The National Education Association. The International Web Association. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Even the Association of Food Journalists. No matter the interest, the career, or the goal, chances are you can find an association for it, as well as a group of enthusiastic members from around the globe ready to support it. These associations thrive on communication and collaboration, but how can they keep this spirit alive when thousands of miles may separate their thousands of members?
Times are changing. Technology is changing. The way associations used technology even five years ago is not sustainable today. If you are in charge of an association, you have to make sure that your association and its other leaders are taking the time to make both connecting and collaborating easier for members. If not, then your association is losing every chance it has at growing.
Modernized websites, advanced membership software, new social media platforms, and other tech solutions are building bridges between members. Websites showcase events and conference news. Membership software makes associations more accessible than ever before through simpler communication and easier registration, while social media helps members network and spread their message.
At KDG, we’ve spent years working alongside organizations and associations and have helped them grow stronger and larger through web design, digital marketing, and other tech solutions and strategies. Whether your association is a group of business owners or a collection of local nonprofits, we want to help it do the same. To give you a push in the right direction, we’ve compiled a list of the three most important ways associations can use technology to stay current, stay collaborative, and stay connected.
Give Your Website a Redesign
When it comes to staying connected, your website may very well be your association’s most valuable tool. It’s where members go to learn about the association, get the latest news on its upcoming events, and sign up for important conferences (which are often the only times members can actually get together in person).
Because membership is so dispersed, many associations, especially smaller ones, don’t have a headquarters where members can meet. As a result, think of your association’s website as its “digital” headquarters. Just as you would if you were designing a physical headquarters, you want your digital headquarters to emit the same welcoming feel and be a place where members can easily find the answers and the information they need.
In 2017, it’s safe to assume that every association already has a website; however, if that site hasn’t been updated in a few years, it probably isn’t doing much good. Technology, tastes, and the way information is consumed change drastically from year to year. A real headquarters or office would be renovated every few years, so make sure you give your site the same treatment. Update its photos, add new videos, and refresh its content to show that your association is still active. (All of the tips we point out in an old blog post about trustworthy websites apply). However, while appearance is important when redesigning a site, experience is even more so.
There are three ways to ensure that your site offers the best user experience:
- Consider your audience members and the experience you want them to have. Put yourself in their shoes. If you’re a visitor doing research on the association, what kind of information would you want readily available? Chances are you’re looking for a way to become a member. What about if you’re already a member? You would probably want a way to register for events, pay dues, and more. As a result, make pages with this information a priority. Users want information fast and results even faster. More than simply learning about your association and its upcoming events, users should be able to become a member or register for events in only a few minutes.
- Sites today also have to be responsive. Responsiveness is something no association really had to worry about as little as five years ago. Not only should your site be compatible with phones, tablets, and other mobile and desktop devices, it should also work with browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Just as your members come from different towns, states, and countries, your web traffic also comes from different devices and browsers. Make sure your site works for your members, whether they are browsing on Safari with an iPhone or searching through Chrome with an Android. Your members are usually on the go, so make it easier for them to get the news they need and want, not harder.
- Before ever launching into any redesign project, get an idea as to what kind of site your members want. After all, they’re the ones who will be using it most. Send out surveys, conduct polls, and take suggestions from the organization’s members. You should ask your own members what they like and dislike about your current website and find out what they want incorporated into the new site.
Purchase Membership Software
Just as businesses need CRM to manage communications and funnel leads through the pipeline, associations also need a CRM tool. Compared to a few years ago, there is a ton of new software your association can incorporate into its redesigned site in order to make things such as event registration and membership payments simpler than ever before.
In the past, such tasks could only be processed manually through complex forms and snail mail. If they were done online, the procedure was often time-consuming and inefficient. However, software like MembershipWorks works wonders in keeping data and information more organized, payment processes simpler, and registration more efficient.
MembershipWorks is a membership CRM program. On its surface it does everything that any organization would want its CRM to do, including:
- Organizing members
- Sending automated emails and daily reports
- Tracking payments, meetings, and registrations for every single member of your association
- Working with any credit card and gateway for simpler payment processing
- Delivering automated renewal emails
- Featuring one page event registration and simple event ticketing procedures
- Creating surveys using form builders (perhaps surveys about what members want to see in your new website…)
- Integrating membership directories into your site so that members connect
- Allowing members to advertise sales and services via deals pages (potentially boosting membership through increased visibility)
There are many other types of membership software available and each have different features. You want a tool that will make your job easier and eliminate the manual work you may have done in the past, so make sure you find the program that is the best fit for your association, its leaders, and its members.
Post Regularly to Social Media
Finally, posting to social media is a sure way to keep your association and its members connected online. Most associations already use some kind of social media. Research from 2015 shows that an impressive 93% of associations used Facebook that year, 91% used Twitter, 88% used LinkedIn, and 73% used YouTube.
However, as with websites, while nearly all associations may have social media, they’re not all using the power of the platform to its fullest potential.
These platforms have grown and progressed tremendously over the past several years. They have transformed into a place where events are promoted, expertise is shared, and networks are built. For associations, social media is a free digital marketing tool and it should be treated as such.
If your association is using social media, there are three very important things to keep in mind:
- Start with one platform that you will actually update regularly. (Facebook and Twitter still seem to be the most popular options).
- Don’t get too caught up in sharing and re-tweeting others. Instead, focus on the content you want to share—advertise events, crowd source, fundraise, promote your expertise, etc.
- Make your content fresh, exciting, and “share worthy.” After all, social media is called “social” for a reason.
Once you master these steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating an interactive, engaging, and informative network of information and collaboration.