My Reflections on DigitalNow

I just returned from DigitalNow, a conference for association execs in Orlando, FL. It is a Disney event, which means the food and events are usually awesome. I presented a session with Andy Steggles about social media as viewed from the C-suite, attended a few sessions, got to spend some great time with friends I hadn't caught up with in a while, and had the incredible fortune of being able to spend time hanging out with one of the keynote speakers, ridicu-smart and awesome Susan Etlinger. All in all, it was a fun experience, but I have to say that I was kind of astonished at the level of conversation around social media....STILL.

In a session about monetizing digital publishing, execs from several huge associations detailed how they were generating revenue with pubs and events. One of the attendees asked the Senior VP of E-Media & Publishing from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), if the association had figured out how to monetize social media, or something to that effect. Surprisingly, the answer the SVP gave was "no, we're using social media but we haven't figured out how to monetize it yet" part of a longer, generally not-so-glowing commentary about social media. Surprised, I quickly looked up an article I'd read about SHRM's annual meeting Hive--a "conference experience" at SHRM's huge annual convention. I could swear the event had at least one sponsor....yep, there it was in the article: "Sponsored by Dice, The Hive will feature a smart bar area “that will allow attendees to get individual consultation from experts in the area of social media as it relates to HR." Last time I checked, "sponsored by" meant "paid for." Then I remembered reading about at least one sponsored Tweet-up at a previous year's SHRM conference. Yup--there it was "The Tweet-Up was co-sponsored by" Oh, and wait--there's another sponsored Tweet-up "The Official SHRM & Glassdoor Tweetup & AfterParty....Glassdoor is the exclusive sponsor of the most anticipated party of #SHRM12." So during the Q&A I raised my hand and asked "um, you said that you haven't figured out how to monetize social media, yet you've had a number of sponsored social media activities and platforms...isn't that 'monetizing' social media?" To which, shockingly, he answered, in a roundabout way, no. Huh?

Add to that experience, another exec's enthusiastic comment during a session that "the value of a Facebook fan is a big goose egg: ZERO" and various other smirks and generally dismissive comments about the value of social media and I have to say, I was not impressed. I mean, there's Susan Etlinger giving a brilliant keynote on understanding social data. At one point she says "there's no single ROI on social media, unless you're looking at a social media marketing campaign." Which is, of course, true--you don't calculate ROI on a whole discipline, like marketing, you calculate it based on each individual spend under a discipline. True to the overriding sentiment at the conference, one attendee tweeted "there is no ROI for social media." Luckily, Susan corrected her.

But this tweet basically sums up the vibe that, astoundingly, association execs still seem to have about social media. They don't get it, don't want to get it, and even when their orgs are using it effectively, they remain removed from the whole dirty business and just don't want to know. I'll write a separate post about my session, which was about EXACTLY this: that execs don't have the luxury of not knowing or caring about social media. They don't have to use it personally--unless, of course, they never plan on looking for work again--but they do need to understand how it fits into all facets of association business, because it is inextricably linked to HR, publications, communications, marketing, events and meetings, professional development, PR, and more.

So I'll digress and not get into how disturbing I find it that a vendor putting on an event showcasing innovation and digital bleeding edge-ness announces at the event that the iPad app for this event will be three months....or that the "community" they link to from the event page is a pdf attendee list. But suffice it to say that it saddens me that association execs still seem to be reluctant to embrace the reality that social media is no longer a fad or a thing that can be ignored; it's a reality of their businesses now and they're not doing anyone--their members, their staffs, themselves from a professional standpoint--any favors by harboring such negative and bewildered sentiments about social media. I get it: it takes time and it's new and it changes constantly. But that's life, isn't it?