Don’t Give Up: An Anti 'Fail Fast' Story

Don’t Give Up: An Anti 'Fail Fast' Story

“Fail fast” has become an anthem for the business-minded everywhere.

It’s a strategy that originated from lean startup methodology and it involves evaluating the performance of numerous small tests that allow the leaders of organizations to build to greater and greater success quickly. If an idea pans out, great, it’s a win!

If not, you’ve failed and it’s probably not worth your time. Under the fail fast philosophy you would then quickly “pivot” to trying something new.

But are there times when it makes more sense to “fail slow”?

I started hosting Association Chat in 2009. In the beginning, it was a weekly chat on Twitter that brought the association community together every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern to discuss topics of interest to the community.

My friend, Jeff De Cagna, started the original discussion on Twitter and when he became too busy to act as host, I continued on with it.

The hashtag, #assnchat, as provocative as it seems today, helped people follow along with the chat and continue the conversation on Twitter. Over time #assnchat became the hashtag of choice for the association community, even outside of the chat itself.

Even today, using Hashtagify to analyze all related hashtags, #assnchat is one of the most used hashtags (and often the most popular hashtag) for the association industry.

In the early days, there were weeks when many people would show up for the tweet chats and other weeks when there were just a handful of active participants.

People would tell me they were regular lurkers on the chats, even though they didn’t participate. Many people said they received great value from them, and so I kept showing up to host. I figured it wasn’t taking much time, and it was providing a forum to at least a small number of people, so what was the harm?

As months turned to years, I experimented with the format.

I had guests who would lead the conversation occasionally. I would try different marketing tactics to see the impact it had on attendance. I played around with grouping the chat topics and scheduling the topics ahead of time.

I tried blogging along with the tweet chats, archiving the chats themselves and used different tools to help improve the participant experience.

Over time, several complications with the format continued to surface.

The most problematic of the chat issues I faced was that some topics were almost impossible to tweet about with Twitter’s (then) 140-character limits. Imagine discussing the nuances of today’s #MeToo movement for the association and meetings industries!

Another problem was the unintentional exclusivity of the conversation due to the channel used. Twitter was just too complicated for most users.

Favorite topics tended to revolve around technology and marketing, which might have been because of the types of people who felt comfortable and familiar with using Twitter. I’d hear from people regularly who told me they wanted to participate but didn’t understand Twitter, hashtags and the way it all tied together.

Or those who, understandably, found it hard to follow along.

I toyed around with the idea of moving to a webinar-type platform so more people could participate, but because I was leading this effort as a hobby and had other financial obligations, it didn’t make sense at the time.

I was also familiar with the regular issues people faced with working for organizations that couldn’t risk downloading webinar software to their computers.

Enter live-streamed video! I discovered online interactive conversations using video over a browser that allowed participants to jump on the screen when they had things to say.

It permitted lurkers to show approval and safe interaction by “giving props” using a symbol of a hand. It also allowed for more complicated discussions to take place and for people to be as engaged as they desired. The tool was called Blab, and for me, it was the right kind of platform for Association Chat.

In October 2015, I held my first online, livestreamed Association Chat.

This change to a new format created a buzz in association circles and several blog posts, and mentions of the move helped spread the word.

Association Chat had been quietly active for years, consistently holding space for the association community to gather for an hour each week. Now there was something new!

Association Chat was open to everyone, whether they understood Twitter or not, and if they couldn’t watch live, they could check out the recording later.

I discovered some challenges with livestreaming the chat each week. One big problem was that I could no longer just show up with a topic and 10 questions for the hour.

I discovered most people wanted to watch others talking and participate when they desired, which was less often than I'd have liked. I needed to identify other voices to join me ahead of time if I didn’t want it to be “The KiKi Show” every week (and I didn’t).

I had to plan out further ahead and make sure knowledgeable people were going to be on the chat to answer questions about each week’s topic.

Then there were all the technical difficulties.

As Blab played with their product, bugs and glitches would be uncovered each week like little mean surprises just waiting for the right key to be pushed or feature to deploy.

(Many shows were popping up on Blab, and a community of Blab hosts came together so that several of us who had weekly programs back then still follow each other’s shows on other platforms today. One good example is Social Media Examiner).

The guests needed guidance on having a good Wi-Fi signal, and sometimes audio issues became an annoyance for me that no amount of Excedrin could repair.

As with most things, the more time I spent on the show (it was now a “show” less than a “chat”), the more I valued it. I began spending money on better lighting, a better webcam, a better microphone, and even more expensive tools like Wirecast.

Similar to when the chat was on Twitter, some weeks were famous for conversation with many participants and some weeks only a few steadfast participants would show up. Those weeks were hard on me (are hard on me) because it wasn’t just my voice in my head asking, “Why are you doing this?” But it was my husband’s voice and even the voices of others who would ask me why I even bothered with Association Chat at all?

“I mean, you’re not making money from it, right?” one person said to my face while attending a reception several years ago. There are so many reasons to hate receptions.

In the past, different people would try to hijack the hashtag or name something they produced “Association Chat,” and I’d hear from supporters who were furious about it. But I had my regular work to do and couldn’t afford more time spent on these things.

I can say, with great pleasure, that I’ve watched every one of them come and go.

For years, for every one person I’d meet at an industry reception who had heard of Association Chat, I would talk with five who hadn’t. For all the time, energy and money spent on the Chat; it was easy to want to quit. And maybe that was the smart thing to do.

But then I’d hear from someone else who said the chat had changed their career path, helped them to get a raise or caused them to get more involved in the association community before they could afford to pay dues for memberships and conferences.

Association Chat had, consequently, changed participants’ lives.

Over the years, I’ve watched as groups of regulars move through like classes.

For various reasons, people become incredibly engaged for a while and then will fade away to occasionally jump back in when a topic is of particular interest. I find this fascinating. Some of these people have become dear friends.

Association Chat has given back to me.

From it, I’ve received name recognition, an in-demand skillset for moderating and interviewing on livestreamed video, and a more comprehensive understanding of a variety of association industry issues than most people are lucky enough to have.

Today Association Chat has a website, a very active private Facebook group of over 750 members, a Patreon page for donors, and in 2017 Association Chat welcomed its first sponsor, Fonteva, a software company that still sponsors Association Chat today.

In fact, the Association Chat community has a committed group of supporters, and it continues to grow, which is attracting companies who want to work with Association Chat to create content and supply ads to the Chat's mailing list of over 10,000 and the Chat’s many online followers.

(I’ve hesitated to do much with advertising because I don’t want to create too much noise for the community, but I’m learning more about ways to work with companies to provide value in a way that makes financial sense. We’ll see what 2018 holds for that).

As Blab’s use case changed, Association Chat moved to, and today uses Crowdcast, which allows for browser-based engagement with the ability to livestream to Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and yes, Twitter (Periscope) using the hashtag #assnchat.

Back to where it all began!

Association Chat is also distributed as a podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Spreaker, and iHeartRadio. Most of Association Chat’s views and downloads come from Facebook Live and the podcast.

Each week’s episode brings between 1,000 and 2,000 views/downloads, depending on the topic and guest (which is not terrible for a niche market).

People tell me they like listening to the interviews as they drive. When people ask me why I continue to do the chats live when some weeks only have a handful of active participants, my answer is that I feel loyal to the idea of holding space for live real-time engagement for this community every single week, no matter what the topic is.

Association Chat has also had a few live in-person and livestreamed shows with a studio audience, the most notable being one using the videography skills of multiple cameras and switchboard magic courtesy of 5:00 Films and Media.

Next year, Association Chat will celebrate its 10-Year Anniversary. As of this writing, I’ve led approximately 468 online conversations on Association Chat alone.

Since moving to a livestreamed, on-camera format in October 2015, I’ve conducted 124 interviews with 215 people.

So, when “failing fast” is the prescription for success today, is there room for a happy ending when one is failing slow? I don’t know.

Why don’t you join Association Chat and tell me?

Editors' Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

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Posted by KiKi L'Italien

KiKi is the founder and CEO of Amplified Growth, a D.C.-based digital marketing consultancy.

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