2013: A Millennial’s Perspective

By • December 21, 2013

With just a few weeks left in 2013, the wave of top ten lists and year-in-review articles is flowing in full tsunami force.  Here are seven shifts that seem to stand out for the younger generation of association professionals.

  • Younger professionals (not their employers) are taking more responsibility for managing their own careers. Your pricing and member benefits need to reflect that.
  • As social media consumes more marketing time, money and members’ attention, associations need to measure its impact and ROI more efficiently.
  • More associations have warmed up to digital pubs and products; we have more mobile apps and digital editions than in past years.
  • Associations should become more comfortable with risk and tech upgrades.

1. Increased use of mobile apps at events. We saw this through the increased amount of apps Naylor produced for our clients’ events plus the comprehensive ASAE Annual app. This show app wasn’t the first ASAE event app, but it seemed like ASAE placed more emphasis on referencing the app and communicating through it (via Twitter widget) during the show than they did at previous events. (The 2011 ASAE Tech show featured a simpler app that contained just the schedule and a list of exhibitors.) I attended a couple sessions where the presenters asked for real-time interaction about the topic at hand through the ASAE app. I also noticed most people using their iPads and phones to look up schedule information and maps. This embrace of technology that makes association life easier should be applauded and further supported in 2014.

2. The need for more membership options. Through a focus group and subsequent survey of association leaders at the beginning of 2013, ASAE found that association’s top concern for the year was going to be capturing members’ attention. Millennials (and most others) are not impressed by gimmicks, so a true customization of the membership experience is one of the few appropriate responses to this concern. This theme echoed far and wide across this publication and others:

Providing more opportunities for members to become involved in an association’s activities, education programs, board, or staff is part of the larger topic of change that everyone has been talking about this year – changing strategic plans, changing membership models, changing pricing menus, and changing technology use. I like tackling the topic of change from the membership experience perspective because membership experience is the foundation/impetus for all other changes.

3. Attempting to measure social media. This “trend” isn’t confined to associations; I receive white papers and Webinar invitations on a weekly basis from tech and marketing companies about how to better measure social media. As social media eats more into marketing time and money, associations (and everyone else) are going to want to measure its impact better. Facebook and Twitter have debuted better measurement interfaces this year. Instagram will probably offer a measurement program soon because they are now showing ads in users’ IG streams. And all five predictions for social media in 2014 from HootSuite will need to be measured if they actually play out, especially the point about teaching social media in schools. (There’s no way school administrators would allow teachers to spend time on that topic in the long-term if there is no measurable benefit.)

4. Pricing Challenges. This aspect of membership is still not customized as much as it should be, and for many people association membership and all the trimmings that should accompany it for a worthwhile experience are too expensive. For example, I’m not renewing membership with a professional association I have enjoyed membership with in the past because the member rate is the same for out-of-state members as it is for people in state. But, I can’t attend member functions without spending more to travel, both in terms of vacation time and money. Furthermore, the association has switched many of its previously free resources that are not location-dependent to a paid a la carte model. It makes good sense for their financial model, but it doesn’t work for me.

5. The Self-Directed Career Professional

Millennials do not work in a world where association membership and incidentals are automatically paid for by their company, and we have begun our careers during a time when we don’t expect to be paid as handsomely as our parents’ generation, thus limiting our discretionary purchases. Like our health plans and retirement accounts, we know we have to take more responsibility than previous generations for our career development. We still value association membership and want to take part, but we’re going to need more options from the associations that need our funds to operate.

6. Reinforcing the membership value proposition

Associations seem to have a good idea of the challenges facing them–young, disengaged professionals; needed tech updates; the need to modify association culture quickly to keep with the times; the need to customize membership experiences. Their main focus will be to continue to work through these issues in 2014.

7. Increasing adoption of digital communication

From a tech and communications perspective, we’ve seen more associations warm up to digital pubs and products this year than in past years; we have more mobile apps and digital editions than ever before. Some associations enthusiastically signed with us to offer search engine marketing services to their member companies. I’ve seen several associations join Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, or start taking their existing accounts on those platforms more seriously.

Many times it takes a motivated staff member or “champion” to take the lead on these new projects. But when that motivated person makes it happen, the response from the board and members is almost always positive. Associations need to become more comfortable with the “risk” involved and move out of their comfort zone to join the rest of the world on most tech matters.

About The Author

Kelly Donovan is the team leader for online marketing at Naylor, LLC.