One that recently fell into that third category was Joe Rominiecki's Acronym post on What good is governance without influencers?, which was based on Maggie McGary's post on Influence in the Context of Associations. They're both discussing the rise on online and non-traditional influencers in associations, and how these thought leaders and the followers they attract are changing the leadership dynamic in our community. Maggie asks:
[A]s time goes by and more of your members begin interacting in the online community, a new group of influencers will grow out of those interactions. Meanwhile, traditional influencers—board and committee members—will become less visible and, therefore, less influential and important, at least to members. Will you know when this change occurs, or will you be stuck in thinking the wrong people matter the most?
I see this change taking place in my own life and in the associations I'm affiliated with. I wrote about it here, and called it "networking in a box." Associations want to keep members connected within their own "boxes," but more and more the borderless online world is allowing people to create and leverage their own networks that don't follow any pre-existing association lines--which are, to the concern of the pre-existing associations, all the stronger and more powerful for it.
Joe speculates that associations should work to bring the online influencers in the lives of their members into the leadership of the organization, but struggles to identify a mechanism for doing so. I sympathize. To many non-traditional influencers, I would imagine that the structure and hierarchy of formal association leadership would seem like shackles compared to the freedom of association they currently enjoy online. They will naturally reject the idea of being locked up in anybody's box.
I think traditional boards are growing less and less in touch with their respective memberships--and the rise of online influencers is only one of the reasons why. But you know who remain in touch with their membership? Association staff. Especially staff people that naviagate, either as part of their professional responsibilities or personal interests, the same open and unstructured online networks that the influencers do. Joe himself, I'll bet, is much more in tune with what the ASAE members are thinking, than many of the well-intentioned and hard-working folks on the ASAE board.
Does the ASAE board view things this way? Does Joe come in at the start of every board meeting and give a ten-minute update on what's on the mind of the members, of what topics are being discussed in the blogosphere, of which ones seem to resonate with people and which ones don't? Would the board members listen to him if he did?
Maybe it's not a staff person in your association. Maybe it's one of your association members. Maybe it's the editor of one of your industry's trade magazines. Or maybe it's a blogger who has critical things to say about what your association does. Whoever it is, if they are more connected with your membership than your leadership is, you'd better find a way to get their market intelligence into your strategy discussions. And asking them to serve on your board is not going to work. They're not interested.