The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

What Associations Can Learn From the Harlem Shake

Posted by Chris Bonney on Wed, Feb 27, 2013


There’s an irony in an association doing their own version of the Harlem Shake as one of our clients did recently.

Kudos to PCMA for knowing their members’ personalities and having the openness and transparency to participate in this red hot meme. They understand their industry would embrace it and credit them with relevance.  And honestly, it’s a great version. Well done.

The irony, though, is not relevant to just PCMA... but to all associations.

What the Harlem Shake meme illustrates to all of us is this:

We are not in control.

We can hide “valuable” content behind our website login, only to have a member post it publicly on a blog the next day.

We can send cease and desist letters to those that infringe on our brands, only to realize that by the time the legal system drops their gavel, the damage has already been done.

We can pretend that our decreasing event attendance is due to the economy, only to watch SXSW grow each year and wonder how they do it.

The reality is that the Internet has democratized everything. It’s created an environment where a brand can be demolished in minutes (Netflix) or where a song with non-English lyrics can become a smash in the U.S. (Gangnam Style) or where an association can jump in and quickly produce a video to participate in an Internet craze.  

So, what happens if some information about your organization gets traction online outside of your control? Do you fear that idea or embrace it? Are you opening up opportunities for your members to express themselves or are you putting policies in place to moderate their comments? Are you innovating around your membership model or making excuses for it? Is your social network behind a login or can your whole industry have a voice there?

In short, we’re existing in a world split between the Old Guard and the New Guard.  And a “just add water” video sensation like Harlem Shake that enables anyone from anywhere to participate is a telling sign that the New Guard may be winning.

On what side will your organization align? 


Need inspiration? Check out the video below of the PCMA staff doing the Harlem Shake.  Now ask yourself, how are you going to shake things up for your association today?


Topics: web strategy, members only, sxsw, content strategy

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