Associations have long been reliable resources for industry know-how, career advancement and measured advice to new entrants to a field. But today’s associations are in trouble. Memberships are either flat or in decline, retention is falling and revenue is drying up. The cause of this great withdrawal is multifaceted. Globalization has increased competition for memberships and digital innovations have made it easier for professionals to seek advice and train for accreditation — lowering the value of associations to would-be members.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve examined the high-level changes affecting associations today and how digital technologies and techniques can help right the proverbial ship. These suggestions include catering content to the future members of associations, millennials, as well as deploying digital tools that engage members and provide a more intimate relationship with members.
We also surveyed our association clients about how they use webinars to realize their digital goals. You can read what they have to say in our report, “ON24 Webinar Benchmarks Report: Associations Trends,” or check out our infographic at the end of this blog post for high-level takeaways.
So, how, exactly, are associations changing? Here’s a brief recap of what we found:
Membership Retention Goes to Digital Winners
Associations need growth and retention to thrive. In this current digital climate, though, they lack both. According to Marketing General’s “Marketing Members Benchmarking Report 2018,” the majority of associations reported either declines or no changes to membership levels. Associations also report that they are in a decline when it comes to membership retention as well.
The lack of engagement is the most cited reason for this drop in retention rates, according to the associations responding to the survey. It should be no surprise, according to research from Memberwise, that engagement is ranked as the top digital goal for associations. If associations are to succeed, however, they will need more than just an engagement mantra. They will need digital tools that allow them to measure engagement and quickly adjust content to cater to member preferences.
Millennials Want to Connect on Their Terms
Associations also need to bring on new members. In today’s environment, that means attracting the millennial generation. This is a difficult proposition, however, as nearly half (43%) of young members believe there isn’t a return on investment when it comes to participating in an association, according to a study by Personify.
This isn’t to say associations are in a hopeless situation, however. A focus on refining and developing skills, according to research by Community Brands, is shown to resonate with millennials. Tools which help facilitate career advancement are another option, as well. Finally, offering millennials various options for accessing this content, such as subscriptions for certain educational tracks, has shown promise.
Associations Need to Rethink Their Digital Approach
Regardless of who they attract and how associations need to rethink their digital approach. Targeting and retaining the members already participating in an association is a must. Providing services to attract new members, such as professional development and training, is also necessary.
All these elements require a digital touch. By using dynamic tools that measure engagement and provide audience insights, associations can quickly adjust their models and identify strategies that work.