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How to bridge your staff’s technology knowledge gaps

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

car crashed into house window

If you grew up with parents who were bad drivers, chances are you’re a bad driver too. Your parents didn’t know how to use a technology—in this case, a car—as well as they thought they did. And they passed their faulty set of skills on to you.

It’s the same with association technology. People think they know how to use a system effectively, but sometimes they don’t. They never received sufficient training and had to learn on the job, or they were trained by co-workers who, like the tailgating parents, didn’t know how to use the system effectively themselves.

The impact of a technology knowledge gap like this can be frustrating. If you conduct an AMS query by the seat of your pants, you get one answer on Monday and a different answer on Tuesday. Which one is accurate?

Or, even worse, you give the board one set of numbers and then, the following month, you pull what you think is the same set. Only they end up being different. Imagine trying to explain that embarrassing discrepancy.

When staff doesn’t have the appropriate knowledge to use a system effectively, they get frustrated. In their minds, the system doesn’t work and they stop using it or try to get others to do the work for them. They blame the tool because they’re mishandling it.

Dedicate time up front to training and documentation.

When faced with technology knowledge gaps, I remember a guiding principle of life. You can never be too rich or too thin? No, not that one. You can never have too much training or too much documentation. Yes, those are words to live by.

Rare is the association that has dedicated enough resources to system training and documentation. If training is ignored, system users make it up as they go along. They try to bridge their knowledge gaps themselves or they ask for help from someone who’s equally in the dark.

Training doesn’t always help with tasks that are done infrequently—that’s when you rely on documentation. If you only use the AMS once a year for committee appointments, it’s unlikely you’ll remember exactly how to do it. Documentation sets you on the right path.

Training and documentation are put on the back burner after system implementation because everyone thinks they’ll get to it eventually… “when we have the time.” And when is that exactly?

An investment of time up front will save your bacon one day. Your effort will pay off by helping staff boost productivity, reduce frustration, and take full advantage of your technology investment.

bacon ribbon

Prevent the problem and you won’t have to fix the problem.

Technology knowledge gaps are not difficult problems to fix, but they do require focus and resources. The problem usually starts when users aren’t given the proper orientation and onboarding to a new system. When planning for a new system implementation, include the appropriate amount of hours of user training in the project budget. If people are left to their own resources, bad information is often disseminated.

Every year, the staff training budget should include funds for user training on new and existing systems. Many associations don’t take full advantage of their technology investment because users don’t know the extent of a system’s functionality or how to use that functionality effectively. But you can reap more from your technology investment with ongoing training and education.

The knowledge gap exists for several reasons:

  • Initial training only covered basic workflows and processes.
  • Training was comprehensive yet also overwhelming; therefore, a good deal of it has already been forgotten.
  • Additional functionality is available thanks to software upgrades and releases.
  • New users haven’t received the appropriate training.

A technology knowledge audit will help you discover where the gaps exist. The key to a successful audit is establishing a safe atmosphere where people feel comfortable admitting their need for training.

Identify super-users for each system. Make sure they get the training to serve as in-house trainers for other staff. However, don’t task someone with that responsibility without taking into consideration how it impacts their existing responsibilities.

Create incentives for training. Build required technical proficiencies into position descriptions. For example, the CEO must know how to transfer a phone call. Think beyond the obvious.

  • Who would benefit from the data in each system? Who needs viewing rights? Reporting rights?
  • Who should be cross-trained? For example, who needs CMS training so they can update the website when a co-worker is on vacation?

Hold people accountable for the technology knowledge you expect them to have. And, in turn, provide opportunities and resources for continual training—for example, technology user conferences, vendor training sessions, staff brown bags, and an online library of resources.

Providing the resources for training and documentation will help your association develop an internal culture of learning and ensure you receive the maximum return on your technology investment.


Flickr photos by JasonParis and Fred Rockwood

The professional development advantages of MOOCs

(Tech Tips, Innovative Ideas, Dear Del) Permanent link

e-learning lab

MOOCs—massive open online courses—aren’t in the news as much as they were a few years ago when popular MOOCs like Coursera and EdX first arrived on the scene. However, MOOCs are growing. In 2014, 400 universities offered more than 2,400 courses to 17 million students around the world.

In 2013, the majority of EdX students were male and based outside the US, according to a research team from Harvard and MIT, the co-founders of EdX. The average student was 29 years old and held a bachelor’s degree. However, researchers also found that the number of older, female, and US-based students is rising. [source]

MOOCs vs. online degree programs

You might be wondering what the difference is between a MOOC and an online degree program, like the University of Phoenix. For one, MOOCs are truly massive. Thousands of students might be enrolled in a single course.

MOOCs are less expensive than online degree programs. Courses are free unless you want to pay for credit and certification. Even then, the cost is minimal.

MOOCs are open; they have no admittance requirements. You can take courses from a variety of university professors, perhaps University of Pennsylvania for one course and Harvard for another.

There’s a good chance that people in your industry or profession are looking at MOOCs as a professional development option. Once they take a MOOC, like I did, they may well have new expectations for online education.

My path to a MOOC certification

As a lifelong learner, I am constantly honing my digital and content strategy expertise by reading, attending industry conferences like the Intelligent Content Conference, and participating in online discussions. In one such discussions, I learned about a content strategy specialization offered by Northwestern University through Coursera.

The MOOC learning experience

The format for a MOOC varies depending on the course. You can usually expect a combination of learning formats:

  • video lectures
  • group discussions
  • online/offline reading
  • discussion forums
  • quizzes
  • homework
  • peer review

My specialization consisted of two courses and a capstone project. Grades were based on progress through coursework, discussion participation, homework, and peer review. I reviewed the case study homework of my peers and they reviewed mine.

After passing the first two courses and receiving certificates for those, I was eligible to enroll in the capstone project. This final project was meant to showcase and pull from all of the tools and strategies learned from previous classes and was similar to a content strategy project I’d encounter in the ‘real world.’ Passing that, I received my content strategy specialization from Northwestern University.

The Achilles heel of MOOCs

One of the criticisms leveled at MOOCs is the low completion rate. Although 57% of students in the EdX study expressed a desire to seek certification, only a quarter of them actually did. MOOCs are time-consuming university courses. If you don’t have compelling reasons for taking the course, enthusiasm will only take you so far.

I speak from experience. When I first heard of Coursera, I enrolled in a history class offered by Princeton University. Since I was taking the class purely for fun, I didn’t have the desire or motivation required to keep up with the heavy coursework.

This time, my mindset was completely different. I was excited to take advantage of this unique opportunity—a content strategy specialization offered by a university like Northwestern. Plus, I was taking these courses for my career, my clients, and my company. I was motivated.

The many advantages of MOOCs

As more people are exposed to MOOCs, either for fun or work, the MOOC experience will become the standard for many online learners. They’ll expect association online education programs to offer the same advantages.

Affordable. MOOCs are free unless, like me, you want a certificate after completing the course. Even then, my courses are far less expensive than similar courses offered by marketing associations or universities—mine were $49 each. Your professional development budget goes much further with MOOCs than it does with other institutions, like associations and universities.

Full spectrum of learning. MOOCs offer a wide range of courses covering topics of both personal and professional interest. For example, association staff who wish to bone up on technology topics can find courses in project management, digital marketing, web design, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data mining. Or, you can find courses in leadership, management, business strategy, math, science, literature, and more. Check out Coursera or EdX for courses that interest you.

Flexible. I valued the flexibility of my MOOC experience more than anything else. Busy professionals want on-demand learning experiences that can be accessed at their own convenience. I watched video lectures on my tablet while I cooked dinner, or after putting my daughter to sleep at the end of the day.

Micro. When I had a few minutes, I knew I could fit in a short video lecture or read a bit of an online discussion. I could do only a little at a time and still make progress, without disrupting my otherwise busy schedule.

Mobile. No matter what device I used, I could tell where I left off in the coursework. When traveling for work, I could squeeze in a few lectures or discussions using my smartphone while waiting to board a plane.

Interactive. MOOC courses are interactive. For example, in my content strategy courses, pop quizzes appeared during videos to make sure I was paying attention. In many courses, students must take quizzes at the end of each week as part of their grade.

Social. Online discussion forums deepened my understanding of the content and provided helpful information. Where available, classmates may organize meet-ups. My sister took the course, too, so we were a resource to each other throughout the course. A study buddy—local or virtual—provides accountability and makes the experience more enjoyable.

Diverse. The most delightful surprise was the diverse group of peers in my courses. It was fascinating to hear the different perspectives of peers from Germany, Brazil, and Belgium and learn about the challenges they encounter as content strategists.

Serious competition from MOOCs

Another surprise came during peer reviews: the level of work was extremely high. Since the content strategy courses I took were for experienced professionals, I found my peers to be knowledgeable and talented. They were professional marketers or consultants who were already doing content strategy for corporations. Their critiques were tough—I had to keep up my game.

The long-held mindset that in-person education is preferable to online education isn’t going to last much longer. MOOCs have the instructional design and technology necessary to offer a high-quality education—and they’re clearly attracting smart people who want to advance their professional development. Both younger and older generations are eager to give these affordable, on-demand, and user-friendly online options a chance.

MOOCs as a model for association education

In many countries, associations and their credentialing programs aren’t as valued as they are here in the US. Certification is valued, but companies are looking for more affordable options, like MOOCs.

As associations rethink their membership models, it’s a good opportunity to consider how online education can fit into membership packages. For example, offer flexible pricing for online education as a benefit of different membership levels.

In addition, associations need to ensure that their online education programs are user-friendly and can offer the type of flexible, on-demand, social, interactive, and mobile experiences as other learning management systems (LMS) like those described above.  

As MOOCs continue to become more popular, your online education programs must offer the same advantages as MOOCs. The competition is getting serious.


Flickr photo by Sarah Stewart

An addendum on empathy: make yourself heard

(Everything Else) Permanent link

Last week, Tobin wrote that collective empathy requires conflict.

The extent to which a project team can come to the table with a sense of empathy and work through constructive conflict is an indicator of future project success.

Conversely, a “self-centered attitude leads to friction, miscommunication, and missed opportunities.” In many associations, this can result in a proliferation of rogue IT projects... and yet more [unconstructive] conflict!

One aspect of empathy is feeling heard yourself. We’re more inclined to listen openly and nonjudgmentally when we receive the same courtesy. No surprise, right?

I had all this in mind when a Harvard Business Review article on conflict appeared in my newsfeed today: How to Make Sure You’re Heard in a Difficult Conversation, by Amy Gallo. How timely! Gallo offers several clear tips for recognizing that your opinion is just your opinion (or, on a project team: your perspective is yours; own it—and recognize that other team members have their own perspectives).

Gallo summarized being heard with a four-part mantra:

  1. own your perspective
  2. pay attention to your words
  3. watch your body language
  4. change the tenor of the conversation

Here’s my favorite takeaway from Gallo’s article (and the one I find most difficult to implement myself):

Say “and,” not “but.” “When you need to disagree with someone, express your contrary opinion as ‘and.’ It’s not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right,” she says. Engage your colleague in problem solving, which is inherently collaborative instead of combative.

Which brings me back to Tobin’s advice: “Make sure everyone understands and can articulate your common goal.” All this understanding and empathizing may feel awkward and uncomfortable, but—this “but” is intentional!—“You’re unlikely to come to a resolution if you don’t hear the other person out,” says Gallo. That goes for difficult conversations between two people—or entire project teams.

C’mon y’all—come together!

Empathy and conflict: technology project superpowers

(Project Management) Permanent link

elephant in the room

While visiting a client in Amsterdam, I noticed that Europeans have a heightened sense of empathy when it comes to everyday business activities, like scheduling meetings. They don’t have the American time-zone-centric sense of the world. Everyone’s willing to take a turn to sacrifice personal time or sleep when arranging meetings with colleagues around the world.

How often do we appreciate the place that others inhabit, not only geographically, but mentally too? This cultural sensitivity is one manifestation of empathy—a requirement for all of us who collaborate on technology projects.

Project requirement: empathy

Each of us naturally brings a unique perspective and agenda to projects. However, if we lack empathy, we remain concerned only with our own issues. Without empathy, we act as if we’re wearing blinders that prevent us from acknowledging the very real perspectives, challenges, and needs of our colleagues from other departments and vendor partners on the project team.

This self-centered attitude leads to friction, miscommunication, and missed opportunities. Without empathy, projects are at risk of derailing and expectations are not likely to be met.

An example of this scenario that’s painfully all too common in associations: rogue IT projects. One department pushes ahead blindly with their agenda. They fail to inform or consult with the IT department. Consumed with their brilliant idea, they find technology that will allow them to move forward. It’s only after they sign a contract for the new technology that they tell IT to bolt it onto existing systems. You can imagine the challenges and friction that results.

When we’re caught up in our own agendas, we operate with myopic lenses. Instead, we need to broaden our range of vision, and acknowledge that we’re part of a larger whole. We need to see the bigger picture beyond our own agenda.

Advice for project leaders on how to nurture collective empathy

Too many technology projects flounder because of departmental agendas. If you’re in charge of a project, understand the damage that a lack of collective empathy can wreak. When individual/departmental interests take precedence over larger project goals, the results can be devastating—not only leading to an unsuccessful initiative, but possibly also reinforcing existing silos and deepening the gulf between business units.

To nurture a sense of empathy among your colleagues and vendor partners, start with the end in mind. Make sure everyone understands and can articulate your common goal, so if you sense things going off track, you can pull everyone back. “This is what we’re all here for; let’s remember that.”

Work backward from that common goal to find common ground.

  • What does success look like? How will we know when we get there?
  • How will we make decisions as a group?
  • What are our ground rules?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of each person?
  • When are the deadlines?

Pay particular attention to actions that require cooperation: “Jim must do X before Mary can do Y.”

Collective empathy requires facing conflict

You can’t have collective empathy if conflict is simmering under the table. In the nonprofit world, a flawed preconception has taken hold that everyone needs to preserve the political peace. Keep things to yourself, play nice, and go along to get along.

Conflict is repressed and ignored. Conflict is feared. Serious issues aren’t addressed. No one wants to bring up the proverbial elephant in the room. As a result, collaboration and projects go off the rails because staff is operating in a land of make-believe.

Constructive conflict is necessary for a project’s success—emphasis on constructive. Everyone brings agendas to table—that’s a given. If you don’t address these agendas, have difficult conversations, and make tough business decisions at the beginning of a project, the technology you’re trying to implement won’t solve your problems, and the elephant will remain.

When dealing with constructive conflict, empathy is a must. Everyone must leave their comfort zone, keep their own agendas in perspective, drop their blinders, and listen. Encourage everyone to ask questions and to put themselves in each other’s place. See things from a new perspective and understand the bigger picture, the common goal.

The path to this progress may feel awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary step to take. The extent to which a project team can come to the table with a sense of empathy and work through constructive conflict is an indicator of future project success.

Additional reading:

Flickr photo by David Blackwell.

Haunting Engagement: October 2015 Blogger’s Digest

(Everything Else) Permanent link

costumed DelCorians wishing you Happy Halloween


This month’s blog posts were all about engagement in its various forms. It’s striking how much digitalization has transformed the membership mantra, especially since the last Technology Conference. We’re hearing, and having, lots of conversations about digital strategies that directly impact associations at the membership and operational levels. Here are just a few thoughts on digital engagement, with more to come, for sure. In the meantime, if you’re not sure how digitalization impacts your organization or you want a second opinion on your digital strategy, we’re here to help, as always.


With website governance, tough decisions become easier

In this authoritative post on web governance by Dave Coriale (October 5, 2015), you’ll learn:

  • Why ignoring governance has serious consequences.
  • How to enjoy the benefits of a governance plan.
  • How governance provides a better user experience.


Don’t worry about being like Amazon

We’ve all heard it before: I want to be the Amazon of my industry… if only I had their budget! Well, it’s time to set your envy aside, because you don’t need to be like Amazon (and shouldn’t dare try emulating them), says Dave Coriale (October 9, 2015). Instead, here’s how you can make your website a standout:

  • Have empathy for your website users.
  • Pay special attention to business rules.
  • Provide elements of the Amazon experience.


No more bingo: rethink your conference’s mobile app to deepen the attendee-exhibitor experience

Is your expo hall stale? Does your mobile event app merely exist for logistics? Dave Coriale (October 13, 2015) recommends shifting your efforts to focus on engagement goals by:

  • Focusing on the value you want to deliver attendees and exhibitors.
  • Using the app to bring the learning experience into the expo hall.


Great leaders are consistently inconsistent

We often talk about personalized member engagement. Staff require the same in order to advance your organization’s goals. Help them help you succeed by understanding when to be consistent and inconsistent in your leadership/management style. Bill Rowan (October 26, 2015) reviews the Leadership Paradox.


Using Blab to create online community connections

We’ve always got our eyes on the broad technology landscape—there’s a new development, tool, threat, or startup every minute, it seems! Kylee Coffman (October 28, 2015) takes a cue from #assnchat to review Blab, a video/chat engagement tool. See it in action and let us know: is your association using it yet?


neon haunted house
Flickr photo by metalchris

Flashback Friday boo-nus: Don’t let content strategy haunt you

Here’s a haunted house you don’t want to visit this Halloween: one without a plan to scare you! Without a plan, there may be no zombies, no one to transform that old pond into a swamp, and no must-know info on Facebook. Sure, the thought of all those oversights is scary, but the haunted house itself would be a real bummer. Before you get all dressed up, pass out the candy, or take a hay ride, read this reincarnated post by Dave Coriale from exactly two years ago today (October 30, 2013), and dig up the bones of a good content strategy!


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Using Blab to create online community connections

(Everything Else) Permanent link


My first foray onto Blab was for Association Chat, an online conversation that association minds have contributed to every Tuesday at 2 PM Eastern for several years. Previously, participants would join the chat on Twitter (or some Twitter-feed tool) and discuss the topic of the week.

A few weeks ago I joined #assnchat only to receive a friendly Tweet from the host, KiKi L’Italien, to join others on Blab. What was this new medium? I had to check it out—especially if I didn’t want to miss the chat!

For the last several weeks the chat has remained on Blab. The good news is that, although video and livestream add to the experience, it’s not a requirement for all participants. (In fact, only a few people can appear on video at a time.) Camera-shy assnchatters can contribute by typing away in the sidebar and following the conversation, the way one might via Twitter.

Intrigued, I started doing some research on Blab, but didn’t see many examples of associations using it yet. When I approached KiKi about doing an interview on potential uses for Blab, we decided what better way to do the interview than on the platform itself?! In a flash, we jumped on Blab and started the live interview. Surprisingly, some familiar and new faces also joined the chat and we ended up with a richer conversation than I could’ve imagined.

What’s your experience using Blab? Love it or hate, comment below and let us know!

Great leaders are consistently inconsistent

(Everything Else) Permanent link

boy in Lego Star Wars tee pulling little sister

Last Friday, I came across a blog by Jason Evanish on the Leadership Paradox. What is it? Quite simply, Evanish defines it as:

Balancing when to be rigid and when to be flexible.

It struck a chord with me based on my past management experience. Before I joined DelCor, I managed 3 designers: 1 who grew along with the company but was often a naysayer (having endured so much change without being in charge), 1 inherited new hire who was on the verge of being fired, and 1 technically astute designer I hired to replace him when he left voluntarily. Needless to say, I got to practice lots of leadership skills!

My experience in that role was underscored by Evanish’s Leadership Paradox: I had to be consistent to my role, but extremely flexible in how I carried it out with each designer and their individual situations.

The flailing designer could have been saved, so to speak, had he been self-aware and participative in the effort. But he wasn’t willing to be led, managed, mentored, or coached. Lucky for me, his replacement was quite the opposite, and went on to be a star designer in the organization. But the real challenge was working with the veteran designer; it ultimately proved to be incredibly rewarding, because she became a star in her own right, responding to my careful, attentive guidance while helping me become a better leader. I’m a firm believer, based in this experience, that managers should be leaders, and leaders should be coaches and mentors. There’s no one size fits all—leadership is custom fit.

What does Evanish outline as the principles of mastering the Leadership Paradox? He highlights 5 areas to be firmly consistent on—and 5 where leaders should practice flexibility. Take a look at my summaries below. What is most challenging or rewarding for you in the Leadership Paradox?

How and when to be a consistent leader:

  1. Values. Choose ’em wisely and live by ’em. Period.
  2. Lead by example.
  3. Nothing has a bigger impact on culture than the example you set.

  4. Enable professional development for all employees; don’t be distracted by only the top or bottom performers.
  5. Be a coach/mentor/guide—and connect with your staff regularly.
  6. Not taking advantage of the power of one on ones for everyone on your team is a huge loss as these conversations impact their morale, motivation, and quality of their work.

  7. Accountability. Why is this nearly always a negative (even in Evanish’s blog)? Leaders should hold staff accountable for their successes, too. Do successes in your organization end in celebration, then on to the next project? Don’t stop with “cheers.” Are there learning/sharing opportunities? How can successes breed more success, better process, and raise everyone’s performance (not just a glass)?

When is it okay—actually, desirable—to be inconsistent?

  1. Supporting your staff’s growth/advancement is an incredibly individualized effort.
  2. By adapting how you help each person on your team grow, you’ll show you’re invested in their growth and success no matter their goals or circumstances.”

  3. Don’t be a hammer/don’t get into a rut: manage to the individual. A great big duh, yet a reminder for even great leaders.
  4. Here’s the true gem of the entire blog: task-relevant maturity. It’s a concept outlined by Intel co-founder Andrew Grove in his book, High Output Management.
  5. How much experience does a given subordinate have with the specific task at hand? The most effective management style in a specific instance varies from very close to very loose supervision as a subordinate’s task maturity increases.

  6. On the leadership highway, know when to speed up and slow down to support your team in the moment and for the long haul—and don’t overlook recovery time.
  7. Take the time to gauge when you really need to drive hard and when you can treat your work like the paced marathon that work is.

  8. Delegate your best work. Not exactly how Evanish puts it in his blog, but an incredible lesson I learned while earning my master’s in leadership and working in that design team where sharing great work wasn’t the status quo. I can tell you from personal experience that sharing the good stuff is rewarding for both leader and employee. Try it!


Flickr photo by Jessica Lucia

No more bingo: rethink your conference’s mobile app to deepen the attendee-exhibitor experience

(Community, Events, Mobile, Social) Permanent link

Microsoft PDC Bingo Card

The expectations of conference attendees have changed considerably over the last several years. Aside from whether there’s enough food or whether the rooms are too hot or too cold, your association will be on the wrong end of a Tweet storm unless you have the following:

  • wifi with ample bandwidth,
  • plenty of charging stations, and
  • a conference mobile app.

When investing in a conference app, don’t limit the discussion to fancy features and functions. Focus on the value you can deliver with the app to conference attendees and your meeting partners (exhibitors).

If you hope attendees will be more engaged simply because they have a conference app, I have some bad news: having an app in itself doesn’t create engagement. An app with a session schedule, exhibitor guide, and attendee list is convenient and informative, but it’s merely a mobile-friendly version of your conference website—that’s not engaging.

Some associations build a game into the app to encourage expo hall traffic. Attendees get points for visiting booths, like the exhibitor bingo games of days gone by. In the hunt for prizes and a spot on the leaderboard, attendees dash in and out of booths. This superficial experience isn’t going to help the attendee or the exhibitor achieve their real conference goals.

Focus on the value you want to deliver to attendees and exhibitors.

Forget the points and prizes, what can you help attendees achieve at the conference? You can help them:

  • Learn about the services and tools in the marketplace that can help their business thrive.
  • Discover trends and ideas that will help them plan for the future.
  • Develop relationships with exhibitors who can provide information, advice, and second opinions today and in the future.
  • Deepen relationships with existing vendors.

Why do exhibitors—your event partners—invest in your conference? They want to:

  • Gain market intelligence by hearing about attendees’ problems, ideas, and opportunities.
  • Attract new leads.
  • Educate prospects.
  • Nurture existing relationships.

An app, even one with a gamification element, isn’t going to generate the type of booth interaction that will help either attendees or exhibitors achieve these goals. You can have games, check-ins, and prizes galore, but what everyone really wants is a valuable conference experience that extends beyond a few moments at the booth.

Use the app to bring the learning experience into the expo hall.

Your conference app can:

  • Provide a solution that helps both attendees and exhibitors achieve their conference goals.
  • Transform the expo hall into a meaningful and valuable learning experience.

When attendees want to learn more about a topic, make it easy for them to find the experts that can help them. Link conference sessions to appropriate business partners on the expo floor. In the app’s session descriptions, include a list of the exhibitors (and their booth numbers) that work in that session’s topic area. For example, sessions on content strategy would list the booth numbers of exhibiting consulting firms that take on content strategy projects.

Allison Wachter, Director of Exhibitions & Registration for ASAE, explains how this concept comes to life to enrich conference connections:

At ASAE’s December Technology Conference & Expo, we will be using beacons to help link attendees not only to exhibitors that match sessions they attended, but also to other attendees with similar interests. We're excited to roll out this new feature.

If you don’t have the staff resources to take on this project, put the onus on exhibitors to tell you which sessions match their product and/or service specialties.

Reimagine the expo hall. Transform it from a place to go in between sessions to a place for extending the session experience. You’ll provide deeper value for attendees while encouraging more self-qualified traffic for exhibitors. Exhibitors must be ready to provide value to attendees. This opportunity should be used for educating, not giving sales spiels while scanning badges.

Rather than the sterile strip mall-like feel of many exhibit halls, create an expo hall vibe that’s conducive to this type of learning and connecting experience. I recently attended HubSpot’s Inbound conference in Boston, where the expo hall had a lounge vibe instead of the traditional pipe-and-drape look. It was packed with attendees.

Instead of providing the generic mobile experience, use your conference app to further everyone’s objectives—attendees, exhibitors, your association—and make sure the experience is connected end-to-end. You’ll support the goals of those who support your association—your exhibitors—while also helping members deepen their learning and find potential solution partners.

Flickr photo by Joey deVilla

Don’t worry about being like Amazon

(Web, Usability, CMS) Permanent link

In discussions about association websites, someone inevitably brings up the Amazon model, causing this reaction:

We can’t do that on our website; we don’t have Amazon’s budget.

I’m here to set the record straight. You don’t need Amazon’s budget to provide an optimal user experience on your website.

And while we’re on the topic of Amazon’s website, their user experience is not that great. That may surprise you, because as longtime Amazon customers, we know our way around the browsing and purchasing experience. But if you’re a first-time user, you’d find their site cluttered and confusing, full of roadblocks to making a decision and purchasing, such as rows of product recommendations and pre-checked boxes that you need to uncheck. cat

Despite its less-than-optimal user experience, the Amazon website is a trusted online brand and shopping there is easier than the alternative—taking the time to go to a store. That’s why we keep going back.

Have empathy for your website users.

A focus on user experience will help you maintain a visitor- or member-centric point of view. You need to develop empathy for your users, so you can design the best solutions for them.

Here’s a simple empathy test. If you’ve made the decision to not publish staff contact information on your site, think about your reasoning. Is it to prevent staff from having to deal with additional calls and emails? Is that a user-centric point of view? Sometimes a simple change can have a big impact.

Instead of giving each department a navigational tab on your website, think like a website user. Why are they coming to your site? What do they usually come to do or find? Create website categories and navigational tabs based on user behavior, not your organizational chart. Don’t let a siloed culture ruin the user experience.

Pay special attention to business rules.

Business rules usually get in the way of a good user experience. For example, if you want a visitor to fill out a form to download a report, don’t ask for everything you could possibly put in your database. Ask for only what you need at the moment. You’ll have an opportunity to get more data later. The visitor won’t be frustrated, and you’ll have a better starting point for building a relationship and learning more about their website behavior and needs. 

Provide elements of the Amazon user experience.

Amazon is frequently touted as a model website because their user experience does out-perform the typical association website user experience in a few ways.

Mobile experience

When you go to on your phone or tablet, you’re given the option to use the Amazon app instead—a wise option since their mobile site isn’t all that great. You can do better than Amazon by having a mobile-friendly or responsive website.

One-click shopping

If you’re a regular user of Amazon, you can set up your profile so it only takes one click to purchase a product. How many clicks does it take for someone to go from your homepage to completing an event registration or submitting a membership application? Wherever possible, simplify by removing stumbling blocks and speedbumps.


Amazon provides a personalized experience because it stores your search, browsing, and purchasing history. Personalization is a two-way street. Users must be willing to give up information in exchange for a better website experience.

Personalization and customization are often confused. Customization is a user option. For example, on a news website, users can customize their preferences so they only see the breaking news and sports headlines when they land on the site.

Personalization is a website option and goes well beyond a simple “Welcome back, David” message. Personalization delivers smart value to different visitor segments. For example, if you’ve read articles about wheat rust diseases, the website will suggest related content and events in the sidebar.

It doesn’t take an Amazon budget to provide personalized value delivery to your website audiences. To make it happen you only need to put in place a good taxonomy and to define rules in your content management system. Yes, I realize that simple sentence represents a significant level of effort on your part. However, if you want to deliver a great user experience, it takes effort.

So you want to have an Amazon-like association website?

Amazon succeeds because it studies and understands the behavior of its audience. Your association can do the same. Once you understand your target audiences and their needs, interests, and challenges, you can provide a user experience that delivers the value they seek.

Master the digital experience with this free content strategy whitepaper  

Flickr photo by Stephen Woods

With website governance, tough decisions become easier

(Web, Usability, CMS) Permanent link

Mitsubishi Nimbus

Choosing a family car can be complicated, especially when each family member has a strong opinion about what’s best.

Mom wants a model with high gas mileage and a good safety record. As long as it’s not a van. Dad, a.k.a. the shuttle driver, prefers a roomy, easy-to-clean model that can handle their 2 kids, several of their friends, and 2 dogs. And he’s fine with a van. The daughter, a budding adventurer, thinks they should buy a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive with a roof rack and towing ability. The son wants to be connected wherever they travel so he’s pushing for a comfortable, multimedia automobile with wifi.

Who will make the final decision? In this family, the parents will decide. But right now, even they don’t agree. When no one has the final say, moving forward (in any direction) is difficult. Decision-making becomes frustrating. Common goals are ignored.

As a result, the best long-term decisions aren’t always made. It’s not so different at mom’s association office, where the organization’s website has gone wayward.

Ignoring governance has serious consequences.

When no one has ownership of a mission-critical system or project—like restructuring your online presence—authority becomes diffused. Instead of 1 person making decisions based on a documented strategy and governance plan, a staff working group might meet monthly to make decisions. And we all know, ‘management by committee’ never works well in the long term.

Detrimental decisions are made when you don’t have a website strategy and governance plan in place. For example—and this may sound familiar—without a guiding governance plan, departments feel free to post whatever they think is important. The result? Your bloated website provides a confusing desktop user experience and an even worse mobile one.

Without an effective decision-making process based on a website governance plan, you’re unable to rebuff ‘great ideas’ from influential members or those higher up in the office food chain. I recently came upon a website where 1/3 of the home page was dedicated to rotating member, volunteer, and board member spotlights. The association used 1/3 of their prime real estate to please an audience of 3 people (and their mothers).

Enjoying the benefits of a governance plan.

Website governance is a byproduct of content strategy. Components of governance, such as workflow and decision-making policies, are worked out in advance during the content strategy development process.

With governance comes empowerment. Because your governance plan serves as the foundation for decisions about the website, you no longer have to fall for leadership whims like board member spotlights.

With governance also comes responsibility. Someone must have both the authority and accountability for website decisions, for example, the type of content that will be featured on the website or promoted via social media.

Providing a better user experience thanks to governance.

Website decisions shouldn’t be made on the whim of departmental agendas, anecdotal information, or assumptions, no matter how long held they are. Instead, website decisions should be based on user data and aligned with your content strategy.

Website analytics, like traffic reports, help you understand which content is actually being read and downloaded. With that information, you can determine the importance of specific content pieces. You’ll have the proof you need to make tough decisions, for example, which pieces of content it’s time to sunset because either they didn’t provide the assumed value or their value has diminished.

If you’re facing resistance from colleagues about streamlining your website, science has your back. Researchers have found that when people have too many choices, they’re less likely to make any choice. Your content strategy and website analytics will help you decide which content is truly relevant to your audience. Otherwise, your bloated website will stand in the way of members and visitors finding what they need.

Go to your website and look at any page—can you articulate the specific reason each content item is presented there with respect to your organization’s mission, vision, and business objectives? If not, it’s time to work on that or get some help.

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Flickr photo by John Lloyd