Associations in the Community Business

By Bobby Peralta posted 11-09-2022 09:55


Associations are not in the events business but in the community-building and communications business. This means that associations have to take a step back and reimagine the way they are building their communities and what the long-term member engagement strategy could look like. Digital is not a threat, but a massive opportunity for associations to engage and grow their communities and have bigger, more continuous, impact.

This excerpt from an e-book titled “The Association Community Compendium: How to Harness the Collective Power of your Members,” authored by Mathijs Vleeming, an online community evangelist and strategy consultant, and published by Open Social, is the premise of a recent webinar that Mathijs conducted for the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE). Here are my key takeaways from his presentation:

  1. Associations are natural communities. Community is in the DNA of every association. Its very existence is founded on a shared interest, passion, purpose, or mission. The challenges an association faces are plentiful and complex which the pandemic further exacerbated. Before delving into possible new models in response to these challenges, it’s crucial to understand an important foundational truth about associations and what makes them flourish: they are natural communities.
  2. Community as a strategy take-up is mixed. Some associations have been nurturing this community dimension in earnest while others have lost the notion of community as part of their central philosophy and core strategy. When they treat their members merely as an audience, associations only create one-way and short-term communications and interactions with their members, such as in the case of in-person and online events.
  3. An online community is a new “third place. ”A “third place” refers to a place where people spend time, in addition to their home (place 1) and their work (place 2), to meet others, learn from each other, and exchange ideas. Traditional third places such as churches, libraries or gyms now include online chat rooms and forums.

The time is now for associations to embrace a true community approach to maintain relevance, develop deeper member relationships, and achieve greater impact. The first step is to build a vibrant online community.

  1. A new online community-led engagement model. An association may opt to change its engagement model from a traditional, event-led model, to a community-led model in which it can offer 365-days of opportunities for connections with other community members, for collaboration and knowledge-sharing, and for on-demand content. This holistic strategy, inclusive of many tactics and tools for engagement beyond just online events, leads to “always-on” community engagement experiences.
  2. Final thoughts on starting an online community:
  • Start small.
  • It is not “build it and members will come,” but build it with them as they are already there.
  • The “sweet spot” of a successful community is the community purpose.
  • Research to find out your members’ needs, challenges, and expectations.
  • Use “ambassadors” and “super-users” to build relationships and cohesion, as well as assist the community manager with the various tasks at hand.
  • Design community experiences through rhythm, repetition, and consistency.
  • Make members feel smarter; facilitate and amplify.

This article was published by the Business Mirror on September 9, 2022 and may not be reproduced without prior consent from the writer and Business Mirror.