Rebooting the association

While media budgets are squeezed still further as we trudge onward under the cloud of recession, trillionesque debt and the massive public spending cuts gathering on the horizon, the focus on social media ROI grows ever sharper, but less energy is expended looking at the benefits that focused online communities can bring to businesses.

Communities for not-for-profits and membership bodies have a slightly different flavour to those developed for commercial entities. While commercial brands answer to shareholders or private owners, NFPs and membership bodies exist for the benefit of their constituents. There is already a genuine, real-world community or shared interest in place – just as there isn’t (really) between me and say, Sainsbury’s – so a digital community is a natural fit.

But that doesn’t mean it’s any simpler, nor is the transition to deeper member or supporter engagement any less challenging for the organising bodies than a renewed focus on customer engagement is for businesses. There is a lot of overlap. An event I attended at the Law Society on 6th October, “Surviving in a Recession – What Member Organisations can Learn from the Commercial World” addressed the challenges and opportunities in this area.

One of the things I liked about it was the way it set online communities in a longer timeframe than we’re used to talking about. Many membership bodies have been around for 50-200 years. Most started out when enthusiastic and committed people come together informally – usually in a bar room, hotel or coffee house – to improve and professionalise emerging crafts and knowledge.

Fast forward to now, and these bodies occupy grand buildings, wield influence with governments and business, and provide letters after your name. But are they achieving their original aims? How close are they to their members today, and how can a geographically dispersed membership benefit from the knowledge and experience of their fellow members and the wider interested audience? In other words, can we re-boot the association?

The event was co-hosted by Sift – who are the technology and consultancy supplier for CIMAsphere, the online community I manage – and Madgex. Rather than reading a re-cap of the discussion, you can watch the presentations from two of the speakers that morning.

First up is Adam Cranfield, my former colleague, who was at the time Digital Media Manager at CIMA.

The second presentation is from Lawrence Clarke, Head of Consultancy at Sift. Sadly you can’t see his slides in the video, nor Adam’s in his. But the stand-out points for me were Lawrence’s thoughts on the tendency of subscription-based associations to rely on inertia and top-down, one-to-many communications, and how that is being undermined by the connectedness and transparency the web brings on the one hand, and recessionary pressures on the other.

That talk is a companion piece to this post Lawrence wrote a month earlier on the Sift blog. Highly recommended.

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