Professional organization? What’s in it for me?

Networking. Professional development. Friends.

That’s what you get from a membership in an appropriate professional organization, says Les Potter. I agree. Les talks about the value he got/gets from IABC, which I first learned about in October, when I attended the Region 2 conference run by STC UK. Silvia Cambié from IABC Europe and Middle East was one of the speakers. I regretted not hearing her talk, but it was one of those usual conflicts – two sessions you want to hear being held at the same time, so I tossed a virtual coin. At least I heard her on a panel discussion about the future of technical communication. The conference theme was the business value of technical communicators, and Silvia argued that they should sit “at the table” participating in business strategies. The entire conference was excellent, and filled with discussions along that theme. As a member of STC, I was keen to attend the conference, because it was nice to attend something by “my” organization that was close to home.

Les’ trio was there: networking with my peers, as well as leaders in the STC community; professional development resulting from very rich, inspirational, and information-packed talks that exceeded my expectations of a two-day conference; and friends. Wonderful friends.

Who wouldn’t want all this? Networking, professional development, and, above all, friends tend to have very long lasting effects.

Les says more with less. I am going to love his posts. Where’s the fan club? A big thanks to Allan Jenkins for announcing this blog.

4 replies on “Professional organization? What’s in it for me?”

  1. I agree that there are no downsides to belonging to a professional organization like the STC. But I’ve heard that membership as a whole is receding, and one of my colleagues conjectured that the prevalence of online communities such as listservs and forums are diminishing the value that professional groups once had. Before the Internet, how did you network with your peers except through physical meetings? Now that so much is online, and especially now that Web 2.0 exploded with social software (like blogs), you can certainly have friends, networking, and professional development without officially belonging to a costly professional organization.

    We are trying to increase the ways we can offer benefits to chapter members. How strong is the STC chapter in Denmark?

  2. Tom, you bring up some very valid points. I actually felt uncomfortable about this blog entry. I was excited by the post that I reference, because I understood exactly what the poster, Les Potter, was talking about. However, in my post, I felt that the argument for belonging to an organization was full of holes. That is what made me uncomfortable.

    Was what I was promoting here actually available in other forms without the umbrella of a professional organization? There are email discussion groups that stand on their own, have a loyal following, and are free. Don’t people get a network, professional development, and friendship from such groups? Yes, they do. Isn’t that what is called a sense of community as discussed in the podcasts on that topic at http://www.boagworld.com or in Derek Powazek’s wonderful, wonderful book, “Design for Community: The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places” (unfortunately out of print, but available on http://safari.oreilly.com where it is parked on my Bookshelf)?

    So is there a future for professional organizations? I think, yes, there is. The Nordic chapter of STC was dissolved last year because nothing really happened. The two people left couldn’t run the whole show. It was no longer a community effort. Perhaps there was simply no need for it any more. People could get their thrills elsewhere. I think survival depends on a well-defined sense of being. Why is the organization there? A virtual community that exists today may be dissolved tomorrow because no one feels committed to its purpose – if it has any. I see a professional organization as one that also carries weight and influence. Just take a look at this document: http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/designbusinessandethics. Everyone and their cousin can install a bunch of tools and declare that they are in business as a writer/designer/graphic artist/etc. How are you, the consumer, ensured of basic quality, or even just getting the job done and something for your money? Sure, there are shooting stars that never follow the beaten path and achieve great success, but for the majority, a professional organization can provide some sort of assurance or safety to both the consumer and the producer (of text or whatever). There is an attempt to provide a seal of approval or quality.

    Writing in your CV or résumé that you participate in many discussion lists or fora may elicit just a shrug of the shoulder. Listing memberships in professional organizations does get much more attention. Of course, if you only “belong” and do not “participate”, that will shine through at some point. 😉

    My reply to your comment is meandering. I know. I think this is a time of transition. Participation in activities in the physical world is being challenged by participation in activities in the virtual world. Yes, membership in STC is falling. I don’t know what the situation is like in other organizations. Surveys are in order. Don’t let people flee without asking why. And ask those who are staying for their opinions. I think we just have to keep our minds open to all ideas right now. So much is happening. Can we keep riding the wave, or hop over to a new one? Look at http://beta.plazes.com/ or http://www.meetup.com/. The virtual world is rejoining the physical world. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

  3. Your reply is certainly thought-provoking. I’m sorry to hear the Nordic chapter dissolved. Right now our chapter has 140 members, with about 45 who are active. But “active” is defined as showing up to the meetings, which are becoming less appealing despite the good presenters. One reason I started Tech Writer Voices was to appeal to people who don’t come to meetings. But you know, most don’t listen to the recorded presentations either.

    I think the majority just want to write STC on their resumes. Or else they belong out of habit, still holding to the tradition before the world of social media and virtual communities exploded. I will have to check out some of the links you mentioned. I did listen to the Boagworld podcast on virtual communities and found it interesting.

    Note: One plugin you might want to check out is the Subscribe to Comments plugin: http://txfx.net/code/wordpress/subscribe-to-comments/

    It lets commenters know when there has been a reply. As a commenter I find it useful.

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