Why associations fear social media

Jamie posted tonight about “the myth of control” and how it contributes to the fundamental fear that still paralyzes many associations when dealing with the issue of social media/social networking. During last week’s ASAE & The Center Technology Conference, both Jamie and I heard comments about Web 2.0 tools that reveal the full extent of this fear, including some observations so troubling and so misguided that all I could do in response was shake my head in disbelief.

It’s somewhat comforting to know, however, that our community isn’t alone in not comprehending social media/networking. Blogger friend Shel Holtz also has a post up tonight presenting his “five reasons why companies resist social media.” I’ve posted the five reasons below (visit Shel’s blog to read the full post), because I have heard a version of each of these “excuses” offered up in the association community as well.

#1 – IT won’t let us
#2 – It will be abused

#3 – Management fears loss of control
#4 – Legal and regulatory risks

#5 – We don’t have the time or resources

To the association list, I would add both the intransigence and myopia of volunteer boards, along with their fear of losing control. But regardless of the reasons we’ve used to justify maintaining the status quo, it’s time for association leaders to stop being afraid of technologies that are unleashing the creative spirit and powering an extraordinary wave of innovation around the world. It’s time to stop worrying about losing control, which as Jamie points out, we never had in the first place. Now is the time for us to embrace these powerful tools and, more importantly, the inventive strategies and business models they make possible that can help us create new value for our members, capture value for our organizations and advance our purposes in the 21st century.

Jeff De Cagna

Jeff De Cagna is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, and a contrarian thinker on strategy, business models, governing and the future of associations.


  1. Hey Jeff – I think one real reason, but certainly not one folks would admit to, is that people don’t really know what the use of social media would look like for their organization. That is, lack of knowledge and feeling out of the loop. I think it’s a huge reason but obviously people don’t want to look “out of it.” So, excuses to cover this up are likely.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Here are a few things I’d add to that list:
    – fear of doing it wrong….this speaks to the generation gap and resistance to trends… the people that push for social media from inside an association are generally young, making the older folks feel awkward and fuddy-duddy. How many people at the ASAE Tech conference called peer networking “MyFace”?

    – fear of no ROI/ROE…. part of the resistance is centered on “not seeing the money in it”. Many of the interested but uncommitted to social media associations out there are waiting for someone to step forward and say, “since I launched my (insert social media effort here) membership has increased by 20%”

    Finally, I think the biggest roadblock is simply lack of awareness… if associations were using Google Alerts and RSS feeds to track member use of social media and comments on their brand and events, they’d be more inclined to realize how many are already out there talking about them and the industries they represent. Right now, many don’t use the tools that are out there to begin researching what they should do with social media.

  3. Interesting comments, as a small philanthropic organization, we are trying to move into the age of social media in a strategic and financially prudent way. We are excited about the possibilities. I find that our Junior Committee [high school kids] are very excited about what we are embarking on. Our staff needs a 101 on what the difference platforms are, but we are embracing it and recognizing that it is critical for our outreach and growth.

    We hope to have our Board Chair blogging soon!

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