The first association Twitter chat (#assnchat) was held on Tuesday, May 12. Jeff De Cagna (@pinnovation) came up with the idea, spread the word and moderated the chat. I volunteered to go through the tweet twanscript (oh, sorry, couldn’t resist!) and post a synopsis. Although we did not solve all of today’s association problems, we did have a good conversation about some of the issues our industry is facing and how we can begin to tackle them. Here is an outline of the topics discussed — it’s a bit rough but will give you a sense of the conversation.

Online communities as a threat to associations

  • Information – members get news and information more quickly from online peers and sources and have access to experts online.
  • Networking – associations are not usually the conduit for members’ networking online.
  • Online as alternative to the status quo of associations
  • Some associations don’t think their members are using social media, but you need to survey members to determine if that perception is in fact true, you may be surprised at what you learn.
  • Even some participants are questioning their future membership in industry associations because of the benefits (professional development, networking, information, news) received freely online.

Solutions to the online threat

  • Do associations really know what members want? Or do we and/or our boards assume we do? Ask your members, “what could we do that would make you a member for life?”
  • Demonstrate value above and beyond what people can get elsewhere. What’s indispensable?
  • How does the association enhance/augment a member’s social networking activities with other value? Association as a starting place to meet peers or the glue that holds folks together — online or face-to-face can enhance those relationships, should have both channels, members can participate in ways that work for them.
  • Be in the social networking outposts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) while linking to a home base for members on your web site – one supports the other. Enable associations to become the conduit for people to find each other. But why should members pay for this when they can do it themselves online? Because associations are better at organizing face-to-face meetings and events?
  • Successful associations will focus on building community, being relationship brokers and serving as a conduit.

Content as a membership value

  • Associations as holders of content (experts), “legitimizers” of content (still true?), conduit/forum for members to deliver their own content/expertise
  • Who creates content?
    • Members as knowledge/content creators – associations must encourage and facilitate that; enable members to become creators, but allow others to comment, etc. Association as curators.
    • Some associations do not have the staff resources to create content, must rely on members/others.
    • Social media can be used to co-create with contributors (not necessarily members) to build trusted markets of exchange.

Members-only content

  • Still viable? Some say no, not a useful construct.
  • How to determine what lives behind the member wall? Associations first need a social media strategy to determine that.
  • Don’t build a wall, create a fishtank – provides transparency with the membership and the profession, shows how members engage with association. Create a filter to “clean” the process as you go — new blood in staff and leadership, new initiatives, trying to break new ground. Pressure to make changes is greater outside the fishtank than inside.

Why aren’t associations changing?

  • Fear of change and the unknown, risk-averse, bureaucratic nature, slow moving, slow to critique or envision alternate futures
  • Lack of understanding drives decision makers to want more assurances, research and risk management
  • Members want safe networking with peers and safe experimentation with leading edge tools — safety as a form of deep support (AAA and AARP – their value propositions are built on safety)
  • Need to create a safe, trusted environment in which people can make sense of things, access advice and experiment
  • Education is necessary during periods of change

Membership dues revenue model – viable in future?

  • Are associations in danger of following in the footsteps of the newspaper industry? Yes, because we won’t give up what holds us back – closed membership.
  • Where then does revenue come from to support advocacy, operations and other member services?
  • If content is open to all, what are members paying dues for?
  • Social media as possible revenue source — advertisements, sponsored webinars/podcasts/videos, tie-in with events, user-generated content
  • Or, more likely, social media won’t be arevenue source but a way to build new capabilities that create revenue. Associations as a unique, personalized experience, as deep support for member.
  • Extract the value of the interaction between activated network and content.
  • Possible revenue source – product/content development
  • Perhaps a membership model that grants access to info/events based on participation level, those who give more, get more.

Tools for communication

  • Yammer for internal communications – have to have an email address from the same domain to use Yammer, otherwise you can’t login; great for cutting across departmental silos.
  • Cubetree
  • Tweetgroup – groups and attachments, wonderful application with desktop client
  • iPhone apps – American Bar Association has one for its magazine, American Booksellers Association

Questions for future chats

  • Does anyone see associations struggling to deal with the way different generations want to interact? Face to face vs online?
  • With high demand on staff in small associations, how do we get our members to support and feed content creation?

Participants

AddyKujawa, alisonharle, BeccaFlach, CharmsS, DeirdreReid, desabol, eventpublisher, j8nd, jcrosby4, Jeffhurt, jeremygriffin, jmoonah, joerominiecki, JoeStella, karenaltes, kevinpatrick, kristildonovan, maggielmcg, MissLynn13, pinnovation, rharris, rjohnston, sgiarde, unklbuck

The next #assnchat will be Tuesday, May 19 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern (11:00 a.m. Pacific). You can follow by going to Tweetchat or Tweetgrid and following #assnchat, or in Tweetdeck you can create a search column for #assnchat.