Big Questions for Associations – Part 1

Back in March, Jeff De Cagna did a breakfast briefing on the future of mobile technologies for associations.  At that time, he raised a series of questions I’ve been pondering since.  I haven’t come up with any answers, so I thought it might be time to take my musings public and hopefully spark a conversation about these issues.

Question 1: How do we connect with stakeholders who have public, digital and highly networked relationships?

This one has been particularly on my mind this summer.  After a LOT of back and forth, NACHRI has finally officially gotten on FB ( and Twitter ( At the same time, we’re in the midst of launching a white label social network on the Higher Logic platform, which will include their mobile app next spring.  And we have a fairly robust YouTube channel, plus two blogs.  Big changes, and some of my colleagues are more than a little nervous.

The larger social media environment for children’s hospitals is in flux as well.  On the one hand, there are plenty of children’s hospitals with substantial social media presence.  On the other, the actual people who run the children’s hospitals, not so much.  On the third hand (and thanks for letting me borrow one of yours), the current generation of administrators is starting to retire and we’re struggling to connect with the next generation.

Right now, I would say we’re still in the experimental stage with a lot of this.  Although we experimented with Twitter during our spring conference, we didn’t officially start tweeting consistently and with a process until about a month ago.  The FB page didn’t go live until around the same time.  We’re in the pre-deciding what metrics will even be meaningful stage.  Hell, we’re in the pre-deciding which platforms will be meaningful stage.

In the meantime, our next generation of administrators is out there.  We want to reach ever more deeply into our member hospitals, and those staffers are out there too, as are the people we’re trying to affect around policy, both legislators and grass-roots activists.  And in the end, as our tagline Champions for Children’s Health suggests, it is all about the kids.  And they’re DEFINITELY out there.

How do we find them?  Cut through the clutter?  Become the “curators of information” Jeff’s been encouraging associations to be? Provide – and show that we provide – value? How do we broadcast the good our hospitals do while still respecting HIPAA regulations (something with which all health care organizations struggle)?

How is your organization addressing the public, highly networked nature of the relationships with and between your target audiences?

I really don’t know the answers, but I DO know that we’re at least now in the game, and that’s a start.

I’ll be doing a series of posts about this for the next few weeks, so check back and offer your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Big Questions for Associations – Part 1”

  • Thanks for writing this, Elizabeth.

    Even though we've all been talking about this semi-obsessively for the last four or five years, we need to come to grips with the fact that we're ALL experimenting. Maybe we will always be.

    And, I think we all have to come to grips with the possibility that one group's success may have less to teach someone else than we have assumed. Perhaps the reason that there's been no killer cookbook out there for this stuff is that the recipes can't be replicated everywhere, for everyone.

    Why? Because every community is different.

  • Elizabeth, I'm really pleased the questions I posed back in March have stayed with you over the last several months. It's exactly this kind of reflective leadership we need more of in the association community. Well done.

    I guess I don't think the rationale for our experimentation with social tools is to create a “killer cookbook” of replicable approaches, although I can certainly understand why that is an appealing idea. That's what we've been doing for decades, and despite those well-intentioned efforts, too many associations are struggling and highly vulnerable in 2010. For me, this is a conversation about “next practices,” rather than “best practices.”

    In the last century, when our stakeholders had relationships that were primarily private, analog and largely disconnected from broader personal and professional networks, they looked upon our organizations as a primary source of the human connectivity that was missing from their lives. Today, that value proposition is no longer viewed as authentic by many of our stakeholders, and the challenge for association leaders is making social a central part of a richer value proposition that goes beyond simple connectivity.

    Elizabeth, I'm really looking forward to your upcoming posts!

  • @Jeff – it's the whole “third place” thing. It was the bowling team or the VFW or the Rotary group or the association, then it was nothing (if you believe Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone), now it's social media maybe (although research is starting to come out that virtual connection can only supplement IRL connection) – and where does that leave us?

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