I have just returned from the ASAE Technology Conference and Expo held in Washington, D.C., and I thought I’d provide some takeaways for those of you who didn’t make it. As always, ASAE put on a terrific show, with a good mix of programs for association executives with all levels of technical experience. With more than 110 tech-focused exhibitors, there was plenty to explore. Last year, everything seemed to be focused around “social” applications. While social was still popular, the clear theme of this show was mobile.
- Mobilizing Your Association: Nearly every discussion either focused on mobile or touched on it in some way. If you were an exhibitor, you had better have an answer to the question “What do you have for mobile devices?” I think people tend to lump mobile phones and tablets into the same discussion, but I do believe they are different. Tablets provide an entirely different user experience than smartphones. Vendors need to make sure their solutions serve both equally, or at least reasonably well. Most vendors had some sort of answer to this question when asked, but they were almost always “version 1.0” or “coming in Q1 2012.” That’s probably about right though. Although everyone is talking about it, the number of your members using these devices for business purposes is still a relatively small minority. However, it is growing fast.
- iPads, iPads, Everywhere: Many of the discussions centered on the use of tablet devices for consuming content and accessing association data. Looking around the meeting rooms and surveying the crowd, the clear leader was the iPad. I’d estimate 90 percent or greater of the people who had tablet devices at the show had iPads. Not too surprising since it was the first to market, but it was interesting to see that the Android tablets have not made the strides forward in market share that the Android phones have. Whatever your strategy for tablets, you must make sure that you consider iPad compatibility first, as it will likely be the clear leader for awhile.
- Cloud Computing: As I discussed in one of my previous articles, the concept of cloud computing is growing rapidly and was a buzzword heard frequently at the show. I’m not convinced that everyone who uses the word truly understands what it means and how it can be used to help them, but it was clearly on everyone’s mind. The recent launch of Apple’s iCloud services for iTunes and connected devices will likely bring this even more to the mainstream in the near future.
- Social Media ROI: While social media was the “buzzword” last year, it has matured past the “just do it” phase and moved into the “how can I make it more than a drain on resources” phase. Done correctly, an integrated social media strategy takes time and resources (both financial and human capital). The vast majorities of associations are not making money on their social initiatives, and they are using valuable resources for uncertain returns. Finding tools that will quantify and grow the return on this investment (increased attendance at conferences, better renewals, non-dues revenue) will be a major trend in the coming years.
- Tech Goes Mainstream: In previous years, attendance at this (and other) association tech shows has been weighted toward marketing and IT folks, and generally skewed fairly young. In observing and talking with people at the show, it is clear that these topics that are considered “tech” are now reaching all levels of the organization. From executive directors to membership management staff, the power of technology to communicate the message and positively (or negatively) affect the bottom-line has been discovered. It is no longer something that is designated to the junior staffer who is just out of school. Forward thinking associations are involving all parts of their organization in putting together strategies for 2012 and beyond that will allow them to leverage these tools to grow their membership bases while controlling their costs.
Mobile has clearly come of age. It’s no longer a matter of mobile versus social for your new media investments: It’s mobile + social and how these two powerful forces can and should be integrated into your overall member communication platform.
Marcus Underwood is vice president and general manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC