A few years ago, comic hypnotists were a big draw on the corporate speaking circuit. Many companies hired them at retreats, conferences, annual meetings, and the like. Employees got a great laugh at watching a stranger suggest to their manager that they should cluck like a chicken, and got even bigger laughs when the manager did it on stage in front of everyone. You don't have to be a hypnotist to get your board and executive team to support your association's online community. You don't even have to be a master of persuasion or strategy. You only have to do one thing—align your new online community with the mission and priorities of your association's leadership. It's much simpler than it sounds.
It's impossible to align anything if you don't understand what you're aligning your online community with, so the first step in achieving alignment is separating the views, goals, and priorities of individual board members and executives so that you can focus on the association's priorities.
Hopefully your association's executive team met recently to discuss the areas that require attention and pen the priorities for your group. If they have, secure a copy of this document and use it to lead the discussion of an online community. If no such document exists speak with your executive director and the head of the board to figure out what the association's main goals are for the upcoming year.
While the way that you align your online community with your executive's goals will vary by association, five of the most common priorities include:
Every year, bringing in new members is likely to be important to your association. There is a need to increase recruitment, particularly among the younger generation. Associations are now tasked with convincing people why they must join. People no longer join because it's expected or critical to their job. Plus many companies that have paid for membership dues in the past are no longer offering that as a benefit to their employees.
Providing value is essential to recruitment. Value means something of interest to your audience that they can't get elsewhere. A private online community helps you create a group that appeals to members and allows people to interact with your association on their terms and time.
Just because they can't make a meeting or any of your events, it doesn't mean that their membership won't be relevant when you have an online community. They can still receive value from their membership through online interactions, exclusive content, and access to experts. You can also provide a trial online membership to help with recruitment.
The key to retaining members is similar to that of recruitment—provide them with something they need. That could be continuing education opportunities, valuable peer-to-peer networking in an online community, or publishing opportunities in front of people who could advance their careers.
Again, an online community helps you deepen the relationships of members year round, and not just at meetings or events. Members can stay connected to one another and to your association even when in-person connections are not possible.
Chances are that your association has legislative initiatives for the upcoming year. Because of the sense of community that is built through an online community, it is easy to rally support for your legislative agenda.
Many association management software platforms help you locate members by zip code and customize your approach to them based on the legislative initiatives in their area. Private groups can be created in an online community as can personalized messages. Alerts can help keep your members aware of the issues facing the industry that could affect their jobs.
Stagnation is equal to death in today's internet-based world. If your association is offering the exact same things it did half a decade ago, your members will stop looking to you as a leader in the industry and begin to see you as a remnant of times gone by.
An online community provides a new way to connect and showcase your members. Best of all, the community belongs to you. There are no concerns over the changing of privacy settings, or unknown server maintenance, when you are in charge of your online community. You can't say that about the public networking sites.
Remaining innovative is important to many association leaders and the interest in online communities is only growing. Even large corporations are adopting community strategies for research and development, loyalty, user groups, and more.
Many associations are beginning to understand the appeal of technology from recruiting millennials to helping staff maximize resources. An online community is easy to use and sends a message to membership and beyond: We are innovative. Our association has a focus on the future.
One of the easiest ways to get your executive team and board to support your online community is by aligning it with what they want to accomplish in the near future and over the next several years. Show them how your online community will make their jobs easier and help the staff do more with less. Emphasize the operational efficiencies behind an online community.
Tying these priorities together will help them embrace your community strategy and give you the resources and support you need to be successful. It will also show that you've been paying attention, which is a nice way to gain some favor of your own.