Great quote from Andy Powell, in this blogpost. The quote is about CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) but could equally well be referring to any membership society
Asking “how should CILIP use Web 2.0 to engage with its members?” ignores the more fundamental question, “what is the role of an organisation like CILIP in a Web 2.0 world?”. It’s a bit like asking an independent high-street bookshop to think about how it uses Web 2.0 to engage with its customers, ignoring that fact that Amazon might well have just trashed its business model entirely!
The business model of the large UK membership societies is that in return for a membership fee they will provide exclusive access to news, information resources and networking opportunities. This was tenable in the days before web 2.0 when news, information resources and networking opportunities were scare resources. But in the web 2.0 world all three are becoming abundant and free.
It is a triple whammy. The web 2.0 world is exposing weaknesses in the business model of membership societies. Their business model is making it hard for membership societies to grasp the opportunities that are open to them in the web 2.0 world. The web 2.0 world makes it possible for professionals to organise themselves in new ways – and is throwing up alternatives to the traditional membership society model.
The time was when the only way that you could keep up with news and opinions from a profession was through the relevent membership society’s newsletter/bulletin/journal. Now the fastest and best way of obtaining news is to follow the contributions of fellow professions to blogs, on-line forums, mailing lists, twitter, Linkedin groups, facebook groups etc. Time was when to get your writing published you had to go through your membership society’s newsletter/bulletin/journal. Now you can publish yourself.
The web 2.0 world provides opportunities as well as threats to membership societies. The main asset of membership societies is their members. The web 2.0 world offers membership societies the opportunity to become a showcase for the expertise of their members and of the profession as a whole. By facilitating, hosting or aggregating the online contributions of their members, societies will be doing a service for their profession, for their members (whose work is made more visible to the wider world) and for the brand of their society. Membership societies are well placed to do this. CILIP, the Society of Archivists, and the Records Management Society are great brands. They are trusted and liked by their members and the world outside, and each of them has the bulk of UK practitioners in their field within their ranks. None of them has yet grasped the nettle. Their desire to provide exclusive benefits for members has got in the way of their acting as the showcase for their profession on the web.
The publications of membership societies
Most membership Society regard the publications that they produce as member only benefits, to be distributed to members in hard copy and made available (to members only) online. CILP follows this model with its monthly magazine CILP update , as does the Records Management Society with their Records Management bulletin. These are good publications, well edited, well produced, and well worth reading. But there are three big problems with the members-only model for publications:
- by channeling their news and features into membership-only publications, these societies are leaving their own websites starved of fresh content.
- writing for member-only publications will become less attractive for potential contributors because their writing can not be linked to, blogged about or tweeted about, and hence will not show up in google searchers and will not help them build up their online visibility
- the continued increase in the numbers of librarians, archivists and records managers contributing to blogs, twitter, mailing lists and discussion forums provides alternative sources of news. These publications, while still very useful to professionals, are no longer essential
The Society of Archivists makes its monthly publication Arc available to all, members and non-members alike via its website. But they do so in a pdf format, a few weeks after publication. This means that their website gets very little benefit from the good content that the magazine contains, the content is in effect buried. Chris Campbell wrote a thought provoking article on ‘big bucket retention theory’ in the May 2009 edition of Arc, but I can’t link direct to the article, and the links that Chris provides in the article can’t be clicked on. Links are the life blood of the world wide web. Links into a web page give the page its ranking on Google and bring new visitors to the site. It would benefit the reader, the writer and the Society if each article from ARC was put up seperatly on the website as and when they became ready.
AIIM (the Enterprise Content Management Association) has gone someway down this line by producing a digital version of its publication ‘infonomics‘ and allowing everyone access to it, member and non-member alike. Individual articles have their own url and identity on the web.
The impact of web 2.0 on events and conferences
The web 2.0 world is changing expectations as to what access people can enjoy to events that they are not attending in person.
Steve Bailey couldn’t attend the 2009 Records Management Society Conference, and wanted to follow the event via the tweets and blogposts of people attending. He started a debate on Twitter by expressing his disappointment that there were only a couple of people tweeting it, and no blogposts were produced during the event. He felt that the Society needed to do more to encourage people attending RMS events to tweet and blog about them.
A recent Eduserv Symposium on Identity in the Web 2.0 world ( chaired by Andy Powell whose quote starts off this blogpost) set a new bar for providing people not at the event with the ability to follow it and contribute to it as it happens, and to access the outputs of the event afterwards.
Eduserv streamed high quality live video of the event on the web for anyone to watch. They publicised a twitter hashtag for the conference (#esy09) before the event, and encouraged those tweeting about the event to add the hashtag to their tweets. This enabled them to aggregate the tweets being posted about the event. They set up a chat facility so that people not on twitter could contribute to the debate. When you go to the video archive for the event you will be able to see on one screen:
- videos of all the speakers at the event
- all the twitter posts tagged with the hashtag for the event
- contributions to the chat facility for the event
If you had visited that page on the day of the event you would have seen the event itself, the twitter debate, and the chat facility debate unfold before your eyes. Questions posed to twitter and to the chat facility were posed to speakers at the end of each talk.
What will the impact of this be? It will not affect people’s desire to attend events. Football matches are best watched at the stadium. Films are best watched on the cinema. Live television coverage and DVDs have not killed football and cinema attendence. I was glad I could follow the Eduserv event online but I would have benefited far more from attending in person, where I could have given it my full attention, and where I would have had the opportunity to converse face to face with fellow delegates and with speakers.
The economic downturn means that people and businesses are being more careful with their travel, training and sponsorship budgets. More and more people will base their decision on what events to attend/speak at/sponsor by researching the online coverage of the previous years event.
- Speakers are going to be attracted to events that generate healthy online discussion and coverage because that gives them wider visibility, and leaves a trace of their talk that is available via Google search.
- Delegates will look to the online discussion to check that the kinds of people attending that event are the kinds of people they want to network with.
- Sponsors are going to look at the reach that the event has on the web
If we look at recent annual or biennial conferences of the membership societies in the UK information management space there is very little information available for potential delegates, speakers or sponsors to judge the event on:
- presentations from the 2008 Society of Archivists conference are available on line for members only
- presentations from the 2007 Umbrella CILIP conference (it is a biennial conference) are not available
- presentations from the 2009 Records Management Society conference are not publicly available on the RMS web site, neither are presentations from the 2008 RMS conference. Video recordings of the 2008 conference were sent to members on a members-only DVD (disclosure: I organised the 2008 RMS conference)
More and more conferences are providing open web access to the slidepacks and video recordings of speakers at their conferences. More and more speakers are making their own slidepacks available on services like Slideshare or on their blogs. If the event organiser puts a video of a speaker on You Tube they are significantly increasing the chances that someone will blog, tweet or comment about the event. Bloggers can embed the video in their blogpost, people tweeting can link to it, people can leave a comment on the You Tube page itself.
By denying the population of the world wide web access to the outputs of their events, membership societies risk denying themselves the fruits of widespread coverage, publicity and links on the web.
Providing a place to network on-line
A key strength and mission of membership societies is that they make it possible for professionals to meet and network with each other. Professional societies are well placed to facilitate professionals networking online because of their brand and because of their access to most of the professionals in the field.
Lets look at what the societies have done in this area:
- CILIP has a Communities facility, powered by Telligent software. Members can maintain a profile, contribute to discussions, and keep a blog. Non-members are able to view some of the forum posts and some of the blogs but can’t contribute to discussions and can’t maintain a profile. CILIP has to bear the overhead of maintaining a mechanism for authenticating that people seeking to contribute to the forums are current CILIP members. Members complained earlier this year about what CILIP member Tom Roper called ‘Byzantine Authentication’ procedures for members to sign onto the forum. Restricting CILIP communites to members has the advantage that the forums are untroubled by spam. But it also means that the forums can not benefit from the contributions of people who are not members of CILIP.
- AIIM has been the boldest of the membership societies in the information management space. They have set up an online forum called Information Zen that has over 3,000 people signed up for it. Information Zen is a Ning site. AIIM have branded their Ning site and and loosely integrated it with the AIIM website (it appears as a navigation tab on the website, but has a seperate url (www. informtionzen.org). You can view Information Zen, sign up to it, post comments and questions to it, without being a member of AIIM. The site brings AIIM benefits by significantly increasing the exposure that AIIM events, AIIM training courses and AIIM spokespeople enjoy. Using Ning is a relatively, low maintenance option for AIIM, people can sign in with a Ning ID, and AIIM doesn’t have to worry about authenticating them.
- The Society of Archivists have a set of forums, powered by vbulletin . It does not appear to be members only, but you have to register for the forums and your registration request goes to a moderator, and you have to wait for the moderator to approve your registration request (I have unsuccessfully attempted to register for the forums) .
- The Records Management Society has not yet set up any online networking facilities.
Using web 2.0 to dialogue with members, and to speak for the profession
The role of membership societies in acting as the voice of their profession has hindered them in participating in debates on web 2.0 platforms. The knowledge that any false statement by the society would bring the whole profession into disrepute acts as a millstone around their neck. Membership societies are used to taking their time and arriving at a considered position that does not offend any section of their membership. They are used to communicating by making anouncements at annual conferences, writing editorials in newsletters, and issuing press releases. The use of these forms of communication has served to create an artificial distance between the governing bodies of these societies and their membership.
In the web 2.0 world the debate moves faster and may take place on whatever forum members are gathered. Governing bodies can no longer automatically choose where the debate take place.
The nature of the web 2.0 world, with real-time updates in Twitter and Facebook, and the near-immediate updates to blogs, creates expectations on behalf of members that they can:
- have an ongoing ‘drip feed’ of news and information about the society
- hear about initiatives while they are still being planned and talked about, rather than having to wait until they are finalised
- hear about initiatives in a format where they can respond to, comment on, praise, criticise, or publicise the news.
This switch is proving a real challenge to the membership societies:
- the Society of Archivists does not have a national blog, although its Scottish region has a good blog
- the Records Management Society started a blog in 2007 but discontinued it in 2008. It doesn’t have a prescence on Twitter. A Facebook page has been set up but not used.
- Aiim has several blogs including one on its standards work, one written by its president, and a team blog on ECM. Many of its staff are on Twitter including their president and vice-president
- CILIP has several blogs, including one from its president, and maintains a directory of blogs from its officers, groups and members. CILIP has no prescence on Twitter.
Learnings from recent debates in CILIP’s on their use of Web 2.0
The radical change in expectations that the membership of professional societies have over how their societies communicate with them is illustrated by debates in CILIP over the past six months:
- In February there was a debate on twitter in which various CILIP members asked why the society had no presence on Twitter
- On 18 February 2009 Bob McKee, the Chief Executive of CILIP wrote a blog post explaining that CILIP was not planning to establish a prescence on Twitter. He said that CILIP could not speak with an official voice in an informal environment such as Twitter.
- On 27 February Phil Bradley responded with a scathing blogpost memorably entitled CILIP epic fail.
- Phil Bradley’s blogpost sparked a huge debate on Twitter, that dominated the Twitter feeds of UK information professionals that day. The debate involved members and non-members. It broadened out from the question of whether or not CILIP should participate in Twitter to cover other percieved failings including Cilip’s ‘monolithic website’ (as summarised by Tom Roper here. )
- For a period CILIP were caught like a rabbit in headlights, they couldn’t take any part in this debate because they didn’t have and didn’t want a presence on Twitter. The key to fighting a war is to fight on a battleground of your chosing and this battleground was very much the province of the critics, well connected on Twitter and well used to using it as a medium.
- In the end CILP made a very positive and constructive response to the storm, by inviting their most articulate critics, Brian Kelly and Phil Bradley, to an open session of the CILIP Council on April 29 this year, to discuss how CILIP can best use web 2.0. The session was live blogged and attracted a huge conversation on twitter.
What can professional societies do in the Web 2.0 world?
Brian Kelly embedded a copy of the presentation he gave to to the CILIP Council session on Web 2.0 onto his blog
His advice to CILIP was to:
- take an experimental approach
- think through the risks holisticaly – doing nothing may be even more risky than doing something
- suppport and advise local groups and special interest groups to empower and enable them use to make use of web 2.0 in ways that work for them
Recommendations for the Records Management Society (RMS)
Building on Brian Kelly’s advice to CILIP, here are some recommendations as to to how the RMS can adapt to, and make use of, the web 2.0 world.
Peter Godwin, who teaches information literacy at the University of Bedfordshire, says that web 2.0 suits people who are prepared to experiment, but frustrates those who want things to be perfect first time. When you set up any type of social networking or discussion site online there is never any guarantee that it will be sustained through time with lively and useful contributions. But experimentation is the only way you build up your own capability and confidence, as an individual or as an organisation, and it is also the only way the RMS can start to build up the on-line relationships and following it needs for its web 2.0 ventures to be succesful.
There has been some experimentation in setting up social networking facilities for records management professionals in the UK, albeit not under the official banner of the RMS. Two closed (invitation only) Ning sites have been set up:
- Steve Bailey set up a Ning site for people interested in developing the ideas of records management 2.0 ideas outlined in his book ‘Managing the Crowd’
- I set up a Ning site for people who attended an RMS London Group meeting in the autumn of 2008 on recent academic research in records management (I am chair of the RMS London Group).
Neither experiment cost any money: if you are prepared to put up with adverts from Ning then having a Ning site is free.
Both Ning sites started well: neither site found any difficulty in attracting people to join. Participants in Steve Bailey’s Records Management 2.0 had an online discussion and worked up a manifesto for records management 2.0. In the RMS London Group Ning site there was input from members on what they wanted to see at Group meetings going forward, and there was a fair degree of interaction between people on the site who left messages for each other on their profile pages. But on both sites there has been very little activity in the past few months. Both sites have run out of energy because they are invitation only, which means they get no inbound links, no referrals from Google, no new visitors and few new members.
My conclusions from these experiments is that Ning is a very useful and flexible platform, well suited to regional groups or special interest groups of the RMS or any other membership society. My advice to any regional or special interest group setting up a Ning site would be to configure it so that the Ning site is open to anyone to join it, anyone to view it, and anyone to link to it.
Update: Steve Bailey has now made the Records Management 2.0 Ning site open to all to view and join
The Mashed Library Ning site is a good example of what uses a local group can put Ning to. As far as I can see no money has been spent on this site. It serves a group of information professionals interested in the potential uses of ‘mashing up’ data from library catalogues with other data sources. The Ning site of the Mashed Library group functions as their blog, their website, their discussion facility and their social networking site.
Be realistic about the risks
Membership societies have been very cautious indeed about going down the web 2.0 route. But the risks are not necessarily great. If you are investing a lot of money in purchasing, installing and supporting an online forum that authenticates people against your membership list then there is financial risk. If you are doing some gentle customisation to a Ning site and publishing it to your domain name, or setting up a discussion group on Linked in or Facebook then the financial risk is negligable. The big risks for the RMS of not doing anything are that:
- they don’t learn or build up their own capabilities in this area
- they are seen to be behind the times
- a third party moves into the space and grabs the online attention of their members
Speak with many voices
It is very hard to speak with a corporate voice on the web 2.0 forums. Whether it is Twitter or the blogsphere an individual voice comes out strongest and clearest. You don’t need everyone on the RMS Executive to be on twitter or blogging. But if two or three of the Exec are blogging or tweeting about what the Records Management Society is working on and thinking about then they can:
- act as conduits between the governing body and the membership
- drip feed news to members
- engage in open conversations (respondong to twitter replies or blog comments) with members
Empower and support local and specialist groups to establish a lively web 2.0 presence
The regional and special interest groups of membership societies have the real potential in a web 2.0 space. They are already communities who want to interact with each other. The events that they hold act as hooks to have online conversations about, and act as ready sources of content.
The key success critieria for a local/regional group site are that it should be:
- interactive (at the very least allowing comments on blogposts, but ideally allowing members to start a discussion and message each other)
- public (so that it receives traffic from links from elsewhere on the web and from Google; so that it adds to the web visibility of the RMS, the profession, and individual contributors to the site; and so that it benefits from the contributions of non-RMS members to discussions).
- easy for the people who facilitate the local groups to contribute information to and to deal with any spamming
In terms of web 2.0 tools available free of charge, then the options for a local group in any society include setting up:
- a blog
- a Ning site
- a Linked in discussion group
- a Facebook group
- a presence on you tube
Of these options Ning sites and blogs both have the advantage for the RMS that they can be published to an RMS domain name (much like the Information Zen Ning site sits within the AIIM domain).
An open Ning site has the most functionality and flexibility for regional and special interest groups. However groups should take into account their own preferences and make a decision on the environment they and their members feel most comfortable contributing to.
The role of the RMS Executive itself should :
- encourage regional and special interest groups to make a considered choice on what type of web 2.0 facility would best support their group
- offer regional and special interest groups advice (if they need it) on the practicalities and pros and cons of each option, and facilitate the sharing of advice and experience between regional and special interest groups
- make funds available (very small sums are involved) to enable regional and special interest groups to pay for hosted blog or Ning sites (if they chose either of those options) to be published to an RMS domain name and to be advert free.