About 60 percent of respondents to our latest unscientific reader poll said they’ve encountered more surprises in technology over the past 12 months than in any other area of association management. That includes membership growth, non-dues revenue, social media and Big Data.
Associations are generally not early adopters of technology, but they are taking steps to close the knowledge gap.
According to Fara Francis, chief information officer of The Associated General Contractors of America, association leadership now welcomes IT to sit at the table to participate in identifying the organization’s business strategy and goals.
“With this posture, technology is now given significant consideration in most associations and as such, a plethora of technology trends are now being adopted and implemented,” she said.
Staying current in this age of “throw-away technology” is a huge challenge for every organization she’s involved with, said Patti Stirk, a long-time IT services entrepreneur and now an investor and adviser to AgeCheq, which creates technology to protect children’s online privacy.
“Not staying current with electronic payment methods and communication methods risks disenfranchising donors,” she said. “It’s no longer simply about email and a Web page.”
Members of all ages, not just up-and-comers, are likely interacting with you via a mobile device. That wasn’t always the case five years ago.
According to Naylor’s chief innovation officer Marcus Underwood, as the typical screen size has grown rapidly, so has the way in which people use their devices.
“In the past, messaging and searching for quick answers (through search engines) dominated the usage,” Underwood said. “Larger screen sizes have led to increased consumption of in-depth content. The types of content (articles, video, blogs) allow associations to communicate with their members in ways never before possible.
“This larger screen size has also freed up space that can be used for advertising or sponsorship. This is key for many associations as the non-dues revenue model is often necessary to pay for these new content streams.”
That’s also why designing your sites with responsive design—the ability to experience optimal viewing of a website from any source: web, phone or tablet — is “now mandatory,” explained AGC’s Francis.
As David Trust, CEO of the Professional Photographers Association said, “Trying to do business without tapping into all of the ways people communicate these days is like trying to hold back the tide with a sandcastle.”
Of course, no discussion about mobile technology would be complete without a nod to the explosion of mobile apps. Nearly half (42 percent) of respondents to our unscientific reader poll said mobile apps have had a bigger impact on their association than any other factor. No other tech development came close.
Underwood said gamification is one way that associations have rapidly boosted engagement with their mobile apps. And he said associations can now make content mobile accessible without having to rely on native applications that must be managed through a third party.
“Making your content mobile and web-friendly is far more cost-effective, and it doesn’t require specific downloads,” Underwood said. “The vast majority of ways an association needs to communicate with its customers can be done through smart, adaptive mobile web design.”
Another important trend we’ve seen is the number of associations now using marketing automation platforms to automate repetitive member communication tasks. MAPs also enable you to market to members selectively and with more relevance on multiple channels, including email, social media, websites and more.
Chad Lloyd, marketing manager of Boxwood Career Solutions, said MAPs help associations connect to members at the “appropriate time” and on a “personal level” so that your communications seem as though they were created just for that one single member.
Whether built in-house or more often licensed from vendors, MAPs use “digital body language tracking” so you are able to understand exactly what your members and prospective members are interested in and customize your communications with them, Lloyd said. That, he said, has gone a long way toward helping associations avoid two of the biggest member long-time member irritants: (a) Marketing to folks who aren’t interested in what you are sharing and (b) burning your list by over-communicating with your contacts and causing them to opt out of your communications.