For many years now, Mitch Joel, president of marketing agency Twist Image, has been manning the lookout post for the rest of us. His blog, Six Pixels of Separation, is a constant in my RSS feed and his podcast is a regular on my phone. Mitch dedicates each podcast to a conversation with someone interesting from marketing, media or another connected world. If you speak at conferences, you’ll like his recent shows with Nick Morgan and Nancy Duarte.

Mitch was a keynote speaker at the recent digitalNow conference in Nashville. In his keynote, as in his book, Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends On It, he described five massive movements that have changed how we interact with organizations. Unfortunately, many organizations, including associations, haven’t done much to change how they interact with us.

The power of direct relationships

The battle for direct relationships with your members involves everyone else who offers value to them, including your vendor members, media, consumer brands, thought-leaders and others on their screens. Mitch introduced us to someone who might change how we think about connecting with members. Bethany Mota is a teenage video star who shares her shopping “hauls” with 2-3 million fans every day. She’s successful because she knows her community and gives them what they want. Traditional media can’t even compete.

Do you have a Bethany Mota? Partner with people who know how to connect and communicate with your audience — people who can create direct relationships with them and give them what they want. These people may be on your staff or in your membership, but most likely they’re not. You’ll have to create new relationships (and new budget lines) to get them on your team. But you want them on your team.

disruptions facing associations

Mitch Joel at digitalNow 2014 in Nashville
(photo by Bill Sheridan)

Sex with data

Don’t be standoffish. Get cozy and intimate with your data. You can now capture two types of data:

  • Linear data – transactions, searches, email open rates and clicks.
  • Circular data – the social data we willingly put online that paints a picture of our behavior, interests and needs.

The magic begins when you put both types of data together for a deeper understanding of your members and a more personalized experience for them.

Amazon is the personalization king with their website recommendations and their PriceCheck app which tells you how much the product you’re looking at in a store will cost on Amazon. In the process, they’re learning more about you – your location, interests and shopping habits. In return for your data, they provide a better shopping experience. Check out what the Project Management Institute is doing for their members and website visitors. You don’t need an Amazon budget to do that.

Utility or death

Mitch said today’s prime real estate is the smartphone screen. “What are you doing that makes you valuable enough to be on your member’s home screen?” Members don’t really care about you and your promotions, but the old “what’s in it for me” is one marketing cliché that remains relevant today.

Successful for-profit online communities like Doximity for doctors and ResearchGate for scientists focus first on creating utility – tools and services that help their members do their jobs more effectively. That’s why these hugely successful communities have attracted millions in venture capital and millions of members.

Passive vs. active

Know when to make the distinction between passive and active media, and when a member is passive or active online. Press releases don’t belong on Facebook. Members don’t want to be hounded to like or +1 everything they read on your website.

But members do want the opportunity to be active when they’re online in a way that provides value to them. Give them regular opportunities to provide feedback, share an opinion or idea, help make a decision, or participate in a discussion.

One-screen world

No wonder we’re all distracted. Think about how many screens we have going at times: our phone, tablet, laptop and TV. And the Internet of things may bring even more. Yet, we can only watch one thing at a time. The screen in front of us is the only screen that matters. And soon perhaps all these screens will integrate into one screen.

He closed his keynote with a hopeful message: associations are pioneers who will decide how the future of associations will look. Will your association have a cozy relationship with your member in the one-screen world? Come on out of purgatory and into the light where you’ll find plenty of opportunity for those who can keep up and move onward.

disruptions to associations - fade away or become a pioneer

Emigrants Crossing the Plains (or The Oregon Trail), Albert Bierstadt, 1869, courtesy of the Butler Institute of American Art