10 Reasons Why Your Association Should Start Using Online Communities

A major concern for many membership and trade associations is how to keep members engaged year after year. Better yet, not only keep them engaged, but simply keeping your association top-of-mind and providing new and sought after member-benefits to keep members renewing year after year.

According to Naylor’s 2019 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, online communities have joined the top ten list of communication social channels with over half of respondents considering them very/extremely valuable for the transfer of information. Not to mention, online communities can be seen as a 24/7 networking tool where members can exchange timely, industry-related knowledge to build connections with other like-minded members. The benchmarking report also states that 53% of all association professionals struggle to be efficient and effective communicators when it comes to keeping younger members engaged. Having an online community for your members could be just the vehicle your association needs to reach a younger demographic.

Here are 10 reasons why your association should implement an online community:

1 On-the-go and mobile-friendly

If you are in the same boat as most associations, then you don’t have a standalone mobile app dedicated solely for members. If that’s the case, an online community that is linked to your AMS might just be what your membership needs to raise engagement levels.

2 An added member benefit

According to the above Naylor benchmarking report, 67% of association professionals struggle to effectively communicate membership benefits. Adding an online community to your member benefits toolkit can be a major contributing factor for your members come annual renewal time.

3 Another channel to disseminate your association’s content and messaging

A successful online community will have your members checking back for updates. They will be coming to you to see other members’ posts, but also posts from your association.

4 Networking. Networking. Networking.

Annual events and regional meetings are fantastic face-to-face networking events, but more often than not, these events are only happening a few days out of the year. Online communities can help fill the networking void within your membership by giving them unlimited access to each other.

5 Create a mentor program

This can come a little later down the line, but a great idea to take your online community to the next level is to branch out and develop a mentor program for younger members to pair with more experienced members to create a personal connection that will hopefully build association loyalty with your brand.

Online communities have joined the top ten list of communication social channels with over half of respondents considering them very/extremely valuable for the transfer of information

6 Information exchange forum

An online community can be a great way to crowdsource information to provide a solution to a members’ challenge and really get to the root of what is on your members’ minds to find out what is really bothering them.

7 Getting rid of outdated listservs

I don’t know about you, but when I worked at associations in prior jobs, I was still using google listservs to communicate with the various committees and councils. It is time to retire that system. Online communities are a modern, manageable substitute.

8 A platform for regional chapter or committee communication

Just like launching a mentor program within an online community, it’s also easy to build out individual channels for various member committees to converse. You could have a channel for your Board of Directors and a channel for your midwest regional chapter.

9 Easily store, archive, and search for anything in one place

The more members post in your online community, the larger your archive will grow with easily searchable and accessible content right at all of your members’ fingertips.

10 A data treasure trove / Learn about what your members really care about

And, if this is not the most important point of them all:  online communities are a tool that allows you to monitor and explore the problems and questions that plague your members. This treasure trove of data gives you insight as an association professional to take a deep dive into their minds and better position content and member experiences for them and potentially other professionals in that same industry.

Still hesitant? Understandably so. Launching an online community is an investment with no clear indication that it will actually boost engagement, retention, and membership. Are you fearful that members won’t post and your community will be a bare wasteland of inactivity? Fair. That is why you make sure your brand champions, aka the most engaged members in your association, don’t let this happen by providing them with prompts, tools, and conversation starters for free-flowing and ongoing communication between the association, the leaders, and the rest of the membership.

If your association is thinking about implementing an online community and would like to talk it over with someone who has launched a community, get in touch with our team. We’d be happy to provide guidance, bounce ideas around, or help give you a clearer understanding of moving forward.

This article was written by Colin Hautman.

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Beyond Definition

Beyond Definition is a strategy and creative agency serving mission-driven organizations. For 16 years, Beyond Definition has offered design, branding, digital, marketing, and print expertise to clients in the association, foundation, and nonprofit sectors.

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