Not too long ago, professional membership associations held a near monopoly at the center of industry communities. Whether you were an architect, fireman, surgeon, auto dealer, or civil engineer an association with conventions, developmental resources, professional accreditation, and a long established network served your community.
After over a decade of digital disruption this model has begun to collapse and many membership organizations are facing an uncertain future: membership is in decline particularly among young members, accreditations are available from a wider variety of providers and the professional community is using social media to connect rather than events. Where there is risk, there is also opportunity for organizations with the right strategy and executional agility. Associations don’t have to be dinosaurs, and with some careful self-assessment and a drive towards innovation, they can still be the dominate force in industry communities. Here are three essential questions to help guide that reinvention:
What’s Your Member Value Proposition?
Look outside in rather than inside out, what do your members want from you? Digital technologies have incrementally chipped away at associations’ value by disrupting once unique services. Now, every organization must ask themselves how to satisfy new member needs and develop unique services to regain lost ground. A successful new value proposition can be built by innovating on up-to-date digital capabilities like data analytics or customer-centric digital content and marketing. The time to innovate the generation of digitally savvy associations is now.
How is your Market Changing?
Associations must assess their new marketplace and understand how digital has transformed the dynamics around them. For example, industry publications were once the cornerstone of many organizations as they fostered community and earned advertising revenue. Digital publishing has completely disrupted this source of revenue as free, relevant and targeted digital content is available in abundance. Furthermore, platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Reddit, or Instagram are drawing members away from traditional associations because they are cheaper, easier, and constantly evolving. Associations must seek opportunities in the new places that professionals are finding value by becoming strategically involved and providing the depth of knowledge so much of social media lacks.
What is your Current Disruption Risk?
According to McKinley Advisors, 61% of associations are conducting customer satisfaction research less than once a year, for most it’s closer to once every three years. This disconnect from members leaves most associations wide open to disruption from upstarts. And speaking of upstarts, an important exercise for each association (and any company for that matter) is to develop a business plan for a hypothetical upstart professional group that is perfectly suited to bankrupt your association. How would this phantom professional group work? How would they be able to consistently provide a better value to members? How would they leverage digital capabilities and technologies to become more efficient and effective? Take the disruptive tools from this phantom and begin to develop them in your association, innovating and fortifying against ankle biters while providing more value to members. Digital disruption is both a wakeup call and an opportunity to all associations. Updating and adjusting to the new digital economy is the best, and only way to continue to best serve your members and industry community.