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Your Association is in Transition, Whether You Know It or Not

by | Feb 21, 2014 | Career Solutions

The past couple months we’ve been talking a lot about strategies, and in particular, the need for associations to develop strategies around important areas of interest like online communities and job boards.

Part of that need is being driven by fast moving competition that, while not specifically targeting associations, are on a course to run square into them sooner than later.

Yesterday we held a webinar entitled, “Social Networking, Mission Creep, and the 2014 Job Market, The Potential Risks and Rewards for Your Association.” It focused on the looming challenge of social media giant LinkedIn to “become a disruptive force in the traditional job search market in 2014. The reasons why this should matter to virtually every association are numerous.

There are big changes going on in the social media world at this very moment. Just this week, Facebook purchased tech startup WhatsApp, and its instant messaging app, for $19 billion. The fact that the company has never disclosed whether or not it is profitable, makes the price tag a little hard to understand. Half of the companies in the S&P 500 aren’t worth that much. In fact, WhatsApp is now more valuable that Southwest Airlines. Ready for a get away?

Facebook set a goal of one billion users, which they announced earlier this year they had reached. But now they are moving fast to do a little “retooling.” Why? In our research on LinkedIn and their quest to be the “de facto standard for where someone goes to go to find a job”, we learned that their fastest growing base of users are 18-24 years olds. By coincidence it also happens to be the fastest growing group that is leaving Facebook. In fact, there are 30 million students or recent college graduates on LinkedIn.

Associations need to prepare to maintain their influence in the marketplace by not giving up the job board market to powers like LinkedIn. There is evidence that niche job boards (like an association career center) are still highly attractive to job seekers, recruiters and employers. But to figure out where your association needs to be in this picture requires a careful strategy, not a shoot from the hip plan of action.

In a recent blog, Jamie Notter wrote about an issue of the Harvard Business Review that spotlighted “Strategy for Turbulent Times”. He referenced an article by Rita Gunther McGrath on “Transient Advantage.” In the piece she argues that the days of long-term competitive advantage are for the most part over. While some companies may still achieve it, they will be the exception rather than the rule. The rest of us are going to jump from one transient advantage to the next, because the markets are changing that quickly. The organizations that figure out how to move through these transient advantages more adeptly are going to be the successful ones.

Jamie’s take is that it will be hard for associations to buy into this concept, simply because for decades many of them have been enjoying a sustained competitive advantage. McGrath’s theory is that the companies (or organizations) that have had an advantage for some time are going to resist the truth that times are changing. Resisting to this change will lead to trouble.

The transformation being brought on by the social Internet mirrors the association business model – education, information and networking, and now job placement. We are definitely entering a new era regarding competitive advantages, which in her article McGrath calls “reconfigure.”

McGrath provides a simple assessment to gauge how competitive you are. Three of the statements you can agree with point directly to an association losing its relevance. With these I am substituting members for customers, although our members are our customers:

  • Customers are finding cheaper or simpler solutions to be “good enough”
  • Competition is emerging from places we didn’t expect.
  • Customers are no longer excited about what we have to offer.

Remember, 30 million students or recent college graduates are users on LinkedIn alone. They will at some point enter the job market and be hired, if they are qualified for the jobs employers are filling. What they will need from their association in terms of networking and professional development may look different from your current members’ needs. But, they are key to your future.

By 2018, one in four workers will be over age 55. Ten thousand boomers are reaching age 65 every day, which will continue through 2020. To a large extent it has become a numbers game.

At some point most associations will need to reconfigure what they are doing to keep their advantage fresh. Their organization will need leaders who aren’t afraid to radically rethink business models or resources.

Are you ready? Because your association’s transition has most likely already begun.

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