What Associations Need to Know About Technology

By Hank Berkowitz • June 1, 2013

Hank BerkowitzBy Hank Berkowitz

As Thomas Friedman, bestselling author of The World Is Flat, quipped in a recent New York Times op-ed, “something really big happened in the world’s wiring in the last decade, but it was obscured by the financial crisis and post-9/11.” Thanks to social media, 4G, iProducts, broadband, wireless, the cloud, Big Data, Skype and apps, we’re now more connected than ever. Consequently, there are more ways for people to “start stuff, collaborate on stuff, learn stuff, make stuff (and destroy stuff) with more people than before,” Friedman observed.

  • You don’t have to be the first to market or the earliest adopter of new technology. You just have to be ready to catch the wave when the wave comes.
  • The fax machine is making a comeback as a way to circumvent members’ clogged inboxes.
  • Adding video to your website makes you 53 times more likely to land on the front page of a Google search result.
  • Search engine marketing represents a huge opportunity for associations that can help their small business members understand the power of SEM.

If you believe the TV commercials, you can do your online banking on a smartphone while dangling 1,000 over the desert floor in a rope harness. Great. But maybe if you weren’t so preoccupied answering email and updating your social media accounts before you left for vacation, you would have remembered to pay the rent, cable and phone bill on time. Technology cuts both ways.

A friend of mine who’s a global energy trader may have summed it up best: “I can stay in touch with clients on the West Coast, Dubai, Russia and India wherever I am, whenever I want to any time of day or night. Unfortunately, they can stay in touch with me wherever I friggin’ am, whenever they friggin’ want to any time of day or night—and they do.”

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So, perhaps it’s no shock that “Burnout Busters” was one our most widely read articles during the past year. In this 24/7 always-connected world, we have to figure out a way to stay up current with all the new technology available without becoming a slave to it and allowing it to drain valuable time and resources from our organizations.

By the way, that clunky telephone handset on your desk can be used for purposes other than calling people to ask, “Did you get my email?”

The fax is back

As our association benchmarking data confirms, information overload and communication clutter continues to be the Achilles’ heel of many associations. According to Naylor publisher Kathleen Gardner, it’s gotten so bad that some associations have resorted to faxing members instead of emailing them because they get more replies to the fax.

Going paperless

The Delta Kappa Gamma (DKG) society, a 90,000-member association for women in education, saves up to $700 per board meeting by placing the materials in DropBox, according to executive director Corlea Plowman. To cut down on paper, DKG also has made its scholarship applications and other forms interactive on its website and has installed an interactive monitor on the boardroom whiteboard so remote attendees can review, comment and help revise documents that others are working on in real-time.

Regular Association Adviser readers may have noticed a plethora of instapolls about technology recently. Results are listed below, and we asked a handful of association experts to help us understand the numbers:

Which technology investment would have the single greatest impact on your organization?

Mobile apps are promising, but we’re still trying to figure out how much revenue you can generate from them, said Tino Mantella, president and CEO of the 19,000 member Technology Association of Georgia (TAG). “You don’t have to be the first to market or the earliest adopter. You just have to be ready to catch that wave if there is going to be a wave,” he said.

Read our Corner Office interview with Mantella.

Fara Francis, chief information officer of Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), said she agrees with the numbers above. “Changes or upgrades to the membership database are big investments,” she said. “Mobile tools and mobile apps for members are also big investments.The world is becoming more digital and organizations are forced to define a digital strategy to include mobile technology.”

Marcus Underwood, Naylor’s vice president of online media, said video content is now easier than ever to create. It fosters more personal connection with members, new ways to connect at your events, new ways to recruit members, new ways to educate and train members and new ways for your supplier members to do production demonstrations.

See Underwood’s article about video in today’s issue.

Naylor’s Gardner agreed. Video is a way to reach out and have a global presence, expand your message and become the voice of the industry. “If you have a video presence on your website, you are 53 times more likely to land on the front page of a Google search result than if you don’t have video on your website.”

Laurel Nelson-Rowe, managing director of ASQ, said her members want more video and the ASQ-TV channel (available in English, Spanish and Chinese) has been “very well received.” She said they also want more interactive tools, better organization of the many ASQ websites and more online learning options.

May 2013 Did You Know Chart

Video: Watch these association leaders talk about how they integrate new technologies into their association communications.

Search engine marketing is the fastest growing area of internet advertising, and many associations have members who are struggling with how to use it to market their small businesses, according Underwood. “Education (how to do it) and cost concerns (how to control them and prove ROI) are the two biggest factors,” added Underwood. Once our association clients get on board the SEM bandwagon, “they are thrilled because their advertisers can get a real ROI from this offering.”

Which of the following best describes how you think your members use smartphones on a regular basis?

“I’m surprised that downloading videos got the highest ratings,” said AGC’s Francis. “Our members use smartphones for app activities, social media and, of course, texting.”

Which of the following describes the most advanced way you use LinkedIn?


According to Nelson-Rowe, LinkedIn also has been an important membership engagement tool for ASQ, which boasts 60,000 LinkedIn members and 200 LinkedIn communities. Francis agreed. “It took me some time to embrace it, but LinkedIn is a great forum for keeping up with professional contacts and making new connections.”

AGC’s Francis is not surprised. Membership systems are costly and it is almost impossible to use a COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) product without developing some level of customization—which is expensive. There is a big move toward open source technology which I embrace—but an organization needs to do solid due diligence to determine if this open source application meets their needs.

Francis said webinars and virtual events are gaining popularity at AGC. According to Nelson-Rowe, ASQ is developing a “younger professional style of membership” that will look, feel and be experientially different than the standard ASQ membership. Millennials respond differently. They want tools for their tablets, they want [information] in manageable bites. “They don’t necessarily want to sit through a 3-6 hour course, and they want it very interactive,” she said.


“If these results above accurately reflect what’s happening across the association community, then they are deeply disquieting,” observed Jeff De Cagna, chief strategist of Principled Innovation, LLC in Reston, Va. “It’s 2013, and associations still have not figured out how to connect the strategic imperative to create radical new value for future stakeholders with the powerful technology platforms that are transforming our society.”

Thanks to technology, the association landscape is becoming flatter, but our inboxes and digital to-do lists are becoming fatter. Perhaps that’s why we’re starting to see some backlash. Not only is the quaint fax machine making a comeback, but even Google sends me postcards and hits me with weekly telemarketing calls to tell me about their online advertising solutions.

Going forward, the winners won’t necessarily be the earliest adopters, but the associations that can figure out the ideal mix of new—and old—technology that enables them to connect with greatest numbers of members in the formats that members are most comfortable being engaged.

Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser eNews.