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Five Key Areas of Association Technology
When it comes to engaging with an association, members expect a seamless, smooth technology experience that enables them to take advantage of everything the association has to offer. Whether it is reading blast emails on mobile devices, renewing their membership online or downloading conference materials from a mobile app, members have high expectations for functionality and ease of use.

If an association excels in these areas, it could lead to greater loyalty from its members as well as increased membership, event attendance brand awareness and more. However, if members’ expectations are not met, they could become disengaged with the association and seek other means to address the gaps, which could include other nonprofit organizations and even for-profit companies.

Technology is so broad it can be difficult to know where to start and invest time and energy. For boards wanting to use technology to enhance member engagement, Jabez LeBret, a regular contributor to Forbes and co-founder of the marketing agency GNGF, suggests focusing on areas that will enable members to access your organization. The five most significant access points, according to LeBret, include:
  1. Mobile Internet
  2. Apps
  3. Social media
  4. Online video
  5. Beacons/wearable devices
For years — often because of limited time and resources — some associations have focused on only one or two of these areas. This strategy, however, directly conflicts with the needs and desires of the average user, who utilizes four or five of the access points and expects a seamless experience. LeBret stresses that this imbalance makes for strategic vulnerabilities and, at the very least, a less-than-optimal user experience for members.

Knowing that your association has a weakness, LeBret says, can be very helpful. "It allows you to build a moat, so to speak, around yourself while you make improvements," he adds. However, this knowledge does not mean that the need for improvement can be ignored. As boards evaluate members’ behaviors through satisfaction surveys, website traffic and search engine optimization metrics, direct feedback, event surveys, etc., they can uncover opportunities to improve in all five of the access points.

Mobile Internet

Earlier this year, access to the Internet via mobile devices surpassed desktop access. "This means that if an association is not presenting mobile options, it is either missing out on the opportunity to engage new members or frustrating current members," LeBret says.

As the communication chair of the Entrepreneur Organization’s San Francisco chapter, LeBret can speak firsthand to the challenges of creating a mobile-ready experience. "From event registrations to email updates, our members are increasingly expecting everything to be mobile-ready."

Associations should consider adopting a think-mobile-first strategy. This means that all the association’s content, web properties and email communication are created to work with mobile devices. When it comes to mobile Internet, it is not an area you can pick and choose; your entire ecosystem needs to be mobile-ready.

Apps

The area where LeBret sees the most app adoption is live events. Members are seeking a simple solution to improve the event experience. When looking to build a mobile app for an event, there are several ways you can make the experience shine.

An obvious example is building into the app the opportunity for attendees to see all the sessions and then mark specific sessions to a favorite list so they can create a personalized agenda while onsite. And if you can send push notifications via the app, you can let attendees know when and where they should be during the conference.

Another example LeBret cites is adding a gamification component to increase the usage of an event app. Allow people to get points for checking in with vendor booths, or for commenting about the event on Twitter. The event app should also have social sharing capabilities so your attendees can push comments to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Social Media

Many associations are using Facebook and Twitter to engage their audiences. Some are also experimenting with other social networks like Instagram and Periscope. With this in mind, LeBret says there is an aspect of using social media that can place your association at serious risk: social advertising. For example, with Facebook, advertisers can segment their target audience with extreme precision. "This means anyone can — and will — start to advertise to your association’s members," he says. "How can you guard against someone else marketing an alternative to your association? Get there first."

A strategy LeBret recommends is running regular ads on your Facebook page targeting your members with valuable content, not just event information. You could also upload your entire email list into Facebook’s ad platform and target “like audiences.” This type of ad will target people who are just like the ones on your list. "Basically, this would include everyone that is not a member of your association but share many similarities with your members," he says. "The best part is that your competition does not have access to your email list, making this a unique opportunity for your association. And it should help build membership over time."

Online Video

According to LeBret, It is time to put aside your fear that if your association offers an online video during or after an event, no one will actually attend the event itself. This is just not true.

"When looking for video production options, pay attention to companies that offer live video editing so that your content can be uploaded in a timely manner and high-quality format," LeBret says. Also, the goal is to find a creative solution to video that will be cost-effective and hassle-free. "Once you have a model that works for larger events (e.g., annual conferences), you can then apply the same strategy to regional or smaller meetings. All of this work will help widen your audience," he adds.

Beacons/Wearable Devices

According to LeBret, "wearable devices are certainly a new component to attending live events and attendees are becoming interested in using them to interact with your event in unique ways." With that in mind, the most available current option is to turn your attendees’ phones into wearable devices by implementing beacon technology (www.forbes.com/sites/homaycotte/2015/09/01/beacon-technology-the-what-who-how-why-and-where/).

By placing beacons throughout your event, you can create zones that offer varying interaction. This will simultaneously improve your attendees experience while also increasing engagement.

"There are going to be a lot of new wearable technologies coming out this year," LeBret says. "As they become increasingly pervasive, there will be a wide variety of new opportunities to improve your event."

In the end, one thing is clear: Your association must create a strategy for adopting a multidimensional approach to technology, or risk losing members to other organizations. The true benefit of adopting such an approach, however, is that it will lead to an improved experience for your members and a long future for your association.
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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015 EDITION
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for more than 60 years.

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