It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my favorite topic, association community management, right? I’m not currently working in the association world, but I still strongly believe in the importance of associations and can’t help but think “how does this apply to associations” when I read pretty much anything. This was especially true when I read this article about how startups are flocking to hire community managers, which quotes one of my idols, Rachel Happe.
The article talks about how startup community managers are “Part sociologists, part event planners, part product developers” and how they “straddle many different roles to build a sense of fellowship among a….product’s users.” If you’ve ever worked for an association–especially a small staff one–I’m sure you’re thinking “hey, I resemble that remark”–I know I am. Of course, the difference in this case is that these community managers are bringing people together around a shared interest–again, what associations do–but without the dues payment. So far, startup community management seems to involve two things in terms of this goal: bringing users together online via an online community at first then extending that to real-life meet-up events. Associations have long done the same thing, but the emphasis has been and continues to be on the in-person events since, for the most part in the association world, those events are revenue drivers, often the largest revenue source for the organization.
I think community management is one area in which associations should take a cue from startups–community manager is often one of the first hires at startups; in the association world, while community manager is becoming a more common hire than it was a few years ago, it is still far more common for associations to think that all that’s required of launching an online community for members is purchasing the platform and announcing that it exists. This quote from the article says it all to me: “How do you get people to come together and take action and feel a sense of belonging, to feel that they’re part of a movement?” Spinks said (Spinks being David Spinks, another community idol). “All these platforms start by building a core community, and they grow from there.” Associations talk about member engagement and throw around equations for calculating it and measuring it, but see online community as a “meh” at best in may instances; startups are focused on what I consider to be a given: connect people online around a shared interest or mission and grow from there. People are online 365 days a year–if you’re not dedicating resources to make sure that they’re spending a decent amount of that time on your org’s online community, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
Here’s the thing–if associations are struggling with engaging the next generation of members and grappling with the fact that millennials don’t trust traditional organizations, they should really be paying attention to this rising trend of startups relying on community managers as key hires to grow business. One last quote from the article–honestly, I hope you read it because it’s a good, important read, IMO–”When individuals interact in meaningful ways in relation to a product, they associate those positive — or negative — feelings with the brand. Encouraging that kind of communication requires experts who understand group connectivity and how to scale it.” Those experts? Not association professionals used to doing it the way we’ve always done it in the association world…but community managers.