Challenge Your Association: Three Ways To Aim Higher in 2014

Shake off that holiday dust; you've got a new year in front of you. Your association can do a lot this year with its online presence and tech infrastructure; you just need to get yourself in the mode for a challenge. Check out my ideas to get you going.

Shake off that holiday dust; you’ve got a new year in front of you. Your association can do a lot this year with its online presence and tech infrastructure—you just need to get yourself in the mode for a challenge. Check out these ideas to get you going.

This is my first column of the year, but I promise I’m not going to tell you to lose weight.

You don’t need another resolution that you’re not going to keep, so I’m not going to offer any. Rather, you need a challenge, a goal, a next step to look up to. Something you can plan for and structure around. Something that won’t be forgotten in a week, but doesn’t sound nearly so trite as to seem unattainable.

Your association needs a challenge—a goal you may not reach tomorrow or even in the next month, but something you can focus on and build toward. I don’t mean to suggest any of these things will be easy, but—who knows?—maybe you’ll amaze yourself.

So read on, and you might feel inspired.

1. Aim for Infrastructure Flexibility

Love or hate the Chromebook (I personally fall in the “love” category), it’s a signifier of how flexible our systems need to become.

Fact is, average users no longer need a full-fledged computer to do their job. All they really, truly need is an internet connection and a web browser. The Chromebook, which saw a big surge in market share during 2013, has a lot of the stuff the average user needs at a smaller price than much of its competition. (It was already getting some enterprise love earlier in the year, too.)

It doesn’t need a big hard drive; it has the cloud. It doesn’t need apps; it has a browser, which is where your workers probably spend a lot of their time now anyway. It doesn’t need Microsoft Office; Google Apps is a great replacement. The Chromebook doesn’t do everything, but the things it does, it does really well.

The lesson the Chromebook teaches us is one about paradigm. Ultimately, the operating system shouldn’t matter—as long as your employees can plug into the same websites and send the same documents as everyone else. We should accommodate for a world where employees don’t need Windows boxes or even MacBooks to get things done. The Chromebook’s rise, much like that of the iPad, shows that the platform matters less than the results.

The onus is on the IT department to make this all work, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. But the benefits are clear.

You put all this work into effectively positioning yourself in the market. Why not do the same in the App Store?

2. Don’t Make the Same App as Everyone Else

So you have an app. Awesome.

But don’t think that gets you off the hook. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, mobile is simply a fact of life now. Which means you need to be there, yes. But that doesn’t mean that creating a variation of the same app everyone else has is the way to go. That’s how you get buried in a folder, never to be seen again. Instead, think about doing something different with the concept so you stand out.

Yahoo’s recently refreshed Yahoo Sports app is a good example of this in action. Rather than create an app that focuses on game highlights—which is what everyone else in the space is doing—they took a cue from a more under-the-radar trend happening right now: the rise of animated GIFs, which fit well with the awkward movements and big moments of many sports. Deadspin, for example, has a guy who spends his days finding and creating them—complete with an epic multiscreen setup fit for a stockbroker—but they’re hard for the average person to find, let alone make.

What Yahoo did is it built a new feature in its iOS app called Loops that simplifies the process of finding, modifying, and sharing these moments. The reviews? Breathless. Yahoo could simply have tried to do what ESPN was doing, but instead it found a way to mix Vine and the SportsCenter blooper reel. Genius.

Simply put, if you want to stand out with your app offerings, do the research to find these openings and cultural trends and make hay with them. This takes effort, but the payoff will show.

You put all this work into effectively positioning yourself in the market. Why not do the same in the App Store?

3. Get Your CEO a Social Presence

I’ve talked about this a few times, but here it is again: There’s a huge upside to getting your CEO on social media—in his or her own voice. It may not be possible (you may have to settle for a CEO who is simply supportive of your social efforts), but there’s much room for great results.

One of the more inspiring sessions I witnessed at last month’s ASAE Technology Conference & Expo was “Lead Your Way to a Social Organization,” which covered this very issue. Consultant Jamie Notter made some great points about how tweets about mundane things help inspire not-so-mundane changes in social infrastructure. (He later wrote a blog post to this effect.)

But what was really cool was that the session had one of these mysterious social CEOs in the flesh. Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants CEO Tom Hood has invested much of his time into using social media to increase his organization’s influence (using, crazy as it sounds, Second Life as a starting point), and he’s a very active blogger and tweeter with a ton of smart stuff to say.

And the results speak for themselves: As Hood noted during his session, his organization has a much larger reach than its membership might suggest, and its influence reaches way past Maryland.

There’s no reason that can’t be your organization. But it requires a mindset that’s willing to adapt, and one that isn’t focused on using social as a form of corporate-speak. Nobody wants to talk to a robot, sure, but nobody wants to talk to a human pretending to be a robot, either.

Anyway, you still have a good 51 weeks to get on top of all this. Any big-picture goals you plan to jump on this year? Let’s have a good chat in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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