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Embracing the AI Wave 

Imagine a world where your morning coffee is brewed to perfection by your smart machine, knowing just how you like it—dark, two sugars, and with a hint of existential dread about the day ahead. That's AI for you, sneaking into our lives one convenience at a time. But what if the same technology that ensures your coffee is just right could also revolutionize the way we build and nurture your association communities? We're not just talking about making life easier; we're talking about transforming it.  

Welcome to the wild world of Artificial Intelligence, where the possibilities are as endless as the acronyms are confusing. In this blog, we're diving headfirst into the digital deep end to explore how AI can be the secret sauce to spicing up your association's community engagement, operations, and maybe even your coffee game (though the jury's still out on that last one). Whether you're a skeptic, a newbie, or an AI aficionado, there's something here for everyone. Let’s dive in and discover how Artificial Intelligence isn't just a buzzword but the sidekick you never knew your association community needed. 

Related: Top 6 AI Guidelines For Associations To Follow Learn More >

AI Demystified

With the rate at which AI is advancing, it can feel a little bit like trying to jump into an ongoing game of double-dutch, exciting and terrifying. Level setting is key — ensuring that all staff members of your association, regardless of their technical background, start from a common understanding. This shared foundation is crucial for effectively integrating AI into your association's strategies and operations and will ensure you’re all advancing together into the innovative world of artificial intelligence. Let’s simplify a few key AI concepts.   

AI (Artificial Intelligence): The Brainy Bot  

At its core, AI is like a robot that's eaten a library – it knows a lot, thanks to the plethora of information fed into it, and it uses this knowledge to make decisions, solve problems, and even crack jokes (if programmed by a sufficiently witty engineer). If your smartphone were a pet, AI would be its ability to remind you about your mom's birthday, suggest the perfect gift based on her interests, and then gently nudge you towards actually buying it in time.  

NLP (Natural Language Processing): The Chatty Kathy of AI  

Ever wished your computer could understand your midnight ramblings or your poetic attempts at writing an email? Enter NLP, the branch of AI that deals with the interaction between computers and humans using natural language. It's the reason Siri can understand your request for the nearest pizza joint or why your email client can suggest entire responses that make you sound significantly more eloquent. NLP is like that friend who always knows what you're trying to say.  

Data Mining: The Treasure Hunt  

In the vast ocean of data that is the internet, data mining is the process of diving deep to find pearls of insight and nuggets of knowledge. It's like being a digital pirate, but instead of a map marking the spot, you have algorithms and instead of treasure chests, you're after patterns and trends that can help businesses and associations make informed decisions. Imagine finding a chest full of gold coins; data mining is similar, but you might uncover a trend that leads to a boost in member engagement or revenue growth.  

Machine Learning vs. Deep Learning: Teaching a Dog to Fetch  

Imagine you're teaching your dog to fetch. You show it a ball, say "fetch," and reward it with treats when it brings the ball back. Over time, your dog learns that "fetch" means "go get the ball." Machine Learning (ML) operates on a similar principle. It involves feeding a computer system a lot of data (think treats), which it uses to learn how to perform a specific task without being explicitly programmed to do that task. The more data it gets, the better it becomes at that task, just like your increasingly proficient fetch-playing dog.  

Now, imagine if your dog could not only fetch but also interpret your mood, predict when you'll take it for a walk, and even sort your emails (if only, right?). This is where Deep Learning (DL) comes in – it's a subset of machine learning that uses complex neural networks (inspired by the human brain) to digest vast amounts of data. These networks can identify patterns and make decisions with a depth of understanding that's a level up from basic machine learning. So, while ML is your dog learning to fetch, DL is your dog becoming your personal assistant.  

Generative AI: Composing Symphonies  

Moving on to the wizardry of Generative AI – this is where AI gets creative, literally. If Machine Learning is learning to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on a piano, Generative AI is composing symphonies. It's the technology behind AI creating new content, whether that's writing an article, generating a meme that makes you snort-laugh, or composing a piece of music that could give Beethoven a run for his money.  

What makes Generative AI a game-changer for content creation is its ability to understand and produce work that feels authentic and human-like. It analyzes patterns in existing content to generate new pieces that are original yet familiar. For associations, this means being able to produce tailored content for your community, from newsletters that speak directly to each member's interests to social media posts that engage. Generative AI is like having a creative genie in your pocket – one that understands your audience almost as well as you do.  

Now that you've demystified some of AI's most pivotal terms and established a common ground of understanding within your association, let’s transition from what AI is, to how it can be practically and beneficially integrated into your association's ecosystem. 

Related: The Ultimate AI Toolkit for Associations Learn More >

Level Up: Educating Your Team on AI 

Before you transform your associations into AI-powered super-entities, there's a tiny, slightly important step we can't skip: education. Imagine trying to fly a spaceship without knowing what any of the buttons do—exciting, but probably not going to end well. That's pretty much diving into AI without a solid understanding. So, how do you turn your team into AI whizzes?  

The good news is, learning about AI doesn't mean going back to school. The world is chock-full of webinars, online courses, workshops, podcasts and conferences designed to demystify AI for anyone and everyone. From beginners to experts, there's something for every level of interest and expertise.   

Encouraging a culture of continuous learning is like keeping the curiosity flame alive—essential for not getting left in the digital dust. It's about making learning a part of your association's DNA. Celebrate curiosity! Have AI Lunch & Learns, start an AI book club, or even hold an "AI Idea-thon." It's all about creating a space where questions are encouraged, and "because we've always done it this way" is the only wrong answer. For those that are looking to jumpstart their association’s AI education immediately, consider Sidecar’s AI Learning Hub for Associations, an on-demand AI course designed for the busy association professional.  

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Experiment, Learn, Repeat 

Imagine your association as a mad scientist's lab, but instead of bubbling potions, you're concocting innovative AI solutions. This is where the rubber meets the road, and the theoretical becomes the practical. Let's dive into the process of turning AI possibilities into palpable benefits for your association.  

  1. Spotting Opportunities for AI Magic : Scour your association's daily operations, member services, and engagement strategies for clues. Where are the bottlenecks? What tasks are devouring your team's time? Maybe it's sorting through event feedback, personalizing member communications, or predicting membership renewal trends. These pain points are your treasure map to AI integration goldmines.  
  2.   Kickstarting Your AI Projects: Small Bets, Big Wins : Now, pick a project small enough to manage yet significant enough to matter. Think of it as your AI pilot episode—if it gets good ratings, you've got the green light for a full series. For example, automate the most time-consuming email responses with an AI chatbot or use AI to analyze event feedback for actionable insights. The key? Start small, measure meticulously, and scale sensibly.  
  3. Choosing Your AI Co-Pilots Wisely : With a sea of AI tools out there, selecting the right one can feel like finding a needle in a digital haystack. Look for tools with a track record of success in similar associations or industries. Free trials are your best friend here—test drive before you buy. And remember, the flashiest tool isn't always the best fit; it's about solving your specific challenges efficiently and effectively.  
  4. Measuring Success: Beyond the Buzz : Implementing AI is cool, sure, but how do you know if it's actually making a difference? Set clear, measurable goals—whether that's reducing response times, increasing member engagement, or cutting down manual data entry hours. Use data to tell the story of your AI project's impact, and don't be shy about tweaking your approach based on what you learn.  

In the journey of adopting AI, the mantra for associations should be: experiment, learn, repeat. The beauty of AI lies in its scalability and adaptability, allowing organizations to experiment with manageable projects, learn from the integration, and branch out to wider adoption. Here are a few ideas of places that you can begin experimenting:   

AI in Event Management: Scheduling and Beyond  

Imagine an annual meeting where you don’t have to agonize over speaker schedules, rearranging agendas, what feels like, 18,000 times. AI scheduling assistants make this possible by analyzing availability, preferences, and logistical constraints. As you grow in your AI comfortability, AI can also assist with venue selection, personalized event marketing campaigns, event attendee insights, and even provide real-time analytics.   

Matchmaking Members: Enhancing Community Engagement  

One of AI’s most compelling uses is in forging stronger connections within your association. Similar to "Tinder for members," AI can analyze profiles and interests to recommend connections, fostering a vibrant community. This not only enhances networking opportunities but also strengthens the overall ecosystem of the association, leading to higher satisfaction and retention rates among members.  

Tailored Communications: Speaking Members’ Language  

In today’s information-saturated world, personalization is key to capturing attention. AI’s ability to analyze member data and craft messages that speak directly to individual interests and needs is a game-changer. Whether through personalized newsletters or targeted alerts, AI ensures that every piece of communication feels relevant and engaging, significantly enhancing member engagement.  

Content Creation and Distribution: Meeting Members Where They Are  

Generative AI has the power to revolutionize content creation, offering the ability to produce diverse and engaging materials tailored to various member segments. Beyond creation, AI can also optimize the distribution of this content, ensuring it reaches members through the most effective channels and at the right times. By analyzing performance data, associations can continuously refine their content strategy, ensuring that every piece of content not only meets but exceeds member expectations.  

Adopting AI doesn’t have to be daunting. Start by identifying areas where AI can have an immediate impact, select tools that align with your objectives, and launch small-scale projects to gauge effectiveness. Key to success is measuring the outcomes of these initiatives, using insights to scale up successful projects, and maintaining a cycle of feedback and improvement that keeps your strategies aligned with member needs and technological advancements.  

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The AI Journey Begins Now 

As we peer into the vast expanse of artificial intelligence and its myriad of possibilities, it's clear that the future of associations is not just knocking; it's ready to kick the door down. From the cautiously curious to the tech-savvy pioneers, the time to embrace AI with an open mind and a strategic approach is now. It calls for collaboration, curiosity, and an unwavering commitment to innovation. The potential of AI to revolutionize community engagement and streamline operations is immense, making associations more resilient, adaptable, and impactful. As you step into this journey, do so with boldness and vision, ready to redefine what's possible for your communities and for the future of associations (and start by registering for digitalNow 2024!).

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Kat Davis
Post by Kat Davis
February 12, 2024
Kat Davis is the Marketing and Events Associate at Sidecar. She has a BA and MA in Theatre. She is passionate about the intersection of technology and creativity and believes that is where the true innovative magic happens. When she is not working, you will most likely find her spending time with her two sons and husband, catching a local show, or curled up with a good book.