Cracking the Culture Code: Blogging

This is a guest post from Eric Lanke, the CEO of the National Fluid Power Association. This is the fifth in a series of posts he’s writing about how he, as a CEO, is building and sustaining an intentional culture in his organization, a national trade association. His first four posts were on: (1) The use of very specific language in the office to help ensure staff are focused on the needs of actual members; (2) how professional education in the industry or profession your association represents can help association staff develop a greater understanding and appreciation for the world of your members (3) Outsourcing tasks–like meeting planning–that get too much in the way of your staff people engaging with your members; and (4) Bringing people with industry experience into their office and into their staff-level planning processes.

blogalotA fifth way that I’m trying to build and sustain an intentional culture in my organization–one that actively seeks to understand the world of our members–is by shifting our association news function away from reporting and towards blogging, and by giving everyone in the organization responsibility for doing it.

Maybe your association is a lot like mine. The news that you send out to your members is written by a small handful of people, it’s written in a passive, disembodied voice, and only trumpets an accomplishment or tries to sell something. You know what I mean. “The XYZ Association is proud to announce…” or “Registration is now open for…” or “Special discount offered for members who respond in the next…” It’s cold, impersonal and creates and perpetuates a mercantile relationship between your members and their association.

As a member of several associations myself, I much prefer an association news stream that talks to me like a colleague and gives me updates on the good work (and sometimes risky experiments) that the association is doing to advance its mission and the industry it represents. The people closest to those projects should be reporting on them, not just describing the work they are doing, but the reasons certain decisions are made, and how they tie back to something that is of value to the members.

Blogging is a much better platform for this kind of communication. Using the traditional method, a staff person may work an entire year on launching a new product or service, and say nothing about it to the members until it’s ready to be sold to them. With blogging, the staff person can share information about the developing program throughout that year–its impetus, its initial framework, challenges it encounters along the way–all of it inviting and encouraging feedback that can be used to make it more attractive to members when it’s ready to launch.

This kind of change isn’t easy. Your staff members may not be familiar with blogging and the looser, more personal communication style that comes with it. They may hesitate when it comes to sharing “inside” information with the members–thinking that they won’t be interested in it or that it is too risky to share what hasn’t been 100% determined or successful. Or they may be uncomfortable writing in their own voice, fearful that they will look uninformed or unprofessional in front of the members.

What is not fully appreciated is the idea that this kind of personal, exploratory approach is much more likely to engage the interested member in the work of the association. That by writing about what the individual people in the association are trying to do–not just about what the monolithic association has accomplished–there will be otherwise unavailable opportunities for dialogue and discussion with the members about what their needs are and what really matters to them.

Is there a staff person in your association that wouldn’t benefit from that kind of insight and understanding?