Sep 07 2011

Maximize Your Site’s Search Engine Ranking with SEO

In the last few years, search engine optimization (SEO) has become a big business. Site owners are eager to have their sites show up near the top of a user’s Google search results, and there are hundreds of tutorials, how-to guides, and technology companies that aim to achieve this goal. Costs can range from several hundred dollars to price tags in the tens of thousands.

While all websites can benefit from SEO, most associations don’t budget for the practice, and may balk at making the investment. However, there are some simple modifications you can perform that will aid in SEO without breaking the bank.

One of the most effective things you can do to increase your association website’s prominence on the ‘Net is to encourage other sites to link to you. The more sites that are linking to you, the greater chance that Google and the other search engines will rank your site higher. Search engines use algorithms to determine which sites are more ‘relevant’ than others, and the number of direct links from neighboring sites is ranked highly in the mix.

Other no-brainer site upgrades that can raise your site’s search engine visibility is to utilize keywords strategically. Keywords are the words that you think most prospective visitors will be using to search for your site, or for information about your association’s specialty. Placing these keywords in your headings and page titles will further increase their relevance in the eyes of Google.

Finally, a sitemap of your site can help the search engines index your site. A sitemap is simply a page that contains links to all the content that your site has to offer. This can increase the number of your site’s individual pages that are indexed by Google, and have an effect on page ranking.

78 responses so far

Jul 01 2011

Social Media Only Works If You Have Something Relevant to Say

Associations must use three-fold approach to building social media networks: market research/audience definition, message and content development, and platform selection and implementation. Like all communication initiatives, the first step is to define and get to know your audience or audiences. The next step is to craft the proper message or messages. Finally, it comes down to finding the right vehicle to transport those messages, and that’s where social media comes in. Like any other communication tool, the use of social media must be carefully planned and executed for long-term success.

It is important to recognize that, without a robust and well-defined social media strategy, Facebook is just another pretty face. Beauty really is only skin deep—if you have nothing relevant to say, it doesn’t matter how or where you say it.

It is also important that association leaders understand that social media is not one-way communication, and that they must be prepared to relinquish control over the content posted by any given audience using a dynamic social media platform. Associations cannot mandate or manipulate a desired brand image in today’s marketplace like they could in the past. Their members and constituents are communication savvy, and are already using social media tools such as blogs to provide commentary, kudos and complaints instantly and en masse, in ways never before imagined.

70 responses so far

Jun 24 2011

Raising Questions about PAC Fundraising

Advocacy is an important initiative for many associations today, and many 501 (c) 6 organizations have whirlwind romances with their Political Action Committees (PAC)–finding love in funding advocacy initiatives for issues that advance their profession or cause. However, given the complex and confusing legal requirements for operating a PAC, it is definitely worth the investment of time and money to regularly meet with your accountant and your attorney to ensure that you are in compliance with all of the many laws and regulations that can impact the way that PAC fundraising is conducted.

Many organizations fail to recognize that, if they operate an “affiliated” federal PAC, (the PAC is not independent of the organization), they may only be allowed to solicit and receive contributions from their members (not non-members). Further, PACs like these may only be allowed to solicit and receive contributions from individuals, not corporations. And, with this type of PAC, an organization may not be able to use ANY portion of its members’ dues to fund the PAC.

There are also many PAC solicitation disclosures required by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). For example, donors (and potential donors) must be informed that contributions will be used for political purposes—and that they have the right to refuse to donate without any fear of penalty or reprisal. Tax laws also dictate that potential donors be notified that their contribution is not tax deductible for charitable purposes.

Currently, according to the FEC, an affiliated federal PAC may only receive up to $5,000 per individual per year, separate bookkeeping records must be established for a PAC and it must be housed in a separate bank account.

If you are uncertain about the implications of a particular PAC fundraising endeavor, do yourself and your organization a favor and raise your hand, and raise the question—before your fundraiser!

Please note: The content above is disseminated for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Contact your attorney for more information about operating a PAC.

65 responses so far

Jun 17 2011

Disrupt Your Association’s Service Model

It is time to retool antiquated association service models that kill the entrepreneurial spirit and prohibit the agility required to bring innovative and useful products to fast-changing, high-demand markets. In this regard, there is much we can learn from the for-profit start-up about customer-focused product development.

As marketing guru Theodore Leavitt pointed out in his famous 1960 article “Marketing Myopia,” companies and even entire industries are destined to fail when they focus on the needs of the seller rather than the needs of the buyer. Unfortunately many associations also become stuck in this myopic rut.

In their Business 2.0 article, “The Next Disruptors,” Erick Shonfeld and Chris Morrison highlight 10 companies whose innovation may either completely transform existing industries or create new industries altogether. The key things that these firms (which are all very different) have in common is that they have refused to be bound by current industry models and norms, they have considered market gaps as they developed their products, and they all have a customer-focus that allows them to see lucrative business opportunities more clearly.

Many of our associations will be kicking off a new program year very soon—and I suggest that before we do, we scope out the needs of our members, and revamp our products and services using a customer focus, instead of wasting valuable time and energy trying to sell the status quo.

Let’s make a commitment to disrupt our current service models so that we can truly satisfy member needs and far exceed their expectations. Let’s promise to stop developing conference themes and session topics using the same old formulas, repackaging the same tired sponsor benefits, redeploying the same worn-out committee structures, and regurgitating the same redundant newsletter topics.

That is unless of course we can verify that our members truly want old, tired, worn-out and redundant.

73 responses so far

Jun 10 2011

Stop the Value Vacuum from Sucking the Life Out of Your Organization

They torpedo great ideas, foil the best laid plans and, if left unchecked, can undermine entire organizations. We’ve all had to deal with them at one time or another. An employee, board member, or constituent that just doesn’t get it, doesn’t want to get it, and worst of all doesn’t want anyone else to get it.

As association leaders, we are responsible for the culture of our organizations—and it is our duty to protect them from value vacuums. The root of many a morale problem, these menaces go 80 in reverse, blow past “zero value added,” and leave a negative value balance in their wake.

Lazy Lois, Nay Say Nester, Whiney Will, the list goes on and on. The point is that while they may inhabit our environment, there are steps that can (and must) be taken to ensure that value vacuums don’t kill our creativity and prevent the innovation-breeding that will allow our associations to thrive.

Step 1: Starve them. Cut off whatever it is that is feeding their value-sucking behavior from within the organization (could be anything from a gossip mill, to a lack of oversight, to a bad role model). It is much easier to change the environment than to change the personality. Eliminate the opportunity for the behavior to occur and do it quickly.

Step 2: Exercise them. Assign the value vacuum more work–and more meaningful work. This will stop negative behaviors that stem from idle hands or a lack of engagement. Getting value vacuums more involved, encourages them to take more ownership—and can actually turn them into great long-term contributors.

Step 3: Turn up the heat. Demand excellence, positive contributions, and honest effort– and do it through clear expectations, regular follow-up and measured outcomes.

Step 4: Live, recognize and reward value-driven behavior and positive contributions. Easier said than done, but your efforts are doomed if this doesn’t happen and happen consistently.

Step 5: Hold everyone accountable for adding value to the organization. Allowing negative behavior to continue unchallenged is the single most detrimental thing that you can do to your organization’s culture. Every employee, member and leader must take responsibility for contributing to the success of the association. Hold everyone accountable and encourage them to hold each other accountable as well.

It is important to recognize the substantial negative impact that a single value vacuum can have on your organization. If you are unable to stop the value vacuum from sucking, it may be best to unplug it altogether—sever the relationship for the good of the association.

89 responses so far

Jun 03 2011

Build to Suit:Redesign Membership Benefits, Structures to Fortify Your Association’s Future

Associations that continue to rely on membership structures and benefits of days gone by will be unable to attract and retain members in the marketplace of the future.

Although people still join professional societies for the same fundamental reasons as they always have– to network with peers, to receive education and to elevate their professions–they now have very different and far-flung expectations about what networking, education and professional elevation entails. Members are crying out for change–and associations that expect to succeed in the future are going to have to bring it.

Today’s association consumers demand more customized services and less restrictive membership benefits than ever before–and they are increasingly evaluating membership opportunities with a shop-around mentality. We, as association leaders, need to blow up existing benefit boxes, trade in our “way-we’ve-always-done-it” mindset, and take a hard look at the way we do business with our members.

Gone are the days where an annual conference and a quarterly newsletter are enough. Make no mistake, members still want those things–but they also want tele/video-conferencing programs, webinars, listserves, blogs, podcasts, e-forums, regional face to face meetings, issue briefs, or some combination thereof! Members now desire flexible membership structures (and fees) with customized benefit packages that allow them to pick and choose who, what, where, when and how they relate to and within the organization.

Members are no longer satisfied with information exchanges–it’s all about knowledge transfer. Welcome to the 21st century value proposition where membership growth will be reserved for associations that can adapt to changing member needs, deliver meaningful opportunities for member engagement and provide access to critical knowledge.

68 responses so far

May 27 2011

Palm Reading Popular Among Etiquette Illiterate

When was the last time that you attended a meeting? Okay, when was the last time that you attended a meeting without attending to your iPhone, Palm Pilot, Blackberry, Blackjack, or some other personal digital assistant (PDA)?

Too many people these days are engaging in public displays of affection (also PDA) with their PDAs instead of engaging in conversations with the people seated right next to them. When did it become acceptable to read e-mail during someone’s presentation or an awards dinner or a round table discussion?

I see them with their heads bowed, a congregation of etiquette illiterate. Are they reading their Palms or praying to the instant “gratificommunication” gods, thanking them for the ability to do so many things at once and cursing them for not being able to do them faster? Multitasking in this way isn’t just inefficient; it’s also rude.

Do we really have so little to gain by paying attention to the people we’re with and so much to lose by ignoring the people on the other end of the gadgets? And if so, what does that say about us?

77 responses so far

May 20 2011

Buzzword BINGO B-9, a Clichéd Existence Malignant

Buzzword BINGO (and its more infamous alter ego) has been around longer than the office water cooler. This amusing pastime, frequently played during “bored” meetings and strategic planning sessions, makes light of the dim lingo that punctuates the copycat business mantra practiced by many organizations.

Do actions really speak louder than words? Or do our words and actions equally testify about our association’s culture, creativity and competency? As I listen to the reheated, regurgitated tripe that seasons so many conversations today, I can’t help but look inward at my own shortcomings in the area of organizational speak and wonder what do my words say about the organizations that I represent?

In fact, as I was thinking outside the box during an off-line conversation with some cutting-edge thought leaders, I realized that we need to eat our own dog food in order to make our organization more robust, so that we can leverage our resources and go after some low-hanging fruit.

Sure it’s like herding cats but there is a huge return on investment. So here’s to brainstorming, team-building, and 360-degree feedback…it’s this kind of bottom-up thinking that can really produce a much needed “Wow factor.”

What I’ve learned is that at the end of the day, I am as guilty of spouting overused jargon as the next person–and that I can’t truly walk the talk until I learn to talk the walk. Can we really transform our organizations through the language that we choose? I don’t know, but I for one am going to exchange my bingo card for a thesaurus.

65 responses so far

May 13 2011

The Prevalence of Digital Plagiarism—Protecting Yourself from Dot Common Thieves

Associations have embraced Web 2.0—and its ability to ratchet up online collaboration, dialogue and the capture of multiple viewpoints.

A well-designed, content-rich website is now essential in order articulate the unique vision, initiatives and services that will engage potential members and constituents. But it goes much further. Blogs, wikis, chat rooms, and other social capabilities have changed the way that we pull information from members—and the way that we push information to the public.

With increased knowledge transfer capabilities and instant content delivery systems also comes the increased risk of the inappropriate use of organization-originated information. Today, many associations are being forced into battle alongside their corporate counterparts for the sanctity and security of their intellectual property. Digital plagiarism is becoming an increasing phenomenon—and associations are not immune!

Plagiarism is illegal, unethical and immoral—and people are taking notice, taking issue and taking action to address the misuse of web content in the digital world. Few take comfort in the fact that while the bad guys can copy their content, the bad guys cannot duplicate their culture or commitment—that actions speak for themselves—and they speak louder than any false echo.

While it is very difficult to police and prosecute content plagiarism in the digital world, there are some resources that can help.

Even if mimicry is the highest form of flattery, there is nothing more frustrating than creating a comprehensive online resource for your members only to have much of the content snatched and pasted by a competing organization. Please give a shout out if you have any additional resources to share here—or if your organization has faced this issue personally.

Meanwhile, for more information about online intellectual property and copyright issues visit www.copyright.gov.

64 responses so far

May 06 2011

AMCs Turnover a New Leave

Many of today’s association management companies are trying to sell practices, processes and procedures. What they don’t realize is that most of their clients are looking to buy people. This is the reason that there are disconnects between clients and practice owners—disconnects that lead to scope creep and dissatisfaction—disconnects that have to be addressed for the success of both organizations.

AMCs, like other service providers, are only as good as the people that they employ—and unfortunately, when key employees walk out the door, key clients are likely to follow. Most AMCs go to great lengths to find talented, capable employees. The problem is that oftentimes they don’t do enough to keep them.

There are some key questions that AMC owners should ask themselves about the way that they treat high performers:

1. Have I been upfront with my employees about their roles, responsibilities, duties—and expectations, incentives and rewards?

2. Am I providing ongoing professional development and mentoring opportunities for my employees—and do these initiatives lead to meaningful employee growth and promotion?

3. Do I know the difference between longevity and loyalty, and do I reward employees accordingly?

4. Do I have the moxie to eliminate problem employees before they become the toxic element that lowers overall staff morale?

5. Do my actions reflect a service orientation, and are employees encouraged to go above and beyond?

The human element is the single most critical factor in the success or failure of our businesses. If we cannot answer yes to all of these questions, then we should really rethink our ability to operate a successful AMC.

AMC owners have historically reasoned that employees should not become too closely tied to the client, despite the fact that employees who are heavily engaged in serving their clients are less likely to quit. We need to rethink the model—in order to provide model service. After all, a certain amount of employee turnover should be expected, but employee rollover shouldn’t.

67 responses so far

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