As we go live with this article, Microsoft—the titan of corporate computing—just announced it has joined the freemium wave. That’s right, Microsoft will be giving away (as in, no charge!) a comprehensive mobile edition of Office, its highly profitable suite of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs. The free software for iPads, iPhones and Android tablets will enable users to do almost everything on their mobile devices that they typically do with Office on their desktops. That’s a clear signal that the momentum has shifted to mobile and cloud computing. Meanwhile, Yahoo just announced it has agreed to acquire BrightRoll, a platform for selling and delivering video advertising, for $640 million in cash. Industry pundits say the move is a crucial part of Yahoo’s strategy to attract more users to its websites and mobile apps.
OK. Maybe your organization doesn’t have a war chest like Yahoo and Microsoft does. But, if you don’t think the association world is moving in the same direction as the deep-pocketed for-profit world, you better wake up and smell the CD-ROMs burning in your expansion drive.
From live events and apps, to video and social media, associations are more likely to keep new members engaged if they make them feel welcome.
[ctt tweet=”Offering video, apps and social media just to show you can “do it,” won’t pay off in the long run. Without a cohesive strategy, these new tools can backfire on you.” coverup=”D9cdn”]
When it comes to mobile apps, think year-round engagement, not cool convention tool.
As our latest reader poll indicated, fewer and fewer of your members will be using email in the future as their primary form of online communication. They’re also less likely to be paying attention to traditional static banner ads as detailed in a recent New York Times report. While these trends could be unsettling for some, they may help associations unclog the logjam that continues to hinder their ability to reach members online. For the third year in a row, Information Overload/Communication Clutter was the No.1 concern cited by the 1,031 association execs who participated in our annual association communication benchmarking study.
On the bright side, our research and interviews with association leaders show that most are reasonably well aware of their technology challenges and are taking steps to address them. For example, when asked what they would do if their publishing/content creation teams received an unexpected 50 percent increase in the annual budget, about one-third (33.8 percent) told us they would “develop a real mobile strategy” and another third (30.9 percent) said they would “put a lot more muscle behind their social media.”
What’s more, over two-thirds of associations (68 percent) report that they have integrated video into their communication strategies or soon plan to do so. Our research also found that nearly half of associations (48 percent) have optimized their websites for mobile and more than one third (33.7 percent) have optimized their e-newsletters for mobile.
Have you integrated video into your organization’s communication efforts?
In fact, 3 of the top 6 member communication challenges cited by association execs this year had a technology flavor (see chart below): Helping members find appropriate information quickly (47.8 percent), overcoming technical barrier to reaching members (44.7 percent) and providing mobile-friendly communications (41.7 percent). By the way, none of these challenges ranked among the top 10 list of concerns in our previous benchmarking studies.
Which of the following member communication challenges do you believe your organization may be facing?
To help us sift through the wave of innovations, opportunities and challenges faced by associations on the technology front, we checked in with industry leaders who are on the front lines every day.
Reader note: For more on responsive design, association management systems, online career centers and the next wave of social media, see our Bonus Coverage of Association Technology at naylorblog3.wpengine.com
“We have been going in the video direction for years,” noted Rita Chen Fujisawa, VP, COO of the California Association of Health Facilities which has 35 employees. “We now have a YouTube channel and we’ve recently hired full-time staff so we can focus more on it. We’re using video to showcase best practices in our facilities so we can share [them] with members.” See today’s Corner Office leadership profile of Fujisawa for more tech insights.
So what will it take to get the video fence-sitters on board? It’s just a matter of time, according to Aaron Weisberg, Video Sales Manager of Naylor Association Solutions. “Video is the most mobile form of content that members and suppliers demand. Associations shouldn’t only be scouting their competitors’ digital offerings to see if they include video; they should be listening to the rumblings of their membership.”
“For a lot of us in the association space, the [big] ‘What’s next?’ is video,” explained Karl Ely, SVP Publishing for the American Society of Association Executives. And it’s not as difficult to implement as many associations believe. According to Weisberg, associations should simply take the technology piece “out of the picture” and really concentrate on what they want to do with video. “Technology and production providers are out there to assist associations with the ‘scary stuff’ so that the association can use the medium to its fullest potential.”
Video is not only a powerful way for associations to deliver news, information and best practices to members, it’s increasingly being used to make their live event content available to members who cannot attend in person.
To what extent does your association allow members to attend live events via live-streaming, recording or archiving?
According to the 842 association execs who responded to this question in our annual association communication benchmarking report, more than two-thirds (68.9 percent) are allowing, or planning to allow, non-attendees to experience their live events via live-streaming, recording or archiving.
AGC of America has been video recording its BIMForum conferences for the past five years, and for the most part, its experience has been positive, according to Fara Francis, AGC’s chief information officer. Conference attendees have come to rely on the videos because they can re-watch the presentations they found most educational at the conference, and catch ones they may have missed. What’s more, AGC videos make it easy to share ideas from the videotaped session with colleagues. This demonstrates ongoing value and keeps members returning to us as a source for their education, explained Francis.
According to Weisberg, if an association develops a video program just to show it can do video, then it shouldn’t expect to increase traffic, drive revenue or boost membership. “If your video programming uses the associations most valuable resource, the members talking about what they’re most passionate about, then young, prospective members can identify with the person on the video player and the opportunity that prospective member might have to establish herself in that association in a similar fashion.”
The challenge with video, noted Richard May, public affairs director of APRO, the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations, is that it can be very time consuming to create the right content. “We have been doing video for years and learned over time, that you need to be wise about topics and styles that trigger the most interest from your members and potential members,” said May. “It’s hard to justify the time when a video gets only 20 to 30 views, but when you create a good one, it’s well worth the effort.” May said APRO has learned that older members tend to want to produce videos that are formal and official looking, but younger members want content that’s casual and conversational, preferably with humor or other entertainment value. “We’ve also found that videos that touch on hot topics of the day work well, in addition to videos that feature an APRO member or vendor,” said May.
Francis said AGC offers a mobile app primarily for conference information and collaboration. “We’ve found this to be a very successful and effective method for pushing out information about speakers, sessions, hotels, etc. Our conference registrants have a great appreciation for it and they embrace it wholeheartedly.” Josh Spradling, communications director for Texas Society of Association Executives, said TSAE first used an app for its New Ideas Conference in 2011. “Our members look for us to try new things that they can implement at their own organizations, so this was another example of us trying something new. Apps were by no means new, but few of our members had attempted implementing apps at their own meetings three years ago. We also knew the app would make life easier for attendees by offering customized schedules, attendee lists and session handouts.”
Did it work? “As soon as we saw the statistics from the first year (more than 50 percent of attendees engaged with the app), we knew there would never be a question if we had one or not. I think we are now at the point that you have to have an event app or you risk looking outdated to your members, especially with new generations entering the workforce,” added Spradling.
Elaine Richardson, a Naylor managing publisher said more than 3,500 attendees used the mobile conference app at the National Black MBA Association’s recent annual conference—also billed as the world’s largest diversity career fair. Attendees could walk around and see who was recruiting, and what was going on at an employer’s booth (example: Samsung is giving away new phones). According to Richardson, the most popular feature of NBMBAA’s mobile app is the activity feed that connects to an attendee’s LinkedIn and Facebook accounts and averages over 1,000 posts a day during the conference. Attendees post what they’re doing, comment on education sessions they attended and reply to posts from other attendees or employers they saw. They can view a constantly updated news feed of posts by NBMBAA members, receive access to updated conference information, including speakers, sessions, exhibitors and more as they come in. They can also access and read Black MBA Magazine, Access eNewsletter and the weekly Netwire and look up member contact information.
Why should your association add video to your communications mix? Watch our case study about MHEDA and ASQ on Association Adviser TV.
Online Voting Tools
Associations have long been bastions of the democratic process. Now democracy (and member engagement) is being enhanced by technology. According to Francis, AGC uses a very simple tool that was built in-house for tabulating votes and has had “great experience” using it. “We also use Poll Everywhere to survey audiences at our conferences. It’s a great way to keep attendees constantly engaged during presentations. These polls are very well-received by attendees and are accessible via their hand-held devices and tablets.”
Simply Voting Inc. is a full-service provider of secure, hosted online elections that is being used by hundreds of associations at their annual conferences, conventions and other live gatherings of members. And you don’t need bulky keypads and clickers to use it. With their simple “Election Manager” associations can create an election specifying the dates, times and questions. They can choose a voter authentication method and upload a list of eligible voters. Any approved member with a smartphone or tablet can take part in live votes for board members, referendums, capital expenditures or policy changes. Not only will they receive the results instantaneously, they can get on the fly amendments to a referendum.
“When I tell associations about what we do, they get really excited about the member engagement potential of our solution,” said Steve Lattey, Simply Voting’s director of business development. “No member will ever feel excluded or disenfranchised again,” from important decisions made by the organization they’ve paid to join.
As APRO’s Richard May noted, “technology has the stigma of isolating people, but it can actually bring people (i.e. members) closer together.” And that’s something that everyone – from the smallest association to Fortune 500 tech companies – is starting to figure out.
Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser eNews.
Do you have experience with any of the tools mentioned in this article? Share your story in the comments below.