Monday, January 5, 2015

When Old Dogs Have to Learn New Tricks

I'm thinking this week about the opening paragraph of this post from the Demand Perspective Blog:

I am sure that hearing references to information technology as something that resides in an entirely different universe from the one the rest of the organization inhabits, is not new to most of us. Technology is the realm of IT departments, social media community managers, web architects and other specialists; a means for process enhancements and delivery; or a nod to the “younger generation” of members--all this without affecting the organization’s way of doing business, thinking, developing products, learning or designing business models. Surely this must be the main reason for many associations lagging behind their markets.

It has special relevance for my own association as we, like many of our sister organizations, have embarked, and are having some difficulty, in launching and moderating an online community for our members.

The difficulty is somewhat understandable because I have imposed a restriction on how we're going about it. We're not going to use LinkedIn or Facebook or one of the other "free" social platforms that are out there. And we're not going to use one of the off-the-shelf products that can be provided by an increasing number of software vendors. We, instead, are going to build and run the community ourselves.

Don't worry. We have some help. We're using Wordpress for the basic structure, and we have a vendor with Wordpress expertise that will be doing the pick and shovel work associated with coding, programming and formatting. But the vendor is taking direction from us, not selling us something that has already been created. All the decisions about what our community is, how it will function, and what services it will provide, will be made by us.

I think this is key. We know our members. We know what is valuable to them and what isn't. We know which are already ahead of us in the "social organization" game, which are wondering how the tools can be leveraged for their business objectives, and which will never come on board, no matter how many tweets we send out.

Social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, and off-the-shelf communities provided by vendors, are both round holes that the square pegs of our knowledge, expectations, and needs are not necessarily going to fit in. I firmly believe that this is one of those situations where we need to learn how to build the house and we plan to invite our members into.

There's been some resistance. People feel that they lack the expertise. That outsourcing is the better way to go. That I'm asking more than should be expected of them.

But here's the thing. And the Demand Perspective post helped me put it into words for perhaps the very first time. Interacting online with our members is going to change the way we do business. It's going to change the way we think, the way we learn, the way we develop products, and the way we design business models.

And these are not the sort of things that we should be outsourcing. If we’re going to create the future, we need to be thinking in the language the future uses, not asking someone smarter, younger, etc. than us to interpret it for us.

Does that mean that some of us old dogs need to learn some new tricks? It sure does.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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