The Opt-in Panopticon

A story is making the rounds about a Swiss woman who was fired by her employer after they saw her active on Facebook while she had told them she was too ill to work with a computer and stayed home.

Regardless of the facts of the story above, it does illustrate a new dynamic that we are all wrestling with as a society: how to balance our personal, private, and professional identities online.

Welcome to the opt-in panopticon, where you chose to make your online activity easily observed by others.

A panopticon is a type of prison design proposed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. The design allowed every prisoner to be viewed from a single point, which creates the perception among prisoners that they are always being observed, even when they are not. The design is still influencing prison design today.

In the context of social media, we are moving to an online environment where we are all prisoners and guards in the panopticon. The more you use social media to reflect your current status and actions (think Twitter or Facebook status updates) the more you are placing yourself into a self-imposed panopticon. You never know who might be following your actions so you must behave as if everyone is following them. This includes: friends, family, spouses, children, employers, employees, clients, members, IRS agents, you name it!

This is certainly a rather negative analogy and ignores the benefits of social networking and other participatory media. However, it is a genuine factor to be aware of and prepared for.

Some things to consider for yourself and your staff or volunteers:

  • Educate staff and volunteers to this new dynamic and how the separation of personal and professional online is increasingly hard to maintain;
  • Set expectations for representing the organization online;
  • Be forgiving. The next variation of Warhol’s famous aphorism may be that we will all be stupid online for 15 minutes. If you fire everyone who makes a mistake online you’ll have very few people left!

What do you think? How might this impact your organization and how you work with your staff and volunteer leaders?

Pitchforks and Torches 2.0

We’ve had several examples of the social media tools du jour being used to propagate outrage at an incredible rate. Too fast for organizations that are actually paying attention to respond quickly enough for the people concerned about the issue. A couple examples:

And that’s just this week!

Both issues were genuine concerns for the public and each company’s customers. Both corporations have responded via policy, PR and online. And yet the online world, with the epicenter on Twitter, created a great hue and cry with incredulity that neither company had responded to the issue within an hour or two of them going big time on Twitter. If these topics had just stayed on Twitter it might be such a big deal but they were quickly was covered by blogs, online news sites and eventually the national media.

Corporations, even those that live online such as Amazon, simply can’t respond that fast even if their culture and policies would ultimately do the right thing.

Something must change to defuse these kinds of issues. Asking Twitter users to give the companies some time to respond is highly unlikely to work! Therefore, the solutions has to lie within the company. Overall, organizations will have to improve how the speed with which they react and engage online even if they don’t have a formal response yet.

The process may go something like this: Listen -> Identify Issue -> Engage and Acknowledge via SocMed -> Determine Action or Response -> Communicate Decision -> Enact Change -> Communicate Impact of Change.

The trick: all of that up to Engage and Acknowledge needs to happen the same day and the rest following very shortly thereafter. The question to consider with your senior team: how can you prepare your organization to react this fast to emergent issues online?

Defining Breakthrough Results with Social Media

Today’s podcast covers what I consider to be breakthrough results with social media for membership organizations.


I debut a new offering in the podcast as well, David Gammel’s Coaching Club on Social Media. This is the perfect opportunity for any executive who wants to work collaboratively on achieving breakthrough results with social media for themselves and their organization.

Two Resources for You Today

How did it get to be Wednesday already! Fast week.

Here are two resources for your data and social media needs.

First, Wes Trochlil’s book on data management had just been released by ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership this week: Putting Your Data to Work: 52 Tips and Techniques for Effectively Managing Your Database. You can get it in ebook or dead tree versions. If you manage membership data, you should buy this book.

Second, the archive of my webinar on increasing social media participation for associations is now available from Boston Conferencing: They Built It and We Were There: Maximizing Participation in Association Social Media Programs. If you want to increase participation in your social media programs, you should buy the recording. You can hear some free follow-up podcasts on this session here and here.

They Built It and We Were There: More Qs and As

Here is one more podcast following up on the webinar last week about increasing participation in association social media programs. I merged a few similar questions into one. An archive of the program will be available soon and I’ll update this post with a link when I have it.


Here are a few supporting links: for tracking hashtags on twitter. main search page for twitter, showing trending topics. Now also rolled into main Twitter interface.
Association People on Twitter: part of the Association Social Media Wiki.
Association Social Media Wiki: great site for seeing who is up to what with social media in the association world.

They Built It and We Were There: The Missing Tapes

We had a great crowd at the webinar today. I spoke about increasing participation with association social media programs. About 100 sites signed on, many of them with teams listening in. We had over 30 questions submitted and I didn’t get through all of the promised content for the session. So, without further ado, here is a podcast of the 3 ways to kill an online community and the one secret to success. (Runtime: 5 minute-ish.)


Also, Ryan at Boston Conferencing is going to send me the unanswered questions which I will address in another podcast on this blog. Hope to record and post it over the weekend, so stay tuned!

By the way, I am available for keynotes and workshops to address your staff, members, customers and other audiences. Check out the speaking page for more. I’m starting to book out late summer and into fall now.

Webinar Next Week: They Built It and We Were There

I am leading a webinar with Boston Conferencing next week on social media and associations. The session is titled They Built It and We Were There: Maximizing Participation in Association Social Media Programs. The session will be held at 12 Noon Eastern on Thursday March 12.

Here is an audio summary of the program.


Lots of organizations are experimenting with social media these days. I often hear laments about lack of participation and engagement during early efforts. If that is something you are concerned about then this is the session for you!

Our learning objectives for the session include:

  • Top uses of social media to create value for associations and their members
  • A clear plan of action for developing and sustaining social media projects
  • Key staff and volunteer capabilities for working with social media
  • Concrete examples and ideas that you can use immediately

Should be a fun program! For those of you who were following me on Twitter earlier this week, the discussion about cathedrals and bazaars will be a central theme and framing device for our discussion of social media and associations.

I hope you will register for the program and join us online next Thursday!

Customer Service as Performance Art

Supporting your customers and members with social media is a very different kind of activity than supplying a call center. It requires a whole host of new skills, not least the ability to engage as a person with other people.

That ability to engage has to be a formal policy and expected behavior for your staff that you plan to turn loose online to engage with your customers. You can’t simply put call center people who only know how to read from a script onto a Twitter account with your company name and hope for the best.

Talking to a scripted call center staffer is usually unsatisfying. A scripted support person using social media is merely making the substandard experience transparent to the entire world. This is not adding value for anyone.

View social media based customer service as more performance art than as transaction. The quality of the interaction is going to be of more value to your organization than the individual improvement in outcome that you create for the customer or member in question.

Social Media Presentation from Me in January

I am giving a webinar presentation for the Association Societies Alliance at 12 Noon Eastern on January 9, 2009. This is one of my more popular presentations in the past year: Social Media and Member Value: How to Create One with the Other.

Join David Gammel as he delves into creating value online for your members by examining one of the hottest trends on the Web: Social Media. David will take us past the hype and into pratical stategies for leveraging social media and other techniques to enhance the value you are contributing to your members and your mission.

The registration fee for this one is only $49, quite a deal!