Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is your association stuck in the industrial age?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard a lot of association professionals talking (arguing) about freemium, about monthly memberships, about “the new normal.” 

When you step back from these conversations, it almost sounds like a bunch of Boomers trying to keep things as they are until they can retire.

With that as a reference point, Associations Now’s Robb Stott captured some of this dialogue in a piece called New Social Network for Docs Already Outpaces AMA Membership. The article focuses on Doximity, a social network for doctors founded in 2011 that doubled in size over the agrarian year and now has more than 250,000 members or about 35% of all doctors in the U.S.

[Sidebar: the Veterinary Information Network or VIN has been doing the same thing for veterinarians for more than 20 years.]

A very telling comment in Stott’s story came from Anna Caraveli, managing partner at research, consulting, and organizational development firm The Demand Networks, LLC.
  • Part of the problem is that associations are stuck in an “Industrial Age of thinking,” where they are more concerned with selling the products and programs they produce than they are with meeting member needs.
  • “Everything is set up to produce, everything is set up around the annual conference, the magazine, the programs,” she said. “Look at any of the startups or the high-tech groups out there. People are not running around to meet deadlines. They operate on a constant sense of discovery and looking to solve a problem for the consumer rather than [saying], ‘OK, let’s churn out 20 seminars for members to attend and maybe get the answer they’re looking for.’”
I once managed a small association representing a segment of a much larger industry. Our research showed that the members and prospects most wanted information – not on the professional – but on how to run their businesses. Topics like business plans, managing people, creating contracts, etc. As much as I tried to get the association to offer help answering these business management topics, I failed as the association focused on its scientific programs, annual meeting, newsletters and other “stuff” that generated revenue. Meanwhile their member numbers continued a slow decline. 

Many associations were formed during the transformation from the agrarian society to the industrial age. A major question is what changes will associations make as society continues its steady march out of the industrial age into the information society?

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