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Associations have a problem. A very big problem that is only going to get worse by the day as the social media continues to create noise and distractions. These distractions lead to a lack of FOCUSED ENGAGEMENT. The constant lack of focused engagement is what I call the “Social Media Death Trap”. Let’s dive in and learn about what the Social Media Death Trap means for your association and then figure out how to turn it into your association’s greatest benefit.

“Free” Social Networking is Not Free

“Free” social networking options are excellent to build brand awareness and to capture engagement from members “in the moment”. You know, when you happen to be on LinkedIn and you see a post you might read it, but most likely you didn’t go there for that reason.

These social networking options create a lot of noise. Any value your association provides, in terms of content, events and networking, gets lost in daily digests mixed in with the dozens of other groups your members are a part of. Because they are free and offer somewhat of a community element, associations typically take advantage and rely on these opportunities as a way to develop member engagement online.

This leads members into the Social Media Death Trap as engagement on these larger social networks becomes dis-jointed with the actual value they are seeking from their membership investment.

What Do Your Members Want or Need?

Your members want or need something from your association. Of course, this varies based on association type, geography, etc. It might be content, updates (e.g. from lobbying efforts), having their voice heard, networking, access to resources, marketing, etc. Overall, your members joined for one reason or another and are constantly (at least yearly) evaluating value of membership.

Alternatives to Association Membership – Big Problem? Yes!

Your members also want to know that what your association is providing has a level of exclusivity. For example, if members can network with other members on LinkedIn, why would they pay for this opportunity through your association? Why would a member pay for access to resources if they can just access them through Google?

As these opportunities become more readily available and accessible, doesn’t that make your association obsolete? You bet it does. As millennials take over management positions, associations risk becoming even more obsolete. Here is a great article that details this thought process from a members perspective: http://www.business2community.com/strategy/shouting-into-empty-barrels-coping-with-the-decline-of-associations-0239822

Here is a quote from an excellent article (6 Key Issues Facing Association Leaders) by Seth Kahan from Fast Company that details this issue even further:

“Facebook is the world’s largest association with over a billion members and anyone can start a group for free. Many people are no longer willing to plop down dollars for the privilege of belonging. They need more tangible value.

Education, previously a core value proposition is now available everywhere to anyone who can search, which is everyone.

What is membership turning into?”

Your Association’s Greatest Opportunity – Escaping the Social Media Death Trap

The problem is not just member engagement, it is FOCUSED MEMBER ENGAGEMENT. This problem can be turned into one of your greatest opportunities and benefits.

In context to social media, this means creating an environment that isn’t competing with dress color arguments, ice buckets challenges and silly cat pictures.

It means creating an exclusive environment that:

  • Your members find relevant and purposeful (it serves a meaning in their life)
  • Is completely branded to your association (demonstrate membership value)
  • Engagement can be segmented through groups so members find relevance in content and community engagement (value)
  • Opens communication channels between association-to-member, member-to-member and member-to-association (give your members a voice)
  • Allows your association to fully control engagement options and opportunities (e.g. videos, documents, forums, blogs, gamification, events, discussions, etc.)
  • Allows your association to fully control notifications (e.g. email notifications, mobile notifications, etc.)
  • Integrates (i.e. links out to or directly works with) existing platforms (e.g. your association management software, website, event management system, etc.)

The list can go on and on in terms of qualities in a platform that support membership value, however it doesn’t stop there. No technological platform in the world will provide your members with value they desire from you without a proper community management strategy.

Community management strategy, in context of associations, isn’t about assigning one person (e.g. community manager) to post content, add members and conduct other tasks necessary to keep the community alive and thriving. Community management strategy is about getting the entire association leadership on board to communicate with the association as members would expect them to. Yes, that means getting the Executive Director to post an update to all members or specific groups/committees to provide an update. For membership coordinators/directors, this means reaching out to existing members and thanking them for their membership. Maybe even asking for referrals for other potential members.

When your association starts to combine the elements of an exclusive environment (i.e. private online community branded to your association) with a total association effort, your membership will become invaluable.

“They will not see the larger social web as an alternative to your association, but rather your association as alternative to break free of the noise and clutter of the social web in order to focus on what’s important.”

Now is one of those times where your association is either going to take action toward creating an exclusive environment for your members that they find valuable or continue to stay stuck in the Social Media Death Trap (become part of the ever-expanding and noisy social web). You have the opportunity to make your association something members can’t live without.

You bring the value of community. You bring the value of collective efforts. You bring order in a chaotic world. Manifest that value in something your members can hold in their hand and you’ll grow faster than you had ever imagined.

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