Archive | July, 2011

Helping Your Members Connect

26 Jul

Getting connected with other people who share your interests and aspirations is arguably the most valuable aspect of professional networking technologies, and the most compelling argument for their deployment in an association.

Professional networking technologies take their cue from social networks such as Facebook. Those networks, and others, have taught us that very powerful social connections can be achieved between people when a critical mass forms around a common interest, and is supported by appropriate communication tools. Likewise, professional networking technologies support professional interactions among people who share common professional interests (for example, members of the same profession).

Discovery is one of the primary (if not the primary) benefits of professional networks. Discovery, in this context, means finding something or someone of value to you in your job or profession, which you would not likely have found were it not for the professional network technology deployed in your association.

The reason this is so important is because there are often natural barriers to communication and interaction. Your members may be physically distributed, so that it is hard for them to get together in person. Even when there are enough members to actually get together for a meeting, it can be challenging to find times and places that work for everyone.

AssociCom supports discovery in a very direct way. AssociCom tracks all content added or modified in the system. For example, it records when someone adds new content to the library, or when someone answers a question. AssociCom’s relationship browser then allows this information to be viewed in an intuitive graphical fashion. The relationship browser view is centered on a particular item of content or a person. Around that central item, the browser shows other people or content that are related to it.

For example, you can focus the relationship browser on a person and you will then see all the content they have added, questions that they have asked or answered, other users they are connected to, etc. By clicking on one of those other items, you refocus the browser on that particular item and you then see all of the items and users it is related to.

In this way, you can very quickly explore both the content in the system and the users participating in the community. The discovery process is driven by your interests and focused on a small enough set of items and people, that it is not overwhelming. The relationship browser provides a powerful tool to help your members connect with one another, and that’s what community is all about.

Advertisements

Getting the ball rolling

11 Jul

Most people expect that online communities are like instant mashed potatoes — just add water and away you go. That is, I’ve seen a a number of cases in which the online community is set up, the invitations are sent out, and then everyone sits back and waits expectantly for the community to appear.

If you’re lucky, people may be so interested in getting together that the community will come together under these circumstances. But in most cases online communities come into existence gradually as people meet each other, learn about their interests and capabilities, and then reach out to make connections.

So what do you do to encourage the development of community? I think there are two tactics that are very helpful. First, you can use content as a way of bringing people into a site. If you have documents on best practices, or FAQs, or any other types of information that people often ask for, then post them to the community. The more information you post, the more likely it is that your members will treat the community site as the default place to go when they need information.

Second, if you have a sufficiently committed group of volunteers, you can create a “community stewards” program. A community steward is someone who commits to ensuring that that the community site remains active. Community stewards may initiate new discussions, answer questions that have gone unanswered for a period of time, or introduce members to one another based on common interests, just to name a few.

Does technology have any impact? I think it can definitely help. For example, AssociCom has a powerful notification mechanism that allows members to find out about new content that is added to the site, or new activities by other members. Notifications are useful because they help members become aware of the activity within the community. And awareness then encourages them to participate.

Social Networking in Associations

8 Jul

Social networking communities are proven, valuable tools for connecting their members around areas of common interest. The most noteworthy example, Facebook, has a membership base of 500 million members engaging in social activities. Another example is LinkedIn, a professional networking site with 70 million members. Given these numbers it is    no surprise that many (if not most) of your members and 92% of associations are using some form of social media. So the question is not whether social media is a factor in associations, but instead is “what is the most effective social media strategy for my association”?

In a definitive 2010 survey [2010 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report] on membership practices and outcomes in associations, private social networks were cited most often (more than LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, or any other tool) when associations were asked which two social media outlets (tools) were most effective at achieving membership goals. A private social network is simply one which is administered by the association and whose membership is restricted to members of the association. Understanding the benefits of private social networking over open networks such as Facebook makes it clear why they are most effective at achieving membership goals. Let’s look briefly at some of these benefits:

  1. Association Focus: Your private social network is part of your association and a benefit of membership. As your members (and potential members) continue to associate outside your association on a variety of sites, your association becomes less relevant to them professionally,  and lost are many opportunities for a strong, single, central community of members facilitated by your association.
  2. Benefit of Membership and Renewals: Your private social network is a visible and important benefit enjoyed by your members. It is a service you provide which facilitates connectivity to the executive, information, and their professional community. It is arguably your most valuable service and will be a primary consideration when members consider renewing their membership. This is critical because lack of perceived value is the most cited cause of non-renewal.
  3. Your Private Network is Under Your Control: Your private network is branded to your association, it is configured according to your needs, it is administered according to your policies, its membership is determined by you, and it can adapt as your needs change. In short, unlike external networks, your network is indeed    your network, and is under your complete control to define, administer, grow and adapt.
  4. Your Private Network is Accessible to Your Members: Because many social networking sites are primarily aimed at social purposes they have not always enjoyed a positive professional reputation and therefore are banned by most companies. In    fact, only 10% of CIOs indicate that their company allows full access to social networks (reference). This fact alone makes public sites like Facebook less than ideal for professional interactions.
  5. Your Private Network is, in fact, Private: Your private network is not only the focus of your members’ professional connections and learning opportunities, but it is also a place where interactions and information can be shared privately within in your community. Unless configured otherwise, non members will not have        direct access to the internal goings-on of your association.

Deciding on your professional member networking strategy is likely one of the most important decision you will be making and will influence the location and manner in which your members (and potential members) associate – a core mandate. There are both strong arguments and mounting evidence that private member networking within the association will strengthen your association and support your membership goals more than any other social strategy. Your members will find ways to connect. Having them do so within your association will benefit your membership through a single, central and strong association.

Losing Members?

5 Jul

I just had a quick glance through the MGI Benchmark report on association membership trends. Two numbers pretty much jumped out at me. The first was the top reason that individuals chose to join an association: 24% indicated that their motivation was to network with others in the field. The second was the top reason that individuals chose not to renew their membership: 36% indicated a perceived lack of value associated with their membership.

Putting 2 and 2 together, it looks to me like a fairly significant problem faced by associations is that people join expecting to get connected with other members, but for many of them that sense of connection never occurs.

To a certain extent this is yet another example of the traditional horse/water conundrum, that is, you can’t force members to connect with each other. But what you can do is try to create an environment where such connections are easier to find and establish. This is one of the main reasons behind having local meetings — get a whole bunch of people in the same room, maybe along with a little free food and drink, and people will eventually start to talk to one another.

Online communities have the advantage that you don’t need to be physically close by or have the right evening free in order to participate. The drawback is that most people find it a little harder to make those initial introductions. Fortunately, software for online communities often has ways to help: profiles help us to see what other people are interested in and blog postings give us a specific topic over which to initiate a connection.

AssociCom has a feature that I think works out really well in this context. We call it our relationship browser. Basically, it gives you a graphical presentation of all the ways someone has interacted with the system. So, you can see what documents they’ve shared, what comments they’ve made, etc. Even more interesting, you can start to see connections between people. For example, I can browse to one member, see that they have shared a document, and then see all the people who have commented on that document. With the relationship browser you can find people with common interests and use that as the starting point for an ongoing connection.

Welcome!

5 Jul

Welcome to the AssociCom blog!

AssociCom is web-based software to help associations and clubs maintain dynamic online communities. We believe that by fostering communication and collaboration we can create tighter bonds amongst members and with the association itself. The result: members who are more satisfied, leading ultimately to increases in membership and a more vibrant association.

We’ll be using our blog to discuss our thoughts and observations on the challenges that face associations today. We’re hoping to get your input and feedback as well.

Naturally, we’ll also talk about AssociCom itself; the ways that it can help associations reach out to their members more effectively and different ways in which it can be used to support member activities.

And finally, we’ll let you know about upcoming releases and features.

We look forward to hearing from you!