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You’re Using Social Media. Have Your Members Noticed?

Thinking about a ton of stuff
Everyone’s doing it. It’s hard to find a Canadian association that doesn't have some kind of presence on social media.

But there’s a big difference between using the tools and having an impact, and it may not be long before some organizations start approaching new media with a very old question:

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, did it make a sound?

The problem isn't hard to diagnose. Over the last few years, social media has emerged as the next big thing, and everyone has been under pressure to leap onboard. New technologies and platforms are rising and falling far too fast to keep track, so it’s hardly surprising that there’s been no time to ask the two most important questions:

  • Why are we going online?
  • How can we adapt this fantastic new platform to serve our organization’s unique agenda?

The disconnect came through loud and clear in Greenfield Services’ 2012 Pulse Report. The survey results confirmed that all but about 3% of associations have some degree of interest in social media—79.3% are already active on social platforms, and another 18% will be getting online in the next year. A large proportion of respondents saw social media as a valuable tool for building general and public awareness and boosting member engagement.

But it’ll take some time to get from here to there. Less than 5% of organizations treat social media management as a full-time role for a dedicated staff member. Most of the rest rely on “accidental” or “occasional” managers who are still finding their way on social media while they juggle competing job priorities. Just under 10% of respondents said their social media management had been assigned to members or staff-volunteer committees.

So this should be no surprise: The majority of associations reported that no more than one in 10 of their members participate in their social media sites.

When an organization uses social media wisely and well, the experience can transform its relationship with members. In contrast to the transactional dealings that flow out of a traditional marketing model, social platforms are an opportunity to:

  • Listen to your members
  • Respond with the information and resources they need
  • Build a wider community where your members can participate and support each other’s professional or organizational growth
  • Deliver greater value than they ever hoped to receive from their association, and
  • Position your organization as a thought leader.

In the end, everyone wins. Members are delighted with the great benefits they've received. The association builds a higher profile and a more robust member retention program. And the profession, trade, or industry sector is better and stronger as a result.

But only if your social media program is built on a deliberate strategy that ties every blog, tweet, and LinkedIn post back to your organization’s broader objectives and branding. From the 2012 Pulse Report, associations clearly know they have to do something about their social presence. The bigger challenge is to turn those great intentions into lasting impact and results.