Control Issues: What are the Rules of Engagement for Your Social Network

Topics: Social

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As associations welcome their constituents to join them in organizations’ social networks, whole worlds of opportunities open up for community building, marketing and networking. With those opportunities come an entirely new set of questions and responsibilities related to giving up control about what is said about the organizations and who says it.

  • Can anyone join a community?
  • Are comments and discussions monitored or moderated?
  • What should the rules of engagement be?
  • What are the consequences when someone breaks the rules?
  • Can you allow open conversations and build trust while maintaining some sense of control over dialog about your organization?

We consider our Engage365 community to be self-policing by a very involved membership. Our thought leaders and co-sponsors set the tone for the conversations, and we have guidelines that we share with members. We’ve never felt the need to censor comments or step in to stop a conversation.

My Short-Lived MPI’s WEC Event Community Experience

But other organizations have different policies. In late July, I attended MPI’s World Education Conference as a sponsor and as an attendee (We have been proud sponsors of this event and other MPI national and local events for many years). At this year’s event I got a little frustrated with the absence of handouts at the sessions I attended. As well, my colleague experienced presenters expressing their disappointment and frequent apologies for not having handouts. Because we print educational meeting materials and handouts for hundreds of associations, I made this offer (on our blog) to the presenters: Omnipress will print handouts at no cost to presenters for the 2011 World Education Conference.

As you know, MPI is leading the way on adopting social technologies so I shared my “free printing offer” post with the members of the MPI event community.

Subject: All: An offer to 2011 MPI WEC Speakers
From: David McKnight
Sent: 08/10/2010 at 01:08AM

MPI WEC is a great event.   I view it as a must for meeting planners and those that serve them.  The networking open doors then learning moves us forward.   Not only do I believe it…I’ want to invest in it.   So, to help keep the “learning” at high levels I’ve made this offer to all 2011 WEC speakers.

Visit our blog or read below, comments welcome.

…learning should not be a trade off for corporate social responsibility….we can do both…that ensures sustainability.——-

On my next visit to the MPI event community,
I discovered that MPI staff had not only deleted my comment, but they deleted my community profile!

Just like that, I don’t exist.

When I talked to the community leaders at MPI, they apologized for not contacting me to discuss my comments and to inform me of their decision to delete my profile.

As a member of their community, I have to say I was a little taken back with the censorship as well as the lack of communication. But it really brings up the bigger issues about organizations’ social media policies, control and ways to handle controversial or distasteful comments. So here are my questions for our readers and communities:

  • Do you have a written policy about what type of content is acceptable?
  • How do you share your policy with the community?
  • Are there different rules or levels of tolerance for sponsors vs. members?
  • Who makes the call about content: a community manager? the community itself?

If you had been in MPI’s shoes, how would your organization have handled my comments?


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September 13th, 2010Beth Ziesenis says:

Ouch. What an awkward situation. Not long ago I wrote an article for ASAE about the biggest challenge that social media poses for associations: the lack of control. In the olden days of 2 or 3 years ago, this situation would have been handled very differently. You would have called the office and perhaps written to a few speakers to let them know what you were offering. And MPI would have politely thanked you for your offer, filed away your comments and everyone would have forgotten about it by the next conference.

But now your offer is out there permanently, and the information has been disseminated to members of their community as well as yours. In today’s electronic age, your notes will be forever Google-able and always present. Even though MPI deleted your profile, your message will not go away, and by deleting your profile, they amplified the message and the buzz around it.

I think MPI missed a great opportunity to use your comments to either explain their decision publicly or gather more information about how other attendees feel about their policy. Perhaps they already have the data that says that 98% of their attendees LOVE the idea of electronic handouts. They could have commented on your offer in their event community and given others the opportunity to chime in.

I don’t know MPI, and I don’t want to speculate on their decision-making strategy. But I think the best course of action would have been open communications on the site. The second best would have been open communications with you on why your offer was inappropriate in that venue. Deleting your profile and stopping the conversation is a far, far distant third option.
Beth Ziesenis recently posted..Webinar Recording- 5 Great Graphics Tools

Twitter: AvenueZ


September 13th, 2010Midori Connolly says:

Wow this is disappointing and a bit worrisome. It makes me feel concerned about sharing a heartfelt opinion, particularly that something like this with good intent could be misconstrued.

Beth, great summary of a recommended course of action.
This is where it’s so important to have a written policy about how to respond to various situations, both for internal and external communications.

As the best brands out there have discovered, it’s far more potent to engage in open dialogue with your community members or clients than to try to stifle an opinion. Best Buy’s Twelpforce is an excellent example of how to use employees to build brand loyalists instead of building resentment and fear amongst a community.

As a member and supporter of the team at MPI, I’m really disappointed that this happened. Would love to know more about the reasoning so we could see both sides of the picture…


Twitter: GreenA_V


September 14th, 2010Dave Lutz says:

Woah Dave, this is bazaar! You’ve been voted off the island…by double secret ballot!

I can see their reasoning of not wanting to allow suppliers to make direct offers (even if it does improve the value proposition and learning), but wiping you off the map? Come on! That’s not good community management. It’s a misguided organization with old school practices!

They’d be smart to re-instate your profile and post and take another look at their community management practices. Self policing is a good practice. Also communicating with you that they appreciate your offer, but don’t accept it for this reason or that. They should tell you that you can’t make offers direct without their blessings.

This action is one that hurts their trust. It puts those in the know on their heals and doesn’t promote participation in their member channels. Transparency and open dialog will get them so much further.

Hope they see this post and reconsider their previous actions!

Twitter: velchain


September 14th, 2010David McKnight says:

Thank you Beth, Midori, Dave

It is disappointing and bazaar. In this specific case I was really just trying to identify a concern or problem, gave my opinion why (which I think is were I hit a sore spot), then offering a solution, for free, would avoid it look like selling…although are we all selling most of the time. It’s not a bad word you know.

It’s the process that’s important here. If MPI feels they made the right call and are supported by most members..then say so. Those that are not getting what they want, what they value, can choose with their feet or accept it because they get more value elsewhere. As can we as suppliers can choose. Which by the way, we are continuing to support MPI, and have at their next event.

Deleting my profile did not make the issue go away…just gave me material for a couple blog post and an opportunity to talk to my team on our policy for Engage365.

Twitter: Djmcknight


September 16th, 2010Christopher Uschan says:

Flabbergasted is the word that came to my mind when I learned about this.

Not that they deleted your account, but they didn’t even talk with you first. Which makes me think of words like “unprofessional” and “naive and “immature.”

This reminds me of the incident where leadership at ASAE removed a blog post from one of their consultant bloggers on their Acronym blog.

As the leader of I was asked to come up with the community policy for members who would like to contribute. It was summed up in a few words — “Be cool, don’t spam and live it up a little (meaning, don’t be shy).” — read our entire code of conduct. This got me looking around on the WEC10 Community for their code of conduct… As I suspected, I cannot find anything. I guess that means it’s a write at your own risk (of being deleted).

David, I read your comments (in the article above) and I don’t feel they are over spamming or too commercializing. Yeah… Did you use their network to make others aware of Omnipress services in a very subtle manner, YES! But it was a passionate offer to help improve the event and learning for MPI WEC members.

Social media and communities are about relationships. And if this is how MPI chose to handle the communications and your relationship, maybe there is something deeper you should be concerned with.

How would I have handled it?

As community leader of Engage365, I probably would have just left it alone. Maybe I would have emailed or called you… and let you know that this is the kind of content we prefer to not have shared in our community. And, that if this causes more suppliers to “advertise” in the community, I might have to stand up and say something.

Until then… Maybe this article might help those who wish to take the risk and comment in someone else’s community.

The DOs and DON’Ts of Participating in an Online Event Community

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