there—but add to them embarrassment, weakened public image and credibility, member unrest, and plain old misinformation.

It’s no surprise to any AE that the Realtor environment is litigious and our association activities and our members’ business structures are frequently challenged. This environment won’t change, and may even be enhanced by our use of social media tools.

But make no mistake about it. You really can’t shut your eyes and hope that social media will go away. It won’t. Realtors and staff will be using these tools increasingly more frequently on an informal basis whether you like it or not. 

Simply declaring that “I don’t think we should have a blog/FaceBook page/Twitter account because of the liability” naively avoids the reality that SM is happening anyway, and just because you haven’t adopted a formal use of it doesn’t mean the risks aren’t there. They are.  So get over it, and take charge of your association’s social media use.  

 Good Policy Building

The social media environment is a dynamic and changing one, with new technologies being developed daily. Your association will utilize those technologies which best suit its needs, particularly in terms of adopting tools already being used by members. For instance, it makes good sense to use FaceBook if it’s popular among your Realtors. 

By the same token, your association policies regarding social networking should be cast as general principles of social networking, rather than attempting to target them to specific technologies. One of your purposes in constructing policies is to encourage the use of social networking tools by your staff—and they will be much more comfortable with these skills if they know what is expected of them and are aware of the impact they as staff can have.

The second purpose of SM policies is to develop an atmosphere which avoids the unfortunate risks and legal liabilities and allows your blogs, forums, networking, and Twitters to be used by staff to the association’s fullest advantage.   Think of your association social media policies as general guidelines for successful use of the many social tools rather than as a negative list of what NOT to do and the punishments straying outside the ‘law’.

Many social media policies have been developed because organizations were responding to embarrassing or illegal public statements like Ellen’s. They were developed in crisis mode, a knee-jerk reaction to a bad PR hair day. Again, think of your policy as a proactive, a positive set of ‘how-to’ guidelines, and make sure they encompass the basic tenets of your overall public relations policy. 

A quotation from IBM’s paper, Social Computing Guidelines, states the issue more in a more positive, futuristic framework: “IBM is increasingly exploring how online discourse through social computing can empower IBM…. These individual interactions represent a new model: not mass communications, but masses of communicators. Therefore, it is very much in IBM's interest—and, we believe, in each IBMer's own—to be aware of and participate in this sphere of information, interaction and idea exchange.”

Also as you write, keep your policy interesting. As an association manager, you are trying to encourage responsible, effective use—not scare and intimidate your team away from building a more effective organization.

Then, once you have the guidelines in place, I would strongly encourage you to have a face-to-face meeting with staff to review and discuss them. Emphasize the potential benefits of SM to the association, then let them ask the inevitable “what if” questions, pose possible scenarios, and generally become comfortable with the parameters you’ve set. It will also let staff understand that their AE is really serious about this whole “SM thing”.

Lastly, make sure your leadership (probably still largely Boomers) is on board with the idea. As with staff, sell them on the benefits, although the more enlightened may probably be way ahead of you.

A Prototype

Let me hasten to say I’m not an attorney, and any organizational policy you put into place should be scrutinized by a legal professional. But I’ve drafted a template which you might use as a starting point for constructing your own policy. I’ve used several sources to put this together, and I encourage you to make full use of the resources cited at the end of the chapter.  There are other available resources as well, both within and outside the Realtor organization. A Google search for ‘Social Media Policy Association’ will put you in touch with a wealth of information. ( I’d also suggest you hook up with some association social media Twitters, including NAR’s own Todd Carpenter (@tcar),  NAR’s Social Media Manager for the National Association of REALTORS.  Having a helpful Twitter stream will provide a flow of updates on this rapidly evolving field of social media.)

Here goes:

  

Social Media Policy for the ___________BOR
                                                                                Adopted: (date)
                                                                                Last Update: (date)
 
Social Media Definition:
Social media’ is the term commonly given to websites and online tools that allow users to interact with each other in some way - by sharing information, opinions, knowledge and interests. As the name implies, social media involves the building of communities or networks, encouraging participation and engagement.
Principles:
These are the official guidelines for social media at __________BOR. If you're an association employee, contractor, or volunteer creating or contributing to blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds, or any other kind of social media both on and off our association website, these guidelines are for you. We expect all who participate in social media on behalf _________BOR to understand and to follow these guidelines. These guidelines will continually evolve as new technologies and social networking tools emerge—so check back occasionally to make sure you're up to date.
Emerging social media platforms for online collaboration are fundamentally changing the way our association engages with customers/members, colleagues, and the world at large. As an association we believe social computing can help us build a stronger, more successful real estate community, and it’s a way for staff, members, and the public to have conversations about matters important to our real estate environment
As a member of the ___________BOR staff, keep the following principles in mind:  
  1. Be professional; remember that you are an ambassador for our organization both on and off the job.  Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of _____BOR.
  2. Be responsible and honest at all times.
  3. Be credible, accurate, fair, and thorough.
  4. Post meaningful, respectful comments - in other words, no spam and no remarks that are off-topic or offensive.
  5. Respect proprietary information and confidentiality both of our members, and of our internal operations.
  6. When disagreeing with others' opinions, be objective and respectful.
  7. Always remember that your online comments are permanently available to all, and may be republished in other media.
  8. Stay within the legal framework and be aware that anti-trust, libel, copyright and data protection laws apply. Don’t plagiarize.
  9. Don’t disclose sensitive or “inside”information, make commitments or engage in activities on behalf of ___BOR unless you are authorized to do so. If you are in doubt, avoid any contribution until you have received express permission from the AE. In other words, “If in doubt, leave it out.”
  10.  Even in your private communications, don’t forget your day job. You are a representative of __BOR. 

A more thorough explanation of these guidelines includes the following:

Be honest and transparent. Social Media is no place to hide. Use your real name if you are commenting about the association or its programs and identify yourself as a staff member.  Don’t violate _________BOR’s privacy though, and protect your own personal privacy as well. Remember that what you post will be available for a long time, as will photos of you and your personal comments. In other words, think before you post.

Make a mistake? If you make a mistake, admit it. Be upfront and be quick with your correction. For example, if you're posting to a blog, you may choose to modify an earlier post—just make it clear that you have done so. 

 

Be Fair. There can be a fine line between healthy debate and hysterical reaction. Do not badmouth ours or other associations and, even more importantly, other staff, our leaders, members, and their profession in general. See if you can invite differing points of view without inflaming others. Remember that once the your words are online, you can't recall them. And once an inflammatory discussion gets going, it's hard to stop. 

Add value. There’s lots of traffic on today‘s social media. The best way to get yours read is to contribute subjects or information your readers will value. Social communication from our association should help our members and co-workers. It should be thought-provoking and build a sense of community. If it helps people improve knowledge or skills, build their businesses or solve problems, or if it helps them understand our association better—then it's adding value. If you are tempted to post about your breakfast cereal or your new haircut…don’t. 

Be Conversational. Social Media is conversational, so talk to your readers like you would talk to real people in professional situations. Encourage comments. You can also broaden the conversation by citing other experts in your blogs, or by ‘reTweeting’ others’ comments. 

Perception is reality. In online social networks, the lines between public and private, personal and professional are blurred. Just by identifying yourself as an ___BOR employee, you are creating perceptions about our association by our members and by the public. 

Write what you know. Make sure you write and post about your areas of expertise. Use the first person. If you publish to a website outside ____BOR, please use a disclaimer something like this: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent ___BOR’s positions, strategies or opinions." Also, please respect brand, Realtor trademark, copyright, fair use, confidentiality and financial disclosure laws. If you have any questions about these, see your AE. Remember, you are personally responsible for your content.


Moderating Content:   The ___BOR encourages its staff to maintain a responsible and balanced online dialogue, and respects each staff person's responsibility to maintain adherence to that principle. However, ______BOR does reserve the right to moderate content of employee postings. Should ____BOR staff exercise that prerogative, content moderation will be based solely on whether or not the content violates the law, or is offensive and/or denigrating to the organization or to personalities involved.

Respecting Association Commitments:  Unless specifically assigned, social media activities should not interfere with regular work commitments. Association staff is expected to respect other appropriate policies relating to work performance.

 

Resources:

 

Carl Haggerty, “Carl’s Notepad” (blog)

 

 

 
 
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A behind the scenes look at organized real estate--what works in an association, what doesn't, and what a long time AE sees as challenges facing the industry from the viewpoint of its professional organization.

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