The ISA (International Society of Automation) is facing a challenging time. As I prepare to attend the Fall Leaders’ Meeting and ISA Expo in a few days, I know that major cuts and dramatic changes are in store. Depending upon how you look at it, I am personally either blessed or cursed not be part of the most important and far reaching decisions that will be inevitably be announced in the coming weeks. I understand that many of these changes are necessary due to shortfalls in revenue resulting from the same economic conditions facing everyone. However, I want to put forth a few ideas that will no doubt sound crazy to some and may even brand me as a “heretic.” Incidentally, I would take that as a compliment and if you’re curious as to why, you should watch this Seth Godin video. The ideas are too lengthy to include a single post, so I present them in summary here and will link them to sub-articles, where more detail is provided for those who are interested.
Sell Scarcity, Give Away Abundance
Many thanks to Jim Pinto for bringing this into focus for me with his recent InTech article, “Sell scarcities, not abundance.” I’ve taken the liberty of expanding on his thesis by leveraging the concepts of “freeconomics.” I am intrigued by the possibility of making ISA membership free. Yes, I said it – free.
I go into more detail in “Sell Scarcity, Give Away Abundance”
Build an Army Using the Long Tail
Making membership free will not, in and of itself, build an effective army. First, they must be recruited. This is where the long tail comes into play. Next, they must be equipped with the latest technology, afforded competent and inspiring leaders, and trained in effective tactics. The “Long Tail” is a phrase attributed to Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson, who wrote an article in 2004 about “Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.” Engineers and economists would already be familiar with the numerical component of this phenomenon, known as the power law distribution curve or more colloquially the “80/20” rule. I think the current strategies are more focused on maintaining the 20% than pulling in the other 80%. Once free membership and the long tail begin filling the membership hopper, the next step is to “arm” them with the latest web 2.0 technologies.
I go into more detail in “Build an Army Using the Long Tail”
Switch from Filter/Distribute to Distribute/Filter
Content is the fuel for this new paradigm’s engine. A wide variety of interesting, thought provoking, authoritative, and even mundane content will increase member engagement and improve search engine results, driving more and more web search results to ISA. However, under the current publication infrastructure this is difficult if not impossible to realize. That’s because the current approach is to filter, then publish. The alternative is to distribute, then filter. In other words, the long tail of the membership should be enabled to become content providers.
I go into more detail in “Members as Content Providers”
Be Respectful in Our Marketing
Let’s talk about email. This has been a controversial subject for many years and for several reasons. The mistake here is that ISA has been wrestling with the best way to interrupt people, sort of like looking for the friendliest way to insult somebody. The solution is, once again, permission-based or opt-in marketing.
I go into more detail in “Be Respectful in Our Marketing”
The Elephant in the Room
This may sound like implementing these ideas requires the current web site to be blown up and rebuilt from scratch, which will cost a fortune. Yes and no. The current framework will not support these tools and tactics for a reasonable cost. However, the revolution in open source web content management systems (CMS) allows the rapid development of extremely powerful web sites by non-professionals for zero or little licensing cost. These CMS have enormous commercial third party add on markets that provide extensibility for very low cost – we’re talking less than $10k.
There is no getting around the fact that it would be a time consuming task to migrate all of the existing content to a new platform. However, it can be done by any mildly computer savvy user after about an hour’s worth of training. The job could be outsourced to the membership in large part and I am willing to bet the call to arms would be well received.
These thoughts are meant to provide food for thought, not necessarily a road map. It is a momentary cross over from the way it was to the way it could be. The way it is unsustainable. Applying a tourniquet may stop the bleeding, but that is not a solution. I believe that ISA can not only survive but thrive if we can recognize and embrace the trends that will define how professional institutions organize their members for the next fifty years.
My hope is to provoke conversations that lead to innovation and positive change. To that end, please use the comments section below and provide your thoughts. As Linda Richman on Saturday Night Live’s “Coffee Talk” skit would say, “I’ve given you a topic. Talk amongst yourselves.”