Thursday, October 22, 2009

So Why Social Media for Your Association? CONNECTION!

So here you sit as an association with members in 30 counties or 30 states, wondering how in the world you are going to keep them connected when meetings are a challenge to attend in this economy, provide them increasing levels of information resources to keep up with the fast changing business environment, and not let the association be the bottleneck in the process.

The world of business is changing every day, and it is critical for associations to tap into the innovations in technology to help enhance our value to members and create a connection between them that cannot be separated.  When members connect, a special dynamic happens that drives their emotions to be more interconnected to the association.

Let me share a real life example that happens at meetings:  Many members, for some reason, choose to not attend meetings. They are just a dues paying member. Then one day the program strikes their interest, or they are flush with money and they just decide to come. Upon checking in at registration with a feeling of not knowing what to expect, they receive their name badge, which gives them access to the playground of “networking”.

Upon entering the opening night reception, the member grabs a drink and begins to walk around the room. At some point, the member begins to talk with various members. Through the various conversations, their apprehension turns into excitement due to the member beginning to understand they aren’t the only person experiencing the challenges they are facing. They begin to hear new ideas that can change their challenges into opportunities. They also begin to understand they have a lot in common personally with members regarding years experience in the industry, level of responsibility, and the outside interests they both enjoy.

Returning to their hotel room that opening night, the member is quite excited about their experience because connecting with other members with similar interests, bonds, and challenges, was a very exciting experience, and it tapped into their sense of really being a part of something larger than themselves.

Online Member Connection, or “Social Networking”, provides that same exact experience online. It’s like a 24-hour a day networking reception. With the Metal Treating Institute's newly launched social network called “MyMTI…Your Industry on DEMAND”, we know we have a member hooked the moment they answer our 10-member matching questions and they activate their account. The reason they are hooked, is as soon as they click submit, the program automatically pops up other members they want to connect with due to similar titles, years experience, age demographics, and even outside interests. The member has the opportunity to add them to their private network or send them a personal message. This powerful connection immediately shows them they are a part of something “bigger than themselves”. They now have an unbelievable network they can tap into every day to discuss challenges and new ideas right from their office.

Another powerful tool of social networking, is providing a loud voice to the smallest member, who cannot attend meetings due to budget constraints, through “online networking groups”. With Online Networking Groups, your association can provide members, who cannot attend meetings, the opportunity to participate in committee discussions, submit ideas and comments towards industry specifications, and governmental legislation. Online groups engages your members thoughts, giving them a since of purpose in the association.

Another key tool of Social Networking is the Resource Library function. The traditional way of providing information to members was that content had to be submitted to the association, reviewed, and then uploaded to the member’s only area. With the vast array of content that is now prevalent, the association can become a bottleneck in distributing valuable pieces of information or data that members could use. Social networking provides a platform that, “all” members can become content providers. This is another way of engaging members to “help” other members, and contribute to something bigger than themselves.

Online social networking provides your association the opportunity to engage members in networking, group discussions, and content creation that bonds them to your association in the same way face to face meetings has always provided, but it happens all day, every day. Not just a few times a year.

Now that you have a real since of the importance social networks can play, there are a few things you need to know before you dive in:

  • Decide what your “strategy” is with your social network. You must have an “intentional plan” to engage your members into the network. You can’t just build it and they will come, you have to have a “reason” for them to tap into the technology. Find out what engages your members into discussion and begin to create that experience online.
  • Pick the right social network partner. There are numerous providers of social networking platforms. A recent white paper, outlining each of the major providers, was produced by SocialFish, a consulting firm specializing in helping associations with their social networking strategies.
  • Work with your marketing and membership teams, in conjunction with your provider, to have a coordinated strategy to “launch” your social network. It is imperative that you build momentum, and you market that momentum to send the message that if you are not in the online network, you are working at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Tap into the knowledge of those who have already launched a successful social network. It has been done. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do it yourself.
Social Networks will become the industry norm for online member connection. Failure to engage your members online will leave the door open for someone else to steal your innovation and relevance.

The MyMTI Social Network was launched September 1, 2009 by the Metal Treating Institute. MyMTI is powered by Memberfuse, a leading social media platform by Avectra.