Toastmasters: Learning how not to Market

copy-of-susan_headshot4 I am an incurable Toastmaster. I joined Toastmasters International in the ’80s and have never looked back. With more than 250,000 members in 106 countries this 501(c)(3) volunteer organization presents  great self-teaching opportunities both for leaders and for speakers from absolute beginners to its volunteer Board of Directors. Only a small World Headquarters staff in California is paid.

About a year and a half ago, the  Board looked at changing organizational governance. Earlier this year, the Board published on its website a proposal which required approval by member clubs. Board members traveled out to local region and district conferences around the world with a mission of marketing to whatever members who showed up  at conferences. The organization’s website carried a summary of proposed changes and commentary by the Executive Director. In March, World headquarters sent out its annual proxy ballots to club Presidents and Education Vice Presidents.  An “Executive Director Communication” appeared on the corporate website. In May, WHQ sent  colorful, heavyweight six-panel brochures to District Governors for District conferences, and opened several social networking sites to members. The International President sent out “Dear Toastmaster” eMail to the membership. The June and  July issues of the organization’s monthly magazine carried ads for “Global Representation and Support.”

But participants in the members-only official LinkedIn Toastmasters International Members group began pushing back.  And talking to others not in LinkedIn. Things were not exactly going according to the Board’s plan. Why ? What had gone wrong?

It comes down to learning from the commercial sector who now is in charge when it comes to buying goods and services. And the fact that while people love to buy, we hate to be “sold” a bill of goods. The lengthy proposal with only two issues for consideration by clubs and many actions by Board members came across like a bill of goods that club members had not contributed to.

Has this not-for-profit organization been paying attention to shifting marketing strategies in the private sector? Not seriously. Has this not-for-profit organization been depending heavily on one-way marketing of a concept written over a two-year period by roughly thirty Board members? Seriously. As of May 3, there were 5,634 Toastmasters participating in the LinkedIn discussions. Where was the International President? Not in LinkedIn, where she could read what was being said about the proposal –or where the Board could have gotten input from those who were unable to attend conferences. Neither were the Second Vice President, or the Third Vice President. Twelve of the current 23 Board members were not taking advantage of opportunities to so much as read—let alone respond to–what members had to say about the proposal before it was presented to membership at large. Many felt left out of the process. And turned off.

The proposal will be voted up—or down—in August. In the meantime, all this outbound marketing reminds me of the technology sales organization that keeps bombarding me with eMails and marketing materials that I have been ignoring for the past year. Some day I am going to return one of those eMails with a PLEASE REMOVE.  As for Toastmasters….it’s also a great place to learn how not to market.

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Publish it on the Net and it’s Mine…or Maybe Not…

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For some time now, I have been a fan of Google search capabilities. I love tracking useful information in the corners of the Internet.  I am also a fan of social networking. If you personally publish—or allow information about yourself  to be published—I have the right to use the information Google or other search engines find. Certainly if you post information about yourself on a social networking site, you are giving me the right to capture and use it as I wish. On the other hand,  if you provide information to me that I have promised you in writing that I will not share with others, you have a right to expect that I will not to share that information.

On April 27, I advocated for inclusion of social networking fields in the GoldMine customer relationship application, saying that I belong to the church that encourages integration of everything that has to do with focus on the customer in our *customer relationship* product.  The idea was to give GoldMine users a built-in field in which to include links to social networking sites used by customers.  I felt that such a field would help GoldMine users capture public data published by a customer – potential, current or even past. Why? Consider the kinds of data typically published in social networking sites. Birthdays, favorites of various kinds,  networking neighborhoods and pictures all help me to understand you at a level you are comfortable with sharing—but absent your posts I might not ever have discovered about you.

The scenario I pictured in that article was that you–my customer–have a FaceBook or LinkedIn or Plaxo account. I, also having accounts like that, see your FaceBook account and notice that you advertise your birthday as June 19. A couple of mouseclicks and your birthday is now in GoldMine.  So on  June 17, I put a  birthday card in the mail to you. No sales pitch—just a personalized, friendly greeting that will remind you of me. Nothing more sinister than that.

Then there is the collection of data which, when originally scattered around the Internet suddenly has new meaning when compiled in one list and made easily available to those who might be interested.  Searching, finding, collecting, compiling  and posting publicly-available street addresses of board members of a large volunteer organization can result in chagrin and a request from an organizational authority to delete the list.

Then there is a whole new level of data collection and re-packaging I am not sure I want or need.

Google’s Social Graph api is the next level of data manipulation and presentation, and I’m not certain I’m ready for it. Do I really want a third party looking at the various relationships I have established (customers come right to mind) and manipulating the data in a graphic to build yet another social networking utility? From what it looks like in Google’s presentation, that seems to be the goal. Or is it? Somehow, Google’s statement that

“Information about the public connections between people is really useful — as a user, you might want to see who else you’re connected to, and as a developer of social applications, you can provide better features for your users if you know who their public friends are. “

does not leave me with a warm and cozy feeling.  I already know who else I am connected to.  And it’s not necessarily all the people who are connected to the people I know or associate with. I’d rather just have you send me an old-fashioned birthday card because you saw my birth date on FaceBook.

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