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Are you involved in your professional association? Or do you run one – either as a director, staff, or volunteer?

If so, you’re probably concerned with one aspect of Social Media: How do you compete with free?  (Or perhaps, you’re concerned with a more existential question: Does social media make associations irrelevant?)

Consider the evidence:

  • “Community” can easily be found within LinkedIn groups, Twitter conversations, and Facebook… for free.
  • Content is available almost anywhere… for free.
  • Professional development is readily available through online training provided by vendors.
  • Support is easily accessible through Social Media peer-to-peer conversations… free
  • Meet-ups and masterminds are making chapter meetings less relevant… again, free.

In  other words, Associations must compete, sometimes for the first time, in the marketplace of ideas. If they don’t – and if they don’t do so actively – the future will not look so rosy.

Here are five ways to compete against free:

  1. Play to your strengths: This means taking advantage of the unique advantages that a social-only competitor doesn’t have; live events, certifications, a full communications portfolio (real and virtual), advocacy programs, etc.
  2. Develop a more powerful member focus: This means investing in market research to  understand who your members and prospective members are.  Learning about what both groups want, and improving your service focus to them. Then, moving from a mailing list “e-blast” focus to a wrap-around CRM approach.
  3. Don’t give up any ground: Too often, a successful social media “competitor” succeeds only because you may have stood by. Move  into action by recapturing Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook pages from the third parties who have been managing them. Pre-emptively capture domain names and second tier social sites. And form tighter social media partnerships with partners in other jurisdictions.
  4. Connect live  events to social media:  This means curating a community that can guide the direction of your live events.  Start the Social Media conversation at the event, and then continue it long after.  Those who don’t attend will see what they’ve missed, and have additional incentive to attend the next one.
  5. Inbound marketing and content strategy:  Instead of thinking in binary terms of member and non-member, recognize that a person’s level of engagement is really measured in shades of gray.  Web content and social interaction must also be measured in the same way.  Consider what this means in terms of your content:
  • Free content
  • Content requiring registration
  • Pay-per-view content
  • Members-only content
  • Members-only pay-per-view content

This week’s action plan:  Examine  your “free” competitors:  who are they, and what are they doing? Then begin the planning process: how precisely will you compete against free?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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Despite the frenzy everywhere else, many senior executives look at their corporate Social Media initiatives, and wonder why there isn’t a better return on their investment.  Many marketers, despite implementing clever campaigns, secretly worry about the same thing.

Here’s the question:  is there some special social secret sauce that can dramatically improve results every time?  The answer is yes – sort of.  Here are three ideas:

1) Create the baseline, not the campaign: There needs to be an ongoing, low-level effort to grow engagement over the long term.  This baseline group of people are the ones who will amplify any specific campaign: the bigger the baseline, the greater the multiplier effect.  Of course, the objectives of any campaign should include to grow the baseline.

2) Three levels of engagement – Industry, Corporate, and Individual: The impact of any message – and the level of engagement – can be traced directly to the congruency between industry strategy, specific corporate Social Media strategy, and individual strategy. Too often, corporate Social Media campaigns neglect the impact that the employee group can make.  Or they duplicate (or ignore) what an industry association is doing.  Very often, industry associations have no idea what they could/should be doing, so they fail to move the needle in their market at all.  While it is not as “sexy” as designing a social media campaign, professional marketers must manage “up” and encourage industry initiatives, and manage “down” to empower/engage their own workforce.

3) Don’t chase the shiny object: Just about anything is possible, but too often organizations are seduced by the new.  They forget to tie their Social Media investment directly back to their business objectives: what impact will the initiative have on new leads, sales, customer service, new candidate recruitment, etc?  Starting with a goal in mind is a great way to focus on results, instead of the shiny object.

There are other ingredients in the secret sauce, but these three go a long way to amplifying the message, and leveraging the investment.

This week’s action plan: Think of the three levels of engagement, and how you are personally using Social Media.  Are you using the tools as a professional, or only for entertainment?  This week, look for the discussion groups, wikis, and blogs that will move your career forward in your area of expertise, and spend some time there.  Hint:  Check your professional association and your corporate Social Media sites – if they’re doing their jobs, this is a great place to start.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig