Post #1000. When it tips: A somewhat momentous post for a somewhat momentous occasion.

by Ben Martin, CAE on March 16, 2009 · 5 comments

It’s true. This is my 1000th post. Actually, it’s my 1002nd, but about three years ago I deleted two posts on this blog at the very strong suggestion of my former employer. Hard memories die hard.

Although I haven’t been blogging a whole lot recently, I can assure you I’ve been thinking about social media and associations, how far we’ve come, and what’s coming next. On a personal level, if you couldn’t tell, I’ve gotten a bit burned out on the whole social media thing. Chalk it up to SAD or wanting to spend more time IRL, but my posts here have grown increasingly infrequent. Gosh, I haven’t superpoked anyone in months, and I deleted all of my RSS feeds for Pete’s sake.

I’ve been much more active on Twitter than here on my blog. I increasingly find Twitter to be simultaneously like a human search engine and an office mate. And yet, I haven’t found an effective way to translate my valuable experiences on Twitter into this blog. Except on a few rare occasions. Like now.

Driving somewhere few weeks ago, I had a conversation in the car with some members about social media. They were lamenting the same old fact you’ve heard countless times from social media fans, "THEY just don’t get it." You know exactly what I’m talking about: The other members; the ones who are "in charge." THEY don’t get it and THEY never will.

But then it occurred to me: In spite of the outlook expressed by these members, one day, THEY will get it. Maybe not the same THEY we’re dealing with now, but eventually (and soon, I think) the majority of association members will be using social media, including the ones in control. And while we can argue whether or not simple use of social media qualifies as "getting it," the fact of the matter remains that we are definitely standing near the tipping point. It’s just a matter of time.

In the context of the conversation in the car, this news was both welcomed and scorned. Welcomed because my members felt that they would finally be understood. Scorned because they realized that the competitive advantage they’d been working on to differentiate themselves from the pack was threatened.

That made me think: When it tips, how will you feel? So, as is common practice now, I tweeted it. It went something like this:

One day, a majority of people will "get" social media. Do you look forward to that day, or dread it?

Most of the responses contained some variation on dread. Social media is supposed to be all about being helpful. Why would folks seem so unhelpful? That surprised me.

For my own part, I have mixed emotions. I used to be, well, one of only a handful who blogged about associations. Now there are dozens. Whatever differentiation blogging once brought me is long gone. But on the other hand, I’m excited to see that the association blogging community has graduated from a blogoclump to a blogosphere. And I’m always willing to spread the love.

But with the masses comes more volume. More noise, less signal. More politics, less community. More distractions, less clarity. How will you feel when it tips?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Duncan March 16, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Here’s my fear –

By the time “they” get “it” – we will be them.

Does that make sense?


Maddie Grant March 17, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Honestly, I think those of us who consider ourselves to be early adopters will by then be onto the next big thing. We all have a place on the bell curve, and as long as we help people (if that’s what we’re trying to do) then we’re right where we belong – now, and in the future. For me the “dread” thing is totally irrelevant – onwards and upwards, until we drop out.


Maggie McGary March 18, 2009 at 9:29 am

The more mainstream social media becomes…well, the more mainstream it becomes. And like anything that started out a “best kept secret” or in indy jewel of some sort, once it becomes mainstream it loses some of its initial appeal. Take Twitter–for early adopters isn’t it a BIT annoying to see articles in the Washington Post about politicos tweeting away, or to see Britney Spears thanking her fans for making her #3 on Twitter? Or Oprah doing a segment on Facebook?

Just the same way that book snobs turn their noses up at Oprah’s book club picks, the popularity social networks kind of diminishes their initial value to early adopters. Take the whole #SXSW twitter saturation thing: even with the hashtag, Twitter was rendered pretty much useless to attendees because the stream was flooded with sometimes thousands of tweets over the course of just an hour.

Then again, in the association world, the more members embracing social media and seeing it as an essential part of an association’s offerings, the better–that’s what we’re all working towards, right?

I think Maddie’s right–as some channels become saturated by mainstream users, there will always be new tools for early adopters to discover and play with.


Joe Rominiecki March 18, 2009 at 4:59 pm

There’s a pretty interesting video on Knowledge@Wharton today (coincidentally) titled, “Backlash: How Early Adopters React When the Mass Market Embraces a New Brand.” It talks about how researchers can see a quantifiable departure of early adopters upon a product’s mainstream acceptance.

I’m curious if the departure of early adopters is specifically caused by the lessening of the exclusivity factor or if they’ve just moved on to something new by the time the masses arrive.

I also wonder how much of this “tipping point” effect between early adoption and mass adoption is an inherent burden carried by early adopters. Early adopters love a product and feel special because they’ve discovered it early, but they also feel the need to tell the world about it – partly out of general good will, but also partly (I suspect) out of a desire to confirm that the product they love is indeed widely desirable (and not just weird). Of course, the only way to verify that it’s widely desirable is for the masses to adopt it, but when that happens, the exclusivity factor is gone. You can’t have both.

So maybe that’s why you’re seeing the “dread” among association people who have adopted social media in regard to the day when all associations “get it.” In their minds they all know that wide adoption of social media will be good for associations, but the feeling of dread is more of an emotional, gut reaction.


Lisa Junker March 20, 2009 at 9:21 am

I’m not an early adopter in the way Ben or Maddie is, so I have a slightly different perspective:

On the one hand, I love the idea of greater participation, and I love that social media allows anyone to participate. More people, more points of view, more voices, more inclusion–I love all of that stuff.

But I do have some dread, because of the time-suck factor. Right now I feel obligated to follow all blogs related to my association, as much as I can; I try to keep an eye on related Facebook and LinkedIn groups as well. I’ve given up doing the same on Twitter, because there’s just too much to follow, and of course there are tons of other social networks out there I’m not following–more every day. And it definitely will reach a point where any one person can only keep track of and participate in parts of the conversation related to any given profession or industry; in the association world, we’re pretty much already there.

The problem, to me, is that there seems to be a growing expectation that your association will be “listening” and engaging proactively, whenever they talk about your association or issues important to your association. But as more and more people get into social media, it won’t be physically possible to engage everywhere you’d like to engage. Which results in members potentially feeling left out or unheard, which is never good.

To me, it’s kind of the evil twin of work-life balance: You can participate in social media anytime, anywhere. But as social media use grows, and the expectations for your association’s participation grow, I find myself getting more and more stressed out by the time factor. (Maybe I should just try Ben’s nuclear option …)


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