IABC Drops the Ball Again, Then Goes Into Defensive Mode

For three years in the mid-1990s, I served on the International Executive Board of IABC. In 1993 and 2003, I served as the president of my local chapter. I was an Accredited Business Communicator until I gave up my membership in favor of PRSA (non-members have to pay a fee to maintain accreditation). I’ve served on committees and task forces at all three levels of the association and I happily sang its praises to anyone who would listen until IABC lost its way several years ago.

So I don’t take any pleasure in what is happening to IABC these days. Late last year, it bungled the communication of a major layoff of headquarters staff. And just yesterday, it dropped the ball again in its announcement that Chris Sorek, president of the association for the last 11 months, has resigned.

As a non-member, I no longer have a vested interest in what happens to IABC. But as someone who gave heart and soul to help ensure its success for many years, it breaks my heart to see one of the world’s largest associations for people in my chosen profession become a laughingstock. Actually, there’s nothing funny about what’s going on.

The main points I’ll make about this latest tragedy of errors are these:

  1. IABC’s staff and volunteer leaders need to update their view of how communication happens in the world. Claiming it wanted to inform chapter leaders first, IABC delayed its own announcement of Sorek’s resignation and the news apparently broke on David Murray’s Writing Boots blog. (David used to cover IABC when he worked for The Ragan Report in the ’90s, including during my term on the International Executive Board, so I know his journalistic prowess and it does not surprise me that he broke the news.) Then, IABC finally posted the announcement on a LinkedIn discussion group because it said its technology “would not allow” it to be posted on its own website. Believing that you can keep news like this secret in the age of social media is naïve at best and irresponsible at worst. Instead, IABC leaders — both staff and volunteers — should have sent an alert to volunteer leaders and followed it very closely with official announcements using all the platforms available, including its own website. (There is simply no excuse for not being able to use its own website to post such an announcement.) Then, all hands should have been on deck to respond to the initial flurry of interest by bloggers like Murray and industry journalists like those at Ragan.com. Talking points are fine to ensure consistency, but the point here is that leaders should have been armed and ready to talk as soon as the news broke instead of appearing disconnected and aloof.
  2. IABC spokespersons should give up their defensiveness, acknowledge that the association is in rough shape right now with respect to its leadership, its technology and its communication processes, and stop trying to control and spin the message. Again, this is 2013. The rules (if there are any) have changed. Claire Watson, ABC, who has been hired to speak for the association, defensively engaged in one LinkedIn conversation that included her questioning Murray’s ethics and those of volunteer leaders and her eventual pronouncement, “End of conversation.” That’s not the way to engage media or members and it certainly sends the wrong message about how IABC might handle things going forward.

I sincerely hope IABC uses these crises as opportunities to look deep within and to rethink not only its strategy for growing and sustaining the association, but also how it communicates and engages with members — who, after all, own IABC.



Ask Yourself These Questions Before Choosing Social Media

In my research preparing for a presentation at PRSA West Virginia’s recent seminar on social media, I came across some interesting data about social media’s explosive growth. The numbers have probably changed already, but they’re still staggering:

  • Facebook claims more than 500 million users of it service. The average user is connected to 80 pages, events or other communities.
  • More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month.
  • Twitter has 175 million users; 56 million follow eight or more accounts.
  • LinkedIn has 100 million registered users and is adding 1 million per week.
  • There are more than 7.5 million Foursquare users.

There’s no denying that social media have attracted huge numbers of people. But, as I cautioned the folks who attended the seminar, you need to seek the relevance in the numbers. Astronomical numbers don’t make social media a communications panacea.

Before choosing social media as part of a communication plan, you need to ask yourself some questions, including:

  • How many of these registered users are active?
  • How often do active users log into the service?
  • How long do they stay?
  • What do they do while they’re there?
  • What groups do they join?
  • What brands do they interact with?
  • To what extent do they share their brand experiences with others?
  • Perhaps most important, are these people your target audience? And once you reach them, do you intend to engage with them?

I’m a big believer in social media as another way to reach people. Just as with any media, however, it’s critical to know if social media platforms will help achieve your organization’s communication goals. Primarily, social media are an effective way to reach your organization’s target audiences in order to engage in conversations with them. And those conversations should have a purpose. They must advance your plan’s communication and engagement goals in some way.