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Associations: To Build or Not to Build

by | Oct 4, 2011 | Industry News & Trends

Recently, Rich Millington sent out an email challenge to his subscribers asking them what was wrong with Ducati’s new online community. He challenged us to take a look at it and give him some feedback. At first glance, it looks like a beautiful community. People who love their bikes are uploading pictures. There’s a “Monster Challenge” to encourage engagement. You can connect with other Ducati fans. Seems like your typical corporate, brand-centric community.  So why didn’t Rich like (no pun intended) Ducati’s new community?

One reader had the answer — Ducati shouldn’t have built a community.  In Rich’s opinion there already are several successful fan-created sites out there and the Ducati should’ve connected with the audience in that way and not directly compete with its own fans.

I see Rich’s point from a community standpoint. The community already exists. Why be in competition with yourself? But Rich is a community guy, not an association guy. What would you do if the industry your association represents had a very successful LinkedIn group? Would you participate there? Of course you should. If your audience is there, you should be too. But you’re not competeing with yourself to create your own online community. First, you can offer industry expertise that the other group can not. (If you don’t think that’s the case, maybe you should just close up shop.)You have events, seminars and conferences — some for continuing education credits. You offer leadership opportunities and are dedicated to the continuation of your industry. You’re involved in lobbying efforts on behalf of your members. For your association it’s a career; you are not merely populating a social site as a hobby.

From a selfish standpoint, having your own community and increasing content helps your website with SEO. It allows members to connect (behind closed doors) in private groups while allowing public access to your association. It gives you a place from which you can unveil new offerings and poll your members where the results are yours and you are not held hostage by the blips and interruptions of free software.

Associations have a hard time being “selfish.” To think about the business benefits to creating your own online community goes against the grain of what it means to be a non-profit. But it’s okay to be concerned about yourself because it’s not onesided. When you are creating an online community for your members, you are not creating it for you. After all, it’s going to be a lot of work on your part — adding content, uploading pictures, engaging your members, etc. A successful community will be focused on helping members make professional and personal connections, giving them access to community job boards, forums, group discussions, blogs, volunteer opportunities and so much more. But when this kind of activity feeds directly into your AMS, it’s not just for them. It helps you too and that’s why Rich and I differ on whether you should have a community or not.

What’s your take? Do you have the right to “own” your own community?


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