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Your Association Is Not the Center of the Universe - Your Users Are

Written by Maddie Grant | on February 19, 2016 at 9:30 AM


Many associations share a central flaw: they routinely put the association and the needs of the organization or staff at the center of their universe. Historically, this made some sense. By creating the association in the first place, the members by definition centralized their attention. “Let’s all give dues to this central group so it can do amazing things for us.”

And amazing things they may have done, but in the process, they became over-focused on the organization’s needs. Like making members jump through all kinds of hoops because that’s what your particular database or business process required. It’s not that those processes are unimportant, but here’s the rub - the digital age has brought with it a new focus on “the user.”

Associations now need to make decisions based on user experience, and this is throwing them for a loop. Let’s say you’ve built your online community and broken it down into various specific interests based on function or interest area. It’s going well for a while, but maybe this year you see a big trend towards inter-disciplinary work in your industry or field. More and more people want to be working more directly with people of OTHER interests or from different functions.

Here’s an example. We worked with an association who wanted to build community subgroups for students taking part in popular industry competitions. But the association’s databases had those users grouped by competition list - and nothing else. 

The students just wanted to get to know other people interested in similar topics - it didn’t matter to them whether someone was in the same competition group or not. But the internal structure of the community (for various reasons) made it impossible for these users to browse each others’ interests and connect with people outside their own segment. And as this key audience was, basically, the future of the association’s membership, it became imperative for the organization to rethink how they had set up their community along their own internal needs, not the needs of their stakeholders.

In this kind of scenario, the structure you built is making it frustrating for users. What do you do? You might need to create a new structure, and fast. You might need to create something that gives the users of your system an experience that works for them, even if it’s harder work for you.

This is a piece of today’s reality many associations are not understanding. Much of your business model is based on being able to engage large numbers of people in your industry or profession. Yet in the end, you’re not willing to put resources behind making THEIR experience effective and pleasing. The associations that figure this out are going to leap ahead of those who don’t.

Join us in the conversation! Have you had to rethink how you set up your community in order to benefit the users, even if that was harder on you and your org?

Topics: Member Communities, Associations, Member Experience, Online Community

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