Learning at Technology Conference

I spent the last two days at the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership Technology Conference. In the "old days" (a couple of years ago) I enjoyed going to this conference mostly because as a blogger I could connect with my colleagues who were interested in social media, but the sessions were a little techy for me. This year, it was hard because too many sessions ABOUT social media were happening at the same time. It is amazing how fast things change. Last year there were only a handful of technology vendors who were talking about supporting online communities, and this year it seemed they ALL were. So here are some takeaways from the event.

Do Everything. One theme I heard in a lot of sessions was about the need to do everything, try lots of approaches, and be wherever your members are. Matt Baehr talked about his experience starting an online community at his previous association, InfoComm, and he started with groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, because that's where is his members were. Not all of the groups you start will flourish, but you go where the members are as a start. Jeffrey Cuffaude had the same theme in his presentation about high Tech/high touch. He was pointing out that we use a lot of technology to communicate to members now, but if you take a look at the various things members do (join, volunteer, learn, etc.) you could make a list of all the touches you have with them in those processes and maybe introduce some that allow for better connection and engagement. Interestingly, in my association I think we're all touch and no tech, so I'm thinking of ways to engage people electronically more effectively.

Twitter. I think this was the first ASAE event where Twitter went mainstream. Granted, it is a tech conference, but we've been using various text messaging platforms at other meetings to create a "backchannel" for discussion of sessions, setting up social events, etc so the concept is not new. But this year it was done on twitter, with everyone using the "hashtag" of #tech09. During the opening general sessions each day, there were so many people commenting on twitter that Tech09 showed up on the general twitter search page as a hot topic. My phone died during the (amazing) general session by Chris Sacca, but I know that I can go back and recap the session just by looking at the Tech09 stream (for example, just go to Lindy Dreyer's Twitter page and you have instant notes from that session!).

It's about them, not us. I heard this in various different contexts. Chris Sacca mentioned it when talking about Google (they focus on solving problems for the users, even if it means not making as much money in the short term). Jeff Howe talked about it in terms of crowdsourcing (ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community). And in most of the social media sessions, the benefits that the association gets from supporting these initiatives (and there are benefits) have to be secondary to the benefits the users/members get from doing them. It was watching the myth of control break down before my very eyes.

Be Open. This was one of the themes from Chris Sacca's presentation about Google, and I was thrilled because it's also something I'm going to be talking about at the Great Ideas Conference in February. He talked about the culture of transparency at Google, and how the top of the organization, depsite nervous nail-biting from the lawyers and finance people (who they put in a separate building, by the way, to get them away from the engineers), would answer EVERYONE's questions pubicly on Friday meetings. Because everyone knew more details about where Larry, Sergei, and Eric stood on things, they were able to make better, strategic decisions day to day. And when things didn't go their way, they knew why. This is so important. Beyond Google, transparency is a huge theme in social media. Privacy is expected less and authenticity is expected more. This is a small example, but on Twitter ASAE set up a user, Tech09. During the conference, many of the people on the #tech09 conversation called Tech09 out to see exactly WHO was doing the posts. It was all done light-heartedly, but I was surprised that @tech09 didn't answer. They ended up providing an answer (it was a number of ASAE staffers) AFTER the conference ended. Sorry folks–too late. You don't really get a second chance to be open.

Follow the data. This is related to some of the other themes above, and it's not a particularly "new" lesson, as it was one of the main points in the Seven Measures of Success report, but it was reinforced for me at this conference. This has very techy applications, like measuring usability of your web site. There are some simple programs that will just show you visually where your users click and where they don't. I kept hearing things like "staff always thought that putting xyz in the top right of the page would work best, but then we saw no one ever clicked on it." Sacca talked about it in terms of Google trying a million different things and then finding out what the users actually use. Oh, and here is an interesting one. At Google, when your idea advances to the next stage and you get authorization to have some other people on the project, no manager tells you which people to use. You go find the best. So there isn't really a need for performance reviews. If you have time on your hands, then the market has spoken (not enough people are choosing you). This is not a system you copy and paste to every organization, but it's interesting to think about. It's more about the data, then the keen judgment of the manager. And to pre-respond to possible comments: I don't think any of the above paragraph means you should follow data blindly or that "keen judgment" is not important, because it is. But I saw clearly that there are a lot of things that I do in managing an association that COULD be using data but instead rely on intuitive judgments from me and/or staff and volunteers. That used to work better than it does now, simply because there is SO much more data to which we have access.

That's it for now. It was a great conference. Thanks to ASAE & The Center staff and to all my friends for making it a great event.


  1. 29.01.2009 at 9:57 am

    Wow Jnott,
    Amazing post. I really didn’t want to miss the TechCon and this just reinforces it. You have some great take aways that I think mark the beginning of the great awakening for associations. Remember in Shirky’s book he directed a few shots at associations and essentially questioned their value proposition? I think it was largely due to the perception that associations are static dinosaurs that are eventually bound to become extinct. From what I am reading here (and at a few other blogs) it sounds like associations are finally seeing their own vulnerability and addressing the need for change with the times and demographics. Glad to see that ASAE is once again helping to lead the charge.
    Thanks for the thoughtful insights.

  2. 29.01.2009 at 11:08 am

    We missed you too, Dave! I actually hadn’t looked at it that way, but I do think there was some evidence at this conference that a good number of associations are trying new things. I am not sure, however, how extensive the trend really is. But regardless, it’s a trend, and I think it is positive.