4 Ways In Which Smart Associations Are Leveraging Emerging Technologies

Published by LTBD, P.C. | August 17, 2017

Association executives face many challenges in growing and developing their membership base as well as their sources of both dues-based and non-dues revenues. Growing an association involves expanding not only membership but also influence, engagement and impact.

With that in mind, it’s essential that smart associations aggressively pursue new technologies that can enhance their success in these areas. Here are four technologies that smart association executives are learning to leverage to drive growth and success within and beyond their organizations:

1. Member Portals

Many associations have taken the time to upgrade their core association management system (AMS) platforms over the last five years. This is an essential first step toward delivering a better user experience to members and stakeholders, as well as enhancing management’s ability to monitor and respond to key metrics and data points. However, AMS upgrades are the beginning, not the end. This is especially true considering that many AMS platforms, while functionally robust, are built on older architectures and are not configured “out-of-the-box” to provide a robust or user-friendly portal experience.

Recognizing this, associations have three options. The first is to upgrade or expand their use of the built-in portal capabilities that come with their core AMS product. The second is to replace their AMS system with a newer and more technologically current application that presents more robust front-end portal capabilities. And the third is to build or buy a third-party or customized portal solution as a ‘bolt-on’ to provide members with the best possible experience.

One reason that portal capabilities warrant re-evaluation is that how members engage with the association digitally has rapidly evolved from a desktop/laptop focus over to a mobile phone and tablet experience, and this raises questions about how capable the association’s portal is in supporting these users. Another possibility is to add a mobile application (web-based or native to iPhone or Android) to the mix, to provide more powerful services on the mobile device. The bottom line is that portals provide your best option for regularly engaging members wherever they are, and an investment here can go a long way toward improving results on many fronts.

2. Digital Publishing Platforms

Whereas member portals focus on the member experience, associations can also gain enormous value on the non-dues side of the house by creating robust digital publishing platforms that provide significantly enhanced value to their sponsors, partners and associate or affiliate members who help keep the lights on with their advertising, marketing and sponsorship investments.

These platforms can provide a powerful foundation for transforming how associations sell and generate revenue from marketing partners. In the old model, the association would publish a magazine and charge a flat fee for print ads, then they’d publish an online version of the print publication using a PDF viewer or similar tool.

Today, digital publishing and marketing automation tools can enable you to sell far greater value to advertisers and sponsors by publishing blog articles and other high-value content, tracking page views, showcasing metrics like the number of members who clicked through from an e-newsletter to read the sponsor’s article or the number of social media shares achieved, and even using landing pages and web forms to collect qualified leads that the association can pass directly to its marketing partners.

This not only protects revenues by demonstrating a high level of value, but it can actually increase revenues by enabling associations to charge a premium based largely on the actual results delivered.

3. Public Engagement and Advocacy Tools

In addition to strengthening the role of technology in serving members and marketing partners, smart associations are looking to use technology more aggressively in support of the mission. This means making it as easy as possible to build and sustain public engagement efforts and advocacy campaigns.

Digital advocacy technology can enable your association to do things like geo-code the relationships between members and their legislative districts; create and distribute action alerts that can be shared with targeted contacts or via social media by your members with one click; push instant notifications to members and stakeholders on mobile devices; and amplify messages by matching members with media and legislative contacts to drive meetings, discussions, coverage and results.

If your association has a strong public policy team, these tools are an important part of your legislative advocacy arsenal and should be configured to work in conjunction with your existing bill and legislative tracking software, your public affairs team’s CRM contacts and other key components so that grassroots advocacy can be easily expanded into grasstops advocacy with influencers and those who have the power to achieve impact.

4. Analytics and Business Intelligence

For years, the field of analytics and business intelligence (BI) was primarily the province of large enterprises who could afford massive budgets for the design and implementation of such applications. Today, a far greater range of organizations can benefit dramatically from the power of analytics capabilities, including associations. Products such as Tableau and Microsoft Power BI make it possible to easily add business intelligence to the association’s technology stack.

Some of the things that analytics applications can accomplish include providing dashboards to monitor membership revenues and renewals; monitoring how marketing and communications activity drives member engagement; monitoring how key operating areas of the association (such as events, programs, paid content, etc.) align with member and non-member activities and actions; and more.

Looking across these four core areas, the power of a technology-centered strategy becomes clear. Each of these four priorities focus on leveraging technology to enhance the benefits that your members and non-members experience for their investment, while also providing greater power and decision-making capability to association executives.

The result is a forward-looking business strategy for the association that successfully enhances performance in three core areas of the organizational mission: value to members, revenue enhancement and advocacy/engagement impact. Begin exploring how these four technologies can make a serious impact within your association for today and the future.

Image Credit: Juhan Sonin (Flickr @ Creative Commons)
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