Last month Reggie Henry, CIO of ASAE, recounted a story about an exchange with a University of Maryland student in which the student explained that younger people aren’t communicating by email anymore, but almost exclusively through social networks. Henry pointed out that this shift means two things: You must communicate with people where they are, and you must have an established relationship with them before you can market to them.
We asked Marcus Underwood, vice president for online media at Naylor, to weigh in about technology becoming more personal and, at times, more expensive.
Association Adviser: How can associations use technology to establish relationships with professionals outside their membership?
Marcus Underwood: Associations need to look at how best to leverage their content to help build their brand outside of their existing membership. Being the go-to source for information in their industry should be one of their primary goals, and, with that reputation built, memberships will follow. Organizations can accomplish this in a number of ways, most of which are relatively inexpensive. Using social media to promote existing content, such as an article or a press release announcing new legislation—this is essentially free. Or, by allowing non-members to sign up to receive your eNewsletter or digital magazine. Costs of these tactics are very low, and the exposure is tremendous.
AA: Marcus, how can associations use technology to strengthen existing relationships with members?
MU: Relationships are formed when there is two-way communication. Traditional communication channels are one way: The association sends out the information and the member listens. True relationships involve both sides participating. Social media is an obvious way to foster two-way communication, but another easy-to-implement solution is to produce a blog that allows members to comment. Associations can lead the conversation topics, and then the member community can add new and different viewpoints.
AA: Should associations apply social media theory (the idea that more directed communication exchanged with smaller, more targeted groups is more effective) to all communications?
MU: Although I agree with the premise that this is more effective, it can be a resource intensive process to implement. Starting a blog with different channels of interest can be a good way to do this, but these types of blogs typically work best when there is a “champion” for each channel. Having an engaged member drive the conversation (with association oversight, of course) will often get the best response.
AA: Return on technology investment: Henry explained that with each new form of technology—each new hardware system or software application—there is usually a lot of hesitation and research about the cost of implementation. Based on personal experience, however, most organizations focus on the financial return on investment and not on the return on benefits.
AA: Why should associations focus on what technology will allow them to deliver, and not so much on the up-front costs?
MU: You should always have the return on investment discussion before purchasing any new technology, but that return is not always immediately quantifiable financially. You also need to consider what the risks are if you do not keep upgrading your technology. Some things are just the cost of doing business these days (websites, email communications and mobile). Associations have to remember that communicating effectively to their members is the best way to KEEP their members, and their members are becoming more and more technologically advanced. Associations have to keep up technologically, or their members will go elsewhere for information and may question the value of belonging to the association.
AA: What risks do associations face if they choose to delay or not adopt new technologies?
MU: Associations that don’t keep pace with the changes in technology risk losing their standing as the “go-to resource” for information. Having up-to-date technology (AMS, website, email communications, just to name a few) allows associations to interact in a deeper, more targeted way. The consumer marketplace has raised the bar on expectations (after all, your members are consumers, too). With the price of technology coming down every day, failure to stay current will ultimately result in your members getting their information elsewhere.
AA: Marcus, how should associations decide which technologies to adopt, which to delay and which to pass up?
MU: The very best way to start with this assessment is to use a resource like Naylor’s Association Communications Benchmarking Report. This will give a great overview of what others are doing. Then, use that information to come up with a strategy that works for your members and is something that is financially feasible. Keep in mind that there may be different ways to fund these investments other than out of your existing budgets. When you have consensus within your association leadership, survey your members (online surveys are inexpensive and quick) to gauge their acceptance or interest. Once you have that, find the right technology partner and move quickly. Technology moves fast, so if you wait a year to implement, it may be old news by then.
Marcus Underwood is the vice president for online media at Naylor, LLC.