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True Tales of Association Social Media Managers

By: Maddie Grant, CAE

Only a few years ago, there was no such thing as an "association social media manager." But now the first full-time social media and community specialists are starting to take their places at associations across the country. Three of the first share their experiences from their first six months on the job.

What does it take for an association to become a social media success? The first generation of association "social media managers" are starting to find out—and creating their own definitions of what success looks like in the process.

Three of the first full-time association social media and community managers spoke with me about what they've experienced in their first six months on the job. Below, you'll hear from Todd Carpenter, social media manager, National Association of Realtors; Mike Templeton, director of social media and web strategies, Iowa Hospital Association; and Maggie McGary, social media and community specialist, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (Templeton has left IHA since our interview, and McGary has accepted a community and social media manager position with Avectra.)

Maddie Grant: Can you give us a short version of the social media manager job description when you were hired?

Maggie McGary: I work on the web and knowledge strategy team, where I was initially hired as a web content developer. As we began to expand our social media initiatives and a larger percentage of my job became dedicated to staffing them, my position was changed to "social media and community specialist."

A Listening Toolkit

Maggie McGary explains what tools she uses for her listening process:

Her words of wisdom: "Because social media is always evolving and new tools are constantly surfacing (or dying), this position is one that really requires a dedicated, ongoing commitment to professional development and a pretty substantial investment of nonwork time reading and networking."

My job is to develop and help deploy social media initiatives to engage ASHA members, educate the public, strengthen ASHA's brand, and promote ASHA products and services. I monitor what's being said about ASHA and the professions we represent, triage stuff that needs to be responded to by ASHA staff, and let different departments know of stuff they need to be aware of—mentions of their programs, publications, and so forth. I work with staff to help them incorporate social media into their communications mix and to educate them about social media tools and trends.

Mike Templeton: IHA was looking for someone who could facilitate participation in social media and lead education efforts internally related to policies and best practices. My role lives inside the government relations department, also home to our director of communications.

Todd Carpenter: I've been lucky enough to shape most of my role myself. My primary role is to guide the social media efforts created by our staff. I'm lucky enough to have a huge association with ambitious goals for leveraging social media, so there are people in conventions, people in government affairs, people in research, and so forth who are all using social media to communicate. I help show them the most effective ways to use it. At the same time, we want to empower our elected leaders, our state and local associations, their elected leaders, and even our members to better harness the power of social media. This is done through public speaking, blog posts, and webinars. I work in the communications department, which only seems natural.

What was the social media environment like in the sector your association represents?

McGary: Generally speaking, our members are not sitting in front of computers or checking mobile devices frequently throughout their workdays. At first glance it wouldn't seem like they'd be likely to be interested in engaging online. However, when I took a closer look it became apparent that, in fact, plenty of them were using social media and interested in using those tools to engage with ASHA and fellow members.

Going forward, there is still lots of work to be done. The people already active in our social networks are primarily the people who were already there; we still have a ways to go in terms of convincing those who aren't already there to dive in.

Templeton: When IHA first began getting into the social media world, there wasn't a lot of activity amongst hospitals in Iowa. However, after doing more research and watching the topic grow in importance both in the media and in business, we've seen more hospitals engaging in the space. IHA has begun tracking the hospitals in Iowa utilizing social media as part of its communications strategy.

Carpenter: In my opinion, real-estate agents are the most prolific business bloggers. Arguably, more than 100,000 Realtors use social media. And as I said above, our association staff has been enthusiastic about participating in social media. For me, this has meant that my job is more about herding cats than selling the idea of using these tools.

Full-Time Community Manager or In-House Team?

By Lindy Dreyer

Why would you hire a community manager? You might boil it down to three pressing challenges every association faces as social media evolves—education and training for staff and volunteers, coordination across departments, and strategic analysis of community activity. Here are three ways your association can manage these challenges.

Create an Interdepartmental Team

Pros: If your organization excels at teamwork, or if you are a small-staff association, there may be no need to hire a community manager. By training an interdepartmental team and then creating systems for the team to collaborate, you can address the same challenges a community manager would address. And even if you intend to hire a community manager, starting with this team will help you understand your needs.

Cons: Training takes time. Also, staff will have to juggle additional work, especially in the early stages as they develop processes and policies.

Promote From Within

Pros: Hiring from within gives you the chance to elevate someone who already has both the social media education and the organizational knowledge to build social media systems for your organization.

Cons: A lot depends on your internal hire's ability to inspire trust from colleagues. Senior management can help by providing the backing and strategic understanding to move forward.

Hire a Superstar

Pros: When you hire a social media superstar, you can find a person your team feels comfortable with. You can build the position into your organizational structure from the beginning—for example, you might choose to make it a mid-level position within the membership department, with matrixed responsibilities across the association. The right person will also excel at analyzing your community and bringing the most actionable information to the forefront.

Cons: Understanding an association's culture, its membership, and its volunteer structure takes time. The learning curve may test the patience of both your senior staff and your new hire.

Building capacity for social media means different things for different associations. The one overarching truth is that your association's success in social spaces depends on the people you have interacting in those spaces.

Lindy Dreyer is chief social media marketer for SocialFish, a social media consulting firm for associations and nonprofits. She blogs at www.socialfish.org/blog and is on Twitter at @lindydreyer. Email: lindy@socialfish.org

What were your priorities during your first weeks on the job?

McGary: Even before I officially had the job, my priorities were listening/monitoring and tying what I found to concrete recommendations on how to use the information to build a successful social media strategy. I knew what seemed a natural fit to me wouldn't necessarily be compelling to people who were skeptical about the value of social media. I started by monitoring Twitter for mentions of ASHA and related keywords and taking stock of what social networks already existed for our members. I searched to see which members were using social media tools either in their personal or professional lives. I located some social networks that members had created or were active in. When I was in a position to meet members—either face to face or online via Facebook or Twitter—I asked them for suggestions and feedback. After all, they knew a lot more than I did about the association and the professions.

Templeton: My first priorities were to understand the landscape. I was completely new to the world of healthcare, so I spent a lot of time reading and trying to figure out who the "movers and shakers" were. The web strategy plan I developed in my first two weeks set the direction for where IHA would move first. Our first initiative was to launch a blog for the association (http://blog.iowahospital.org/) that would serve as our home base and was closely tied to our website.

Carpenter: My first few weeks at NAR were spent listening and learning through good, old-fashioned, face-to-face meetings. We have 340 staff members and about 20 departments. I had to learn who does what and then identify who within each department was best suited to participate in social media. We're too big to have one person speak for us. I needed to build a pool of assets to tap.

Tell us about any "lessons learned" in your first few months.

McGary: Not everyone is as enthusiastic about social media as I am! To put it mildly. And, also, that social media is a very emotionally charged issue. Change is threatening, especially at associations where "we've always done it this way" is a source of pride and stability. It's hard to be not only the new person but the new person who is pushing to do a bunch of new, maybe not-so-intuitive things. I am constantly having to remind myself to walk instead of run and to be respectful of people's comfort levels with new tools.

That said, Facebook ended up working much better than we thought it would. I was the one who was skeptical at first, thinking nobody would be interested in a Facebook page. Now, almost 14,000 engaged fans later (www.facebook.com/asha.org), it's clear that people were and are indeed interested in it. Being wrong about Facebook definitely taught me that there is merit in trying things even if you're not sure they'll be successful.

Templeton: You've got to use what you already have. If you have a database with thousands of emails from engaged members, make sure you are using those emails to make people aware of new initiatives. If you are starting a blog or launching a profile on a social network, be sure to include links on your main website. You can't expect people to stumble across your efforts. You need to do a good job of promoting them through existing channels.

Carpenter: The best listening device to monitor your brand on social media channels is one that money can't buy: It's all about your network. Identifying and building relationships with social-media-savvy staff leadership and members is the key to knowing what's happening out in the blogosphere. When issues come up, I can count on this network to tell me before my web tools ever get turned on.

Did you have to overcome any hurdles in terms of the organizational culture of your association?

McGary: Absolutely, yes. You definitely need a thick skin, because people are often vocal about why embracing social media is a stupid and bad idea. You have to learn not to take it personally when people tell you how meaningless Twitter is or gleefully send you link after link to articles declaring the imminent end of Facebook or Twitter. It's a little uncomfortable being in a position that some people actively want to see fail.

Social media also involves a fair number of territory battles. There's a very good chance that people suggested blogging or setting up a group on Facebook long before you were hired. Those people may be resentful that when they suggested it the answer was no, yet now the association has gone and hired someone to do exactly what they've been suggesting for years.

I have had more than one staff person say to me, "How come you get to do X, Y, or Z?", which of course can be awkward—I mean, what do you say to that? The main thing you can do is be as inclusive and transparent as possible. As for the people who are threatened by social media—who think it represents a loss of control or even revenue—I try to see things from their point of view and provide them examples of why social media offers not just threats but opportunities.

First Steps
What were the first steps Todd, Maggie, and Mike took when they started work in their current positions? Maddie Grant shares the scoop in a post on the SocialFish blog.

Templeton: IHA organized a cross-departmental team that would discuss our social media initiatives. We use that time to bring up shortfalls, hurdles, challenges, and successes, then draw on the knowledge of our internal team to figure out the best plan of action.

Carpenter: I have enthusiastic buy-in from our CEO. That made it pretty simple from a staff perspective. Occasionally, a member will question the way I treat my Twitter (@tcar) and Facebook presences. But I purposely keep them over-the-top unprofessional to assure other staff members that they can let their hair down and be themselves online.

What's one piece of advice you would give to someone who's just been hired for a similar role? How might he or she "get it right" from the start?

McGary: Be prepared for everyone not to be as excited about social media as you are, and work on your patience skills. The world of social media is very intense and fast paced; associations are often not. Sometimes it can be hard to get really pumped up about a new idea only to have it shot down or have to wait months until the next committee meeting so a vote can be taken.

I'd suggest becoming familiar with the arguments against social media—loss of control, legal risks, and so forth—and arming yourself with facts to reassure people when those fears surface. I'd also suggest joining YAP [a free community for association professionals at www.yapstar.org]. It's a great group to turn to if you need advice and/or support.

Templeton: Before you do anything, you need to understand the organization's goals and their reasons for becoming engaged in social media. If you don't have those goals, you shouldn't be doing anything but figuring them out. If you don't have a clear direction and purpose for your online initiatives, you won't be able to effectively measure your success.

Carpenter: Listen. If they are any good at social media, they should know this already. But listening to as many people and perspectives as possible, before making recommendations or cementing a plan, is key to building out long-term success.

Maddie Grant, CAE, is chief social media strategist for SocialFish, a social media consulting firm for associations and nonprofits. She blogs at www.socialfish.org/blog and is on Twitter at @maddiegrant. Email: maddie@socialfish.org

Sample Document

Social Media and Community Specialist Job Description (PDF)

Organization: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Website: http://www.asha.org
Description: A job description for a full-time specialist in social media and community management.
Contact: Maggie McGary, mmcgary@asha.org

For more related sample documents, read "Social Media Tools and Resources" in ASAE & The Center's Models & Samples collection.

More Articles From Associations Now, November 2009

  Managing For Good Times and Bad

  Eliminating Business Inefficiencies

  Service vs. Leadership: Finding the Right Balance

  The Formula for Publication Growth

  True Tales of Association Social Media Managers

  The CEO and the Toxic Board Culture

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