Our Thinking

The Evolution of Digital Transformation for Associations

Associations approach digital transformation in different ways. What many associations don’t do, is step back and consider what digital transformation really means, and how to best go about it.

Here’s what digital transformation is not:

  • New website
  • New logo
  • Getting on the hottest social media platform

What digital transformation is about, is becoming truly member-centric by retooling your association with systems and processes that centre your members’ needs. This could include:

  • Boosting on-demand member services and products through your website
  • Providing member networking opportunities on social media
  • Making programs more accessible and relevant to member needs

The goal? Empowering your association to improve service levels, member retention, and outreach in the digital space. This article is the first in our new Digital Transformation for Associations Blog Series. Read on to learn how digital transformation has evolved over time in the association world, and how that has influenced member expectations. Want to get the full picture now? Download our free ebook, Digital Transformation for Associations!

Evolving Association Challenges

For associations, it’s often difficult to tell whether investing in complex and costly association management systems, email systems that struggle with CASL compliance, proprietary web content management systems, and social media are worth it. The ROI can be dubious at best. 

At the same time, associations are struggling to compete against free alternatives offered by non-association providers, while demonstrating value for membership and improving member engagement.

In the past, a ‘successful’ event was more about bums in seats than thinking of the event as a catalyst for member engagement, retention, and recruitment. And as for strategically leveraging data – that wasn’t even on the radar of many associations. 

Think about how very much has changed in today’s digital landscape. For associations to stay relevant, they must now consider:

  • Social Media
  • Marketing automation vs. email
  • Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) vs. Association Management System (AMS)
  • Online learning
  • Increased use of mobile and tablets
  • Legal compliance (AODA, ADA, CASL, etc.)
  • The cloud
  • The maturation of online advertising and SEO
  • Competition from Google and other online venues
  • More cybersecurity risks

However, there is one change that must always stay top of mind for associations: the increasing sophistication of user expectations. In fact, this provides an important clue to the difference between yesterday’s thinking and that of today. Where yesterday was all about the association, today’s thinking must be about the member. And Digital Transformation is the process to make this happen.

Evolving Technologies Impact Member Expectations

The emergence of new technologies always brings about cultural change. How did we ever function before smartphones and videoconferencing? 

Associations are not immune from these societal changes. In fact, associations must pay close attention to how new technologies influence what products and services members expect your association to provide. And perhaps more importantly – how you provide it. 

When 108 started serving association clients nearly 30 years ago in 1994, the web was brand new. And it completely transformed how associations kept in touch with members. At the time, print brochures featuring membership benefits were popular. Just a few years later, sticking labels on envelopes to mail print materials was out, and delivering digital content right to member inboxes was in. E-commerce came soon after, followed by the birth of social media. 

How did this impact associations’ digital presence? Many associations scrambled to move their data to the cloud and transition to online professional development activities, all while trying to remain competitive with the increasing number of event apps and non-association digital learning offerings. 

These changes have impacted members’ expectations in several ways. Members now want more:

  • Access to online services and products 24/7 
  • Value for their membership fees
  • Better online user experience
  • Value from social media

In their efforts to address these needs, many associations find themselves chasing the holy grail of member satisfaction. That could mean wasting money on the newest shiny object or expecting simplistic solutions to magically address your association’s most complex challenges. The result? Member engagement strategies comprised disconnected but shiny parts. This approach is neither member-centric nor properly integrated.

E-mail Blasts vs. Marketing Automation System

To see how this looks on the ground, consider the evolution of email. Traditional email blast services subscribe members to one list. This approach puts all your members in the same category and doesn’t differentiate between them.

To take a more strategic approach, many associations have moved to a marketing automation system, such as those found within a CMS or AMS. This approach centres the member by giving you the ability to add tags to differentiate them from other members. For example, you may create tags to track member actions such as signing up for your newsletter or attending certain events. You can even track which members actually opened your emails. 

What happens if you are not using a marketing automation system? Your member data may sit in multiple databases that don’t connect to each other. If one database links to your accounting system, another to your online event registration system and another to your email blast system – how do you ensure that your data is synchronized? And what about complying with privacy legislation like CASL?

In our next blog, we take a deep dive into what a member-centric association looks like, and how to leverage digital transformation strategies to get there. 

Can’t wait that long? No problem! Download our ebook, Digital Transformation for Associations and start your digital transformation journey now!