aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Fixing the Furnace

Posted by Ellen on December 26, 2009

Many of you know that my husband and I decided to pursue the alternative lifestyle of “full-time RVing,” and we’ve been travelling the country for more than six months. We’ve learned a lot, but our biggest lesson has been that things break. They break in an RV faster than with a house, and they are a pain to fix (because of the way RVs are built — from the interior out).

A few months ago, our furnace started rattling. We decided we’d wait to fix it until we got out of the winter weather, so while much of the Midwest and East Coast are dealing with the worst blizzard some parts have seen in many years, we’re in the desert, ready to fix the furnace.

Here’s my role: help or stay out of the way. If I’m needed, I’ll be there to hold things, shine a flashlight, find pieces and parts, whatever the chief mechanic needs. If I’m not needed, I’m staying out of the way, doing things like writing this blog post.

It makes me wonder: How much are you standing in your members’ way, and how much are you helping?

My previous entry (“Playing the Match Game”) touched on some ways you can uncover existing or emerging content within your association that might be delivered via social media.

Writing it made me think about the delivery modes associations provide members for sharing and interaction. Most use listservs and discussion groups. Some are on Facebook and LinkedIn. Others have incorporated their “white label” or internal social networking systems.

All that is good.

But are you still standing in their way? Are they trying to fix the furnace but you have the screwdriver and won’t let them have it until next week sometime?

Let’s take Webinars for example. Most associations organize and promote Webinars, then invite their members to attend. By the time the event is organized and registrations are collected, the hot topic might have cooled.

What if you made your Web conference service available to your members to use as they needed it?

What if a member who just discovered something and wanted to share it could send out a notice that he or she would be going online to make a brief presentation, then engage in a Q&A session about it?

You’re not standing in the way anymore. You’ve handed the member the screwdriver. Better yet, you placed the screwdriver where it can be picked up whenever its needed.

What? Your Web conference system is based on a pay-as-you-go model? Ooops! Time to revisit that. You might think it’s a less expensive billing model, but if you truly opened the system up to increased use, couldn’t paying a higher fee for it be justified? Couldn’t it become another member benefit?

In what other ways are you standing in your members’ way? How else can you provide the ways and means for your members to create their own content and deliver it — without you standing in the middle, blocking the way?

Why is this important?

Well, you’ve heard that a primary reason newspapers all over the country are collapsing is because the readership they relied up on is now getting its news online, without having to pay for the subscription (not to mention no longer having to fish the paper out of the bushes or call to complain because of a missed issue).

It used to be that newspapers were the conduit — one of a few ways people could access current events.

Many newspapers didn’t learn how to get out of the way of their readers, who were suddenly able to publish their own interpretations of the news, post their own videos — become their own reporters, producers, and publishers.

Here’s another example:

You’re hearing increased demands for recordings of sessions at your annual conference, but your resources are limited. You’ve controlled the use of devices in your sessions because you don’t want things to show up on YouTube (legal issues and all that). It seems there’s no inbetween.

Ah! But there is!

Let your members record what they want. Ask them to post them as they get them — on your Web site or to your LMS. Give them a small honorarium or an extension of their membership for posting their info. It doesn’t have to be much — as long as you make it easy for them to comply and you recognize their contribution in some way.

Otherwise you’re just standing in the way, blocking the light, holding the screwdriver hostage.

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