Anyone here managing an online community for an Association?


(kerstin wiggins) #1

I’m working with a large client in the Association space to revive their failed online community (community of practice, a mix of paying and non-paying members). Their first plan looked something like this: create ~300 smaller groups for their Chapters and Committees (dispersed across the globe), put Volunteers in charge, and call it an online community. Plus, they offered one global forum for member introductions.

We’re in the beginning phase of identifying key stakeholders and building out their strategic plan (shout out to the Strategic Community Management course!) and I’m hitting the same snag I’ve experienced with other Associations. Their core strategy is built on connecting members of local chapters, but due to the sheer number of Chapters and number of people needed to manage them (mostly Volunteers), it’s terribly difficult to 1) build a sense of community and 2) prevent these Chapter spaces from becoming ghost towns. I analyzed the client’s data from the past 6 months and found that less than 10% of their Chapters had any recent member activity.

This model goes against everything I typically teach on how to build a successful community. I have scoured the web and can’t find one Association who is doing community well. Anyone know of any? @richard_millington

After several weeks, they are starting to understand the need for a well-thought out global community strategy, in addition to their Chapters and Committees. Yeah!

How do you help build a successful community strategy plan for a community with 300 smaller groups, lots of volunteers, and a small paid staff that doesn’t have a dedicated Community Manger?

Thoughts and suggestions are appreciated!

(Nick Emmett) #2

Hey @kerstin, there is a kind of member directory here - there’s a link at the top of the Community homepage, but the link is below for ease. On it people add themselves to the category of community they work with - there’s a category for Society/membership which sits in with what you’re after I think. It includes some great people such as @thirstforwine @stevebridger @JoelZaslofsky and @courtney_howell to name a few. I believe @Suzi_Nelson also works in this space to a degree.

(Robert McIntosh) #3

Well, it certainly sounds like a challenge :slight_smile:

There are many questions you would need to ask to make this work, and the additional issue you will have is to get over the “but we’ve tried it already and it failed” mentality when you are ‘reviving’ something that is ‘known to have failed’ (the hardest thing to do is to make someone reconsider a decision they feel they’ve already taken and dealt with …)

The key question I would want to know about is how strong the Identity is amongst the members of the Association. Do they identify with the overall Association, or are they only loyal to their Chapter? If it is the latter, then you are really fighting an uphill battle to try and create any over-arching community. You’d be better focusing on offering each chapter a standard tool and service package so that you can at least establish minimum standards and be able to monitor / report.

However, if there is a strong sense of overall identity, then I would make sure you start with a single community that does not (initially) fracture the group into sub-groups, but brings members together and allows them to represent their group on a larger stage. In other words use badging and tags to identify chapters rather than starting with separate areas or categories.

The volunteer issue is a big one, of course, but if you can convert them into ambassadors and bring them together for a common cause, that shouldn’t be a big issue. I’d want to know what motivates them though.

What about gamifying the development a bit? Make a strong core for the community, with relevant content for all, and the possibility of “unlocking” the local chapter upgrade through engagement and participation (“if you can get x members to sign up and reach ‘member’ status, we will hand over the keys to your own, bespoke playroom”)

I’m not sure about any successful communities for associations with this model. I know that CAMRA in the UK (you can try asking @Rob_Nicholson) operates a bit like this, but I think he too was struggling a little with getting engagement from lots of individual groups - but maybe he has more recent news.

What platform are you using? I’m not a believer in moving from one to another just to re-launch a site necessarily, but sometimes it is the fact that a platform is not best suited to the type of interaction and coordination that best suits a particular community. I have my own favourites (and not).

Sorry for rambling response - since I don’t have specifics it is hard to be very useful, but happy to chat things through if you want. Send me a PM and maybe we can plan something :slight_smile:

(Nick Emmett) #4

Great reply @thirstforwine - and some great advice not just for communities in associations but communities in general.

(kerstin wiggins) #5

@Nick_Emmett - thank you for facilitating connections and making the introductions! I haven’t explored the directory yet. Heading over there now!

(kerstin wiggins) #6

@thirstforwine - so good! Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful response, and for helping me broaden my thinking to include other solutions for empowering volunteers and incentivizing local chapters.

Love the ideas about using gamification and unlocking content! Members will be added to their local chapters via their CRM so we don’t have much opportunity to sell the groups as an upgrade. However, I am going to share this idea with another client – brilliant!

This is a great entry point into my in-person conversations happening with them Jan 3. I’ll let you know how it goes and what I learn.

Thanks again!

(Naava Frank) #7

Sounds like the current organizing principle is geographic and I wonder if there are more powerful commonalities e.g. organizational size, age, stage or other content topic areas. Maybe you could find those and build leadership in those areas. Just a thought.


(Rob Nicholson) #8

CAMRA’s structure does sound similar - an organisation of 190,000 members with ~200 branches around the UK. However, the branch structure is starting to crumble due to lack of active members. Might have 190k members but the hard work is done by a small percentage of that number - maybe 2000-4000 with ~10 active members per branch.

I certainly would not propose it as a via long term structure! We’re going to have to become a more centralised organisation replacing old-fashioned branch committees with more dynamic teams.

In terms of our Discourse implementation, some branches have shifted their Yahoo groups to Discourse (one category per branch) but I was never sold on that idea. Discourse is working better for national debate about CAMRA issues.

(Darren Gough) #9

Hey @kerstin,

My wife actually works in this space (for MCI) and I’ve worked a little with them on supporting communities. Association is both really interesting and really tough. They’re starting to see the benefit for clients but I’m finding that there’s a general misunderstanding of what it should be and what’s needed.

The big point you make there - no CM - is really crucial. There seems a sense that the CM isn’t needed + someone either in house or externally can do it.

The association space is very much feast and famine for clients too. In many cases they have one massive event once a year and all focus goes on that, then attendees are more or less left to their own devices for the other 11 months.

I’ve seen some success helping the community understand how to lead in, during and out of the event. Many places also fail to capture enough from the event with a view to producing engaging content for months after.

Give me a shout if you want to chat further as I see a lot of opportunity here (as do Higher Logic incidentally) but very little material to direct.