This month’s guest blog post is by Elsbeth Russell, senior editor at Naylor, LLC, who works with association executive clients to produce content-targeted print and online publications. Contact Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As an editor who works exclusively with societies of association executives, much of the content that crosses my desk each day involves different theories and trends based on the same core areas. From generational differences to governance and strategic planning to technology and leveraging data, it’s enough to make your head spin.
I would argue that while each of those areas are important to keeping an association running, the connections that you facilitate – which members can’t get anywhere else – are equally important.
While attending CalSAE’s annual ELEVATE Conference this spring, opening session speaker Sarah Michel, of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, asked the audience to think of reasons why it would belong to an association. My friend and colleague turned to me and asked about my Twins’ Club and immediately a light bulb went off.
It’s the connection factor.
When my husband and I decided it was time to start a family, we never imagined our journey would include having two babies at the same time. Not one to join clubs or sororities in school, I’ve always described myself as “not a joiner.” Suddenly, though, I found myself searching out groups where I could find others like me.
What I found was a huge community of moms of multiples, ready and waiting to offer advice, support and often just a compassionate ear to listen to questions and comments that only someone in my shoes would understand. I guess I’m a joiner after all.
For an association, the most logical place to start in facilitating these connections is at your events.
I love the idea of a simple survey asking three to five questions that aren’t necessarily conference related. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Which celebrity would you most like to have dinner with? Keep the answers multiple choice and pair the vanilla lovers and those who’d love to dine with Oprah. This gets the conversation started and builds a sense of community with peers who might have, moments ago, been strangers.
One of my favorite parts about my twins’ group is the fact that I know there are moms to whom I can go for answers anytime I have a question or concern specific to raising identical twin boys. That same concept is easy to replicate by simply polling your members to see in what competency area they’re seeking more knowledge before they attend your event.
Are your members looking for information on marketing? They get a red dot on their nametag. Looking for ways to better utilize their AMS to engage members? They get a blue dot on their nametag. Now let’s connect those dots.
Helping members — and potential members — realize how helpful these connections can be in their everyday life helps make the value proposition for membership clear. It’s important, then, to continue to facilitate the connections even after your event is over.
One group Michel referenced in her session found that the bond it made at the conference became so important that the members found each other online, forming online communities through social media platforms like Facebook and Google+.
Similarly, despite sometimes vast geographical differences, my twins group has forged a bond between its members so strong that many moms have planned meet-ups in centralized cities around the country. I’ve been lucky enough to meet several moms in person during travels to different cities for conferences.
The group Michel mentioned is now planning a reunion at next year’s conference. Are your attendees doing the same?