Is Your Association Really Listening To Its Members? (Member Engagement in 2016)

Member Engagement vs Customer Engagement

Are Associations Providing The Member Experiences Their Members Want?

Are Associations Providing The Member Experiences Their Members Want?

Association staff sometimes look at people who work in companies and think, “They’ve got it easy. They’ve got money to study customer needs and really serve their customers well.”

People who work in companies sometimes look at association staff and think, “They’ve got it easy. They don’t have to make money, and their members are naturally engaged with them, so it’s easy to know what they need.”

Turns out they are both right and both wrong, says today’s podcast guest, Matthew D’Uva. He’s the Executive Director of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and until recently was the President and CEO of SOCAP International (the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals).

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Association Member Engagement

Association members are the customers, so customer knowledge is baked right in to the system. Members decide what the association should be doing. They serve on its board and committees, they hire and fire it’s executive director.

Associations are typically smaller, so there are fewer layers of bureaucracy if it wants to get involved in social media. Since they are member driven they usually find it easier to let members (i.e. customers) jump to its defense if it is being bad-mouthed online.

There are some pretty big downsides, though.

Matthew DUva discusses member engagement in the digital era with Tema Frank in today's podcast.

Matthew D’Uva discusses member engagement in the digital era with Tema Frank in today’s podcast.

First, many associations are tight on funding. Staff are chronically overworked and there simply isn’t the budget for the sophisticated social listening tools some companies use. There may also be less money for training staff on how to use social and digital media.

Also, it can be difficult serving all members, given wide variations in geography and generations. You need a high degree of transparency and good feedback mechanisms, says D’Uva.

Associations and companies both suffer from one other problem of the current era: people who are massively overextended. There are so many more demands on our time than there used to be. So it is no longer as obvious that a rising executive should get involved in an industry association rather than focusing on the job itself, or doing other types of volunteer work.

(That said, based on my experiences, I’d still say association involvement should be a high priority for your time if you want to further your career. The things you’ll learn and the connections you’ll make are bound to help you going forward.)

Association Member Engagement Trends for 2016

  1. Increased Customer / Member Expectations

    Associations, says D’Uva, are feeling the same heat companies are for ever-increasing quality standards when it comes to customer service (member service).

  2. New Ways To Get Member Input

    For a long time associations relied on annual member surveys to gauge how well they were doing and learn what new offerings would interest their members. Now, thanks to digital media, there is a much wider range of ways in which members can let their views be known. It is also much easier than it was in my days back at the Canadian Bankers’ Association in the 1980s to collaborate with far-flung members. On the flipside, that means associations and their members must learn how to use such technologies.

  3.  Customized Member Experiences

    As in the consumer world, “building customized experiences is going to be critical to be successful in the future,” says D’Uva. Associations which organize big conferences have been leading the way with things like digital conference programs, easily tailored by each attendee to their interests and needs. When you’ve got an event the size of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), you need some kind of personalized filter, otherwise just reading the list of exhibitors would use up all your conference time! 

  4. Declining Membership

    Although this didn’t come directly from our interview, another change facing many associations is declining membership. Membership numbers did rebound a bit from 2010 – 2012 as the US economy came out of recession, but many are still feeling the pinch. As more and more people are self-employed, it will get ever-harder to rely on high membership fees. Even big companies will start to balk at hefty fees when much of the information that people used to get from their associations is now easily obtainable online. So associations have to seriously reconsider their value proposition and possibly their fee structures.

  5. Increased Focus on Education

    One area where associations can continue to provide value is in member education. Some industries require continuing education credits, so it is natural for their associations to regulate the quality of courses and offer their own. Even without that requirement though, associations have the ability to offer courses that are customized to their industry, and that spread the cost of course development among many members instead of each company having to develop its own training.

Do you think this is a good time or a bad time for associations?

Please comment below. And please share this post with your colleagues who might be interested in it. Thanks!
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