What's the one thing almost all associations have in common? It's formal volunteer leadership programs. Volunteer leaders are highly visible, engaged MVPs in the association, lending credibility and encouraging other members to attend events and participate in activities. There are volunteer trainings, guidelines and formal committee structures and procedures, all of which boost the program's credibility and desirability; members aspire to join the ranks of these MVPs.
The Community Roundtable recently released its 2014 State of Community Management report. You can read the full report here, but Joe Rominiecki makes a really good point in this article in today's Associations Now about how two parts of the study are particularly relevant to associations: leadership involvement and CEO participation.
The Community Roundtable report findings show that, among communities with formal leadership programs, 71 percent can measure the community's business value. Only 33 percent boast the same among those without formal programs. Interestingly, while hundreds of associations have successfully launched private communities, the governance structure that exists for other parts of the association is still primarily absent from the community.
For organizations that want to maximize the effectiveness and success of their online communities, this needs to change in two ways:
First, part of what is required of traditional volunteer leaders needs to be active participation in the organization's online community. Too often, associations have their volunteer leaders, then they have their online communities' and rarely do the two mix. While attendance at various face-to-face meetings or conference calls is required of these volunteer leaders, there is no requirement that they even have an active profile in the association's community, let alone regularly participate there. If you think about it, what kind of message does that send to members?
Volunteer leader attendance and networking at annual meetings is practically mandatory - it's one of the selling points to attendees to be able to listen to keynotes given by the President, or to have their voices heard by volunteer leaders at the Town Hall meeting. What if, one year, none of the volunteer leaders attended these functions? It would be unthinkable. This needs to change if associations want to build solid engagement in their online communities.
Not only do traditional volunteer leaders need to take an active role in the org's online community, but also mentioned in the Associations Now article, we need to develop leadership programs centered around that community. It can mirror the way for-profit companies have advocacy programs where certain MVPs get to beta test new features, help with development of new community content and inform the platform's future direction, attend special MVP events and are distinguishable within the online community by virtue of special badges or designations.
Associations need to follow their lead and develop online community committees or boards. These volunteer leaders would take an active role, becoming champions of the platform, maintaining an active presence both in the community and at face-to-face events where they encourage members who aren't yet involved in the community. They could have a hand in both content for the online community and cross-pollinating community content across other communication vehicles, both inside and outside the association.
Another important takeaway from the report is how executive participation affects the success of online communities. In 58 percent of the best performing communities included in the research, the organization's CEO is an active participant. Again, this is an area in which far too many associations fall short. While the CEO may champion the idea of an online community platform and be supportive in terms of approving the expense, all too frequently he/she shies away from actually participating.
Again we can use the analogy of an annual meeting - in what scenario would it be acceptable for an association's CEO not to attend the annual meeting and other important face-to-face events? But people don't think twice about a CEO who refuses to even complete a profile in the online community. If we truly want association communities that are a member benefit and provide value to members and associations alike, then the CEO needs to maintain an active presence in the community as well as at live events. Association leaders need to lead by example, just as they do "in real life", if they want to foster active, engaged, successful online communities.
Comment below if your organization has volunteer leadership opportunities around your online community, or your CEO is an active participant. We'd love to hear about it and feature you in an upcoming blog post.