26 February 2009

Jeffrey Cufaude on High Touch v. High Tech

I think Jeffrey raises an interesting point: do associations use technology to insulate ourselves from our members rather than using it to automate routine tasks so that we can devote MORE time to personal service?

Like it or not, we live in a self-service culture. When was the last time you voluntarily went to teller line at the bank? And associations are in the service business these days, even more so than the more traditional information and advocacy roles we play. But we have increasingly rare opportunities to experience real human connection with our members. When those connections happen, I think it's critical that we think about ways to remove the rote so we can focus on the relationship.

So that becomes the question: where in your usual round of association business - joining and renewing, volunteering, purchasing products, registering for and attending events - can you create experiences that stand out to your members in a positive way and help them feel connected with your association and proud to claim membership?

In a time when people are looking closely at every penny they spend, we all better have some good answers to that question.

25 February 2009

What I'm Reading

Actually, not a whole lot this week because of Great Ideas and another trip to Seattle for National CASA. Anyway...
  • A little self-promotion. I wrote a pretty good piece about IP and Creative Commons for the Beaconfire Wire. Go check it out!
  • The March issue of GQ is great. I often tell my spouse that even if he weren't around, I'd still subscribe to GQ for the quality writing. Great pieces on the Somali pirate situation, the grounds team that digs graves at Arlington cemetery, and sibling rivalry, plus a profile of a 12 year old budding food critic. Good stuff.
  • Still working on The United States of Arugula, mostly because I've been savoring every word (pun intended).
  • Love the Wordle of #ideas09 Twitter stream.
  • And DC might FINALLY be getting some representation in Congress. wOOt!

24 February 2009


To get back to Crowdsourcing for a minute, I love the idea: "Wikipedia for everything else." And it's happening whether we want it to or not, in our new world where the locus of community is less about geography or biological relationship than it is about affinity.

Jeff Howe made a great point in his opening keynote at this year's Technology Conference: no matter how smart the people around you are, most of the smartest people work somewhere else.

Crowdsourcing, he went on to explain is a result of:

the perfect storm of the amateur renaissance, the open source revolution, democratization of production, and the rise of online community.

And most people have a desire to create something, whether it be beautiful photos, interesting designs, or an association magazine.

AND THAT’S ALL LOVELY, really it is, but I have to wonder: what about the people who lose not only their jobs, but their careers?

Sure, eventually you're the last guy making buggy whips and then the industry folds because no one needs buggy whips anymore.

And my hands aren't clean - I'm a sports blogger, and being a print sports journalist is already a low paying job. TV sportscasting is in no danger as long as they hold a monopoly on player, coach, game, and owner access.

But it worried me that Jeff Howe had no answer, which seems to me to be the crux of the matter: there are some highly technical skills that probably can't be crowdsourced. But if there's always someone willing to do what I do for free, then what?

I don't have any answers either, but I think it's a conversation that needs to be engaged.

23 February 2009

Always the Last to Know - TrackThis!

Ever tried to track a package when you're not sure what carrier's got it and your not near a computer?

Impossible right?

Not anymore - track packages from a baker's dozen of carriers and have the updates delivered where you want them - RSS, mobile device, Twitter, FB, you name it.

20 February 2009

Friday Top 5

The Top 5 Signs that VH1 is Going to Cause the Apocalypse:
  1. Flavor of Love
  2. I Love New York
  3. Rock of Love
  4. I Love Money
  5. For the Love of Ray-J
All as addictive as crack, and all equally as bad for you.

19 February 2009

Great Ideas Volunteer Unsession Meme

It's a meme-a-palooza up in here!

Peggy Hoffman has asked several of us to share our five favorite short-term volunteer gigs (aka, did not require committing to a committee for the remainder of your natural life).

This is actually harder than it sounds! But here goes:

  1. Greater DC Cares events. Their system for getting projects and marshalling large numbers of volunteers is really impressive.
  2. Facilitating Idea Swaps for the Greater Washington Network - always a good time.
  3. Writing Voices from Our Center, the radio program for the UVA Women's Center, while I was in grad school.
  4. Getting invited to ASAE with a bunch of smarty-smart association people this past fall to brainstorm some ways to make this year's annual meeting even more awesome. Hope you like what we came up with!
  5. The Flying Geezers. Once upon a time, I was an avid swing dancer. And everyone got really into competitions. BIG WEIGHTY IMPORTANT competitions. Well, a whole bunch of us decided that we liked performing, but didn't really want to deal with CHOREOGRAPHY and VERY SERIOUS PRACTICES and all that crap. So we started a performance group that danced for senior citizens and school kids. The only requirement? Show up for some gigs in vintage ready to dance. Best times? Dancing at the Old Soldiers' and Airmen's Home in DC a couple of times a year.
OK, tagging...

18 February 2009

What I'm Reading

  • The entries in the WOM meme.
  • The entries in the volunteer unsession meme (my contribution is written but posts tomorrow).
  • The dire economic news. I know I shouldn't because it's depressing, but I can't seem to help myself. At least I'm still sticking with the "put retirement statements into desk drawer unopened" plan I launched in September. And it's working out great. LALALALALA...I can't hear you....
  • Frank's un-RFP. And working on creating a solid un-proposal in response.
  • My awesome left wing firebrand friend Hecate, who's been on a roll recently.
  • Pondering free agnecy and my beloved Iggles.
  • Trying to figure out how to separate signal from noise on Twitter.
  • Just finished The Inner Circle, by TC Boyle. He is probably my favorite current fiction author - or at least in the top 3.
  • And just started The United States of Arugula by David Kamp. Great book about the development of cooking and eating in the US from the freeze-dried, pre-packaged nightmare that was the post-WWII era to today, when we're experiencing a "quantum leap forward in food choice, food quality, and culinary sophistication..."

17 February 2009

WOM meme: Consulting

I've recently been tagged by the geniuses behind SocialFish to participate the Word of Mouth meme on the topic of consulting.
So here's the meme: Please do a short blog post with an example of how you've seen WOM used in your work. Then tag a couple of [association/non-profit] people to do the same.
To quote one of my colleagues at Beaconfire: “If it’s memorable, people will pass it on.”

Consulting - or anything you want to market in the association space for that matter - is all about WOM.

This is coming at a particularly interesting time, because Beaconfire is in the midst of re-examining our strategy for engagement with associations. We've always been happy to work with associations, when they've come to us. But we recruit staff based on: "Work for a company that's helping organizations that save the cute, furry animals!" No offense (I worked there for years and loved it), but saving the political scientists? Not as exciting.

But a funny thing happened on the way to saving the cute, furry animals. We realized that, in some ways, associations are much lower drama clients to work with. And while we still want - and need - to do a certain amount of cute, furry animal saving, we'd also like to work with more no drama clients to keep everyone out of the Betty Ford clinic.

So, how does a consulting firm increase the work it does with associations?

You already know the answer: word of mouth.

Getting association business is ALL about relationship and reputation. Those things are built by being in the community, being known to the community, and doing such a fantastic job for members of the community that, when their friends call them up to ask, "Hey, we're trying to get more strategic about our website and how we use the Internet to reach our members and other constituents. You know anyone good who can help us?" your company's name is the first thing that pops into their heads.

The tough thing about charitable organizations is that they're all after the same audience - people who are willing and able to give money to causes - and the same dollars. Because of that, not a whole lot of working together and information sharing. But in the association world, the market for the Association of Accountants does not overlap with the market for the Association of Podiatrists. Hence, collaboration. Information sharing. Community. Word of mouth.


Just about everybody's already been tagged, but I'll try pull out a few new ones:
Edited Wednesday, Feb 18 to add: JNott reminds me that I'm also supposed to talk about how consulting is:

Easy: as Vinay reminded me at lunch today, consultants need a niche. Consultants who are successful do something that can be easily summed up in a few words. Consultants who try to be generalists? Generally not so successful.

Sharable: establishing the reputation I talked about above involves sharing your expertise with the association community so that people come to view you as a trusted adviser (thanks for the term, George) rather than "just another vendor trying to sell me something."

Interesting: well, hell, if you're not doing good work that produces good results, no one will think what you're doing is interesting enough to pass your name along when one of their friends calls them up to ask, "Do you know anybody who can do...?"

16 February 2009

Catch me @ Great Ideas!

I'll be heading to ASAE's Great Ideas Conference in Miami at the end of the week to present with the very hip Jason Della Rocca in the Social Media Lab on Wikis: Collaborative Content at Your Fingertips.

Benefits of coming:
  • Miami in February? Sweet!
  • General session speaker Dan Roam speaking on creative problem solving.
  • Learning everything you ever wanted to know about wikis and other social media technologies.
  • General session speaker Patti Digh speaking on living and working mindfully.
  • Hanging with some really smart association types.
  • The YAP party. The parties at ASAE's annual meeting 2008 and at Tech 2009 were legenedary. You don't want to miss another.
It's not too late to register, and I hope to see you in the Social Media Lab on Sunday, February 22 at 10:45 am for wiki awesomeness.

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13 February 2009

The Friday Top 5

Top 5 Reasons Seattle is Cool:

  1. It's home to a great client - National CASA (and you should definitely check out what they do, because their mission - helping abused & neglected kids - is outstanding).
  2. Beautiful scenery (that picture of Mt. Rainier is actually a US government image, but it really does look like that in real life).
  3. Awesome local restaurants and markets (and used book and record stores).
  4. Getting to visit my father-in-law and his charming new sweetie.
  5. Staying in this hotel. I highly recommend it (and the attached coffee shop - where breakfast each day is included in your stay - won Best Coffee in Seattle. Now that's saying something!).
And sorry for the slow posting week - 3 intense days with the client plus two coast-to-coast trips left my brain a little mush. But I have some great ideas percolating for posts that will appear next week, including on the WOM meme.

10 February 2009

Always the Last to Know - Flock

Get Flock

There are a number of social media aggregating services, but Flock seems to stand out from the crowd. Anyone out there been using it for a while and want to report back about your experiences?

09 February 2009

Stylin' 404 Pages

Just because someone went looking for something on your site that's moved doesn't mean they have to get a crappy default 404 page. Check out Smashing Magazine for some inspiration.

Image from The New Yorker.

06 February 2009

The Friday Top 5

My Top 5 Favorite Memories from ASAE Tech:
  1. General session speaker Jeff Howe: "Don’t focus on the tools of technology - focus on the human behavior they engender."
  2. Jeffrey Cufaude's amazing dragon-style PowerPoint-fu. Now THAT's how to use PPT!
  3. General session speaker Chris Sacca's "secret sauce" comment.
  4. SocialFish on Twitter. I think my head exploded. Get their handouts, and share the head-exploding love.
  5. YAPs in Space. Oh yeah. We're bad.
Check out my longer recap for the BFWire, and look for some posts next week about stuff that made me think.

05 February 2009

Forget "Don't Be Evil." What about "Don't Be Creepy"?

I got back from Tech to find an email from one of my coworkers entitled: Last night Facebook blew my mind. It was about his first encounter with FB Social Ads. For those who haven't encountered it yet, FB is now using your fan status and friend lists to create REALLY targeted ads. For instance, if I were a fan of Dell and you were a friend of mine, you might log in to see an ad indicating that Elizabeth Weaver Engel is a fan of Dell Deals. It appears that FB rolled this out around the holidays (although it was in the works for a while). A vigorous debate ensued on the Beaconfire !chat email channel, with people evenly divided over whether seeing that a friend had endorsed (wittingly or not) a product or service would make us *more* likely to purchase that product or service, or whether it would TOTALLY creep you out.

In the end, as with most things FB, it is possible to turn it off (Settings --> Privacy Settings --> News Feed & Wall --> Social Ads), but also as with most things FB, the default setting is to allow it. And they weren't terribly public about the whole thing (check that 1 am timestamp).

And, as my colleague pointed out:
It was easy enough to click to become a fan of Dell computers. However, it gives me no way to “un-fan” myself, or to opt out of any advertising.

Nor at no point did it say, “we’ll be using your name and profile image to sell Dell computers to your friends.”
What's the lesson for associations? It's all about permissions, baby, and don't assume you have them if you don't ask.

Image from Inside the Marketer's Studio.

04 February 2009

What I'm Reading

  • Unfortunately, the coverage of Team Obama's personnel mis-steps. Dude! It's called AN ACCOUNTANT. Hire one!
  • 2008 Crunchie Award Winners. Big year for Facebook (duh).
  • All kinds of stuff about association wikis, since I'm refreshing my ASAE Annual Meeting Social Media Lab presentation to give again (with Jason Della Rocca, lately of IGDA) at Great Ideas later this month. You are coming, right?
  • 50 Social Sites Every Business Needs a Presence On (also provides a great round up of socmed sites).
  • The BeaconfireWire has been HOPPING recently. The writing bug has definitely bitten all my colleagues - posts on RSS aggregation, analytics, creating XML, homepage overlays, success metrics for web builds...go check it out. I can barely keep up with all these smarties around here!
  • The YAP blog. YAP just keeps upping the awesome.
  • Speaking of upping the awesome, JNott's been on a roll recently on Get Me Jamie Notter - great posts on the benefits of curiosity, freedom, waking up, generational learning, and a sollid ASAE Tech recap (yes, I know I need to do that same soon, too).
  • Everyone's Twitter updates, now that I'm finally on Twitter (#ewengel). I have no idea what I'm doing, but Mads has promised to help me out once I get through the hell that will be February (too much travel).
  • Dragon Bones by Lisa See. My friend Deb introduced me to the Red Princess mysteries, and now I'm hooked.

03 February 2009

Always the Last to Know - Google Earth 5 Beta Released

OK, this time I may not actually be the last to know, but Google Earth has released their beta of version 5, which includes maps of the floor of the ocean. How awesome is that?

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02 February 2009

Nothing to do with associations, but...


Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Championship-Winningest Team in NFL history!

Photo from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.