Thursday, November 11, 2010

Open Q&A with Open Community Authors: Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant

I’m taking part in the virtual book tour Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. In this post, Maddie and Lindy answer a few questions I asked in my pre-virtual book tour post.

The Burning Questions
1. Why a book and why now?
Lindy: Maddie and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web--from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff (and members!), to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that’s just the beginning. We decided to write Open Community as a way to address those frustrations and redirect the thinking about using social tools to build community online
Maddie: Yes - pretty much everyone has started experimenting with social tools now, it's no longer about answering "why is this important" but "how can we do this better" and "how can we do this strategically."
2. How did you settle upon the topic?
Lindy: Simply put, it's our manifesto. It's what we're all about and why we do what we do. We work to change the way associations think about the social web. It's not about choosing between a Facebook page or a private community site, it's about building the capacity to connect with people on an ever increasing scale. We ask our clients and colleagues to thing strategically about what they want to achieve, how to connect with their community where they're already spending time online, and how to organize and manage the work of building relationships. Then we can start talking about the best tools for specific goals.

3. Have you already thought of a sequel or series? Please dish.
Maddie:  Not specifically, though the thought has crossed my mind to do a second edition with all of the case studies we'll be collecting over the next year or so.  We very consciously did not put any case studies or examples in this book - we wanted people to think more deeply about how their own organization could approach all of the things we talk about. I hear people say all the time, "that wouldn't work for us, our members are different" or "we have a whole internal team of people ready to do this, but we're struggling with juggling existing work, how can we add this to the mix?" - but all associations have a community, everyone needs to figure out how to nurture it (online and offline) in their own ways. It's just too easy for members to go somewhere else if they don't feel heard or cared for.

4. Who are your social media/community influences?  Who are the "gurus" that rub you the wrong way?
Maddie: Ha - for influences, you can take a look at my Twitter "the big league" list...  the people that I deliberately don't follow are those who lead with tools and tactics, and those who say there's "a right way" to do social media.

Lindy: There's a reading list in the book, and endnotes where you can see many of the sources and people who influenced us. I will say, we somehow managed to get a Big Lebowski reference into the book. I'm not sure the Dude is a credible influence, but I take my inspiration wherever I find it.  

Maddie: LOL!  Serendipity is always a valuable thing...
5. The book, the tour, the Kindle version, the...audiobook?  Where are you going from here?
Lindy: We're really working hard to gather stories that support the premises in the book, and you'll see a lot of that on the SocialFishing blog between now and August...and probably beyond. Can't tell you all our super-secret-yet-undefined plans, though. Gotta keep you on your toes!  ;-)

Bonus Points Questions: 
When you started SocialFish, there wasn't anything like it in the association space. You have watched more and more social media consultants/marketing firms/etc come onto the playing field. Has it changed your focus? Would you have done things differently in the beginning?
Lindy: Well, from the very beginning, we've had a core philosophy that social media is about building relationships. And that means that organizations need to build the capacity to do that for themselves, because ultimately, that's what being an association executive is all about. So that focus hasn't changed. We're really happy to see more people providing social media services to the association industry, because that means the market is maturing. We're lucky to have a number of success stories from association clients who have been working with us to organize and scale their social media work. And we have a lot of great relationships with thought leaders in the association space, as well as social media thought leaders who help us constantly learn and evolve as the technology evolves. 
Maddie:  One thing we are doing now that there are more players, is defining more clearly what we do - strategy, internal process infrastructure, training - that is different than a social media marketing company, or a PR agency, or even a community platform vendor who helps with strategy.  We're working on articulating those differences. For example, if an association wants a social media campaign or someone to build a Facebook page for them, we're not the right agency. But if they want to figure out internal structures for social media management, or to develop policies, or to train staff on how to build relationships online all year round, then we can deliver results because that's the work we do every day.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in owning your own business?
Maddie: That being able to make a living from what you love doing and are really, really good at trumps all fears about striking out on your own... and, specifically for our social media strategy work, that it's imperative to be a practitioner, to live what we preach, to show the work it takes to nurture real world communities.
Lindy: Owning this business, in particular, has demanded a lot of experimentation and agility in our thinking. I've learned to recognize when something is not working and change course so that our clients and our business see results. There's a lot of satisfaction in turning a failed attempt into a success. 

What is the number one thing every association needs to have in place when it comes to social media?
Maddie:  Enthusiasm and willingness to build real connections. 
Lindy:  Internet access. ;-) How about we throw that question back out to your readers? Thoughts, gang?

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