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Circumstances have definitely changed for all association leaders! Does your new strategy embrace digital?

COVID-19 has made physical meetings and events, the mainstay of all association programs, less desirable or even impossible to host in the near future. That is a massive change in circumstance that needs to be addressed in a new strategic plan. 

Digital technologies suddenly seem a lot more appealing and perhaps our only viable option to create value for our members in the short term. A shift to embrace digital technologies is long overdue for most associations.

To date though, most of the changes associations have made tend to be in the area of using digital platforms such as Zoom or Teams to support meetings. But there are many other things you can do to create value for members digitally. 

When creating winning products, corporations and brands are generally looking for ideas that fall into the overlap between feasible, viable and desirable. Digital technologies enable us to create products and services that fall into that intersection right now. If you focus on your members, their firms and work, you will find you have an incredibly rich pool of potential content to draw content from.

The opportunities to create value through digital technologies and advance member benefits is still huge for associations. It’s time to seriously consider your digital strategies and options. COVID-19 has provided the reason to embrace digital value creation for our members, the same as all other businesses have been doing for their customers over the past 20 years.

Consider this: most associations’ national meetings are attended by between 5-20% of their membership. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the time and cost to attend. And now COVID-19 as well. Until now, your biggest investment, in most cases, is enjoyed by only a minority of your membership. No wonder there is high churn in many associations. Delivering digital benefits is an opportunity to increase the satisfaction of the majority of your membership. 

What can we deliver digitally?

You can create compelling, easily accessible content, education, awareness, recognition and tailored content offerings.

Most associations’ website traffic is many times larger than their membership. In our case, membership was less than 1% of our website traffic and in our research between 1-5% is a fairly typical number for associations. This means the people your association website is reaching far exceeds the membership. That has value to your members. Your website can become a real megaphone for your members, bringing them awareness, recognition and even new business. At the very least, you can drive some of your traffic to your members bio’s and  websites. After a reconfiguration of our website, we were able to refer 25% of our visitors to members’ LinkedIn profiles and to their firms’ websites to see their work and read more about them. Turns out,on average, we were adding about 30% to members’ website traffic. That’s a much better deal for a member than paying for Google Adwords. In fact, the value of those referrals is almost worth the price of membership. Imagine being able to prove your membership value in quantifiable analytics!

Content is king. There is no better way to bring people to your website than great content. At every event you host, you have great speakers, and in most cases this content is offered for free. We started to record all our sessions and post them on our website. You can easily do that now! Think about this like a dedicated TED for your members’ field of interest. It very quickly became an important destination for visitors to our website and a driver of membership as we kept 80% of the videos as member-only content. 

From the association perspective, over the next few years each video received at least 4-20x the number of views as compared to physical attendees at the original event. That was a great return on our original investment, and it provided additional promotion for the speakers and a way for 80-95% of our membership to participate in the great content the association produces. Initially, there was some concern it would cannibalize event registrations. The opposite happened. Our attendance at events more than doubled as people realized the quality of presentations being delivered at the events from the online videos they had seen. People attend physical events for more reasons than just education.

The final benefit was that by offering each video individually, members and the broader community now had ways to engage with us that would only take 20-45 minutes. In a time constrained world, being able to offer ways to engage from 1, 10, 20, 45 minutes, one evening to a 3 day conference is incredibly important to broaden your appeal.

What started this shift in focus for us? We decided we needed to focus our content on our members, their firms and great work, not on what was happening at the association. In so doing we shifted the focus to open the door to great content and it paid off many times over.


Clive Roux
Post by Clive Roux
August 24, 2020
Clive Roux is a trained industrial designer and Association CEO on a mission to reinvent the value proposition for associations in the digital age by applying his Design Thinking, Product Management and Innovation skills to rethink what associations can offer this century. He leads successful organizations using Design Thinking as his core strategy; placing the users at the center of his problem-solving activities, understanding their challenges and then constantly adding new value for them. Earlier in his career as a design leader for Philips Electronics, his design studios won every major design award and sold over 120 million consumer products. As an association CEO, Roux has reinvented and grown two design organizations: The Society for Experiential Graphic Design and the Industrial Designers Society of America. Roux authored  “Creating Digital Value for Members: The first stop on the road to relevance for Non-profits and Associations" in February 2020.