Many times we write about some of the more advanced features and practices around managing a private online community. However, many membership-based organizations are still in the investigation stage of how an online member community can help them tackle the major challenges facing associations today.
So, we are going to take a step back and discuss some of the benefits an online community can offer your association. For those of you who already have a private online community, use this as an opportunity to see if the online community you chose is doing what it should for your organization.
1) Online Communities Make Access to Your Website a Tangible Member Benefit
With many associations doing away with expensive programs and publications, the real benefit that many associations provide their members is their conferences and online information. In the economy we live in, travel can be tough, so an online community can be a daily resource to your members.
2) Online Communities Give You More Actionable Data About Your Members
Knowing your members and their online behavior gives you the business intelligence you need to make educated decisions - from strategic direction to tactical, program-level decisions.
3) Online Communities Connect Members Around Helpful Information
For many professional associations, one of the main reasons members join is to meet other members. However, with travel being a luxury for most people, your online community can offer valuable member networking and idea sharing that can happen 365 days a year 24 hours a day.
4) Online Communities Get People Talking and Keep Them Talking
Many online community platforms have integrated discussion forums and listservs where members can ask questions and get answers. Many surveys of association members show that the single most valuable benefit is getting questions answered from their peers. Enable that knowledge sharing to happen on your website and in your members' inboxes every day of the year.
5) Online Communities Offer Great Feedback and Alert You of Opportunities Early
Ever wonder what your members are thinking about a topic? What topics they find most interesting? Well, with an online community you can ask members through surveys or see trends in which topics are getting the most traffic to know what your association should be focusing on moving forward.
6) Online Communities Differentiate You From Your Competing Organizations
If a member had a choice between two associations, each with a great conference, but one had a vibrant online community where they could tap into the discussions and sharing all year long, which one would you think they would choose?
7) Online Communities Increase Staff Efficiency
Many of the manual tasks such as updating member profiles, monitoring forums and updating websites can all be done automatically now through work flow in most online community software. Put staff on tasks that offer value to members and can grow your membership by automating less mission-critical tasks.
8) Online Communities Take You Out of the Software Business and Put You Back in The People Business
Many associations are still managing their website, member forums, file libraries, survey tools and chapter tools in-house. These in-house systems are usually not as good as packaged systems and are more expensive since associations need full-time staff to maintain and upgrade these systems. Chances are, your association does not want to be in the software business. An online community platform can enable your organization with more powerful and integrated tools at a much lower cost.
9) Private Online Communities Take Away the Facebook and LinkedIn Threat
A recent association survey found that organizations that sent their members to LinkedIn and Facebook to have discussions, share files and network tended to decrease in membership. Those that kept those conversations on their website in a private online community increased in membership. Keep the member benefit of knowledge sharing and networking in your industry as a member benefit and take away the threat from Facebook and LinkedIn.
10) Online Communities Offer a New Revenue Stream
Giving the exhibitors and sponsors of your conference limited access to, and advertising in, your online community has been a proven way to not only offset the costs of the software that runs your community but can create a sizable revenue stream. It also increases the value your vendors can get from your organization, keeping them sponsoring year after year. In addition, webinars can offer a new way to provide training for your members and generate revenue by charging members or charging vendors for the opportunity to do a webinar.
11) Online Communities Give You a Mobile Strategy
With the world living on smart phones, you need a mobile app linked to the features of your online community. With many online communities including mobile apps already integrated with the system, you have one less technology worry that takes you away from the core value you offer your members.
12) Online Communities Create Happy Members
Members who are engaged in your organization, have a voice on issues that impact them, and feel connected both to others with similar questions and to those with answers, will remain members. They will be satisfied, advocates for your organization and its mission.
There are many more benefits that an online community can offer your organization, but if you are on the fence, these 12 should help push you over the edge. It is not a matter of if you need an online member community to remain viable in your members' eyes anymore, it is how good is your online community.
The association benefit model is changing and the delivery of those benefits many times are delivered by, or are part of, the online community. There are many good online community platforms out there. You need to find the one that offers the features that are right for your organization and members.