Saturday, February 25, 2017

NERGC 2017 Premieres Society Management Day with Elissa Scalise Powell, Jen Baldwin, and Michelle D. Novak

Photograph placed in the public domain by Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, USCDCP.

Face it, many genealogical societies are aging, growing grayer, and seeing fewer people at their monthly meetings. My beloved Welles Family Association filled hotel meeting rooms with 80 to 100 attendees in the 1980s. Now we see about two dozen at each annual meeting. How can we reverse this trend?

How can we who have been leading genealogy societies for decades ensure that our societies thrive in the future?

For those of us committed to ensuring that our societies thrive long after we retire from leadership, this special track at NERGC is perfect. I spoke (that is, emailed) with the three presenters for Society Management Day at NERGC 2017. I wanted to give them an opportunity to share their enthusiasm for the future with us.

 Jen Baldwin, “Connecting with the Next Generation: Join the Conversation!"

Me: Jen, the next generation is our own children, but meeting them as a group of genealogists is a new thing. What are some of the new ways of finding our audiences that you will cover?

Jen: Although we’ll discuss a variety of options during the session, one way in which we can be proactive about engaging the next generation is to “be where they are.” Meaning, societies today need to be using the same platforms as those they are trying to attract – Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and so on. One of our struggles as a community is that non-profits are traditionally slower to adopt these types of tools, and by the time they do, the audience has moved on to the next “big thing.” Facebook is a great example of this – there are hundreds of genealogy related pages and groups, but the trends show that the younger users have already left Facebook and engage on other social media platforms and apps. We, as a community, face many challenges as we are hungry for volunteers, for particular skill sets, and for the strong, underlying foundation of genealogy methodology. Even through these challenges, we need to be forward-thinking and be preparing to target the tools of tomorrow as well as consistently using the tools of today.

Elissa Scalise Powell, “More Than a Program: Event Planning for Your Society.”

Me: Elissa, I can see with my own eyes that the old lunch and lecture style isn’t cutting it anymore. I know your local genealogy society is thriving. What are some of the options you’ll be sharing with us?

Elissa: We have a local commercial that encourages people to get out of their “same old, same old” routine because “It is the same. And it is old.” To grow, societies must periodically expand into activities to address the needs of their members and the goals of the society. Even in this internet and social media age, people crave personal interaction while doing interesting activities. Genealogical societies have the interest built in--our family research--and need ways to interact with each other. Education is still important although education by itself can be obtained many different ways now. What do your members like to do? Take a walk in a cemetery? Cook ancestral dishes? Have a chance to share family stories? Anything that allows for participation engages members and brings in new members and energy. People are drawn to vivacious groups. To become a center of fun, energy, and innovation, BE the center of fun, energy and innovation. Hopefully this presentation and interactive discussion will help you brainstorm ideas for your society to try.

Me: That’s so cool. It’s all stuff I’d like to do, too.

Michelle D. Novak, “Men Are on Blogs, Women Are on Facebook,” and “Society Scramble: Why Us vs. Them Is Doomed to Fail.”

Me: Michelle, I was struck by your first speech title, and realized this might explain why such a high percentage of my own Facebook contacts are women. How will you help us get out of our comfort zones?

Michelle: Aw, thanks for noticing my titles—they each have a back-story.
The first, “Men Are on Blogs, Women Are on Facebook,” was inspired by some discussions with my history friends. The genealogical work I’ve been doing (or not doing since I’ve been so busy as a Trustee) has morphed from collecting vital records to more deep-dive research into individuals and the time periods they lived in. I was interested in history long before I discovered genealogy and, now that I have, my love of history has become very focused.

I was also a very early twitter adopter and as I got more and more into social media, I noticed that many of my history friends (most of whom are male) were avid twitter users but my genealogy friends (mostly female) preferred Facebook. In dissecting both, I discovered there are sharply different users, ways to connect and track your impact, and great opportunities for Societies to use it to reach new audiences. They’re different animals in the same zoo.

Twitter is kind of like the wild-west of social media. People can make anonymous, multiple accounts; speech and vulgarity is not policed; and it’s very hard to track the impact of your tweets beyond retweets. Any attempt to turn twitter into a marketing tool is always strongly opposed by its users. It is very common for people to twitter and link to their own blog—and users are used to clicking through to content off the site.

On the other hand, Facebook is a marketing platform. When you understand the basics of how it works, it will not only serve your content to people who have opted to follow you, but your posts can also organically reach new people. Facebook has tons of tools so that people don’t have to click away from the site—they keep you in the bubble but also give you more opportunities to build audience and see who is reading your posts, how they react, and what they do with them.

With this talk, I’ll be focusing on a few features and tools that I would like every Society to understand and use—they’re there, and free—and I am dying to get Societies to understand, and use them better. These tools will help your posts and events get more traction and help you use the free tools to grow audience and, hopefully, convert them to members. (That last part is up to you.) 

I’ll have lots of examples to show and will provide worksheets to help inspire you and to share with your Board Members.

My second talk on the day, “Society Scramble: Why Us vs. Them Is Doomed to Fail,” will be about taking the broad view to inspire your Society. 

My genealogy and Trustee work is a sideline for me. My expertise, and my professional life, is as a brand strategist and designer for corporations and non-profits. Now, I usually get two reactions when I talk about branding: 1) “I don’t need a logo,” and 2) “I have no idea what that is.” (My own mom is still on the second one.)

At its core, branding is about finding what makes you, or your organization, unique. Once you discover what this is (which, I warn you, can be a trying exercise), you’re better focused on how to explain it to others and separate yourself from your competition. All the other pieces of the brand, the logo, photos, messaging, etc., reflect the strategy.  

In my own experience, I find that many Societies are still worried about competing with other Societies. But their competition isn’t with the county or state next door, it’s with Ancestry, FamilySearch, and others—who are now household names. People, especially the under 45s who are on the other side of the digital divide, are happy to spend money on annual subscriptions—and may not know that local help at Societies even exists. 

At the same time, the big companies are reaching out to county and state Societies to form partnerships. These can alleviate some of the tasks of building and maintaining online databases and all the security issues and costs that come up with investing in such a technical project. 

And, if that wasn’t enough, Societies could be using new tools to make membership easier and more convenient—but many by-laws are standing in the way. (Imagine that if at Ancestry, you had to have a subscription to each State’s collections, and each collection had a different renewal date!)

The good news is that everyone is trying to figure this out—and there are lots of options on the table. The bad news is that “business as usual” might just put your Society out of business. And no Trustee wants to sink their ship or harm their Society.

This is a huge subject—and obviously, something I’m passionate about. I’ll focus my talk on some great examples and provide worksheets which you can use with your Boards to create a 1-, 3-, and 5-year plan for your organization—and better define what makes you great at what you do.

Click here to register for Society Management Day: 

The Demanding Genealogist is happy to be a part of the 2017 New England Regional Genealogical Conference as an official blogger.

UPDATED 25 February 2017 at 8:56 PM Eastern time with the link directly to the NERGC registration for the event.