Why all the secrecy? A story of attempted brand jacking.


So the past two days I was at ASAE Tech ’09. Awesome conference. I completely rocked out with my geek out, tweeted like crazy, my head I think at one time exploded from technology overload.

But then something started to develop…

There was a twitter account (@Tech09) that was the “official” ASAE Technology Conference tweeter. It sent out updates the whole time, letting us know what was going on. Cool, but we all wondered who the heck was behind this account. So of course we asked. No answer. Asked again. Again no answer. It ended up becoming a running joke over the course of the next 24 hours. Eventually it came to the point that as a participant in the Twitter Stream I started to get a little angry at the fact that my association* was not being transparent & real with me, pretty much the #1 rule in social media.

So in reaction I brand jacked** them. That’s right, I registered @Tech2010 and @ASAETech10. I had originally tried to steal @Tech10, but I had been scooped on that one by someone’s personal Twitter account. The intention was to hold the brands hostage (all in good fun of course!) until they revealed the identity of the mysterious @Tech09 tweeter. Well they finally revealed what ended up being a group of people who tweeted and so I will delete the accounts. I do have a few questions for ASAE though…

1. Why the secrecy? It doesn’t make sense, in fact you just proved that you don’t have the openness and honesty to participate in this space. YOU are supposed to be the leader in the association world. A group we can look up to. Well, when you don’t play by the rules the rest of us do, I doubt whether or not you should be there. (I’m hoping that doesn’t come off as arrogant, but I think you get what I’m trying to say, Jaime Notter said it better than I am able to)

2. Why is it a group of people? That I don’t really understand. All the tweets are aggregated by the #Tech09 hashtag, so why not have them tweet individually? If the bios reflect who they are (or maybe the put the ASAE logo in the corner a la @lauraoatning) we would get that these are broadcast tweets from ASAE. Trust that we are smart enough to figure it out, or do something simple and change the account names to “ASAE[name]” or something like that. I mean hell, most of us are early adopters, I think we get it.

3. Why didn’t you engage more in the conversation? The broadcast to conversation ratio of tweets was highly disproportionate. Twitter is about a conversation, it is about sharing with each other. I just think there needed to be more direct responses. Having someone who was attending the sessions (like Lisa Junker@ljunker) yet is still an employee of ASAE might have been a better choice to balance out the ratio. Lisa and I tweeted with each other when we figured out we were in the same session so we could meet up after it ended. Had a great little conversation and then went our separate ways. From my experience conversing with Lisa on Twitter, she gets it. I don’t know if I can say the same thing about @Tech09.

Ok, enough negativity. They did do some things right. They answered our concerns about the WiFi connection being spotty, they told us what was going on. It was a fair attempt at tweeting. I think maybe I hold them to a higher standard b/c as Chris Sacca said “…ASAE is indeed an association of associations. Awesome.” I just want ASAE to be an awesome tweeter.


*Disclosure: Currently I am technically a lapsed member of ASAE b/c my individual membership expired 12/31, but my association doesn’t renew until 1/31, so by Monday I should be completely reinstated.

** Brand Jacking: Stealing someone’s name or brand on a social media tool before they get a chance to claim it.

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25 Responses to “Why all the secrecy? A story of attempted brand jacking.”

  1. This is why you rock–you’re not afraid to put it out there if it needs to be said, even if it might offend some people. I wasn’t at the conference but was following the twitterstream and it definitely got awkward when attendees were directly asking who @tech09 was and getting no response. It just got to be downright weird and uncomfortable after a while–and I wasn’t even there! I could see if maybe they made a contest or something about it–like giving hints to figure out who it was–something playful and engaging (or did they do this and I missed it? lol).

    Maybe in the future they could pick an attendee each day to be the on-the-spot reporter or something?

    Anyway, great post–and awesome idea about the brand-jacking. I never thought of that but it totally makes sense–people have made millions off of domain-squatting 😉

  2. I’m not advocating brand jacking, but it is an effective tool to get noticed, had I not been thwarted. So I do have to give it to ASAE for at least doing SOMETHING. They could have just ignored it, they didn’t, but I still don’t understand the secrecy. I mean seriously, why the big deal? It wasn’t like it was Chris Brogan tweeting the whole time…

    As far as I could see there were no such fun engagement activity related other than a vague “stay tuned…” towards the end of the last day, which may or may not have been directed at the plea to find out who @Tech09 was.

    Oh well… I’ll just hope for the best next year or at Annual. You’ll have to tell me how the Great Ideas tweeting goes!

  3. Lynn, I hear your criticism of how we handled the @Tech09 twitter stream as a good opportunity for us to get honest feedback that will help us think through how as an organization we might best use twitter to provide communication and inside information about what is going on at a conference.

    Let me start off by saying we were at no point trying to be secretive about who was tweeting, rather the four of us had very different responsibilities onsite, got caught up in our other duties and didn’t manage to come together till the end when we listed who had been posting. As an organization we are trying to carefully balance individual staff’s use of social media with the organization’s interest. We don’t want to make staff feel like they need to post things on their stream that are more marketing or communication oriented if they don’t want to; nor do we want to imply that the organization shares an individual’s feelings or thoughts about a given experience, presenter, or session. It was for this reason we thought it would be best to create an organization stream, which would for all practical purposes reflect the organization’s views.

    We decided to use the team approach to help the stream reflect a variety of viewpoints and to spread out the work. Allison took on the area of exhibiting and the trade show floor. Christina added a marketing and communications lens. Megan & I focused on the content, education, and logistics. I really thought this approach would give our followers the best insights into the conference itself.

    For us I think this was a learning experience, some things went well and some things we definitely saw needed some retooling. I would say as we move forward with other organization streams we will be thinking more about how to engage more with the conversation while at the same time remembering that we are an organization and not an individual, and some opinions, thoughts and ideas might not be appropriate for us to respond to.

    Please feel free to share any additional insights or feedback you have with us/me. Thanks for participating with us as we learn about these tools and watch them evolve.

  4. 4 Scott Sherrin

    I wasn’t at the conference, but did follow the Twitterstream and understand the frustration in not knowing who was behind it. I think the team approach under one ID has merit, but perhaps next time you can ID who will be tweeting up front, explain the areas they’ll cover, and then just “sign” the tweets with your initials at the end “/ph” or something. That way everyone knows who’s saying what and it doesn’t come across as just a man behind the curtain. 🙂

  5. I can understand that you need to come off as an organization, a whole unit. But the thing is, I can’t connect with a faceless organization. I connect with individuals that make up the whole unit. I use multi-author blogs as an example, there are some people (fellow members or staff) in multi-author blogs that I am more likely to read their posts than others b/c I connect with the way they write or the way they think, etc. And because of that individual, I will come and read the blog as a whole. I might miss out on some posts (equate that with certain member benefits), but I’m still engaged with the blog, I still subscribe to the RSS Feed (my “membership”), I still comment (kind of like attendance at a meeting). I’m still a part of the community.

    I want to encourage ASAE to surrender control, surrender the traditional way of interacting, be individuals who work for the association. Have a personality! I care way more about someone I’m able to relate with than a faceless organization. I love that I can read what is going on in Reggie’s life on Twitter and learned that he likes sushi (something we have in common). Even though he is newer to Twitter, it seems like he’s getting it. We all can connect on the fact that we work for associations, but for us to maintain that connection there has to be something more there.

    Let us connect with those that work there, don’t be afraid to be real people with us. I’d say for Great Ideas, try being individuals, connecting with what people have to say about sessions. Be a part of the experience.

    I do want to thank you for responding though Peter, I appreciate the conversation and knowing where you as the association are coming from.

  6. Someone actually tweeted a picture of the man behind the curtain from the wizard of oz saying it was @Tech09! 😉

  7. Thank you so much for the feedback, Lynn–as Peter said, we really do appreciate when we hear from members about things like this. I think all associations that are using social media are feeling out the best approach, and each time we try an experiment, it’s great to know what worked and what didn’t (or what could be improved). We’ll definitely be using what we learn from Tech to improve how we handle things at Great Ideas and other upcoming conferences.

    And it was fun to meet you at the conference. I read a comment on Kevin Holland’s blog recently where someone said that they find that their only meaningful connections online are with people they already know in person; but for me, I really like being able to get to know someone online and then meet them face to face. Thanks for taking the time to say hello!

  8. I enjoyed meeting you as well! I think there a little something extra special to get to know someone online and then be able to meet them in person finally. Most of my ASAE colleagues I know I’ve met online first and I think conversing online gives us a forum to interact and support our connections between the few opportunities we get to see each other each year.

    I definitely give props to ASAE for venturing out into a space that (comparatively speaking) few associations are taking on. It can be difficult to figure out how to react to things in a space that is somewhat undefined. There is no rule book for Twitter, but transparency, being real and open are the few things you can’t ignore. They are essential to succeeding in a space where the individual contributing to the collective rules.

  9. I agree with Lynn! I wasn’t at the Tech Conf but tried to follow re Twitter. It was very frustrating and limited at best. I was also concerned that there was not a name associated with the twitter feed and ASAE was trying to control content, brand, discussions, etc. This is very unfortunate and goes against all social media gurus advice. There are many others who allow and advocate for a personality (Read book Personality Not Included) to show through on Twitter/Social Media and the importance of it. Peer2Peer learning is king and ASAE you’ve stopped the flow of conversation so we’re having it about you elsewhere in Twitter, on FB, on blogs and in Learning Networks. For past couple days, I’ve been on the ASAE online conference and ASAE’s own staff have told smaller nonprofits that they should control the discussions and content. How sad! Outdated. Even our staff have been blogging about ASAE’s comments on their personal blogs. Guess that’s why I go elsewhere to get my nonprofit info, even though I’m a member. I expect ASAE to be the leader. I would rather see ASAE try these new techniques and fail if they didn’t work than half-way do them. I’d give them a lot more credit for that than fear of control.

  10. Jeff,

    I appreciate you weighing in! I think in some ways ASAE is doing things right and in some ways there is room for improvement. Lindy Dreyer (http://associationmarketing.blogspot.com/) had a good post entitled “In defense of Tech09” where she highlights what they did right. I agree with you that ASAE should be a leader and from the comments I’ve received from them I think they are still in the earlier stages of utilizing all of this technology. They are listening first. They are trying things (though sometimes it doesn’t work as well as planned) and I think at the Great Ideas Conference we will see a better use of social media in communicating with members. I can’t fault them for slowly building and not just diving head in. In fact if they were just diving head in I’d probably criticize them for that! 😉

    What I’m taking away from this conversation is that as ASAE members, if we want them to be the leader, we need to support our organization, lend our expertise and enable them to lead us. I do think the topic of control should be dropped and things should be open, but as member organizations we have a unique view on control because a lot of time we leverage that control to increase membership.

    Definitely a topic that needs further discussion.

  11. Lynn:

    I think we’re on the same page. As a nonprofit employee, I understand the need to get involved and not just criticize. I am a staunch advocate of asking and receiving continual feedback from members/participants to adjust programming and education to fit the audience’s needs. As one who plans education programming and events, I know the importance and value of listening and feedback. I can’t plan programs or education in a vacuum.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see ASAE listening or giving me the opportunity to provide feedback. Nor do I see transparency or honest dialogue. In fact, I see them doing the opposite. When was the last time they asked me for input in a membership/needs assessment? When was the last time they came to our staff and asked our opinion? When did they respond to my email or request? Not! Therefore, I think it’s time for ASAE members to start challenging ASAE staff and board to do it better and differently.

    As an example, for ASAE’s recent small nonprofit association online conference, ASAE refused to survey its small members before planning the online conference to make sure they were addressing the right needs and content. How do I know? Because one of our staff was a presenter and requested that ASAE send out a quick/simple survey (zoomerang, surveymonkey) to get feedback so she could customize her presentation. She was even willing to do it herself. ASAE refused. Yes, because of their internal policy and processes, they refused. That’s not listening or engaging members. So, as a member, I’m disappointed and frustrated and I don’t think they’re listening.

    For more than 10 years I’ve listened to my superiors, co-workers, colleagues complain about ASAE and their lack of member engagement. Similar conversations have been happening in the ASAE conference hallways, ASAE members’ offices, around the watercolor (around the barista today), during ASAE members’ staffs meals, online. I decided it was time to speak up. I have nothing to lose here…I’m a paying member and I don’t get it. So, social media is allowing frustrated people like me a chance to voice our concerns and complaints. And to expect ASAE to do it better.

    Even when I joined ASAE, it took ASAE customer service two weeks to get back to me to take my payment because the online system would not allow me join. Why? Because of ASAE’s internal e-commerce online system and process. Seriously, they didn’t want my money? That’s real engagement for you. Again, listening? No.

    Right now, I don’t go to ASAE as the premier organization for my nonprofit needs. I’m going out to SMS and asking those in the know, the current gurus, the vendors who are helping associations stay ahead of the curve and I’m getting more timely info and advice. Sometimes, instant advice. Twitter for example is like google search only for humans and providing more accurate information. ASAE should be out there responding to nonprofit requests on Twitter. Where are they? Not there!

    So, I get it and while I usually take the diplomatic and positive approach for criticism, I’m putting my experience it out there for everyone to see. My user experience with their conferences, website, customer service and education is not positive. I’ve been patient, now I’m expecting ASAE to do it better.

    PS…as a life-long education and learner, failure can be a great learning tool…if you’re listening, if you’re honest and if you’re transparent.

  12. I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve had that experience with ASAE. I myself have not had that, in fact ASAE has been supportive and responsive, but maybe that’s because I have a big mouth. 😉

    I’ve connected with several employees via Twitter and one time when I had a problem with being solicited via the list-serv (on a completely unrelated service) they listened and responded as best they could with the information I gave them. In my experience I’m asked my opinion when I say I have a problem with something (like the usability of their website).

    I think the challenge for associations is that some have so many members, how do we make sure that everyone is feeling heard?

    I think as members of an association and we ourselves do what they do on a regular basis, we can only help our service by contributing to the community. What I mean is if you develop this awesome email policy, or this great retention plan, it will only help our colleagues and the service we receive from ASAE to receive that information. Same thing with pointing out areas of improvement.

    If you’re on Twitter, I would encourage you to connect with some of the ASAE employees that are on there, like Lisa Junker (@ljunker) or Amy Hissrich (@ahissrich), I’ve had very positive experiences with both of them.

  13. people want the person…the true person & true flavor of the co. otherwise it is like a sales pitch & not personal.

    this is what i am seeing in the stream of twitter a focus on authenticity.

  14. Michele,

    You’re very right. People want to connect with other people. That’s why I feel that when you have an “umbrella” account, you definitely need to say who your tweeters are so that people can connect with someone, not just a brand.

    Thanks for the comment!


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