With the speed and sheer volume of information and tools available today, associations need to strategically implement and integrate technology to create and enhance our relationship with our members. As our technology options continue to increase, our attention and capacity are decreasing. We have a natural tendency to respond to the increasing level of choices by doing more and more instead of going deeper to create relevant offerings. Having more available choices means we need to be more discriminating in what we choose to implement and to not let the tools dilute, but rather enhance our message to our members.
We need to focus on quality and quantity, relationship and transaction. Adding one more meeting, one more social media tool, one more benefit to make up for a declining membership is not a sustainable strategy if it’s not based on our members’ needs and expectations. We need to simultaneously operate efficiently while engaging our members in conversation and collaboration.
While it’s important to benchmark to other associations’ technology practices for ideas, our members are not comparing us with other associations. They are comparing us with their experiences with Amazon, Apple, Google, LinkedIn and Facebook. While we don’t have an Amazon or Apple-like budget, we can assimilate the concepts used by these successful companies and apply them on our scale. Simply stated, successful companies (and associations) understand their customers through the effective use of data, design and content.
In today’s highly competitive market, it is important to think about where you are going as an organization. Data is an invaluable tool to help with that process. Too many people underestimate the value of data. We get to know our members by collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. We should discover their interests, expertise, demographics, specialties, talents, industry vertical, company size, birthdate, number of years in profession, volunteer interests, challenges and expectations. With these data points, we can connect members to each other, engage them in the association and match our offerings to their needs.
However, we should only collect data that we intend to use. How many membership and event surveys have we sent, attempting to collect data and feedback that were simply ignored? Create and execute a touch point plan for first year members, long-term members, members with varying levels of experience, members who have participated, and members who have not actively participated. Don’t just invite them to meetings — recognize and thank them for their involvement. Give them ways to contribute based on their talents and specialties. Offer virtual volunteer opportunities by getting members to post to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to drive conversations, or send them your list of new members for the month and ask them to email a personal welcome.
We increase the value of data collection by giving the data back to members: -Send personalized emails with merged fields that show our members we understand them; -Provide searchable directories that connect members to members, and the public to members; -Identify patterns in the data you collect to deliver new offerings (i.e., a large contingent in health care that would benefit from a special interest group, a missing segment to target, or a hot topic that could be the subject for a webinar); -Use surveys and polls to identify trends and opportunities; -Conduct focus groups to understand our members’ perspective and narrative; -Offer a mentorship program that matches newer or younger members with those who have more experience.
Good design gains and keeps readers’ attention by merging art and science, engaging both the right and left sides of our brains. When done well, it visually leads, informs, guides and organizes. -Use color to organize content; -Merge design and data into visuals and infographics; -Provide tabbed content areas that organize content like file folders; -Engage readers with descriptive headlines and concise copy that leads to more in-depth content; -Make information easy to scan with bullets and carefully organized chunks of information; -Use photos that humanize the organization and tell a story; -Take time to explain your website with instructions and demos for users; -Help users understand the value of using the tools you integrate.
Associations have always been about connecting people with common interests. The technology tools we choose should be about connection, collaboration, knowledge exchange and professional growth at all career stages – energetic young professionals, mid-career members who are looking for leadership opportunities, and experienced thought leaders. Our members are subject matter experts and we need to tap into that expertise in a variety of formats (white papers, case studies, tip sheets, templates or simply a testimonial on the association’s value to their career). In today’s world, without great content you will fail.
Associations are in the relationship business. The technology tools we have available give us a tremendous opportunity to serve our members better through data, design and content which facilitate connections, conversations and community.
About the Author
Kathie Pugaczewski, CAE, CMP, is Vice President of Communication & Technology with Ewald Consulting, an association management company with offices in the Twin Cities and Chicago serving 35 State, national and international associations. She can be contacted at email@example.com.