A member-centric association revolves around the individual member. It is after all, the member that most associations are pledged to serve. Obviously it is impossible by definition that an entire association revolves around each member but it is important, as much as possible, to make the member feel that way.
Associations must survive and often this imperative takes precedence. Practically speaking; the size of many associations, the staff/member ratio, the difficulty of determining member interests and that insidious idea that “I know what’s good for you” gets in the way of being member-centric.
Being member-centric assumes you know your members. What do you know about your members? Is member data self administered or staff administered? What member profile information do you keep? Is it current? Even more difficult; how do you determine member interests and how quickly can you track a shift in interest or spot a rising top of mind member issue.
A properly designed online community enables dynamic member-determined interests based on groups joined, library items collected, watched and viewed, comments, questions, polls and connections. You will have that information for those that are engaged with the community. Those are the people that are your trend-setters and thought leaders; so pay attention. Also, those are the folks that will lead your lurkers and semi-engaged members to increased engagement both by example and because their posts, comments and collections will induce responses, questions and replies.
Events, Conferences, Presenters, Exhibitors and Suppliers
Make sure to use your online community to extend your event or conference. Put up a member group for the conference, have groups for presenters and make the presenter the group owner. In the planning stages note what is going on in the community, ask what members would like on the agenda, run a poll. Allow presenters and exhibitors to join the community, form interest groups, answer questions and put their latest information in the library. This can all happen before the event and many groups will likely carry on after. The reputation system makes it easy to see who is bringing value to the community, labels allow suppliers to be identified, flagging allows the entire community to monitor posts and having your own private community means you control what goes on. Involving your members means you are member-centric and have a better chance of having an event members will relate to.
Association events are incorporating online webinars which is a good thing for those that cannot make meetings but there is nothing like being there and associations can use free or paid for event registration web sites (Eventbrite, Eventzilla, 123SignUp,) or put a PayPal button on the community home page to make it easy for members to register online for the annual conference or a local dinner meeting. Ease of member use is also member-centric.
If you certify members or have an eLearning program you can use your online community as a learning resource. The library allows links to free and paid educational software. At the same time there will be growth of a socially curated body of knowledge for all members complete with links to other members, fellow students and thought leaders.
Continuing Education Tracking
Not only can your community be a learning resource; if your continuing education system does not track member qualifications and courses, or won’t talk to your membership database, you can use your member’s community profiles. They can be updated with courses passed, hours earned, grades and fields can be private or public. You could even use labels to identify members who have achieved a diploma or certification.
Instead of irritating members with general purpose emails from staff that arrive in their inbox and can never be found again, it is much much better to use your online community. Members indicate their interests by the groups they join and staff can make announcements to those that are interested. Even better, your members can communicate with other members. The trusted responses/comments from colleagues will carry more weight with members. If you still feel it is necessary to mass message all members you can, but unless the message is pertinent to all, it is not very member-centric.
Not only can you grant awards but you can label award winners so that all members will see them within the community. Then a particular member is the center of attention.
My personal feeling is that magazines are on their way out. Not completely, there will still be a hard core of folks that like their favourite magazine that they can curl up with; including me, but my association magazines as good as they are and as hard as they try to be relevant, suffer from the requirement that they have to be relevant to all members at the same time. My favourite magazines are specific to my personal interests.
There are better ways to communicate with your membership and more importantly for them to communicate with you. Also each member can choose how and when they get their information. That is member-centric.
Renewals, Donations, Purchases
A member-centric association will try to make membership renewals easy with online payment by credit card or PayPal. Donations and purchases can also be handled online. If you are very lucky, you will find there is a member that takes on a particular cause, or recommends a particular purchase. Again, member recommendations and the opinion of colleagues will carry much more weight that association exhortations.
Each chapter and committee can have their own group with a group owner, logo, description, member list, comments, questions, announcements, polls and library items. Groups have everything they need to organize, communicate and collaborate. Group owners can make joining the group or adding items to the group library subject to approval and library items can be private to the group or public. Having chapters and committees run by members is not only member-centric but it allows engaged members to take a leadership position within the association.
There are likely hundreds of more ways that you can use an online community to make your association, guild, society or any other group more responsive to its member’s needs and interests. This is because your members can now express themselves; explicitly with comments and implicitly by what they watch, collect and join. They can do that without extra effort and while controlling their privacy. They will want to do that if their association is paying attention and being member-centric.