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Jul. 12, 2011 - Measuring Website Success

 

 

 

 

“Ok”, you say,” I am getting the message. Websites are about building customers. Social media works because visitors become followers. I am building my personal or association brand. My website markets content and interactivity with my brand.”

“Yup”, I reply, “You’re catching on. You’ve got a blog now and a place for your readers to leave questions and make contents. Good job!”

Of course, now the job is to measure the effectiveness of your social media strategies. You can toss up a website for a few bucks and make some pithy remarks once or twice a week in your blog titled “The Specialist Speaks”, but are your efforts really paying off? How do you know? How does one measure the effectiveness of what we term ‘Content Marketing’ and ‘Social Media Channels?’

In yesterday’s world, techniques for measuring return on advertising investment were pretty standard: we looked at a publication’s readership, the ‘drive time’ of a radio ad placement, or maybe an answer to the question “How did you hear about us?” In our associations, we counted the number of newsletters sent or the number of reservations for the training seminar we announced on page one.

But that was then, this is now. What should be doing to measure the ROI on our websites? How do we know not only how many visitors our site experienced, but can we measure how meaningful their experience was to them? Or to our organization or business?

A good website is more than an electronic brochure: it is a dialogue. As website owners our job is to create the conversation, to involve a visitor, to strengthen our bond with the member or customer.   How will we know if we’ve achieved those goals with any degree of success?

Website success measurement is more than counting visits. In the world of social media website design, here are some tools which are good indicators of your website success:

  1.   Facebook ‘likes’:  "Like" is a way to give positive feedback or to connect with things you care about.  About a year ago (April, 2010) Facebook introduced the ‘Like’ button for non-Facebook websites, so that visitors anywhere on the internet can indicate that they are fans of a particular site or of a content article.  Their support is then shared with their social network on Facebook and their name associated with the site they like. 
  2. Share on Linked In: LinkedIn.com is another social network, perhaps with a more professional intent. Relationships, user groups, and content are built on occupations or business specialties. This is typically how a user will experience the LinkedIn Share link on a blog or website: a user reads content on your site and wants to share it; you provide a Share link on your website article; your user clicks that link and shares the content with her network of professionals.

3.      Tweets and Re-Tweets: Twitter is one of the 10 most visited sites in the world. Its users comment in short statements to their followers (called ‘tweets’ or ‘micro blogs’). Their tweets are also re-tweeted by others who see them and wish to share the original tweets. When a user identifies website content through a tweet, she is sharing that content to her followers who may, in turn, retweet the content to theirs. Tweeting is an important means of leveraging content support. A twitter icon on your website content makes it easy to share, and it will count the number of times the item is shared by your site visitors.

4.      Backlinks: Backlinks are incoming links to a website or web page. The number of backlinks is one indication of the popularity or importance of that website or page (for example, this is used by Google to determine the PageRank of a webpage). Outside of Search Engine Optimization, the backlinks of a webpage may be of significant personal, cultural or semantic interest: they indicate who is paying attention to that page.

5.      Reblog is just what it sounds like: the reader of the original blog may want to share a part or all of a blog with her readers. Blog sites like Wordpress have a reblog feature making it easy to share blogs, again expanding the readership of the original post. How many times is your blog re-blogged? The answer is a sign of your popularity.

6.      Comments: blog comments are what make a blog interactive and social. The most popular blogs have a very interactive community where members frequently voice opinions on posts—an important conversational component of a website. There are, of course, tools allowing control of content and comment writers to protect your blog from spam and slander—but the important lesson here is to encourage blog comments whenever possible. 

7.      Followers: developing and retaining followers is an important component of social networking and provides the tools which allow readers to follow a blog writer, a website, a Twitterer, or a blog conversation. RSS feeds are an important tool to add to a website. How do you sign up and track followers for your blog? Most blog hosts like Blogger and Wordpress provide what are called widgets, which enable readers to become your followers. “There are apps for that,” as they say.

8.      @Mentions: A Mention is any Twitter update that contains @username anywhere in the body of the Tweet. (Direct replies to Tweets are also considered Mentions.) On the homepage of your Twitter account, you’ll be able to easily track the comments that Mention you. Make the process easy with the easily available Twitter gadgets.

The important message in this article is not that you are taking away a specific number of direct ‘hits’—social media measures aren’t based on the number of superficial glances you get from the audience eyeballs--but on the depth of the relationship that audience has with the content on your website. Do visitors care enough to leave a comment or to sign up for further conversation? These measures are called ‘proxies’—indication of the use of tools which deepen the relationship between website and visitor. 

Good websites provide the tools to continue the conversation, both blog comments and applications for sharing content. Measuring the use of those tools by your site visitors, particularly the growth of aggregate trend data (how many more tweets-reblogs-comments-followers are you finding in July than you found in April?) is an important and meaningful measurement of the increasing momentum of your website.

 
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Jun. 27, 2011 - Better Association Websites

 

Most organizations have a website these days. Probably they’ve had one for several years—somebody told them it would be ‘cool’ to have a site, and so they found an inexpensive (or even free) way to create their presence on the web. These days, it might even be a Facebook page that satisfies the requirement of entry into the digital age and the need to have a ‘social network’. 

“Visit us on the web,” you can say to members. Or, if you’re really really cool, you can say “Follow our QR Code to learn more!” and other cool people are directed to your website via their cell phone app.

However, the real problem is this: the website in question really sucks (that’s a well-recognized technical term). It’s a digital brochure. There was little reason to visit it in the first place, and there’s even less reason to go back. But who cares? There’s a website, a Facebook page, a QR code. We’ve seen our duty, and we done it! We may have even spent a lot of money making it visually interesting with slide presentations and things that flash and bounce.

But websites aren’t just passive electronic brochures, and social media is much more than an occasional tweet or (heaven forbid!) a sales pitch on a Facebook page. Today’s communication depends on the dimension of interactivity, of real time call and response, of dialogue. 

A successful website features interactivity. Here are some suggestions for building that dimension into your organization’s online presence:

1.       Blog. People want the backstories, the insights, and the conversation. And they don’t want to be talked to; they want to talk back, to share ideas, to rate usefulness of information, to contribute their own insights. Remember, blogs are a two-way street.

2.       Make use of networks. One of the best users of Twitter I know is a state AE who is constantly reporting on real estate legislative matters—he’s faster than newscasts, and more reliable. The final measure of his success: he has well over 2500 followers! 

3.       Ask. Ask people to guest post to your site. Did a member go on a trade mission to another country? Attend an interesting seminar? Go to a state or national meeting? Ask them to write a personal account. Ask people to ‘like’ your Facebook site, and follow your tweets. Make it easy for them to subscribe to your blogs through FeedBurner and/or an RSS feed.

4.       Feature products. Set up a regular product review feature on your website: your readers want to know about books (link to Borders or Amazon for easy purchase), software, new mobile applications. Give readers an opportunity to post their own experience with products. Of course, your association has many products for members and for the public: offer special sales and discounts, merchant coupons for affiliate members’ services. Finally, think about setting up a service quality rating program which allows the public to give input on member service or the members to give their reaction to association initiatives.

5.       Make ‘contact us’ your theme. Set up your site so visitors—members and the public—can easily ask questions with the idea that someone will respond by the end of the next business day.   I’ve even been on websites where it’s easy to speak to a representative online during business hours. And tracking consumer questions provides ideas for future seminars, blogs, or other content.

The point is this: websites are about the conversation, not just about the information. It’s important to weave conversation into the web design, and to respect and encourage both sides of the dialogue. 

That’s social media.
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Jan. 15, 2010 - "How to Say Stupid Things about Social Media" (and association management)

 

('Geek and Poke' cartoon by Oliver Wedder)

 

 

 

Cory Doctorow recently posted a thoughtful article in The Guardian, “How to Say Stupid Things about Social Media.” Doctorow lists three criticisms of the phenomenon: it's inconsequential, it's ugly, and it's ephemeral. Translated into everyday language, these objections sound something like:

“I don't care what people ate for lunch.”

“The visual and verbal content is amateurish and low quality.”

“ It's a fad. It will be gone tomorrow.”

Now I know the guy who utters these sentences about Twitter, Facebook, and the rest--he's a member of my former association. Once, many years ago, he was a leader: thoughtful, innovative, articulate, charismatic. Now, he's a heavy rock, to be levered out of the way. Failing that, we part like flowing water as we move around him.

 

From superman to boat anchor.

 

Much as associations try to devise programs which honor and respect our history and the contributions of past leaders, what we all must inevitably realize is that these leaders are, in fact, passed. In my illustration, that former leader is now the person who saps limited resources by requiring special treatment: he's the member for whom we still print the news letter and accept dues payments made by check or cash. He insists on a written invitation to the Christmas party, and face-to-face classroom education despite the considerable expense to himself and the association which provide sthis type of learning environment. He wants clearly defined prerequisites for officeholders, a nominating committee, paper ballots, and standing committees. In short, he wants an association which can no longer exist successfully in today's world.

 

Harsh words, yes—but let's take a look at what Doctorow says about  such people as he discusses some common objections to social media.

 

First, social media like Twitter and Facebook are no more than efficient technology at work: we've always been 'social' beings, beginning our conversations with questions like “How are you?” and discussions of the weather. These are expressions of humanity, of that which is common to all of us. A Facebook status update is no different: “George's cold seems better today” is the same sort of sharing of life's small but important moments. In associations, these are the interactions which build our community.

 

As an example, I will offer a criticism of one large national association I know (which shall remain nameless, of course). The association is characterized a very large gap in its communication structure : the ongoing failure to build community within key segments of its membership. For instance this association has a membership constituency of professional staff of its various chapters, the people who manage programs and services and provide association continuity. Until recently, however, there has been no real means of personal communication within the group; no way of knowing who is ill, needs help, is getting married, has a baby, or has lost a job—no way for individuals to share those moments, until the appearance of Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, however, the large association in my example has lost the opportunity to become the significant conduit of much-needed communication about an important part of its members lives..

 

Secondly, social media is by definition a form of amateur communication—that is to say, reading tweets or looking at Facebook pages is not a professional experience. And because they lack the layer of professional polish characteristic of commercial media, our social media communications are more direct and less contrived. For associations, this also means that even the smallest group with the fewest resources can reach out to members and the public using tools which are easy to use and readily available.

 

This week, I was struck by the parallels with the reporting of the earthquake in Haiti. First, the main source of important communication from the island was social media. I saw several national newscasts being broadcast from the communications room of the television stations: newscasters were reading directly from Facebook pages and showing pictures which were being broadcast on Twitter. Secondly, once meteorologists had explained the scientific aspects of the earthquake, what people wanted were the human interest stories. It's no different in our associations.

 

But back to the point: the third major objection to social media occurs from critics who tell us social media is ephemeral, a fad. Doctorow counters this by saying that 'the technology that underpins social media is changing fast, and social media companies' bone-deep intuitions about what it should and shouldn't do are made obsolete every 18 months or so.”

 

I read this sentence and thought, “There it is! There's the lesson association managers need to think about. What would happen if we all ran our associations as if they would need to be reinvented every 18 months or so?”

 

Of course some things need to be constant in a time of rapid change. Members need to know what the game rules are, and they need to trust the consistency. As an association management I know guru used to say, “Don't let the members f**k with the bylaws.” And he would go on to explain that the NBA doesn't change the size of the basketball very often: to do so would have unimaginable consequences on the game, the players, the audience.

 

But let's ask ourselves how, short of changing the size of the basketball, would our associations be run if everyone knew that Friendster would soon become Facebook, which would soon become something else (for an amusing insight on this, visit The Onion). How much of our resources as associations are spent trying to immobilize that which will certainly morph along with the member demographics, the economy, legislation, and legal decisions? And of the new ideas associations do invent, how much time and energy is spent trying to institutionalize them, and make new ideas permanent?

 

Doctorow says, “Only ancient, clueless dinosaurs like Rupert Murdoch are dumb enough to pay hundreds of millions for social media companies with the belief that they will grow to be immortal giants.” In fact, these new ideas are destined for obsolescence, and it is only laziness and inertia which tempt executives into thinking that the painful process of invention can ever end.

 

The question for us as association leaders then becomes, “what if for every new idea associations invented, we felt we had to institutionalize it, make it a giant and organic part of our association structure? What if associations behaved like lazy corporations, trying to expand and capitalize on innovations which will soon be made extinct? As Doctorow says, Most ... companies won't be able to adapt. They will die and be replaced by a generation (of companies) who have better, more contemporary sensibilities.”

 

So too will be the fate of our associations—unless we realize that our programs and services have a shelf life of, say, 18 months.

 

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Nov. 6, 2009 - Facebook Fail

 

I am sure getting tired of being asked to join Facebook fan and cause pages . I actually refuse to do it anymore: for the most part it seems to be an ego trip on the part of the organizer—it has little to do with creating community and building business. Organizations (and that includes associations, non-profits, and commercial groups) seem to think that if they’ve tossed a Facebook page out on the internet, they’ve completed the course in Social Media 101, and their members/fans/target market can not accuse them of avoiding ‘technology’.

Well, guess what? The whole social media thing requires a little more attention than a couple of hours of work on a Facebook page. In fact, those two hours you spent on an organizational page may well have been time wasted: you invite everybody, they agree to be a fan or a friend, and then they go away, never to return. No community, no contact, no contribution. Nothing.

What’s the solution? First, think of your organization’s Facebook pages as an integral part of an entire marketing program. Link your Facebook page to your Twitter account. Add your Facebook url to every email signature that originates from you or your staff. Link your Facebook page to your blog and your association website. Add Facebook apps which will enhance your readers’ experience: YouTube, MyFlickr, and Twit Poll.  Loosen up controls so that members can freely post and interact with your page: get out of the way of the user! 

Secondly, ask yourself how a Facebook page can enhance the value of membership in your organization. There are many instances when Facebook simply isn’t a fit, and your page building efforts are time wasted.  Members of some organizations simply aren’t receptive to social networking. That may be because they plenty of other opportunities for other forms of cooperation, or because the demographics of the membership aren’t a good fit. If, for instance, you have a viable website with a lot of public and member interaction, a Facebook page may be redundant. Let’s say you’ve developed a great Realtor association website, complete with a public property search, access to your MLS for members only, standard forms, a couple of informative blogs, and some forums with lots of input. What’s to be gained by a Facebook page? 

And even if you don’t have a compelling organizational website, if you don’t have a dynamic content on your Facebook page, why would anyone remember to come back to it?              

Sources to read before you start a Facebook page:

·         Doug DeVitre’s excellent article, “Common Mistakes Realtor Associations Make with their Facebook Page.”

·         DIOSA’s blog, “Facebook Best Practices.”

·         Social Fish, “How Associations Can Use Facebook”

·         Wild Apricot, “Facebook Applications for your Non-Profit Page.

I’m an enthusiastic advocate of Social Media Done Right, but not of Social Media Done for the Sake of Doing It. As a part of your evaluation of your Facebook efforts, consider adding one of the statistics programs which monitor your visitors (like Friend Statistics), which will help you quantify how effective your page really is.

 

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Jul. 2, 2009 - Doughnuts with the Crash Test Dummies

 

“I dunno,” she said, rolling her eyes heavenward. “I mean, social networking is all the THING! Even Oprah does it! But I can’t get 20 members to show up for a seminar on Twitter and Facebook. And it’s free, even, and I had doughnuts. My members are just so lethargic!”

I look at the flyer advertising the class. “Learn To Tweet!” it says. “Free Seminar. Doughnuts Served.” 

A Twitter target market? I ask myself, and I envision a roomful of Krispy Kremes  and overweight teenagers with sugar on their lips and hyperactive thumbs. I certainly can’t imagine a classroom of 40-year old real estate professionals with Blackberries in the pockets of their navy blue blazers or Kate Spade handbags. 

As a writer, I work best when I can envision my audience—I find myself constructing a composite image, an Annie Audience who will be responding to what I put on the page. I want to have her in the room with me, looking over my shoulder and commenting. “Why should I go to the seminar? I’m very busy. Why should I care about Twits or Tweets or whatever? What good will it do me in my profession? I sell real estate, for heaven’s sake. And I’m on a diet, besides.”

Recently I began working on the content for an online leadership course. “Who’s it for?” I asked my client. “Oh, new leaders,” he replied vaguely.

“Like members who are presidents-elect?” I said.

“Oh, no, it’s for anyone.” And after a moment, “Anyone who might want to be a leader in the association.”

Now, ‘anyone in the association’ is pretty broad, I think. Even ‘anyone who might want to be a leader’ doesn’t narrow it down much. And there’s a fairly wide gap between someone who has a faint notion that it might be ‘nice’ to be a member of the board of directors and a president-elect who has responded to The Call, who has become committed to spending a few years of her life in the service of the association.

I asked my client to give me a scenario of how this course might be used: who would the participant be, what circumstances would direct the member to this course, and what would the expected results be when the course was completed? It took quite a bit of dialogue before I could see it: an association exec or current leader saying to the 30-year-old member, “Well, we’d really like for you to consider becoming involved in the association. There’s a quick and helpful online course that would give you some background in our organization and introduce you to some of the basics. Then you and I can have a talk about whether this is something you’d feel comfortable doing, and we get more specific about how you could fit in to our association. It’ll probably take you just a couple of hours all together. Why don’t I call you in a week or so and see how you’re doing?”

Got it! Now I understand the target market, the format, and the expectations. I can put the material together and work on the course details.

A marketing program starts with product design. And product design starts with a target market. Being all things to everyone isn’t a definition of a target market, and yet when I facilitate a strategic planning session with an association and I ask, “Who’s the main beneficiary of association services?” the answer almost always is, “Why (dummy), it’s the MEMBER.” 

Well, unfortunately, Realtor associations aren’t too discriminating about membership—with good reason. (Just ask NAR Legal about turning away membership applicants: no WAY! If someone’s got a license and hasn’t been convicted of ax murders….and neither of those are indefensible barriers, either.) So for whom are you building your member services programs and writing your newsletters? What does your targeted member look like? I think identifying a member persona (avatar, if you will) is a pretty good exercise to do at the beginning of a planning session. Draw a picture and put it in front of the committee. Or construct a crash-test dummy who can sit in the room with the planning team. The more real the target, the more accurate the product or service design and the marketing strategies.

Once you have a clearly defined target market, things fall into place more easily: you know what the problem is, and how your product or service will fill the void. You can see your market and know how to reach out to him. How successful is he? How old? How experienced? What will attract his attention? Make a list of five or ten ways you can touch him with your message. Then, translate those ways into specific action steps and deadlines for completion. Leave yourself plenty of advance time and begin softly—perhaps a with blog explaining, say, how Realtors are using social media.

Then announce the education offering in your newsletter—and not just once.  Make sure you explain HOW this information can be of use to attendees: what’s their return on their investment of time? Make registration easy on your website: Payment by credit card or PayPal.  Follow up with confirmation letters. Post registration lists and updates. Make a Facebook event site.  Set up a hashtag for a Twitter discussion.  Complete reminder phone calls. Office visits. Early registration discounts.  Establish check points where you compare expected registration results with the reality.  You know the drill: set up an action plan and stick to it, keeping your target market firmly in mind.

You could even put your crash test dummy on a chair in the staff lounge to remind everyone to participate in the promotion effort. Dress him in a  blazer and khaki pants, Blackberry in hand, briefcase at his feet.

And notice that “free” and “food” aren’t in the marketing mix.

 

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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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Apr. 15, 2009 - A 98 Pound AE Weakling? A five month program to association strength through social networking

 

I have a couple of presentations coming up for state association AE seminars, and the topic is “Doing More with Less”, or how to manage an association during an ‘economic challenge’. (Did I say that right? Do I sound like an economist?) 

One of the major points of my discussion will be using social media as a way of building your association community. In a previous post, I discussed how an AE can use Twitter as a part of the association manager’s toolbox, and hopefully you found that helpful. But I had an AE friend who wrote, “All well and good, Lindenau, but I have two questions: where to I find the freaking time to do this, and how do I get started?”

Well, actually, the two questions amount to the same answer. In getting started with adding a social networking dimension to your skill set, I have one major caution: don’t, don’t, DON’T jump in without a plan. If you do, one of two things will happen: (a) you’ll lose perspective and burn out fast, or (b) you’ll make yourself look foolish in the eyes of your members and your publics.

Develop, instead, a clear business plan for your association social networking program. Write it down. Establish a goal and some measurable benchmarks, and an overall approach to what you want to accomplish. In other words, get a program. Then, stick to it.

I am going to suggest a plan of action for you to consider. I’m assuming you are the AE of a mid-sized or smaller association (you big guys with Realtor Association Kingdoms can hire management consultants to help you…like me, maybe). But for those of you with limited resource associations, declining memberships, and not enough bake sales to fund outside help, here’s what a social networking plan for your association might look like.

Weeks 1-3. Do some homework. Set aside a couple of weeks in your personal growth plan to learn about social media. One AEI seminar does not make an expert, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, once you got home. So, for your two weeks of personal growth, do the research. First, read blogs like this one. Try Cindy Butts’ wonderful blog “On the Verge” on Blogspot. And for the real estate industry, select a couple of blogs from “A Directory of Real Estate Blogs” or the blog section at Internet Crusade , or the Real Estate Today blog. And most importantly, check and see who’s blogging in your association, and follow that blog. Remember, though, you are only listening and researching: don’t spend too much time at this—maybe 20 minutes a day for a couple of weeks. What you are doing is putting your ear to the door, and listening to the conversation.

            The second part of doing your homework is going to Twitter.com and signing up for an account. Then, search. Type in key words like ‘real estate’ or ‘real estate(location)’. Poke around and follow some of the results. Social networking is about listening as much as it is about talking to people. And think about this: when I ask people why Realtor associations have so many committees, they often answer, “So we can be in touch with our members and know what they are thinking.” Listening on Twitter accomplishes the same thing—and without the meeting!

 

Weeks 4-10. Ok, here’s the next step: establish your voice. You’ve listened. You know what members and other industry and association professionals are talking about. Now, set up a blog. Yes, YOU set up a blog. Don’t hide behind the association president—you are the association manager and you have some answers to questions that members want to know. So set up a blog from the AE. You can do it on your association’s Members Only page or, if you don’t have one, use the Internet Crusade’s free blog (that’s what I use), or one of the blogging sites like WordPress or BlogSpot. They’re free too, and if you worry about being too public (for instance, you’re going to blog about the new dues increase or the RPAC Kiss a Pig fundraiser), there are ways to limit your blog to registered users.

            The important thing to remember in blogging is to keep it interesting. What you are doing now is communicating with members—perhaps by posting some interesting photos of the pig-kissing and some entertaining comments. You don’t have to be profound, but you to have to be informative and helpful. Again, you are building community. You can leave the profundities to your president in her blog.

             The next step of your speaking-out program is to establish your social networking accounts. You’ve already established a Twitter account, but you need two others: Facebook and LinkedIn. Visit each of the sites to get a feel for what they are: they are both social networking sites, both have followers, and each will bring you different results. LinkedIn is more business-oriented, perhaps, but in neither application will you want to appear frivolous. Your goal in establishing a personal account is to put a face and a dimension to you, the AE of the real estate association—so tell people that you like sports and Portuguese Water Dogs and have seventeen grandchildren. And don’t use the Realtor “R” as your photo, use your own picture!

            I’ll have more ideas for setting up an Association blog in another post, but now’s the time to get started. Then begin to use your Twitter account as the more personal ‘face’ to your association. You can build awareness for yourself, your employer, and your association causes and programs in 140-letter micro-blogs.

 

      Weeks 11-16. Now you begin to develop your audience. As an association AE, you will find you have several audiences—your members, your peers in association management, and the industry-specific public (newspapers, consumers, and government officials, to name a few). In the beginning, it’s best to concentrate on just one area—probably your members is the best place to start. As you gain confidence, you may want to develop strategies to reach other segments of the industry, but your immediate members and affiliates is a good place to begin.

            The best advice I can give you is to write helpful material. Social media is really based on a principle of giving: people won’t ‘follow’ me unless I have something to offer them. Always ask yourself, “Why would someone want to know this?” Or, as someone else has observed, don’t answer the question “What’s on your mind?” (which Facebook asks), but think of what you’d like to be on the minds of your readers. That you are having mustard on your hotdog is not so important as wondering aloud how the housing recovery process is faring in your community. And let your networking tools interact: post to Facebook and Twitter the link to your latest blog entry, or send out a link to your education class flyer. And make sure that you publicize your addresses and contact information—again, check out my blog information on using Twitter for some insight here.

 

Weeks 17-20. Finally, stand back and assess your results. Is your social networking program working? Do you see some interest being created in your association and its programs? Are members beginning to feel more informed about the association? Are you forming bonds with members in new ways? Is the ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ demarcation between members and staff going away? And most of all, is there a return on your investment if time and skill in pursuing this marketing program?

            If, after you’ve tried it, it’s not working you have a couple of options. The first is to experiment with some new tactics. Those might include some courses on social networking and marketing for your members: after all, they have to use these tools for you’re your efforts to bear fruit. You might form an informal advisory group of those who do follow your efforts—ask them for a critique of what you’re doing, or how you might be providing more compelling information.

            The other option is, of course, to spend your resources elsewhere. Social networking isn’t for everyone. But as an AE, you owe it to yourself and your members to try. I personally think abandoning your social networking efforts would be a mistake, because I think in one form or another social networking is here to stay: it’s impacting too much of our lives to ever go away or be dismissed as a fad. It’s changing how we get news, build brand, sell product, encourage openness and transparency among our members. 

 

            I think, too, the popularity of social networking has some real messages for us as association executives: it says

a.       Our members want personal interaction. They want to know about US as people, not just as go-fers for the Board of Directors. They want to trust the association management, and they want to know the manager personally. All those bureaucratic layers (not to mention the ‘invisible hand that steers the ship’)  are going away in our modern world.

b.      Members expect interaction. It’s no longer acceptable to say, “if you don’t like it, vote in the next election” or “write a letter to the committee chairman.” Almost every site they visit on the internet has feedback and opinion built in: associations should have those capabilities as well.

c.       It’s no longer enough to just convey the party line, or the association marketing message. Members are finding out that social networking participants are turned off by empty bragging and heavy-handed and self-serving observations. Your networking followers want value in return for listening to you. Social networking is the wisdom of the whole, not the preaching of a few.

So there you have it. It’s not rocket science, as they say. Just follow the steps: 1. Spend a couple of weeks listening for 20 minutes a day; 2. Start a blog and keep it going for a month or so. Then, take a couple of weeks to establish your association’s personal presence (you) in Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. You’re now going into the third month of this process, but again, you aren’t working on this more than a half  hour a day, if that. 3. Build your following. You’ll need friends and fans on Facebook, and followers on Twitter, and contacts on LinkedIn. Make sure your members know about your contact points, and regularly ask members to give you theirs. 4. Then, assess and tweak! Make adjustments to your program to make it more effective, and perhaps expand it to include staff. Think about other applications for your skills (a Directors’ Blog? A wiki about topics of specific interest to members?). In five months of careful and well planned activity, you’ll have the confidence and personal skills to utilize social networking to build a strong association and, at the same time, solidify your important place in your management of your organization.

 
 

 

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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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