SEO for Not Much Dough

In the fall of 2007, I had the opportunity to talk to Layla Masri, president of Bean Creative, about search engine optimization (SEO).

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex discipline. Entire companies specialize in ensuring that clients’ sites appear in the top five rankings across a host of search engines and portals when any of the terms the client has identified as key are entered. And some organizations pay thousands of dollars a month to take advantage of that highly specialized and focused expertise. But if that’s out of your organization’s price range, does that mean you’re forever consigned to page 25 of the Google listings for the industry you serve?

“Absolutely not,” stated Layla Masri, president of Bean Creative, an Alexandria-based web design and programming firm that focuses on the not-for-profit market.

“If an organization can’t invest the kind of money necessary for a full SEO engagement, they can still accomplish a lot just by investing some staff time.” Masri continued, “Five years ago, an association could be assured a good ranking in most of the search engines just by including the right title tags on their web pages. But companies like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN have gotten much more sophisticated about their rankings, so your organization needs to be more sophisticated in its approach as well.”

What are the top five inexpensive steps not-for-profits can take to improve their search engine rankings?

  1. Update your content frequently. One of the easiest ways to do this is to add a blog to your site. But, as Masri noted, “this requires a significant investment of staff time. The technology for creating a blog is easy. The hard part is making sure someone is adding well-written, relevant content on a regular and frequent basis.”
  2. Encourage people to link to you. Again, one of the quickest mechanisms to accomplish this is to create a blog that includes a blogroll (the sidebar list of links featured on many blogs), which makes it easy to exchange links. “Request link exchanges with like-minded organizations,” advised Masri.
  3. Become a recognized expert in your subject area. “One of the best ways to generate visibility for your website is to create something like a ‘top 10’ list or an authoritative article on a current topic that gets widely disseminated across the web,” noted Masri.
  4. Become active on relevant listservs and discussion forums. “This keeps your association top of mind in your market. And, as increasing numbers of these forums are archived on the web, it increases your chances of generating links and becoming a recognized expert on topics of interest to your constituents,” remarked Masri.
  5. Finally, make sure your web content is highly relevant to the focus of your organization and uses key words and phrases regularly. “Today’s more sophisticated search engines consider the quality of your content as well as its existence. If your organization’s key focus is women’s networking groups, make sure that wording and other similar phrases are used liberally throughout your site,” advised Masri.

What do all of these suggestions have in common?

They all represent great ways to get your members involved. Younger members sometimes shy away from the level of commitment required by committee or board service. However, they are precisely the members who are most comfortable with emerging technologies like blogs and social networking forums. While they might not be willing to volunteer for several years hard labor on your finance committee, they can be tapped to write occasional posts for your organization’s blog, to link to your association blog from their own personal or professional blogs, and to participate in discussion forums and listservs as a representative of your organization. And an involved member is a loyal member.

So let’s say you do have a budget, albeit small, to spend on improving your search engine position. What will give you the most bang for your buck?

Google AdSense,” stated Masri immediately. “Google AdSense is an easy way for website publishers to create ads that will be displayed on other relevant sites. Because the ads are related to what users are looking for on the sites they surf, AdSense allows you to get the word out about your association while allowing the owners of the sites on which your ads are placed to earn some money and enhance the content of their own pages.” Because the site owners get paid when someone clicks on one of your ads on their site, you can set a cap as to how much you’re willing to spend, which makes it easy to stay within your budget, no matter what its size.

Masri offered some tips to get the best results from AdSense:

  • Make sure your ads are posted on text-rich pages (not “Sponsored Links” or “Advertisements’”)
  • Make sure your ads are placed “above the fold“
  • Match the colors of your ads with the color scheme of the site on which they’ll be posted
  • Make is easy for the site owners to blend your ads with their pages by using a transparent background and removing image borders

“The most important thing to remember is that all of these items take dedicated staff time, energy and focus. If you want to improve your site’s rank, you really do need to put in the leg work or pony up the cash for someone else to do it for you. There are no free rides!” concluded Masri.

A Hot Site at a Cool Price

In the fall of 2007, I had the opportunity to interview Mukul Chopra, National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI), and Mark Rogers, American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD) about their innovative plan for creating hot sites without spending a fortune.

With growing concerns about business continuity, many not-for-profit organizations are investing in hot sites. According to Wikipedia, a hot site is

“…a duplicate of the original site of the business, with full computer systems as well as near-complete backups of user data. Following a disaster, the hot site exists so that the business can relocate with minimal losses to normal operations. Ideally, a hot site will be up and running within a matter of hours. This type of backup site is the most expensive to operate. Hot sites are popular with stock exchanges and other financial institutions who may need to evacuate due to potential bomb threats and must resume normal operations as soon as possible.”

In the summer of 2007, NACHRI retained the RSM McGladrey not-for-profit consulting team to perform an information technology assessment. As we were reviewing their network map and documentation, we noticed something a little unusual: information about a hot site reciprocal agreement with AAHPERD. I interviewed Mark Rogers, Director of Information Systems at AAHPERD, and Mukul Chopra, Director – Information Technology at NACHRI, about this agreement after the engagement concluded.

Mark Rogers at AAHPERD posted the idea of doing a rack swap to the ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership’s Technology Listserv in the spring of 2005. “AAHPERD was becoming increasingly reliant on our technology, and I just didn’t have a solid business continuity plan for my servers,” noted Rogers.

“I had been thinking about the same thing, because the cost of setting up a hot site with a commercial provider was just astronomical, so I contacted Mark right away,” said Chopra.

“The basic concept is pretty simple, but there are a lot of details to be worked out in implementation. The key question you have to answer is, ‘Do we have the same vision for how the pieces will fit together?’ Fortunately, for AAHPERD and NACHRI, the answer was yes,” remarked Rogers.

Getting Started
Both men agreed that the toughest part of setting this all up, other than making sure the actual technology functions the way it’s supposed to, was getting senior management on board. Even though the two organizations are similar in size, infrastructure, and deployed applications, “it took patience and lots of discussions on both sides to help everyone get comfortable with what we were trying to accomplish,” remarked Chopra. “One of the first things we agreed on was that, at each stage, we would only move forward if the benefits were clear for both organizations. So far, they have been.”

Rogers added, “You have to be careful to be very clear about your goals and objectives. You have think about where things can go wrong and test, test, test. And you have to do site visits. Calls, discussions, and ideas can get you started, but you need to see the physical space.”

Both IT Directors had initially been focused on creating a disaster recovery plan for their servers, but over time, the relationship has expanded to encompass true business continuity. What started as a swap of 14 units of rack space that could be filled with servers loaded up with all the latest patches has turned into a secure LAN with VPN between the locations and includes DNS, DHCP, domain control, Active Directory replication, terminal services, a SharePoint site, virtual directories – even an agreement to provide a limited amount of physical office space complete with phones, fax, and copier access. “It’s not intended to be a complete relocation facility. Neither organization has the space for that. We provide each other with space to ‘tide you over’ on mission critical functions until something more permanent can be arranged. It’s like an insurance policy,” explained Chopra.

Why don’t more organizations do this?
“Historically, hot reciprocal sites are the least preferred of the various hot/warm/cold/reciprocal site options because it can be tough to enforce a stringent SLA [Service Level Agreement]. Sure, that’s a problem for a Fortune 500 company with a large BCP budget, but associations have to be more cost-conscious, which makes this a much more feasible option,” explained Chopra.

Do they have any tips for other organizations that might be looking to imitate them?
Both Chopra and Rogers agreed that the single most important element of a successful reciprocal arrangement is trust. Although the right geographical distance, and organization that’s similar in size, deployment, infrastructure, technology, applications, are helpful, this cannot be done without identifying a partner organization that has similar values, standards, and vision – all things that support a trust relationship.

Rogers pointed out that “Comfort level with your partner organization is key. When you have to activate your BCP for real, you’re not going to be operating under normal conditions. The situation could be bad, and your staff could be very distracted and upset when the plan is activated. The pieces need to be in place ahead of time, and it needs to be simple to run.”

Rogers noted a few additional items. “It’s easier to ‘sell’ to your senior management if you have a clear exit strategy in case it doesn’t work. If this arrangement stops meeting the needs of either of our organizations, we can just come collect our servers. I also recommend that you start small and build out additional capabilities in later phases of the project. Score some successes up front before you try to get too complex. And remember that this is a living system that has to be monitored, tested, and maintained.”

Final Thoughts
Both men agreed that the best surprise in the process has been the friendship that’s sprung up between them, which has provided a valuable opportunity to network, share ideas, and act as sounding boards for each other.

And finally, “People need to understand the difference between disaster recovery and business continuity and be clear about which one they’re trying to accomplish,” remarked Chopra. “And remember that your goal is something that works, not necessarily the perfect BCP solution. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Preparing for the Future: Succession Planning

In the spring of 2007, a team of consultants from RSM McGladrey that included me assisted the Copper Development Association with a succession planning and staff development engagement. I had the opportunity to interview CDA President & CEO, Andy Kireta, Sr., about the process and what CDA learned that fall.

“The concept of succession planning came up as part of a free-flowing discussion in a CDA board executive committee meeting. We were reviewing the results of a 2005 member survey that was performed as part of a full organizational evaluation” stated Andy Kireta, President & CEO of the Copper Development Association. “The Board asked: ‘Who would most logically fulfill different job responsibilities if we were starting from scratch?’ and that helped us take the focus off particular individuals and move it to how various positions relate to the way CDA operates as a whole.”

CDA senior management initially decided to try to do succession planning internally. They identified a three person team who conducted confidential interviews with every staff member. However, “the Board wanted us to engage a third party to provide an independent perspective,” remarked Kireta. He met George Breeden, a director in the nonprofit consulting practice at RSM McGladrey, when the two served together on a panel on crisis management at the Council of Manufacturing Associations summer leadership conference in August 2006. Kireta and the CDA senior management team decided to retain RSM McGladrey as that objective third party. Breeden assembled a cross-functional team of consultants, drawing from both the NFP (not-for-profit) and MWD (manufacturing, wholesale, and distribution) practices. CDA management provided the team with background material on the member survey and the work CDA had already done and facilitated extensive access to the CDA staff and membership.

Obviously, the Board was already committed to the process. But how did the project team manage to secure staff buy-in?

“Most of the senior management team had exposure to projects like this from their prior industry experience, and most new staff members had little investment in ‘this is how we’ve always done it’,” said Kireta. “But some of the longer-term support staff members were concerned that this was a covert way of getting rid of people or at least making their jobs harder. They were worried about the effects this might have on their retirement plans and seniority. They tended to be the most cautious of change, and they required a different approach.”

The project team addressed the concerns of CDA staff members by correcting staff misperceptions. “CDA exists to make a difference in the copper industry. The goal of this process was to increase CDA’s ability to respond to the needs of our members and to the changes in our industry,” noted Kireta. “Every staff member needs to contribute to that. If we can’t constantly enhance our value to our members and our industry, we close our doors.”

So what was the hardest obstacle to overcome?

“Human nature,” stated Kireta, without hesitation. “You have to remember that people aren’t automatons. You have to be willing to let them express their fears and feelings and to respond appropriately. Some staff members didn’t correctly perceive the goal of this project initially. Once we were able to explain to them that this wasn’t intended as an exercise in firing people, but in making sure people have the support they need to promote the mission of the association and to succeed in their careers, we were able to move forward. Historically, CDA has been very reactive, so switching over to ‘think tank’ style strategic planning was a big change. What’s the ideal, and how do we get there?”

Kireta also noted the importance of support from the Board and members. “Your Board members can be your best friends in a project like this. They’ve all gone through similar processes at their own organizations, so they can share the wisdom of their experience.”

Kireta remarked that the biggest benefit to CDA has been a new focus on preparing people to move up within the organization. “Given the nature of what we do, there is a small pool of qualified candidates. CDA wants to become known as a quality place to work. Part of that involves developing the reputation of investing in staff, which enhances our ability to recruit people with the technical backgrounds we require. We now have a structured, objective way of providing top-quality professional development that will serve them well wherever their career path takes them.”

Additionally, members are now confident that everything the organization does has been examined from the perspective of, “How does this activity benefit our members and our industry?”

So does Kireta have any advice for organizations considering succession planning?

“Do it!” he exclaimed. “Even if you can’t convince your Board to spend the resources on your initial request – and the biggest expense is staff time – continue the pursuit and get it done. Lots of organizations talk a good game, but don’t follow through. Many profess, but few invest. Every organization needs to think about developing staff for the future. And it’s a continuous process. You can’t just do it once and be done with it. The thing about succession planning is that you may be a bit surprised at where you end up, but I promise you, it will be in a good place.”

It’s Not You, It’s Me – Learning to Love Your AMS

Remember how excited you were by the unlimited possibilities of your shiny new Association Management System? What would your staff say now? “We hate our AMS!” “It doesn’t do anything we want!” “We need a new system!”

Over my years in associations and as a consultant, I’ve see organizations switching away from systems that other organizations are switching to all the time. The secret is, many organizations don’t need a new system; the system they have would be sufficient to meet their needs. What they need is to use their existing AMS more efficiently and effectively to communicate with all their audiences and meet their constituents’ needs. Although this isn’t universally the case, sometimes it’s not the software – the software has become a scapegoat for internal dysfunction.

Assuming you’re not still using index cards and a ledger book, or a system that can only run on Windows for Workgroups, to track your constituents and their interactions with your organization, why do AMS installations fail? There are a host of reasons…

Lack of project management

“I know our IT guy manages our network, our firewall, our web server, our mail server, our database server, our VoIP server, our three file and print servers, desktops for 43 staff people, remote access for 4 staff people, and the peripherals to support all of the above all by himself, but he can run this project in his spare time, right?”

Lack of documented business practices

“We’re just like every other association – we have members, and sell books, and run some conferences. No big deal. Oh! Except we have international events, so I guess we’ll need multi-currency support. And we just launched this major fundraising campaign that will run over the next 5 years and include pledges and opportunities for planned giving and 27 separate endowed funds, each with its own rules. Oh, and we have this certification program that’s pretty complex…”

Lack of clarity about organizational needs

“We’re definitely not planning to run our annual meeting sponsorships through the new system.”

“We’re not?!?”

Excessive customization

“I know the new system includes 73 different membership reports, but I really need to duplicate this one particular, specific way of formatting the information. No, it actually never worked properly in the old system, but I need it! And can I get it in cornflower blue?”

Scope creep

“While we’re at it…”

Poor communication with staff

“The Steering Committee knows what’s going on. We don’t need to involve the line staff.”

Poor communication with the vendor

“We told you we have chapters! You should’ve known that we’d need new members automatically assigned to the correct chapter based on their ZIP code, and that chapter leaders would need to be able to be recognized by their logins to our member portal and then be able to generate current, new, prospective, and lapsed member lists online through self-service!”

Lack of executive sponsorship

“The senior management is behind you 100%. Unless things start going wrong or we have cost over-runs, in which case, you’re on your own.”

Competing priorities

“I know we just selected a new system, and we’ve agreed to a really aggressive implementation timeline with the vendor. But the marketing team was thinking this would be a great time to launch an entirely new product line that we want to track in the AMS and sell online.”

And even if the initial implementation goes well, things can fall apart later on…

Lack of ongoing training

“We don’t need training. OK, sure, the entire customer service staff has turned over since implementation was completed. But we know how our AMS works.”

Lack of distributed ownership of the system across the organization

“Oh, the AMS is the membership department’s responsibility (problem).”

Failure to inform staff about system capabilities

“I didn’t know ’30-60-90 Day Aged Receivables’ is a standard system report! I just went 10 rounds with the vendor creating a custom report!”

Lack of decision-maker attention to meeting new or changing business needs

“I just approved the education department’s new certification program, and they just signed a six-figure contract with this company they found to develop a custom certification module. Wait, what do you mean we’ll have to create a custom interface so members can track their certification status through our member portal? Is that going to cost more?”

Failure to plan post implementation phases and features

“The ‘parking lot’ filled up and we had to build a three story garage to hold all the outstanding issues.”

Insufficient level of effort

“This is a pain in the neck. I give up.”

Notice any commonalities? Most of these items come down to a lack of strategic vision, a lack of planning, or a lack of communication. And those three are inter-related: if you have no vision, you can’t create a plan, and if you don’t have a vision and a plan, there’s nothing to communicate.

Even the best, most fluid, most flawless implementations – even the best UPGRADES – involve an incredible amount of upheaval for an organization. Change is scary, particularly when that change is occurring to a product that nearly all staff members use, that records virtually every dollar that comes into the organization, and that drives an increasing percentage of constituent interaction with the organization. Without a strong, compelling vision of the future of your organization and how this big, scary change is going to help you achieve it, your staff members aren’t going to be willing to – much less excited about – go through the pain of getting there.

Even if you’ve created a fabulous dream of members interacting with each other and the organization freely and getting the information they want when and how they want it and of the automation of dull, repetitive tasks so that staff members can focus the majority of their time and energy on serving the members and fulfilling the mission of the organization, and your leadership and staff members are fully investing in realizing that dream, if you lack good planning and project management, it will remain a dream. AMS implementations are highly complex projects that involve people and resources from every department of your organization, multiple staff members from the chosen vendor, and most of your other technology vendors. And even when everything goes really smoothly, the process is going to take at least 6-9 months. Juggling all those competing needs, interests, schedules, and data over the better part of a year is not a job for the faint of heart.

Project management is the area where organizations most frequently skimp. It’s understandable – AMS implementations involve significant expenditures of money and time. Your staff is already going to be heavily involved, and hopefully the vendor you’ve chosen has a standard project management methodology, so why not just assign someone, usually from IT or membership, to run the project? That can work, assuming the staff person in question has an aptitude for managing complex projects and assuming many, if not most, of her or his normal responsibilities can be re-distributed for the duration of the implementation. It can, however, be valuable to hire a neutral, third party project manager. Some of the benefits that accrue to the organization include:

  • Ensuring that the project stays on time and on budget;
  • Maintaining focus on your core requirements;
  • Minimizing unnecessary customization;
  • Documenting your business processes and procedures;
  • Streamlining your business processes through capabilities of the new system; and
  • Leveraging the new system to achieve better work flow and business intelligence.

And finally, hiring a neutral project manager means you don’t have to be the bad cop, should it come to that. If the key to real estate is “location, location, location,” the key to vendor relationships is “communication, communication, communication.” An external project manager can get tough with your new AMS vendor or your staff without worrying about damaging the ongoing relationship. The overwhelming majority of association executives whose organizations have stayed with the same AMS vendor over a number of years credit the same thing: the vendor relationship is critical. Maintaining open lines of communication and a positive relationship with your vendor allows you to work together to meet the needs of your organization and membership. A poor or combative relationship with your AMS vendor can sour what looked like a successful implementation faster than almost any other single factor, and a strong relationship can allow you to work through many of issues above without changing systems.

There are a few additional tips that can help you maintain that happy “new AMS” feeling over the long term:

Document your business processes. Good software installations start with good business process documentation. Good upgrades necessitate good business process documentation. Good AMS utilizations that last across organizational change and staff turnover require updated business process documentation. If you don’t know what you do or how you do it, how can you tell whether your staff is using your software properly, or even if the software is working properly in the first place?

Reduce customization. The less you customize your software, the more likely you are to remain on a relatively trouble-free upgrade path, which means you don’t find yourself in a situation where support for your antiquated version is being phased out and an upgrade would be as painful and expensive as acquiring a new system.

Review what’s out there periodically. If you’ve maintained a positive relationship with your AMS vendor, you’ll be in a good position to make suggestions based on the capabilities being offered in the latest versions of other packages. That benefits your organization, as you can offer staff and members the latest in AMS functionality, and it benefits your vendor, as you help them remain cutting-edge in the AMS market.

Train your staff. And not just a week of training before your initial “go live” date. Training should be a component of every single staff person’s annual goals, and their managers need to be held responsible for making it happen.

Talk to your vendor! Remember, if you can keep a good relationship with your vendor, nearly everything else is fixable. And you can fall in love with your AMS all over again.

Social Networking the Not-for-Profit World

In ASAE’s recent Decision to Join study, the following four items ranked consistently as the top member benefits in membership associations across nearly all demographic categories:

  • Providing networking opportunities
  • Providing professional development opportunities
  • Supplying industry news
  • Producing industry standards, research, policies, and other information

One of the most important functions associations fulfill is to connect members to each other. New Internet technologies can go a long way towards facilitating these connections, with or without the involvement of the parent organization. With the explosion of social networking technologies, people with like interests and goals have a variety of ways to find each other. Membership organizations need to consider their use of Web 2.0/social networking capabilities, not just to stay relevant but also to fulfill their historic mission of serving their member communities.

The Haefer Group recently compiled Internet use data as reported in Business Week. The information was broken down by typical generational categories (Millennials, Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers, etc.) and by types of Internet use:

  • Creators: Originate content (write blogs, create podcasts)
  • Critics: Comment on content ( write reviews, post ratings)
  • Collectors: Gather information (via RSS, social bookmarking)
  • Joiners: Use social networking sites
  • Spectators: Consume content (look things up on Wikipedia, watch videos on YouTube)
  • Inactives: Online, but don’t participate in that newfangled Web 2.0 stuff

(Obviously, these categories are not mutually exclusive.)

The full report is available by following the link above, but the key point is that Baby Boomers and Seniors largely fall in the Spectator and Inactive groups, while there is an explosion of Creators, Critics, and Joiners among younger groups, particularly teens and young adults. In other words, among your youngest members and newly hired staff.

Fast Company recently published an article, “Retaining Younger Workers,” that addresses this exact point. It’s important to remember that something is only “technology” if it was created after you were born. Most of us don’t think of the television or the plain Ma Bell, landline, plug-into-the-wall telephone as “technology.” Younger workers feel the same about blogs, wikis, podcasts, and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

So let’s take a closer look at one of these Web 2.0 technologies, social networking, and how your organization can use it to help your members and staff connect.

Social networking, according to

…is the practice of expanding the number of one’s business and/or social contacts by making connections through individuals…Based on the six degrees of separation concept (the idea that any two people on the planet could make contact through a chain of no more than five intermediaries), social networking establishes interconnected Internet communities (sometimes known as personal networks) that help people make contacts that would be good for them to know, but that they would be unlikely to have met otherwise.

When most of us think of social networking, we tend to think of sites like Linkedin. And you can send your members there to find each other. But you’ll lose your organizational branding, your ability to promote this as a member benefit, control over who finds each other and by what criteria, and the positive mental association, among your constituents, of this capability with your organization.

There are a variety of social networking software options available (Web Scribble, Sparta, Higher Logic, Small World Labs, ONEsite, etc.), and they are mostly relatively inexpensive and easy to install. But before purchasing and installing new software, you might want to talk to your Association Management System vendor.

Social networking sites are basically turbo-charged member profiles. A typical online membership directory allows members to search by name, location, possibly employer, and maybe even interest areas, as selected from a pre-defined list of options. Social networking sites expand that to include full-text profiles (and full-text searching), where people can locate each other based on shared interests, areas of expertise, responses to questions, topics they’d like to learn about, and a wide variety of other options. Moreover, most social networking software packages include other Web 2.0 technologies like blogging, collaborative workspaces, the ability to upload and share media files (audio, video, photos, etc.), the ability to form ad hoc groups, and event scheduling.

Social networking allows your members to make connections. “So what?” you think. “That’s why we have an annual meeting.” That’s true – annual conferences are excellent places for members to connect with each other. However, early-career people are less likely to enjoy company support for the time and expense involved in professional development travel, and they are less likely to be able to afford it on their own if their organizations will not pay or allow them the time off work. Even if they can attend your face-to-face events, they are far less likely to know others in the profession. And no one likes to walk into a room of 200 people and feel like the only one with no friends. It is far less intimidating for those young Creators/Critics/Joiners to approach someone virtually around an expressed shared interest or with a question about an expressed area of expertise than it is for them to walk up to a complete stranger and attempt to strike up a conversation in the hallway between breakout sessions at your conference.

A few things to bear in mind as you contemplate this brave new world of collaborative technologies:

  1. DON’T panic. Back in the mid-1990’s, Generation X and that fad, the Internet, were going to destroy the not-for-profit world as we knew it. All information would be available freely to everyone all the time, and those kids just coming out of college weren’t joining associations anyway. Didn’t happen. Now, Millennials and that fad, social networking, are going to put us all out of business. Everyone can connect with each other all the time without needing associations, and those kids just coming out of college aren’t joining associations anyway. Another piece of information revealed in Decision to Join is that association membership is a factor of stage of career. People don’t join straight out of college because they’re not sure where their career paths are going to take them. Once they settle in, they join. Generation X did, and so will today’s young people, provided your organization stays relevant to their lives and careers.
  2. DO create a plan for deploying new technologies to your members. The good news is that Web 2.0 technologies are relatively cheap and easy to set up. This is also the bad news. Your constituents are inundated with information, and they’re not going to show up at your cool, new, empty organizational wiki just because you launched it. You may, and in fact probably will, have to pre-seed content and participation in order to make your new resource worth the investment of their time. So how do you do that? Tap your volunteer leaders to write, to respond, to interact, to proselytize – they are your most valuable allies in this effort. Tap your younger members, and ask them to do something specific: post the question they emailed you to your online discussion forum, share that insightful comment they just made during your webinar on your President’s blog. They’ll be flattered and will begin to feel a sense of ownership of your organization. And before you even consider any of this, think about your content and your audience, and which technology provides a natural fit. Ask your members: “What Web 2.0 technologies are you already using as part of your normal, daily life? What additional information or capabilities would you like us, your professional organization, to offer?”
  3. DO write good internal policies. Even though all this stuff offers a lot of exciting potential, you still need to make sure you protect your organization from liability. Just as with any official organizational communication, you need to think about who’s allowed to say what and in what forums. Work with your IT staff and your organization’s legal counsel to make sure you’re protected. But you also need to think about what you can reasonably control. Setting up policies you can’t, and maybe don’t even intend to, enforce just encourages disrespect for all your policies. And while it’s risky to make categorical statements in this area, I can definitively say that “ban everything” is not the right policy.
  4. Pursuant to that, DON’T make technology the scapegoat for management problems. If “Bob” is wasting time on Instant Messaging and not getting his work done, instructing your IT people to lock down IM is not the answer, particularly if you adhered to point 2 above and had a good reason for launching it in the first place. “Bob” will just find an alternate time waster – computer Solitaire, surfing the ‘Net, personal phone calls, water cooler breaks every 10 minutes – or even worse, circumvent your IT controls to keep IMing his buddies, in the process creating a back door into your network for viruses and hackers. The right answer is for Bob’s manager to do her job and actually manage him.

The bar for entry on most of these communitarian technologies is very low. The software is free or very low cost, and easy to install. Hosting companies abound. That’s the good news, but it’s also the bad news. Many organizations are jumping in without a clear plan. And this is not a case where building it (whether “it” is a blog, a wiki, or a storefront in Second Life) will result in traffic. Technology is not the issue. Content is. Participation is. But with proper planning, organizational and volunteer support, and a little behind the scenes work to generate buzz, your association can deploy new technologies in ways that benefit staff and members and generate increased loyalty from both.