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Communications, Uncategorized

If you’ve ever felt disadvantaged by imperfect knowledge of the events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century; ever been party to a conversation where people of a certain age make knowing reference to mysterious characters and events like the Blake spy case, Profumo, or Keeler; or your shaky grasp of recent history and literature has ever been exposed. Don’t worry, it happens to us all! Right now, earnest pundits who’ve never even cracked the spine of 1984 are referencing doublethink, newspeak, and the Ministry of Truth, in support of their opinions about fake news!  But all is not lost. Here is your chance – through one man’s career – to join up the dots of modern social history.
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At the back-end of 2009 I signed the go-ahead for a CRM system that was going to integrate all my association’s systems, including membership, training, and CPD. By early 2013, when I was ready to leave, we were staggering towards a final conclusion. The project wasn’t a failure, but it had gone over budget, and suffered delays along the way – and still hadn’t won the trust of one or two staff.   We thought we’d done all the right things. We’d used a consultant to define our requirements, bring suppliers to the table, and marshal the contestants in the resulting beauty parade. We’d even read – without really understanding – the inches thick specification documents that landed on our desks with a thud. But, despite all the planning, and spending over a hundred grand, nobody was overjoyed with the result.  
Where had we gone wrong? I was about to find out as Allen Reid, director of client projects at Hart Square ran through the key findings of their study CRM Projects: Why do they succeed or fail? And right from the start one narrative response struck a chord. As one CEO put it, “We resourced it as if we expected the project to be like painting and decorating…..It turned out to be like plumbing, wiring, and putting on a new roof.” If only I’d known!
  Hart Square prides itself on its independent credentials and burning curiosity about what makes things work. So, in an effort to assist those who were “likely to be lumbered with installing a system”, and wanted to “avoid getting shouted at or fired”, Hart Square asked why, given that tech, vendors, and customers have all matured, is the failure rate still greater than in 2001? The simple answer may be that the level of ambition has increased. Organisations want to do more. But how do they avoid future errors? First, Hart Square asked 200 online respondents to tell them about their business, staff, functional areas; what system and how much they paid; how did they prepare; what time, resources and staff did they employ; and did they use consultants to advise them? Then they asked, did they review processes before-hand, and success afterwards? Spend versus budget, time before adoption, benefits, lessons learned, and any regrets were added to the mix.   The results were interesting. Spending varied enormously from eleven percent spending in the £5-10,000 price range to twenty-one percent with budgets in excess of £250k: the majority, or twenty-five percent, spending between £80 and £150,000. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that it was important to spend the right amount of money for the desired results.   Forty percent of respondents rated their experience as a success, thirty-five percent as a failure, and twenty percent as a limited success. Asked if they would choose the same supplier again, forty-six percent said yes, whilst thirty-nine percent gave a negative response.   It was notable that the rate of churn has increased, with systems being replaced every three to four years, compared with a ten to twelve year time lag in the past. Partly due to the constant updating of software, the desire to achieve more, and increased capability. Whist ‘packaged systems’ are staging a fight back, the top selections – dependent on use – are, number one, MS Dynamics, two Salesforce, and three ThankQ.   In general, most projects took one to two years to complete, with some as long as eight years in the pipeline. However, six to twelve month over-runs were a common occurrence, based on the initial delivery date promised. Where failures occurred, some were down to no single cause, but the majority – thirty-one percent – were attributed to the recreation of already inadequate systems and processes existing within the business. Other causes included a lack of clarity about strategy in twenty-nine percent of cases; twenty-four percent who reckoned they had failed to bring people – staff and members – along with them on the journey because of poor take-up, inadequate training, or simple overload; and a relatively modest sixteen percent that failed due to poor or missing technology.   Where organisations were left asking, “Where did all the money go?” the answers were often, budget overspend, conflict, or just misunderstanding!   Of Hart Square’s five key recommendations, there are three ‘do’s’ and one categorical ‘don’t’: do start with yourself, including strategy, processes, budgets, and resources; get help, this is only going to happen once every five – ten years; invest in change, and bring others with you; and do select your partner like choosing a life-partner! Don’t, for whatever reason, focus on technology!Co-sponsors of the event, smartimpact, were on hand – in the form of Nick Rosewall – to take on that penultimate point, selecting partners. Critical of the typical ‘arms-length’ selection process, he advised getting to know suppliers up front, and spending quality time together. Given that the relationship might last for years it is, in his view, critically important for there to be synergy between partners based on an empathetic relationship.   The expectations of members and activists have never been more complex or diverse.  They expect more channels and organisations presume they can achieve more integration. Overall, a dedicated project manager adds about twenty-five percent to the likelihood of success. But what about consultant use?   Can we assume that correlation indicates causation? You’ll have to read the report to get the answer to that question.  But, what’s for sure is that installing a CRM system is about change management: leaving the whole project to the IT department will lead to failure! Written by Michael Hoare

Associations, Uncategorized
The phrase “Mind the Gap” was coined in about 1968 as an automated announcement, after it became impractical for drivers and station attendants to warn passengers verbally on London Underground. Now, minding the gap between customer expectations and our digital performance may not be as devastating as tumbling between a tube train and the platform, but it will have consequences never-the-less.And so it was that Allen Reid, director of client projects, and Simon Pardy, a business consultant at Hart Square gave their early-rising NetXtra Breakfast Club audience a two-handed rendition of the pitfalls. Helping, along the way, to identify approaches to adopting contemporary technology. But first, over to Sarah, the cause of all this angst. Sarah is the average member, and doesn’t care about your departments. She isn’t interested in your data silos, and doesn’t much care about her membership body. She doesn’t like admin; won’t just go to the website; and does NOT want to call you. You, on the other hand, want to talk to her! But she’s busy, and you’re bombarding her with impersonal email messages, texts, and Tweets – particularly when they’re mostly irrelevant to her – simply doesn’t cut it. In-fact they might drive a wedge between you. And pretending to be personal is even worse, as it exposes your lack of authenticity.Sarah has loads of choice, has apps coming out of her ears, and in these economically straightened times may choose not to invest in a membership body that views her simply as a statistic. So why not take a leaf out of the Mumsnet book, or even Coeliac UK, with its scrapbooks, recipes, restaurants, and advice on diagnosis? To succeed, you need to understand your members’ needs and what’s driving them to you. How can you satisfy those needs? Great – maybe crowd sourced – content is good; self-service (for booking, buying, and profile updates) is a must; and, most of all, community. People talking on your site, exchanging news, jobs, and events, add to that feeling of highly personalised communications according Allen and Simon.Next, in a break from tradition, Scott Cole of NetXtra interviewed Rob Ilsley of The Dispute Service (TDS) to extract some important nuggets from their decision to go for CRM. As a government regulated scheme provider that protects over £1 billion in tenant deposits TDS membership is something of a grudge purchase. But with their current systems having grown organically over a number of years, minor tweaks to any process would result in unforeseen chaos further down the line. It was time to act, sweeping away processes that weren’t user friendly and replacing them with a high degree of self service. But only after analysis of the tenant’s role as a customer. The result has been efficiency, cost savings, and a reduction in disputes.Pay per click advertising (PPC), search engine optimisation (SEO), and conversion rate optimisation (CRO) are Tom Bowden’s game at Footprint Digital, and he had everyone on their feet to demonstrate the fact. Measure it – test it, is their mantra, and Tom demonstrated it. Although we may make assumptions about what looks great and is likely to engage our audience, with the benefit of A/B testing partnered with SEO/analytics reporting, we can actually put definable data behind decision making.
So, what did others think? I asked fellow delegate, Dan Nimmo, Communications Manager at the Institute of Biomedical Science, and he told me that, “Having only started as the communications manager at the Institute of Biomedical Science in January, and with no prior experience in membership organisations, the Breakfast Clubs have provided me with a wealth of information and ideas of how to make improvements in our organisation. As well as the steps to overcome some of the problems I have had and can foresee in the future. The June presentations were the second Breakfast Club that I have attended this year and I was pleased that on both occasions the content has been relevant to my role. I also enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the presentations and meeting fellow communications professionals. The added bonus of a fresh cup of coffee and a bacon roll on arrival are also a much appreciated welcome to the day ahead.”
  1. Any stand-out moments?
“Yes, learning about some of the challenges other organisations have overcome and the different ways that they have done this is helpful when I come to plan our communication and engagement strategies. As I am currently looking at ways to improve the user experience of our digital membership platform, I found the ‘Mind the digital gap’ presentation especially rewarding. The idea of personalising the membership area for each member is something that I am going to look into further and the Coeliac example used was very appealing.”
  1. And did the round-table and interview sessions add to your enjoyment?
“I really enjoyed discussing some of the issues in the round table discussion. As someone that is new to my role, I discussed some of the issues that I have faced with the new ideas I am bringing to the role and changes I am beginning to implement. So it was really helpful to hear from other comms staff at my table, who discussed the problems that they have had to overcome in their organisations.”
  1. What will you be able to apply most immediately to your current role?
 “The last presentation on ‘Mind the SEO gap’ was informative and good fun. Although being one of only 3 in the room to pick the first correct answer was a source of pride, although I soon found my short-lived quiz success was over by the next question. The style of the presentation proved a great way to drive home the idea that A/B testing along with SEO/analytics can enable us to make better decisions in our marketing. Something that will come in especially handy to all membership communications teams as we all look to improve on our engagement and better ways to measure it. It also comes at a time when I have been investigating A/B testing to increase our level of open and click through rates in our digital communications to our members.”
  1. See you next time?
“The NetXtra Breakfast Clubs have given me a really useful insight into the membership sector. I am able to take away lots of new ideas for member engagement and it also allows me to network with fellow comms professionals. I look forward to the next event in September!”.
Written by Michael Hoare

Associations, Uncategorized
As recent events – such as allegations of Russian electoral hacking – have proved, the merest hint of uncertainty over the conduct or legality of a selection process can seriously damage the credibility of a ballot in the minds of the voters. Even a whiff of mismanagement will leave a bitter taste of dissent lingering amongst the electorate. Remember George W Bush and his hanging chads!?
Cock-up or conspiracy all become one in the minds of those who have begun to question the validity of the process and therefore the result. History has shown us that governments adopted on the basis of a dubious selection process almost always fail to maintain the trust of the people. Except, of course, for dictatorships, and they just don’t care! So, electing governments is one thing, what about day-to-day decision making?  How many times have you, as a trade association manager, 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 would tow the party line? 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. So, why not limit the risk by asking your members what they really think? Most often, the answer to that question is that to do so would be costly, time consuming, and possibly wasteful. But what if it was none of these? Enter digital democracy!? Under modern government the people elect representatives rather than decide matters directly. The resulting administration may be viewed as more or less democratic depending on how well it represents the will of the people. So, in these terms, digital democracy – where all adult citizens are presumed eligible to participate equally – might be considered an improvement on the democratic process. Or as a remedy to the insular nature, concentrated power, and lack of post-election accountability in a process organized mostly around political parties. And, because the Internet is a primary source of information for many people, it enables citizens to get and post information about politicians, and it in turn allows them to get advice from the electorate in larger numbers. Thus collective judgement and problem solving gives more theoretical power to the citizens and speeds up decision making. So, online voting could be an effective way to reduce an association’s printing costs; provide wider communication choice for members; be more environmentally friendly; and represent members’ views more accurately. 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 its profile and foster engaging discussion with the electorate. But unfettered it can also backfire badly leading to the dissemination of half-truths, falsehoods, and even character assassination. But in a world where interest groups already exert influence via platforms like 38 Degrees, Mumsnet, and Global Citizen, digital democracy has to be about much more than just responding to trends on social media. And there are barriers to voting online, including 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, members may become increasingly comfortable with online voting. And if the effective capture and use of data allows for targeted communications it may also increase the ‘buy-in’ to online polling and elections.
So, where does that leave association and membership management skills? Will there be any further need for judgement and experience once all options can be tested – Swiss style –  by referendum and all decisions can be digitally ‘crowd sourced’?  But, can we really trust the wisdom of crowds to get us through? Are rapid decisions always wise ones? Or, is a wily CEO with his / her ear to the ground still the best barometer of member opinion? Whatever the answers, membership organisations can’t afford to ignore digital democracy. Having long-since sacrificed their role as information gatekeepers, how long will it be before their ability to represent members and influence policy is also side-stepped on the web?
Michael Hoare 2017

Keep those brain cells active! Here are two titles to make you think: keeping you on your toes until we see you again in the New Year! They may not be hot off the press but, taken together, these titles will provide a yuletide feast for the intellect!
The Information First published in Great Britain in 2011, The Information, by James Gleick, is a must read for students of the information age. And by that I mean just about everyone, because information is the life-blood of modern society. Digital, big data, algorithm, and meme are today’s watch words, and Millennials speak of little else, or so we’re told! But neither this generation nor the last invented information. It’s been kicking around since man first learned to grunt: what’s different now are the uses to which we put it.
Gleick’s book is a history of information. But if you think the current cohort was born into an information revolution, think again. Every generation had has its own information revolution building on the last. From the word, to writing; compilation of the first dictionaries to the charting the oceans; and the invention of morse-code, the telegraph, and the telephone. The capture and transmission of information has progressed inexorably through the centuries. There have been paradigm shifts aplenty, but arguably none bigger in the modern era than the invention – within months of each other – of the transistor and the bit. The transistor was the red hot hardware invention of 1948: the bit – defined by Claude Shannon as “A unit for measuring information” – followed close on its heels. Between them both inventions accelerated our understanding and usage of data to warp-speed!   What came next was the rapid advance in computers only dreamed of by Babbage and Turing; the onward march of digital technology; and the dawning of robotics and artificial intelligence that threaten to shape our world for good or ill.
The Internet is NOT the Answer Over the last couple of decades the developed world has enthusiastically embraced the internet as the way forward in both work and business. Many of our predictions for the future of employment are predicated on its existence, and the ordering of society has fallen into step with its demands. Andrew Keen is one of those who questioned this new orthodoxy early on. In his book, The Internet is Not the Answer, first published in paperback in the UK in 2015, he asked us to re-examine some of the unintended consequences of our lemming-like dash online.  As an early adopter and internet entrepreneur he knows of what he speaks.
Keen’s argument was that, ‘rather than creating transparency and openness, the Internet is creating a panopticon of information-gathering and surveillance services in which we, the users of big data networks like Facebook, have been packaged as their all-too-transparent product’. Outcomes – or so his argument ran – included the empowerment of the mob, intolerance, and bullying; the creation of a self-centred culture of voyeurism and narcissism; the enrichment of a tiny self-appointed minority; and the compounding of collective rage. No doubt, when he sat down to write his book, Keen’s views would have been regarded as the doom laden pronouncements of a modern Jeremiah. But the last couple of years have seen a shift in the public mood towards the ‘internet revolution’. The zeitgeist has shifted. Many commentators now cite the Internet’s impact on unemployment, inequality, and ubiquitous surveillance with scepticism. What may once have been regarded as reactionary is the new orthodoxy. Governments the world over are calling time on the wild west of Uber and Airbnb, and starting to question the societal effects of the ‘sharing’ and ‘gig’ economies. Michael Hoare Editor Association News (Edition 249: December 2106) The Information, by James Gleick: published in paperback by Fourth Estate, ISBN 978-0-00-722574-3 The Internet is Not the Answer, Andrew Keen: published by Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1-7239-343-6