The primary goal behind ASAE and The Center’s social media strategy is “to be the laboratory,” says Peter Hutchins, vice president of knowledge initiatives with the Washington, D.C.–based association for association executives. “We use the tools first so our members can get an idea of what they can offer. We work out the details so they can learn from our experiences before rolling it out themselves.”

Among the long-standing tools in ASAE’s laboratory are its blog, Acronym (started in 2006), and its Associapedia wiki, along with several listservs for its various special interest groups and some forays into YouTube and Flickr. It also has offered a “rate and review” function for almost all of its content for several years now, says Hutchins. In August 2008, the organization started using the microblogging tool Twitter, and in rapid succession it jumped into Facebook and LinkedIn. This year, ASAE pulled all the various social media for its annual meeting in Toronto into one place, called The Hub.

Managing the Media

That’s a lot of social media to track. Hutchins says the organization uses a decentralized management model to ensure that someone is monitoring all the channels. For example, he says, “When we’re adding to a Twitter stream, we have four or five staff working on it at any point in time.” If they’re tweeting about the annual meeting, those staff could include someone from marketing, someone who covers the knowledge and content side, an exhibit manager, and someone from membership.

Measuring the Results

While social media is an inexact science and most of the tools do not have the type of analytics tracking available to most conventional Web sites, ASAE does try to measure the results of its social-media efforts. It includes questions about social media on the conference evaluation form, and this year it announced some sessions only through a social-media outlet. “When people showed up for those sessions, it was clear that at least some percentage of our overall community was paying attention to it.”

Bring Them Back Home

“Our goal is not to drive people to Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn,” says Hutchins. “Our goal is to use Twitter or other tools to reach out to a specific market. We don’t want people to think of Facebook or LinkedIn as the home place for members in terms of what ASAE and The Center has to offer. We are cautious to create those sites to be funnels to bring people back to the core ASAE site, because that’s the only place we can monetize the relationship and learn from it.”

One way ASAE and The Center is doing that is to bring all its social-media streams back to its core site on The Hub page, which features the Twitter stream marked with the #asae09 hashtag (the identifier for all tweets related to the meeting), YouTube videos, Flickr photos taken by staff and attendees, and blogs by both staff and member bloggers who post about their experiences at this year’s meeting. “Social media is very good about giving you free tools you can bring back to your site through a widget, so you’re not leaving all the discussion on the social-media site. If your members don’t want to be on Twitter, they don’t have to be. You can bring the Twitter stream to them.”

Enough About the Room Temperature

What if all that people want to tweet about is their immediate complaints? That’s OK, says Hutchins, because it allows staff to go fix the thermostat right away, or bring more chairs if a session is standing room only, instead of hearing about problems after the session is over.

Once people get familiar with the tools, the conversation does tend to deepen, ASAE has found. While it set up a Twitter hashtag for its 2008 annual meeting, it wasn’t until ASAE’s Great Ideas conference in February that attendees used the tool in a more meaningful way. “It was less about the novelty of it, less about ‘I’m having coffee now,’ and more about the meat of the sessions,” says Hutchins. Attendees could relay questions back and forth between speakers and nonattendees, “which opened our eyes about what we would have to do to facilitate it better in the future, because it became clear we were serving not just the people who were there, but also people who weren’t there. We got a lot of positive buzz from it once the Twitter use was pushed from ‘useful’ to ‘interesting.’”