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Every trade association or membership organisation should have a social media presence, right? Yes, but think hard before leaping in! It’s not something to be tackled halfheartedly, so be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and have the right resources – human and financial – at your disposal.

Nuffield Type Writer 1.1

As a former trade association CEO, if my inbox is anything to go by, some of the most hyped training courses are about getting the most out of social networking. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t get an invitation to attend a course where I will learn about the effective use of the Internet and social media to drive business growth. The idea being to harness Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, and others to drive sales.

There is anecdotal evidence that it works. Contrary to tradition, and In a reversal of their usual approach of shouting about the unique benefits of their product in the hope of snagging customers who are ready to buy, some companies are trying to build a community of interest around their activities and employing engagement marketing to bring customers to them. It is one stage on from transactional marketing and it clearly works for those companies that have employed it to best advantage.

But will it work for membership organisations? The key words, of course, are ‘community of interest’; or the people who buy into the ideas, brand, or lifestyle that is being promulgated, or share the same beliefs as those doing the talking. It’s the basis on which all membership bodies work, so the concept is not new, it’s just the method used to achieve your objective. For instance, back in the olden days, retailers had local high street shops, and they developed a community of interest by talking to their customers and understanding their lives and needs. Membership bodies did the same using print media, social events, and meetings. But now, because we enjoy less personal contact, and a businesses’ ‘community’ may be flung far and wide, we need to use new tools to achieve the same ends, so social media appears ideal.

But beware! What might seem at first glance to be a cheap and cheerful marketing tool – beloved of trade associations – may swiftly become an albatross around your neck if you don’t have the resources to see it through? And by that I don’t just mean money! Before membership bodies take the leap they should be mindful of some of the pitfalls.  Because, once committed, there is no going back!

The Internet is not the sole preserve of the young, but it’s a fact that having been brought up in a computer based environment they take more readily to the medium. The age of your target ‘community’ will influence your tone and how you communicate, but don’t imagine you can just hire a ‘youngster’ and let them get on with it! Plus, social media sites aren’t a broadcast medium. The traffic isn’t all one way and they rely on action and reaction; developing a conversation over time. So, ask yourself, can you develop an enduring narrative; are you comfortable writing persuasive informal text; and can you keep it up day after day and night after night. Considering the websites I’ve seen that haven’t been updated since the year dot, and the lamentable rubbish I’ve read online, the evidence isn’t looking too good!

Consider the amount of precious time consumed just reacting to your email inbox, and the time commitment is pretty clear! And have you, personally, got heaps of sparkling ideas with which to entice your eager waiting community? Describing your breakfast every day simply won’t cut it – unless you own a café – and what happens when you want to take a break? Going silent for a fortnight isn’t an option, so without help you can wave goodbye to uninterrupted holidays, your life will never be your own again.

So, the tools may be free but the content isn’t. It takes resources – both human and financial – to develop engaging content, and there can be reputational risks too! It’s all well and good when your community loves you, your ideas, service and product. What happens when they don’t? Or, more likely, when a vocal minority, or a disgruntled customer doesn’t! An old customer service mantra used to run something like, ‘a happy customer will tell his best friend and an unhappy one will tell everyone’. That was in the days of neighbourhood gossip, today the Internet has given rumour an exponential boost. Just look at current world events to see the power of social networks and the inherent risk if they disseminate unfettered and un-moderated comments.

But these aren’t reasons not to proceed, just why you mustn’t assume social media is a cheap option that can be easily delegated. It requires, clear objectives, defined resources, excellent content, measurement and management. And, once you commit to the process, you’d you better get your running shoes on to keep up with the ‘next big thing’. Because as surely as night follows day, when the pioneers and acolytes of social networking realise that their chosen medium has been debased by cynics, they will move on faster than you can say Twitter. With effectively half the UK population having an account, Facebook is now arguably mainstream, and the corollary of that is that it’s no longer ‘cool’ for the younger generation – and probably hasn’t been for a couple of years at least. I guess that’s what we call progress folks!

But, with a little bit of help, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Michael Hoare


A couple of weeks ago I wrote (Wait for it…wait for it!) about the  adrenaline kick from the instant gratification provided by shopping; remarking that we need look no further than the hysteria generated by Black Friday discounts as an example of retailers harnessing this effect to their advantage.  I went so far  as to suggest that retailers’ USPs might soon include ‘best fist fight in pursuit of a bargain’, or ‘best Black Friday riot’. Little did I think I might be predicting the future, or that 99p Stores would be so far ahead of the curve. But then in last Wednesday’s Guardian newspaper there appeared the headline, ‘Police called to quell riot as 99p store halts sale‘. 

sale bannerApparently police were called to a 99p Store in Wrexham, north Wales, after crowds flocked to a half-price sale, enticed by posters offering everything for 50p! But trouble flared when shoppers laden with cleaning products, toilet rolls, crisps and drinks, were told the sale was over – and everything was again 99p – as they queued to pay. Bedlam ensued, and the shop had to be closed when shoppers refused to leave, but no arrests were made.

Now, giving shoppers a thrill is one thing, but the roller coaster emotions engendered by a ‘now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t’ sale are taking it a bit too far don’t you think? And just how have we got to such a sorry state that a sale in a 99p shop generates this much excitement? It’s made me think though. I was always against moving police stations – and even courts – into retail premises to save money. But now – if we’re regularly going to experience ‘shopping-as-soap-opera’ – I’m not so sure! Shop, arrest, court, all in one place is so much more efficient. Or is this what they meant by bringing drama back to the high street. What do you think?

Michael Hoare


Thirteen million people are believed to live below the poverty line in the UK. Rising costs of food and fuel combined with static incomes, high unemployment, and changes to benefits are causing more and more people to seek help with their basic needs.

Food banks are one answer, and with almost 400 already launched, the Trussell Trust is one of the biggest providers. Its aim is to open one in every town; providing those who are referred to them in crisis with a minimum of three days emergency food. But for all their good intentions charity food banks can only provide a temporary sticking plaster. Now there is another contender gearing up to supply the poor!

Just before Christmas Britain’s first “social supermarket” opened its doors, offering shoppers on the verge of food poverty the chance to buy their supplies at up to 70% less than normal high-street prices. If successful, the Community Shop, in Goldthorpe, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, could be replicated elsewhere in Britain. It is reportedly backed by retailers, manufacturers, and brands like Asda, Morrison’s, Co-operative Food, M&S, Tesco, Mondelez, Ocado, Tetley, Young’s, and Müller.

Community Shop is a subsidiary of Company Shop, Britain’s largest commercial re-distributor of surplus food and goods, which works with retailers and manufacturers to liquidate their mistakes. Selling on residual products, such as those with damaged packaging or incorrect labelling, to membership-only staff shops in factories. The new project goes one step further, located in the community for the first time and also matching surplus food with social need.

Goldthorpe is an area of social deprivation and membership of the pilot store will be restricted to people living in a specific local postcode area who also get welfare support. Community Shop customers will not only get access to cheaper food, but will also be offered programmes of wider social and financial support, such as debt advice, cookery skills and home budgeting.

Should the pilot prove successful and sustainable, Community Shops will open in London and elsewhere next year. However, not all commentators welcome the move. Some, whilst conceding that the scheme offers access to cheap food without the humiliation associated with using food banks, suggest this is just the thin end of the wedge. The introduction to society of ‘second class citizen shopping’, and providing retailers with a positive message with which to divert lingering criticism of food waste are just two of the accusations levelled at Community shops.

In the USA, about 1 in 7 Americans receive food stamps – vouchers exchanged at specified stores – to supplement their low-income. Critics of Community Shops have voiced concerns that they are simply a covert way of introducing something similar in the UK. As one blogger put it, “It is still a division of classes, the haves and the have-nots. There would be riots if food stamps were issued in this country, this is why these stores are being introduced. Slowly and surely they will spread and when there is one in every poor community, vouchers for these stores will begin to replace some benefit payments.”

It is early days for the Goldthorpe shop, and the jury is still out on this particular initiative. But with food adulteration stories reaching the press, one can’t help wondering just what kind of damaged or incorrectly labelled foodstuffs are going to be foisted on the long-suffering shoppers, who in return could potentially have to endure ‘good advice’ on cooking, budgeting, and debt. Whatever the rights and wrongs, isn’t there just a hint of Victorian style philanthropy about all this?


Running anything – let alone a trade association – is never easy, but to do it with your head buried in the sand requires not only a certain level of athletic ability but also a facility for decision making without the benefit of evidence and information. Risky, one might think, but plenty of association CEOs are choosing to adopt this position when it comes to the government’s upcoming changes to pensions. Lulled into a false sense of security by the phasing in of ‘Auto-enrolment’, many employers have assumed that it will be ages before the rules are applied to them; that they are too small to be affected; or the rules will suddenly and magically disappear!

The reality is of course that none of the above is true, and that the changes affect all workers including full-time, part-time, agency, zero-hours, offshore – even possibly contractors on the payroll – aged between twenty-two and the state pension age. In other words, an awful lot of people, as IofAM members who attended the Association’s latest seminar recently found out. On hand to give them the bad news was Mark Stevens, an employee benefits consultant with Close Brothers, a specialist financial services group with expertise in banking, securities, and asset management.

The changes came about as the result of the realisation that the ratio of working people to pensioners fell from 10:1 in 1901, to 4:1 in 2005, and looks set diminish to 2:1 by 2050, according to estimates from the Department of Work and Pensions. The alarm having been raised, Lord Turner, Chair of the Pensions Commission 2003-2006, set out the new ground rules, which included a fairer and more generous State Pension; low cost pension aimed at low-to-moderate earners; automatic enrolment into workplace pension schemes; and compulsory minimum employer and employee contributions.

All well and good, you might think, but even the Pensions Regulator is quoted as saying ”Employers should be under no illusion: implementing auto enrolment will take time, including assessing the suitability of their existing pensions arrangements or choosing a scheme, and adapting their payroll, HR, pensions and IT systems” – and that was in December 2011! The fundamental message is that there will be no escape from the 270 pages of legislation, and that all employers will have to comply between now and 2016. And if you think that’s a long way off, think again, as most IofAM members will have to comply within 12-18 months! Not only that, but they will come under increasing pressure from their own members to provide them with advice and guidance as the deadlines draw closer.

Finally, if nothing else convinces you that it’s time to take advice, then a quick look at the penalties for non-compliance will surely do the trick. An infringement at stage two of the process can incur a fixed penalty of £400 – a wake-up call for the unwary – whereas daily penalties escalate from £50 – £10,000 for serious and persistent offenders, dependent on the number of employees. But, if you still want to go it alone, it’s time to get stuck in. The first step is to collect complete and accurate data; assess your workforce; model the financial impact; and then establish a qualifying Workplace Pension Scheme. Then you can move on to assess payroll processes and functionality, review the market, and select appropriate technology solution(s). After that it’s just a case of communicating compliantly; continually assessing your workers; managing Opt-in/Opt-out; and maintaining you record keeping. Easy!

The Institute of Association Management (IofAM) is an independent professional body made up of managers and senior staff responsible for the management, development and governance of trade bodies, professional institutes, societies, chambers of commerce, voluntary organisations, charities and other representative groups. The purpose of the Institute is to develop, promote and share best practice for the benefit of IofAM members and all those involved in the governance of associations. To achieve its objectives, the IofAM offers a forum for education, training and development, dissemination of information, networking, and research.


As a trade association manager, how many times have you been asked your membership’s view on a particular issue, policy, or piece of legislation, only to realise that you are completely in the dark? And, in all honesty, how many times have you responded to such an enquiry – possibly from the press – with your own best guess; hoping that the majority will tow the party line and follow you over the barricades into the thick of battle? We’ve all done it, and because we’re all seasoned campaigners – with our ears to the ground – we generally get away with it. But what if your judgement call goes awry? Second guessing the mood of your constituency is a risky business, and careers can be seriously dented by getting it wrong. Why not limit the risk by asking your members what they really think? The answer to that question is that to do so would be costly, time-consuming, and wasteful. But what if it was none of these? Enter the Digital Democracy!

Recently, during a fascinating IofAM instigated discussion, which utilised SMARTvote devices to take quick polls from the floor and encourage discussion around various points in their presentation Luke Ashby and Munni Musa from Electoral Reform Services (ERS) asked delegates to consider if digital technology could be applied to democracy. Along the way they demonstrated that online voting is an effective way to reduce an association’s printing costs, provide wider communication choice for members and be more environmentally friendly.

However, not everybody is comfortable with computers and it is vital in a democracy to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised: the right mix of communication methods need to be employed. Maximising communications and using social media within an election context is a powerful way to raise the profile of an election and foster engaging discussion with the electorate. Digital democracy is about much more than just social media, however. For example, the effective capture and use of data allows for targeted communications and buy- in to cost saving online elections.

The discussion also focussed on other barriers to voting online. These include lack of trust in the security of the process; technophobia; and voter fatigue or cynicism. However, as more commercial transactions take place digitally, and security improves, electorates are becoming increasingly comfortable with online voting. And this might be just the opportunity to learn what they really think!

Electoral Reform Services are the UK’s leading independent supplier of ballot and election services, whose expertise is recognised worldwide as independent scrutineers of voting as authorised by Parliament. Working for not-for-profit organisations and government bodies, typical assignments include leadership or board elections, proxy voting, independent scrutiny of AGMs, membership votes, employee representative elections, housing ballots, referendums, and elections of pension scheme trustees, board of governor elections, community consultations and independent audience vote verification.

The Institute of Association Management (IofAM) is an independent professional body made up of managers and senior staff responsible for the management, development and governance of trade bodies, professional institutes, societies, chambers of commerce, voluntary organisations, charities and other representative groups. The purpose of the Institute is to develop, promote and share best practice for the benefit of IofAM members and all those involved in the governance of associations. To achieve its objectives, the IofAM offers a forum for education, training and development, dissemination of information, networking, and research.


sale bannerLong ago, I, like most well brought up children was taught that the satisfaction of acquisition was made all the sweeter if you had to wait for it. It was called deferred gratification. Toys, meals, a new bike, all would be much better if you could only exercise enough self-control to wait a little bit longer. It went hand in hand with having the discipline to buy things only when you had saved up the money. It may have been a hangover from the rationing of the war years, or it may just have been a way of fobbing kids off. Whatever the reason, my generation spent ages staring in shop windows or flicking through catalogues lusting after things we one day hoped to own, and all the time saving our pennies.

Today, instant credit and infinite choice brings everything within easy reach, and traders pander to our every whim. But who would have thought that instant gratification would become the new secret weapon of bricks and mortar retailers in their fight back against the online scourge? Now, according to an article in esciencenews, a new study from Columbia Business School, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, finds that the positive feelings consumers experience when receiving a discounted price fades dramatically if the consumer is then forced to wait for the product. “This might spell trouble for online retailers like Amazon that offer discounted items and then force consumers to wait for the product,” said Columbia Business School’s Associate Professor of Marketing Leonard Lee, who performed the research with Rotman School of Management’s Associate Professor of Marketing Claire Tsai. “Our research shows that even if the wait is relatively short — as little as 15 minutes — the consumer’s enjoyment of the product decreases dramatically.”

Lee continued: “Keeping in mind that instant gratification has become a hallmark of society, brick and mortar businesses can add value to their bottom lines by offering in-store promotions on the products they know people want to experience immediately rather than waiting for delivery. This is a key competitive advantage they could have over online retailers and one that might secure their long-term survival in an expanding online marketplace.”

The research titled, How Price Promotions Influence Post-Purchase Consumption Experience over Time, defies long-standing conventional wisdom that discounts cause consumers to enjoy products even more. For concrete proof that instant gratification gives an extra adrenaline kick we need look no further than the hysteria generated in response to so called Black Friday discounts. One disgruntled ASDA shopper was reportedly wrestled to the ground before being led away in handcuffs by police when he didn’t get to buy two cut-price tellies. While elsewhere a stampeding queue of shoppers allegedly broke an elderly woman’s arm.

Whatever next? Will retailers’ USPs soon include ‘best fist fight in pursuit of a bargain’, or ‘best Black Friday riot’?