Speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce Executives Convention This Friday

I am presenting two sessions at ACCE’s Convention in Pittsburgh, PA, this week. My first session explores how to formulate and implement web strategies that create value for the organization while the second looks specifically at doing so with social media. Both sessions are on Friday morning, back to back, while the Convention itself kicks off tomorrow.

Be sure to stop by one of my sessions and say hello if you are at the conference.

Twitter Misplaces Their Network

Twitter gets a well deserved rap for downtime and other hiccups related to their exponential growth. However, their most recent tribulation is really bad for a social networking service.

Yesterday they lost a bunch of the data in their system about who follows whom on the site. These connections are the core conduits for the value of the system. It’s as if your address book erased half your entries and your phone no longer accepts their calls to boot.

They are still trying to reclaim the lost data but it appears to be slow going. My connections are not back to what they were just yesterday.

And, yes, I’ve gone active on Twitter after a long hiatus and now with a new account. You can follow me @davidgammel.

Three Reasons Branded Online Communities Fail

A Deloitte consultant just released result of a study of 100 businesses with online communities. From the WSJ:

One of the hot investments for businesses these days is online communities that help customers feel connected to a brand. But most of these efforts produce fancy Web sites that few people ever visit. The problem: Businesses are focusing on the value an online community can provide to themselves, not the community.

The three main reasons for failure were not surprising:

  • Focusing on the technology over the value of the community to its members;
  • Failure to assign experienced staff to develop the community;
  • Poor or no metrics for measuring success.

Let’s tackle those one at a time:

Bells & Whistles
It is so very tempting to focus on the gee whiz things you can do with technology, especially with the very hot social media arena. However, you have to center all of these efforts on the value you will provide to your anticipated community members, making sure that is aligned to deliver some value for your company or organization when it takes off. Constantly ask yourself “So what?” as you develop your plans. Once you have the value identified you can make rational choices about the technology you choose to deploy.

Leadership and Management
Would you launch a new product or service line without an experienced person to develop and manage it? Not usually, no. The same goes for online communities. They require care and feeding and interaction to do successfully. This requires dedicated staff who can interact with others online effectively and keep your online space focused on the value it should provide to participants and the company. It boggles the mind to read the story linked above and realize many of these companies spent over a $1 million on their site and then put half a staff person in place to run it.

Measuring Success
This goes back to value: your measures for success must tell you if you are creating the value you planned to achieve. Are your community members getting value? Is this participation generating value for the sponsoring company? Simply pages views and site registration won’t do. If you goal is to convert community members into customers, be sure you have processes and tools in place to measure that conversion rather than simply hope for the best.

(Story spotted via the most excellent CMSWatch.)

Tweeting vs. Blogging: Attention and Time

Compare following a person’s blog and their tweets.

Which helps you to get to know them faster?

Which helps you to get to know them better?

My feeling is that both are effective at helping you to become acquainted with a person’s public persona, opinions and attitudes. However, Twitter can do it faster if you dedicate more attention to it while blogging takes longer but requires less daily effort.

What do you think?

Social Value

Kevin Holland doesn’t care about your Twitter tweats. I’m with ya Kevin. I posted last year that the only interesting use I saw of twitter was as a mini travelogue posted by a friend traveling Cuba, using SMS to get around limited and heavily filtered internet access in the country. Now that was some compelling text written for the medium.

Any online media you publish has to provide value. The same goes for social media, where you are hoping to facilitate connections and collaboration among people. The value may be personal, professional or some mix of the two but it has to be there to maintain audience and participation.

Focusing on value is a cornerstone of how I work with clients and Kevin’s post shows very well why that is critical. It is too easy to chase after the shiny new toy instead of making a realistic assessment of the value you can create with it.

Fear of litigation is the mind killer.

Hullabaloo over social media legal issues rears its head yet again in the association world.

Here is the deal folks: if your association tends to get sued or investigated over the comments of your members or staff every few years, then sponsoring participatory media activities may enhance that risk. For everyone else, get over it.

I am not a lawyer, therefore I can actually offer common sense advice about the online world.

Early Adopters Have Been Social Networking The Whole Time

A Pew Internet & American Life Project survey of early Internet adopters showed that the most common reason they got online was to connect with colleagues. Granted, they were social networking through BBS’s and mainframe shared time, but it was social nonetheless. (You other early adopters can probably cite the appropriate quote from The Breakfast Club. A fabulous prize will be awarded to the first to cite it in the comments of this post.)

The pre-2000 buzzword for people connecting online with each other was virtual community. This term was put out with the dot com bubble trash and is now covered under Web 2.0/social media/etc. What is different now is the greater scope of people connecting online and the greater diversity of easy-to-use tools for doing so (and lots of money being made by putting advertising on all of it). These are not insignificant changes but it is all rooted in a common desire of many internet users, then and now.

To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes, social networking is simply more evenly distributed these days.

Social Network Fundraising ROI Calculator

Here is a nifty tool: Is It Worth It? An ROI Calculator for Social Network Campaigns:

You can use this tool to calculate an estimate of cost and return on investment for the recruitment and fundraising efforts of your staff in social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. It works sort of like an online mortgage calculator. Just enter the starting assumptions in the yellow boxes below and the tool calculates results automatically.

This web-based spreadsheet (you edit the variable values right on the page and then click the ‘Update’ button to recalculate) might help you to understand the cost of investing time and effort into social networking compared to what you might realize from it. This tool is designed specifically for fundraising but you could probably use it for membership recruitment as well.

Public Relations and Social Media

A question about sample PR policies for social media came across a list I am on. I responded by saying that before writing policies, it’s important to know how you want to engage online and to what purpose. Without that, any policy is going to be irrelevant, at best, or more likely harmful.

I have written a framing device that you can use for yourself, team, or even your Board to discuss at what level your organization wants to and should be engaged in online conversations: Four Levels of Engagement in the Blogosphere.

Here are some questions you can use with the device:

  • At what level are we currently?
  • What level would best serve our goals and mission?
  • What level will our current organizational culture support?

The answers to those questions should get you on solid footing for identifying how you want to engage online.

For more on PR and social media, see this post by Steve Rubel on why the future of PR is participation rather than pitching.

Podcast: Interview with Jeremiah Owyang on Measuring Social Media

I am working on an article for Associations Now about how to measure social media success. The questions I am exploring: How can you measure success with these tools? How do you know you are creating value with a blog, podcast, wiki, RSS, etc.? What’s beyond the page view?

I interviewed Jeremiah Owyang, about this issue last week. Jeremiah is with PodTech, an online video network. Jeremiah has been writing about social media, and metrics in particular, quite a bit this year. He even started a Facebook group on social media measurement.

In the recording attached to this post we discuss the idea of measuring engagement, subjective vs. objective measures and what the near term future might look like. Jeremiah shares several tips on getting started with measuring social media (follow the link for a write-up of these). Thanks Jeremiah!

Drop me a line if you are using social media at your association and would like to share your experience for the article. You don’t have to have solved the problem (if you have you can write the article!) but I am very interested in talking about the value you think your efforts are providing and issues related to measuring that value.

Update: Jeremiah has posted a few additional comments and links related to what we discussed in the interview.