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Communications Committee Takes on Branding, Social Media

By: Roger Stevens

As Vice President of Communications at AIS, Georgia State University Professor Richard Baskerville tackles two new communications initiatives that should expand the presence of AIS into several new spheres of influence. Both efforts are something new for AIS, but Baskerville's methodical approach enhances the prospect for success.

The first initiative is a branding campaign for AIS. "The problem the association faces is that most communications efforts focus on internal communications," explains Baskerville, who holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and specializes in interaction of information systems security. "Currently, AIS provides a website for members, as well as communication mechanisms that permit members to exchange information, gain information, and publish information."

External communications, which basically is public relations, has not been top of mind, according to Baskerville. "So we are looking at the website and wondering what it looks like to the public, to people who are not members of AIS, but who may be interested in information systems."

The Communications Committee is focusing on industry organizations that employ information systems. "We want to focus on industry because [members of industry] practice the art and management of information systems. They hire students [who] graduate with degrees in information systems." Industry organizations are the basic foundation of the practice of information systems. "They are a rich source of knowledge for university programs that teach students about information systems," says Baskerville. "They form both the source of learning about information systems and also the link [for] people who want to practice information systems to start and build their careers."

Another target of the branding campaign will be companies that are selling into the information systems marketplace, mostly service providers, such as IBM and SAP. A third target of the campaign will be schools and universities, their students, professors and other instructors.

"The problem we face with branding is the difficulty of managing the brand of information systems and the diverse perceptions of what information systems are," explains Baskerville, who points out that the branding effort is in the study phase. "We are actually trying to be very careful about assembling a plan and a strategy and [reaching consensus on] our own understanding of what this brand should mean to constituents."

The initial phase of that study will be completed early December. "We hope to begin actually building a campaign to establish this brand early next year," says Baskerville. "In the meantime, we hope to begin partnering with other organizations that have an interest in information systems, including professional organizations and possible sponsors outside the community organizations that are using information systems or vending services in information systems marketplace."

The Communications Committee's second initiative is internally focused. "We haven't forgotten our membership," says Baskerville. "So we are working to build up the internal communications that already exist in our association in a competent form. We currently have a listserve, a newsletter, and a website that is pretty effective internally." The initiative will facilitate more effective member-to-member communications. "We are largely an academic membership, but for some reason the ability to share information among members has languished in the last five or six years," observes Baskerville, who thinks social networks like Facebook and Twitter may help.

How the association can help to utilize those social networks is the focus of the initiative. "We hope to establish a board of communicators," he says. "We are currently calling them department editors, hoping to establish a point of contact within each arena of interest to help to manage and establish the social communications among those in our membership interested in each arena."

AIS has thirty six SIGs, and the Communications Committee is at the stage in the initiative where they are trying to solicit involvement with established SIG communication leaders. "We hope to establish a point of contact within each area and let the interest groups more or less control the way they want to allow their communications to evolve," explains Baskerville. "We can provide a social networking vehicle on our website, but they can also choose to use Facebook or LinkedIn, or a Google group, or whatever vehicle that group wants to gravitate to. Our mission is to help them establish that internal communication communities."

The committee is setting up a process of personally contacting each of the SIGs to see if they can get some interest in the effort. Baskerville thinks there is good potential for this initiative to work. "There used to be AIS web pages that were topical, but those have disappeared," he says. "I think those kinds of topics or issues lend themselves well to social media applications. It is a way to crowdsource issues."

All Baskerville and his committee need are leaders to make it happen. "If someone wants to make a name for themselves and a highlight in their resume, this is a great opportunity. It fits perfectly with the concept of information systems, doesn't require an extraordinary amount of work, and utilizes the knowledge found in information systems."

Richard Baskervillle can be reached at Baskerville@acm.org

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