The inspiration for this blog came from a recent conference I attended – presented by Epicomm down in Savannah, GA. This is a printing and mailing association, that over the years has brought a number of trade organizations together, and in fact will be merging once again in June with another organization called Idealliance. To say that there has been much change within our industry’s trade associations is definitely an understatement, and yet I suspect this is common amongst almost all membership organizations!
As the ways to communicate with each other have expanded exponentially over the last 10 – 15 years, it seems that many believe the value of belonging to a membership type organization has reduced. In many ways, “back in the day,” we found a great deal of comradery and an exchange of knowledge when we chose to join an association. The ability to share stories and experiences was genuinely appreciated. We learned of new technology or processes that others had engaged in. Socialization was fun at the many events or programs, and we had the opportunity to meet people that perhaps were in adjoining states, across the country or even from other countries!
Fast forward to today, and for many of us we are able to research new trends and ideas in our industries via the internet. There is a vast amount of up to date information along with a wide variety of individuals who are sharing their expertise! Also, through the various social media platforms, we find that we can interact and meet others with the same interests – comparing notes, stories, experiences and results in real-time. Educational webinars and presentations – all a form of content marketing, have also provided tremendous opportunities for anyone in business. It is indeed hard to fight the concept that membership is now a thing of the past – something that we do not need to do in order to stay connected and educated!
As a company, we also do quite a bit of work within the association market. A large portion of our business is involved with the printing/mailing of material that is used to engage the members. Over time many of these associations have indeed evolved into communicating online with their members, especially to keep up with the changes. They have none the less found that the trends I have talked about here are very much making their roles that much more difficult to justify. Membership numbers are dropping, and not due to the lack of great programming or member benefits.
Now more than ever, it is a challenge to communicate the value of association membership – to engage their industry in ways that members find easy and rewarding. For some groups the appeal of earning additional certifications or credits is a strong benefit – for others, it is critical to understand what their members are really looking for as part of their membership. This could be in the form of surveys, focus groups, or maybe even a direct phone call! And while many organizations are trending to digital/online communication, I would also maintain that the “old-fashioned” printed newsletter or association magazine is perhaps the best way to blatantly promote the events, news and value of membership to your members – but do it in a way that is different! Our local Chamber of Commerce recently reinstituted their printed newsletter, and as we worked with them to develop the new concept, I suggested that the publication needs to be more about the members, than it does about the organization. Get personal! Share success stories of members and pictures of them having fun together! Include stories about your staff, and testimonials from your members about why they stay involved. If you really want to engage them regularly, prompt social media contact via a promotion in the printed publication, or create landing pages that have relevant content to download – but only for members. If as an organization you do more to create a group of individuals that can realize and share the value of membership – making it a unique experience that others cannot partake in unless they join, then you will succeed!
For myself, the ability to stay connected with industry peers is important. In most cases, those that actually attend a meeting or a conference are typically the leaders within the industry, not the laggards. Who would you most care to identify and learn from? Also, the ability to step away from my business and take time to work on improvement instead of the day-to-day tasks that we all get sucked into. I know that there were some good “take-a-ways” from this conference that I will use immediately – in fact one of the handouts I will share with our whole organization this coming week! I also have found individuals that I can talk with and confide in, outside of my own business.
What is that you find of value in membership to an organization?