Could Membership Organization Become a Dying Model?

In my discussions recently with many association executives and consultants who have been in the association business their entire careers, they are feeling that the membership model is dying and there is a struggle to be relevant.

Personally, I heard from some of my own peers in the last couple of weeks. They are asking me if they should renew their memberships in some of the organization where they have always been “checkbook members”. These individuals question the value of their membership (even though they work in the industry and have been “members” for many years).

Many signs indicate that the old model no longer works. In the past, people joined because of their profession and felt an obligation or a need to belong. With social media, today it is easy to create groups and quickly form organizations. For example, I recently was invited to a business group in my area recently. Within two weeks, the person (who I don’t know) was able to form a group of more than 600 people on LinkedIn and has set up an event.

Today, it is harder than ever to provide value, recruit and retain members. The value for associations today is about experience, engagement, value and service. To thrive, it will take much more than collecting dues and publishing a magazine. Organizations need to extend their thinking and “walk in their members shoes” to understand their needs.

Associations need to be able to use technology tools to customize their communications and provide service based on what each member or prospective member cares about. Social media provides new ways to reach out and engage members and potential customers. There is tremendous value in social media conversations. Yet, many associations do not have resources to ensure they are responding to their customers needs online.

Associations must think about what is “next” in the industry they serve and how they provide new value and services. It is important to create customer engagement teams, dedicate resources to respond to customers on social media and be where their customers are both online and off. Associations need to change the typical communications model and be where their members are online.

Their are key considerations for associations to move forward and provide relevance:

1) Create a Digital Culture (Not Just a Strategy).

2) Identify the Right Staff and Train Existing Staff.

3) Technology is Only an Enabler. It Won’t “Do the Job for You”.

4) Measure Often: What is working and what isn’t. Stop doing what isn’t!

5) Take Risks: Experiment and Take Risks.

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