Over the years, I conducted 33 research studies on behalf of professional and industry associations, personally chatting with over 473 members. One epiphany from these conversations is how much members not just think but also feel about their membership.
New members can walk into a room and sense a rising joy when they realize they have found their peeps. Members feel warm and squishy when they perceive belonging. They enjoy knowing their contribution to the community matters. They desire to give back. When members meet just the right person, they get a thrill from that conversation.
Professionals might feel lonely during their day jobs, but many members talk about the acceptance, kindness, and generosity their professional community gives to them. Joining is personal, and joining is a decision packed with emotions.
Prediction 1: Associations will move beyond transactions
Small transactions are rarely all that emotional. Imagine your printer runs out of paper, so you head to the store to buy a ream. Likely once you find the right color, you’ll start comparing page count and price. The best-priced product will win your purchase. This decision is often low on emotion and is simply transactional.
Associations are more than the sum of their transactions, like member applications, registrations, and renewals. Associations are experience-creating centers. Experiences will happen organically, or we can plan them. Every great experience drives the emotions that grow member engagement. Even inexpensive, easy, fast experiences matter a great deal. Prime your staff to offer more little touches, like personal welcomes, smiles, or thoughtfully composing emails.
Prediction 2: Associations will warm-up
Great value is engaging, so are friendliness, helpfulness, and cooperation. As associations learn to create and curate wonderful member experiences, some will find they might need to warm up their tone. For example, members say that some organizations’ super polished and professional tone is a bit stuffy and even off-putting. Reading content written in that professional voice makes new members wonder if they’ll fit in or if they are enough.
In member experience-focused associations, staff are accessible, responsive, and good-natured. Emails are amicable, and web copy is simple and perhaps fun. Each association will find a new balance between professionalism and the kind of engaging warmness that we see the best consumer companies leverage right now.
Prediction 3: Associations will defy definitions
During Spring 2021, my partners at Matchbox Virtual Media and I were joined by over 150 enthusiastic association leaders to figure out how to make virtual networking more meaningful, comfortable, and fun. We learned many actionable strategies (detailed in this roundup report), including that networking, is too narrowly defined. Say the words “networking event,” and most people will think of a reception, and if they deliberate a little longer, they may also come up with speed networking. But these are just two of the dozens of networking event formats we can employ. Narrow definitions limit our focus to just a few options.
Like we narrowly define networking events, we tend to define associations based on what they typically offer. Associations are the sum of their conferences, articles, research reports, and certification. Expanding the view of what is possible in service to our members and their professions, industries, sectors, and fields opens our options. For example, creating problem-solving events, developing soft skill training, or collaborating with meaningful partners may radically improve the member experience.
Would you like members to refer to your association as their professional family or intellectual home? For every event you host, product you develop, phone call you answer, think about how you want members to feel. Welcomed? Accepted? Valued? Part of the team? Then lean into intentionally creating delightful experiences for your members.
Belinda Moore from Strategic Membership Solutions and Rebecca McCaig from Northern Territory Business Events teamed up to publish Associations Evolve: 2022 and Beyond, a journal with 46 association industry experts worldwide weighing in on their predictions for our community in the future. This article was first seen in the journal, and I highly recommend the wisdom of my colleagues found on these pages.