7 rules to help you survive your imminent cultural disruption

"I suspect I'll be just fine. They gimme a guitar and taught me how to box." Learning how to tweet to prepare for the Interactive Age is like learning how to box to prepare for war. It might come in handy but it won’t keep you alive.

That’s not to say that mastering Twitter and other social media tools isn’t important. It’s critical, which is why the American Society of Association Executives will feature such breakout sessions as “Tweet Like a Pro,” “Link Up with LinkedIn,” and “Hot Trends in Association Social Tools” at its annual convention in Nashville next month. In fact, nearly one in four of ASAE’s 136 “Learning Labs” is dedicated to social media issues.

This is significant. ASAE is the voice of the association profession. The fact that they are allocating so much bandwidth to social media shows just how much of an impact the Internet is having on that industry.

But among the positive breakout sessions there are several others that examine how social media is threatening to upset the industry’s decades-old model, specifically

  • “[T]he top disruptive trends with major implications for associations,”
  • “[E]merging trends … that challenge the traditional notion of associations as the knowledge gatekeepers of their industry,”
  • The fact that “disruptive innovations abound—and some are fundamentally changing the way [associations] do business.”

The trade association industry, it seems, may well be the next sector of the 20th century information-industrial complex to be critically disrupted by the Internet.

To survive this impending disruption, association execs need more than just Internet-weapons training. They need to understand how thoroughly social media has transformed the way we communicate and interact with each other. And they need to integrate the customs and mores of this brave new world into every facet of their organization.

To get that process started, we've compiled the Seven Rules of the Internet Age that all organizations should follow if they hope to benefit from—or simply survive—the cultural tectonic-plate shifts that the Internet has triggered.

Collaborate. Don’t dominate. If the 20th century was a winner-take-all poker game played with a stacked deck, the Interactive Age is parachute day in gym class. You only “win” if everyone plays together to achieve shared goals.

You’ve got to give to receive. In the 20th century, nobody but bakery shop owners and drug dealers gave away samples of their best products. But in the Interactive Age, giving is the first step in relationship building. The information you once sold is now shared. Its value—and your organization’s—will increase only as that information is, in turn, shared with others.

Authority is earned, not bought. Nobody takes their lead from four-out-of-five-dentists anymore. The days of advertising your way to “expert” status are gone. That honorific can only be earned … and that process starts when you give away that useful information.

The reach of your message is trumped by the reaction to your message. Getting a sound bite on NPR will always be a treat. But if it doesn’t ignite a reaction among the communities that care about your issues then it has no value … except maybe to your mother. (And she could be lying, too.) Smaller passionate audiences beat massive docile audiences every time.

Be transparent. With all due respect to New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner, “on the Internet, everybody knows you’re a dog.” The Internet has made it damned near impossible to get away with deception. Act accordingly. You can still lie, cheat, and deceive. You just can’t do all that and expect stay in business.

Flatten the org chart. Your organization is linked to countless vibrant communities that care about your issues and it is bursting with the social media expertise needed to capitalize on those connections. But those resources are locked in the minds and cell phones of staff members whose names you sometimes remember. Unlock the social-media power of your entire team.

Be empathetic. The audience now determines which content has value and which gets deleted. To capture the attention and win the approval of your audiences, you must replace proclamations in press releases with sincere engagement in the form of comments, dialogue, info-sharing, and genuine receptivity to their thoughts and opinions.

It’s a safe bet that ASAE’s breakout sessions on social media will be informative and thought-provoking. But one session—“Are You Ready to Build a Digital Engagement Team?"—promises to be particularly enlightening, if the promo is any indication:

“Most associations have traditional departments of technology, marketing, and communications … Within five years these teams as we know them today will be obsolete. … Your organization has to be agile and responsive like never before. Are you ready?”

An excellent question.