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Pitching Your Association's Online Community Strategy: How to Overcome Common Objections

Written by Christina Green | on January 14, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Overcoming Objections to Association Online Community

Whenever you are trying to do something innovative, you can rest assured there will always be haters. Most of them have the right intentions but many raise objections simply because what you are suggesting takes them out of their comfort zones and if it fails they don't want tied to a sunken ship. Think, Zune circa 2006 (you can go ahead and look that up on your iPod touch).

However, objection is not always the polar opposite of support. Especially when their objections are born out of fear. Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says: Objections are expressions of interest. At least with an objection, the person is engaged enough to join the conversation.

Online communities often fall into this category of scary innovative projects. As online community strategies grows to popularity and become a staple in all organizations, there are some horror stories poisoning the water. Objections for an online community may take many forms, but all stem from one central fear: what if it fails?

How Do You Overcome Objections to Your Association's Online Community Plan?

As we mentioned there are a myriad of ways that objections will come to you. Each has several constructive arguments to help ease the concerns and doubts of nay-sayers.

Over the years we've heard the gambit of objections. This is by no means an exhaustive list as each organization will have some more specific concerns not covered here. However, these are some more general and most common objections heard in our day-to-day interactions with community managers.

Price

Regardless of whether your online community costs several thousand or several hundred dollars, someone will always bring up price. Typically in the form of:

Facebook is free. Why don't we use that?

While the private online community versus public social media profile is an objection all to itself, your association needs to be doing something to engage its members and provide added value.

In order to make your membership valuable, your organization has to offer something they can't get elsewhere. That costs money. If you have a good system in place, you should be able to calculate your return on investment in the implementation of your online community.

Schedule

The timing is always bad for someone.

Our conference is coming up. Let's concentrate on that.

There's always something on the horizon. In the example of a conference, implementing an online community prior to the event or being able to unveil it at the conference is a good way to build excitement around the launch.

If you keep waiting for the right time to launch an online community, it will most likely never happen. Make community an action item in your meetings and if it truly is an organizational goal, set a deadline for implementing your strategy as you would any other task.

Lack of Tech Users

While it's important to embrace technology that your members will feel comfortable using, many associations underestimate their members' interest in technology.

Our members don't use online communities.

Older adults are increasingly turning to social media platforms to do things like scout deals and stay in touch with distant family. A private online community is no more difficult to use than a public social media profile. Unlike the public profiles, your association's online community is more secure (a concern of Baby Boomers) and provides more niche networking opportunities.

According to the 2014 American Trends Panel, a random sampling of US adults, only 14% of Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) don't use the Internet and only 29% of the Silent Generation (born between 1926-1945) says the same. For those who believe their members aren't using the World Wide Web, it might be time to revisit that notion.

We Should Fish Where the Fish Are

As we mentioned, deciding whether or not to build a private, branded online community for your membership organization isn't just a black and white consideration. It is followed by the question of whether a public or private community would be more beneficial to your organization. There is always that board member, the one that will quote how many users a site like Facebook or LinkedIn has and s/he will suggest centering your online community there instead.

                Everyone uses Facebook. Let's fish where the fish are. They're already there.

There's no denying Facebook has a large audience, but as you're busy filling that site with content and then it has a glitch for some users like it did recently, you'll quickly realize the peril of building your home on someone else's land.

Plus, anyone can start a page on Facebook. There could be five different versions of your association pages out there. How will your audience know which is the official, sanctioned one?

Facebook also makes changes to its allowances on a seemingly daily basis. You are not a paying customer. You will not be advised of these changes ahead of time and they could have big ramifications on how you do business.

More importantly, some offices block Facebook access for their employees. A lot of associations are directly tied to their profession such as the state bar association is exclusively for lawyers. Thus, those hours where they are most likely logging in would be banned. If you have an online community with its own domain, you mitigate the risk that your community can't always be accessed.

Need

Online communities require work. For those who understand this, there is usually someone who brings up the need factor.

We don't need this. This is just another thing to do, a trend or fad, our members won't use in the long run.

Can you run an association without a private online community? Perhaps, but you are keeping your members at arm's length instead of engaging with them and giving them opportunities to network with each other. If you don't adopt an online community, you are only making things harder on yourself because you are missing out on ways to reach out to them, collect data, disseminate information, and understand their preferences.

You are missing the opportunity to provide value to your members that keeps them renewing their membership.

Online Community Objections Takeaway

Don't let objections make you doubt the value of a private online community. This is the direction all business are moving in - becoming more human and providing a more customized user experience. Without these basics, attainable through an online community, you won't have the data your association needs to continue to innovate and provide high-value benefits to your members.

Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Online Community Management, Associations, Online Community

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