Hellloooo there! Been about a million minutes since I last posted here–or anywhere, other than my journal–but I guess that’s what happens when you become your own boss. It’s been a wild year to say the least, but kind of an awesome one. I’ll save the long story for another time, but short story: I’m currently self-employed (with a new website to show for it…still a work in progress) and my days either loving working from home or being super lonely working from home, or usually a mix of the two throughout each day.
But more on that later because otherwise I’ll never get to the point of this post, which is my old favorite topic: association community management.
Because I’m me–the person who has spent literally the past decade obsessing about the intersection of online communities and associations–I couldn’t help but read the Community Roundtable’s 10th Annual State of Community Management report through an association lens. And frankly, I don’t think it’s possible NOT to read it through that lens if you work for/with associations because the findings dovetail perfectly with the challenges most associations are grappling with. There is SO much to unpack there that I’ve already wasted a week going down that rabbit hole, so I’m going to just stop myself here and try to keep this high level, then drill down more in future posts.
The Community Roundtable, the most trusted voice in community management, has been publishing the industry’s most comprehensive research, The State of Community Management (SOCM), since 2009. If you read this blog, you know I’ve written about both the Community Roundtable and their research for almost that long. They are also, for all intents and purposes, an association, and as a former and–yay!–now current return member of TheCR Network, I could go down a whole other rabbit hole about how they practice what they preach and it shows from a member perspective….actually, I did go down that rabbit hole back in 2013, come to think about it. Anyway…
If you don’t read the whole report–which you definitely should–at least read co-founders Rachel Happe and Jim Storer’s introduction and the executive summary. They talk about how they started the Community Roundtable because they had a hypothesis and anecdotal evidence that community managers were figuring out how to lead communities in ways that generated shared value for both their organizations and their members, and that this style of leadership would be the future. They share how 10 years of research has allowed them to take this feeling and turn it into data and facts about how community approaches help empower individuals. Oh, and helps organizations adapt and change.
I’m just going to pull a few high-level findings from the report but I hope that after reading them, you’ll read it in its entirety alongside the two other reports I compare it with–MGI’s 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report and ASAE’s ForesightWorks.
Key SOCM Findings and How They Relate to Associations
“Communities are agents of change that can deliver on some of the most intractable challenges organizations face while at the same time empowering individuals. This powerful shared value allows organizations to change rapidly, become adaptive and operate in ways that optimize digital transformation”
Communities propel engagement
- “Communities empower individuals by helping them feel seen and heard, which is the foundation for feeling empowered to ask questions, solve problems and take leadership initiative…Community approaches generate high-trust, adaptive and engaged cultures.”
- “How well communities are led and managed, whether by leaders assigned explicitly or by volunteers, impacts the success of both the entire community and every individual in it.”
- “Optimizing the value of communities–for both members and organizations–requires investment in developing trust, which is one of the core responsibilities of community leadership…the ability for communities to foster trust is what makes them effective governance structures for organizations that seek agility, speed and innovation.”
Advanced Strategies Enable Success
- “Successful communities are generative, with success and impact leading to more success and impact…the factor that correlates to the most other success factors is having an advanced community strategy–one that is…operational and measurable.”
- “The increased transparency in communities with advanced strategies provides more access to information and translates into higher rates of learning, development and fulfillment for individuals AND higher productivity, agility and innovation for organizations.”
- “Active, ongoing community management can mitigate ALL negative engagement risks.”
Communities transform organizations
- “Organizations are facing complex challenges and opportunities on all sides and are building communities to address this new reality. Community structures allow opportunities and challenges to be addressed at the edges of the organization while staying in sync with its core purpose and value.”
- “Community outcomes can be connected to complex business objectives like innovation, culture change and customer retention.”
- “Communities also contribute to tactical and complex member objectives, from getting faster answers to increasing trust and confidence.”
- “Communities are the best and most sustainable method to integrating knowledge, innovation and culture across silos.”
Why this matters to associations
- MGI’s 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights the importance of engagement to the majority of associations, reporting that 37% of associations cite lack of engagement with the organization as the reason for non-renewal, 50% of associations say that increasing member engagement is their top membership goal and 69% of associations have a strategic initiative to increase engagement. Meanwhile, the report also cites that 46% of associations do not offer an online community. If this isn’t a missed opportunity, I don’t know what it is.
- Meanwhile, almost all associations are using social media channels to engage members (93% of associations report using Facebook; 89% Twitter) but report that use of private social networks continues to decrease slightly. Why does this matter? Because it shows that the vast majority of associations are investing in social media–that means staff, resources, and, increasingly, budget as social media platforms become increasingly pay-to-play, in spite of the fact that, per the SOCM, “for those who work in social media, engagement rates average between .05-5% of their total followers…[while] almost 50% of community members are actively engaged.”
- More than ¼ of associations cite that their biggest membership challenge is the perception of the association and/or its culture, and 33% report that the biggest external challenge associations face include competing associations or sources of information. Also that 58% report that members cite networking as the top reason they join associations. Meanwhile, the SOCM reveals that communities impact complex organizational objectives like culture and organizational change (61%) and complex member objectives like networking with peers (77%!!) (p. 20). Even though 50% of associations report that increasing member engagement is their top membership goal, only half believe they have a compelling or very compelling value proposition. Again, here’s a dynamic where associations are struggling to deliver shared value, engage members and distinguish their offerings in the face of increasing competition across areas that associations used to own like events, content and professional development, and must find ways to transform the ways they do business AND 10 years of research reveal that communities advance these very issues…yet associations are investing their limited resources in social media rather than owned, well-managed, strategically-driven communities.
- If the duty of foresight is something association execs and boards must embrace in order to survive and thrive, and ASAE is imploring associations to practice foresight, how can we collectively square the fact that the majority of associations don’t understand the importance of community and community leadership? Of the 46 Drivers of Change identified by ASAE’s ForesightWorks, so many tie back to the very challenges this report’s findings reveal that communities address: declining trust, more human humans, next-gen professionals, socializing reshaped, transparent organizational ethics, ….seriously. Read through the different topic areas and then ask your association’s community manager how online community can help address most of them. Oh, wait–your association doesn’t have a community manager? Or an online community? How does that square with your practice of foresight?
In their intro, Rachel and Jim ask this question, which, IMO, lies squarely at the intersection of the SOCM, ASAE’s ForesightWorks and MGI’s report: “Then why aren’t all organizations racing to adopt community approaches? Building and operating successful, productive communities requires a radically different mindset–one that does not put your organization at the center. It also requires community builders who can translate what they know into the language of business….[and] courageous executives willing to invest time and resources in a very different model of success, a challenging proposition even with hard data and evidence.”
To this end, I ask associations–why are we seemingly the last sector to understand the value of community management and owned community, and to invest in it–as brands, customer experience professionals, newsrooms and even individual creators are embracing it and reaping the rewards? How much time and money do we spend on strategic planning and leadership consultants, and on riffing on the same old ideas about cultivating member commitment and engagement, all while ignoring the most obvious yet almost entirely dismissed path to a sustainable future for associations: community leadership and strategic, intentional online communities? Raise your hand if your association’s community manager has a seat at the leadership table, and/or is part of the strategic planning process. Actually, if anyone is actually raising a hand, please reach out to me because I’d love to hear about how your association is embracing a community leadership approach.