One of the greatest fears of professional bodies and industry associations is the threat social media holds for their continued existence.
These organisations typically offer a value proposition that includes a mix of common ingredients: discounted rates for training and event registrations, access to particular types of information, and networking opportunities with like-minded professionals in the relevant sector. While membership to some of the organisations is voluntary and aimed at improving product and service quality, there are several professional bodies that participate in the regulation of relevant sectors by awarding professional desigations to qualifying members.
Although the professional bodies have enforced regulation on their side to offer some measure of guaranteed existence, the challenge of member retention and growing the membership base year-on-year remains. These challenges have become harder than ever over the past three years with the rapid rise of social media as replacement to everything membership organisations traditionally had in their arsenal to attract and retain loyal members.
The days of these organisations are however far from numbered ... but only if their executive and leadership teams are willing to let go of business as usual and a habit of using past information to inform future actions.
Membership organisations, whether voluntary or regulatory, must stop trying to create their value proposition around the benefits social media now offers at a fraction of the time and cost to members. Yes, that means throwing away the vision and mission statement that took 12 people three days to write five years ago. Yes, it means explaining to the board and members why the recent significant investment into developing online communication platforms has become outdated. Yes, it means recreating an entirely new business model, based on little more than guts, intuition and innovative thinking. And, most importantly, it means giving a controlling amount of strategic direction of the organisation to its members.
The new business model for membership based organisations needs to be centered around the things social media CAN'T offer i.e. in-depth individual relationships. Algorithms and data-driven marketing has the scoop on personalisation, so a few tweaks to CRM software to include Dear <<FIRST NAME>> in mass emails isn't nearly enough.
When members interact with their organisation, they must experience the benefits of an authentic relationship with another human being. A relationship that has developed over the course of time and through a variety of intricate interactions, not merely through a few fleeting social posts with a half-life of a couple of hours. A relationship that isn't damaged irreversably with the latest app update, but one that can stand the test of time. A relationship with conversations that start with an honestly caring "how are you?" and isn't limited to an SEO optimised 140 characters.
Social media fans and followers are ranked and rewarded according to skewed popularity.
In membership organisations the focus of the strategic direction, operational imperatives, and choice of tactics should focus on building closer, more authentic relationships with members as individuals, rather than activity- and account-based groupings. As individual member intelligence increases, so will trust from members increase. Since people buy from people and brands they trust, the business model of the revamped membership organisation therefore lies in monetising areas of need informed by member intelligence not merely gathered from individuals, but willingly provided by individuals.
Customer loyalty is at the root of success for any lasting business. And when that loyalty turns into passionate advocacy, a "superfan" is born. For brands, these dedicated followers can help transform a satisfactory business into a sensational one. The obvious question for brands is: How do you create superfans?