Over the past decade technology has changed at lightning speed. Systems are more intuitive and user friendly than ever before, as sites like Slack and Twitter continue to garner mass use with simplicity.
Innovative association professionals understand the importance of keeping an eye on technology because ultimately it is a cost-effective way to streamline daily operations and keep members engaged. Often budgets are tight and head count is restricted, so adopting technology may be one of the only ways to meet increased demands with limited resources. Those associations who are late-adopters to tech tools that streamline administrative processes typically observe the adoption of shadow IT. These are software programs and apps your employees use without IT's blessing. While these tools are often aimed at improving collaboration and productivity, their unofficial status can cause support and security issues.
We aren't saying that all shadow IT is bad and should be disbanded immediately. However, if you notice a trend where all IT needs are being outsourced it may be time to take a closer look.
For example, consider Canva, the simple online graphic design tool. I often use this to create infographics for blog posts when I am short on time or want something pre-templated to save time. I use the Adobe Creative Suite for most everything else. My use of Canva solves a specific problem, it enhances a tool already provided (and IT approved) rather than takes the place of.
Whether you notice an increase in shadow IT or are simply looking ahead, there are some major areas that are important to the success of your membership organization. When we talk core association software, these are the five types of tools that we see the most often.
Tech Tool #1) Membership Management Software
Even small-staffed organizations can't manage their membership from a spreadsheet. By using excel to manage your membership, you're limiting your own productivity and missing out on key features that will streamline your association's daily operations.
Membership management software helps you track dues, invoice members, analyze important member dates, log last touches, remind staff of follow-ups, keep data current, and so much more.
If you haven't auditioned membership management software in the past five years, you will be surprised at the dramatic changes in capabilities, user interface, and usability. Additionally, the enhanced quality and sheer number of integrations on the market enable you to easily add new functionality.
In short, yes, your original iPhone does function for phone calls, email and pictures. However, the iPhone 6 does all of those same things 4 times faster and 4 times better. Which would you choose?
Tech Tool #2) Email/Marketing Automation Platform
Marketers are forecasted to spend $2.4 billion on email marketing by 2016. As email marketing and marketing automation continues to grow, the price point for marketing automation software has become much more attractive over the past half-decade. A targeted email engine allows you to segment by demographic, transactional, and social data for very effective campaigns that can be used to achieve multiple organizational goals.
Reaching New Prospects
You can reach out to people who have shown interest in your association by attending an event, visiting your website, or downloading information about you. Email marketing helps you nurture those leads until they're ready to join.
Depending on your membership management software you may even be able to create targeted lists to help you ensure that the information is relevant to each particular audience segment.
Welcoming New Members
Email marketing is also a great way to build rapport with new members. Take advantage of the opportunity to introduce them to the benefits of joining your association. Educate and engage them through an email drip campaign, providing them information on a new benefit each week.
Sending them valuable tips and information over time instead of dumping it on them all at once, makes them more likely to read, understand, and enjoy the materials presented. They'll hear from the association more often and feel more connected early on, which is critical to retention efforts.
Stay in Touch with Members
Associations often host conferences where you promote that peer-to-peer member connection. While live events are certainly a great way to keep up with members, taking this 'hang out' online and making it year round can have a big impact.
Thanks to email marketing you can reach members you never see and keep them engaged through informative drip campaigns featuring valuable continuing education or industry information.
Tech Tool #3) Event Registration Software
One of the largest tasks where you can leverage technology is your event management process. There is no reason for every ticket to be sold over the phone or email, draining your association's valuable resources with manual entries. Stop chasing after payments from attendees and vendors with a filtered excel spreadsheet.
A web-based event registration system allows associations and members to:
- Register online (including selecting variables such as meal choice, or purchasing needed or optional materials)
- Duplicate registrations for ease of processing
- Pay for the ticket(s)
- View attendee lists in real time
- View event calendar(s)
- Manage speakers and â€œcallsâ€ for sessions
- Manage event registration
- Manage conference-related communication to targeted audience such as attendees or those who have not registered yet
- Manage chapter and sub-group events
- Create merchant accounts within individual events
- View event agendas
Additionally, often event management systems offer a place to build simple marketing web pages that can be updated from year to year. Save time bugging IT with tasks you can do yourself.
Tech Tool #4) Online Community Platform
Everything we have discussed up to this point has been about decreasing time spent on administrative tasks. In freeing this time up you have time to focus on what matters: your member experience. This is always at the heart of every decision your organization makes.
Member engagement and creating value are the top concerns for associations today. One of the best ways to achieve both of these is through the establishment of a private online community. A community for your members provides them with an opportunity for greater engagement, provides content for your association, gives members access to information and opportunities they can't access elsewhere, and it does all of this on property you own.
Social networks, like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, are critical platforms extending your reach, but they don't belong to your association. This is troublesome for privacy, security, and reporting reasons. You are spending time populating a site that isn't yours and that you have no service agreement with. You could lose access to it at any time.
Not only is this a problem from a content standpoint but your members don't attribute their experience to your association. On public social networks, you look and act like everyone else. In your members' eyes, you are not providing the value, LinkedIn (or other social network) is. Your members may wonder, Why not go to LinkedIn and start a networking group without the dues payment?
Also, talk about efficiency and innovation, there are association technology platforms on the market that do all four functions listed above for the cost of one. Imagine how convenient it would be to never send out discount links for your events because your membership management system cued your event registration system and their registration price.
Tech Tool #5) Legislative Tracking/Advocacy System
People or companies join associations to band together to learn about issues facing their industry and to speak with one voice. Who do they want their message to resonate with? It is usually some combination of the public and lawmakers. Often, associations market to the general public, so that citizens will take action toward pressuring legislators on a specific issue.
Most states drop thousands of bills each year. How can an association identify and stay up to date on the details of the bills that matter to them. Platforms like Legislation Track or CQ Rollcall's Engage tool track legislation that is important to your mission and members. These tech tools also keep members informed throughout the process of a bill becoming law.
Legislators don't want to hear from lobbyists. They want to hear from constituents. Advocacy software platforms such as Capitol Impact or Voter Voice help you connect your association's supporters with the people who are making decisions at the capitol.
Tech Tools for Associations Takeaway
Technology adoption is not about the brightest and shiniest. In the case of association technology, industry professionals should be looking at ways to become more efficient and streamline their operations. Not only does technology help associations stretch their budgets, it also helps promote their reputations as innovative thinkers and leaders in the industry.