We believe that all types of organizations can benefit from having an online community. There is so much power in connecting people, spreading ideas and empowering community members. However, depending on who is part of your trade association, members may be hesitant to use an online community at first — their competitors may be part of the same community, reading and contributing to the same conversations. And if that’s the case, why participate if you risk giving away secrets or lending your competitor a hand?
Although members of trade associations may be slow to adopt new online engagement tactics because of this fear, it doesn’t have to be that way – online communities can benefit all kinds of organizations, even if your competitors are part of it.
It may sound counterintuitive, but here are three reasons why your trade association should have an online community (and why you should actively participate if your trade association already has one):
Trade associations have the unique dilemma - members that may be competing or at odds with one other in a given industry. But there’s always common ground that isn’t inherently conflicting. Many basic questions and problems are best answered by member companies, since it’s specific to either the industry or to the structure of trade associations in general.
Working together to answer each others’ questions strengthens everyone and doesn’t necessarily give one member company the upper hand over another. To ensure that sensitive information isn’t spread, the moderator can set up specific discussions and educational communities on specific topics.
Who you know is key and online communities are a great way of meeting and collaborating with new members, industry leaders and constituents involved in current legislation. Rather than just using a social networking site like LinkedIn, an online community can help create deeper connections amongst people who have similar interests or roles within their organizations. Through private, searchable conversations and online libraries, communities provide more security and easier access to conversations. This only furthers the participants’ learning and benefits of the community as a whole.
Even if a trade association’s members are direct competitors, many times they have common adversaries, such as government regulations and laws. An online community can be a good space for constituents to band together and discuss how to deal with possible changes to a law or other industry specific issues that may be happening. There is strength in numbers.
It’s true that online communities for trade associations may have to have a different approach than online communities for professional associations, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any value in them – the value of collaboration and shared resources is real. How the community is set up and moderated makes a big difference as well as what topics are discussed (i.e. educational and common foe topics). When set up correctly, members will find added value in membership because of the online community – which is exactly what you want.