Bonus Coverage of Emerging Association Technology Trends 2015

By Association Adviser staff • November 18, 2014




Online career centers are a powerful member engagement and retention tool that can be monetized in a myriad of ways.

Association management systems should provide you with a single complete picture of each member’s committee involvement, join/lapse history, event participation, favorite content and professional certifications earned.

Responsive design is going from a “nice to have” to a “need to have” if you want to stay connected to your increasingly mobile membership.

As we discussed in How to Tackle Technology, offering members videos, apps, social media and responsive design won’t work without a cohesive strategy in place—and it might even backfire on you.

Responsive Design

According to Laura Taylor, Naylor’s director of online solutions, 65 percent of email in the U.S. is first opened on a mobile device—primarily on smart phone. If your digital communications are designed to be read on desktop computers, then you’re simply losing your relevance with more and more members. “Responsive design automatically reformats the layout and content of a Web page or email to conform best to the specific device that a reader is using,” said Taylor. “Moving to a clean, concise design eliminates clutter and captivates the reader with the content you want them to read without the distraction of information surrounding the content that’s typical of older designs,” she added. Taylor has more about responsive design in today’s issue.

Fara Francis, Chief Information Officer of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America said her organization is completing a facelift of AGC.org which will include a responsive design. “With the proliferation of hand-held devices and tablets, every organization should tap into responsive design for getting their online presence in line with all devices available to their members. Responsive design demonstrates that your organization is mindful of the needs of your members, users and information and wants to ensure they’re getting the information they need regardless of which tool they use to access it,” added Francis.

Quite simply, if you’re not offering responsive design, you’re losing about 30 percent of our potential traffic, according to Joe Rosensteel, vice president of digital product development for Boxwood Technology, which develops and manages online career centers for more then 1,100 associations.

Monetizing Mobile Apps

NBMBAA mobile app
The National Black MBA Association offers a mobile app that provides its members with news, alerts, and job seeker services year-round.

Everyone’s talking about what the next great mobile app can do, but it’s not always easy to get the same enthusiasm for what they can do for your bottom line. The good news, mobile apps can be monetized in a number of ways. In the case of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), Chrysler sponsors the main sponsor splash page, according to Naylor Group Publisher, Elaine Richardson, with Vanguard and Northwest Mutual also taking sponsor positions on the menu page.

What’s more, sponsors can purchase “promoted posts” at designated times of the day, (i.e. “9 am Career Floor opens….visit us at Booth #1001) and “push notifications” that pop up on attendees’ mobile devices. Rather than selling ads, the Texas Society of Association Executives (TSAE) has tied the app to sponsorship opportunities. “This past year, our Wi-Fi sponsor was featured on the splash screen and in a rotating banner on the home screen as part of their benefits,” said TSAE Communications Director, Josh Spradling.

Like many associations, the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations (APRO) had modest success with an in-house conference mobile app, but since partnering with an outside developer, has a much more robust offering that makes its events more exciting, said APRO public affairs director, Richard May. Members and non-member attendees can use the app to send each other text alerts throughout the conference, compare notes on speakers and sessions they attended and decide where to meet in person for face-to-face social or business development purposes. May said the new app is also very useful for creating “buzz” before, during and after the event, and most importantly, for helping new members and attendees feel comfortable at their events.

Naylor’s Kelly Donovan Clark agreed. “Community begins when new or unengaged members feel comfortable enough to stay and see what happened next. As she explains in today’s issue, “Associations are more likely to keep new members if the immediately make them feel welcome and affirmed in their decision to join.”

Spradling said TSAE promotes its app through pre-event emails, ads in its conference program and onsite at its opening session. “To raise awareness and improve adoption, make sure that your volunteers and staff who are working the registration desk ask attendees if they have downloaded the app and if they need any assistance while they are picking up their badges,” advised Spradling.

Many organizations such as NBMBAA are also leveraging their apps beyond the annual conference to foster year-round engagement with members. According to Richardson, there is news and alerts all year round via the activity feed and companies can update their profiles to show job seekers what’s new and exciting at their organizations. Meanwhile, job seekers and recruiters can check each other out and even connect with each other long after the annual conference has taken place.

However, as AGC’s Francis points out, the mobile app has to be kept up-to-date at all times and that means someone has to stay on top of updating the app, which is something that sometimes gets overlooked. So is measurement. Spradling said TSAE measures app success by downloads, logins, opens, custom schedules, screen views and more. “We have seen adoption tick up each year, but even more than that, we see the engagement increase each conference as the amount of opens and screen views increase. We have also seen some of the lesser promoted features, like in-app messaging between attendees, increase organically,” he said.

Social Media

According to Francis, AGC uses Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. “As a member of our technology committee, we’ve found that LinkedIn works very well for promoting a collaborative method of working for the committee. Twitter remains very successful for information sharing, promotions and announcements.  Twitter can also be a source of new member leads. Non-members can follow a Twitter account and find information that’s valuable to them in their careers, which could lead to an interest in joining AGC,” said Francis.

As B.L. Ochman commented on our Association Executive Roundtable forum recently, she believes 2015 will be the year that Google+ and Google Hangouts (finally) gain traction. “While Google+ has a social layer, it is actually a robust interactive community-based platform with built-in video conferencing and collaboration capabilities,” Ochman opined. “I see Google+ evolving into a platform based on private communities, integrated with all of Google‘s collaboration tools and Hangouts on Air—a free app that is a truly interactive video conferencing platform.”

ADCI Facebook page
The Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI) has grown their Facebook audience from 100 to more than 1,500 in just two years thanks in part to a strategy of sharing content with related trade groups on Facebook in a way that directs the other group’s followers back to ADCI’s page. 

Also look to like-minded organizations for help in raising awareness of your social media channels. About two years ago the Association of Diving Contractors International incorporated Naylor’s Content 360 model and thanks to content integration and the efforts of editor Sean Garrity. ADCI built its Facebook following to 1,500 from 100 just two years ago. The key has been a strategy of sharing content with other related trade groups on Facebook in a way that directs the other group’s followers back to the ADCI page. ADCI is targeting an audience that is highly interested in this content and is a natural fit for following the ADCI Facebook page. The type of content shared is relevant to the trade groups that it is being shared with, i.e., subjects such as new regulations for commercial divers. ADCI has also grown its LinkedIn following dramatically (1,473 at last count) by tapping into different groups than it does on Facebook. The clients that hire diving contractors have different groups on LinkedIn, so Sean will share different content with them than he would with trade associations. Content that is relevant to clients that hire diving contractors involves safety: “Contractors who are ADCI members are best qualified to….”.

One thing that associations could do better, said May, is to think beyond how they serve their industries and provide resources for the clients and customers of their members. Case in point, ShopRTO.com is APRO’s home shopping site for the rent-to-own lifestyle. Using a robust search engine optimization strategy, Shop RTO is intended to provide authoritative, trustworthy and useful information that allowed the viewer to think about rent-to-own as a purchase option. “If you speak to consumers straight up and help them solve a problem, then they’ll respond to your message. But as soon as they smell a hard sell coming, they’ll tune out immediately,” said May.

And speaking of engagement, how many times have you seen colleagues burn the midnight oil to bang out a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation that ends up putting folks asleep by the third or fourth slide? Enter Prezi, a visual learning tool that allows you to create maps of texts, images, videos, graphics and more and present them in a non-linear way. Instead of clicking from one slide to the next, presenters can explore a wide range of concepts by zooming in on minute detail or zooming out to see the big picture. ”The zoom feature enables you to create a visual canvas for communicating ideas,” noted Dave Bornmann, vice president, marketing at Naylor Association Solutions. It is not just about taking your old PowerPoint slides and placing them in a new technology. It is thinking differently about how to tell your story when not confined to a linear presentation. Don’t underestimate the wow factor during the presentation—demonstrate your organization is creative and thinking outside the box in terms of how it communicates.”

Association Management Systems (AMS)

In a recent post for the Canadian SAE website, editor Sandi L. Humphrey, CAE, wrote that she’s twice been through the process of selecting a new association management system (AMS).If I were to take on that challenge again, I would pay greater attention to the types of data and reports that could be generated from the system so I could truly know my members, their buying patterns, and to be in a position to identify any trends that required the attention of management or the board.”

Brian Choate, president & CEO of Timberlake Membership Software, observed that association members are increasingly visiting the association website, not the association itself. The website is “the portal” to people’s membership profiles, resources, best practices and directories of fellow members, Choate explained. Timberlake’s membership software streamlines not only membership management, but financials and e-commerce, event registration, committees, continuing education, directories, website, reporting and more. The biggest challenge for many associations, said Choate, is figuring out what data you really need and use, understanding the user experience and what’s must be kept intact from the legacy system and what has the flexibility to be changed.

Choate said one healthcare association client used to have multiple silos of data on various spreadsheets, databases and other unstructured documents. Now it’s all in a single synchronized system and everyone at the organization (membership, finance, marketing, content, executive team) can get a complete picture of their membership—committees their own, their join/lapse history, purchases they’ve made, events they’ve attended, professional certifications they’ve taken.

Online Career Centers

AGC does not have an online career center, but Francis said “we are exploring options to provide such service to our members in light of the workforce challenges that our members are facing.”APRO’s Richard May said an online career center is one of the most frequently requested things on his staff’s and members’ wish lists. But like many associations, the board is hesitant to offer (and monetize) things that company members would perceive as potentially poaching their talent.

In reality, it’s not as complicated or as risky as many believe and shouldn’t be hung up in the board process, said Boxwood’s Joe Rosensteel. Boxwood develops and manages career centers on a revenue share basis, so the association is not forced to spend human and capital resources in hopes of obtaining a positive ROI. Robust online career centers contribute substantially to member retention and engagement by helping them find professional development resources (and opportunities) that they might not find elsewhere. If a member (or potential member) finds a great job through your career center, it’s a no-brainer when it comes time to consider joining or renewing, said Rosensteel. Same goes for recruiters. If they find a great candidate through your career center that they wouldn’t have found elsewhere, it’s a simple decision about whether or not to continue involvement with your association.

What’s more, online career centers can be monetized in a myriad of ways including paid job listings, “Featured employer” profiles, recruitment advertising, and even resume screening and vetting services to name just a few. As with Naylor’s video solution, Boxwood takes the technology piece out of the equation so the association can focus on what it does best—providing valuable resources, best practices and connections to its members.


While the word “engagement” tends to be overused these days, it’s clear that associations are finding it increasingly challenging to connect with new and existing members, and keep them truly interested in all the good work they’re doing on behalf of their members and the industries they represent.

You don’t have to jump on every shiny new object that emerges on the mobile, social and traditional communication horizon, but you do need to keep tabs on how your peers, competitors and industry up-and-comers are experimenting with them and using them. This overview of association technology trends is not meant to be exhaustive, but it does represent a cross-section of emerging tools and techniques that consistently get mentioned by the survey respondents and industry thought leaders we interview throughout the year.

Onward and upward in 2015!

Did we miss any technology trends your association is using? Do you have experience with any of the tools mentioned above? Share your notes in the comments below.