Why Community Matters More Than Marketing

Market all you want. Some people will find your association through other means, anyway. When they do, will your community make them feel like they belong?

When Greg Roth, owner of content-strategy consulting firm Percy Group Communications, struck out on his own in 2009, he decided he needed an office to work in. So, like anyone who needs to find something in the 21st century, he searched on the internet.

“Two things came up,” he says. “One was a building down at, I think, Seventh and E, typical office space, pay $900 a month for a desk and a cubicle, or this place called Affinity Lab.”

Affinity Lab is a coworking space in Washington, DC’s U Street neighborhood. If you don’t know what a coworking space is, well, you’re just like Greg in 2009. “I didn’t know anything about co-working spaces. I’d never been to one—it never occurred to me that they really existed—but right away, I loved it.”

An association can offer a lot of tools and resources, but it’s the access to a community of professionals with shared experiences that keeps members renewing.

Roth has been working from Affinity Lab ever since, and he spoke glowingly of the community of entrepreneurs there when I interviewed him for “Creative Spark,” a look at lessons on fostering innovation that associations can learn from the world of business incubators and coworking spaces, in the December issue of Associations Now.

Looking back at how he found Affinity Lab through a web search, Roth says “That’s a ridiculous way to find anything, right?” Of course, it’s not, but I suspect that a web search seems random or inconsequential to him now in the context of the experience that it led to. He says working at the Lab has shaped his business and skillset in ways he never expected.

A coworking space is not an association, nor vice versa, but the two do have that very important element of community in common, and in both cases, it’s the strength of the community that will make or break the organization. Affinity Lab is a physical work environment, but without the community of creative and collaborative people it wouldn’t be any different than working in a coffee shop with strangers. Likewise, an association can offer a lot of tools and resources for its members to use, but it’s the access to each other, to a community of professionals with shared experiences, that keeps members renewing.

So you can market and advertise and recruit all you want, but a lot of people will find your association through other means, anyway, like Greg Roth did when he stumbled upon Affinity Lab on the web. When those people join, what will they find? Will they find a community of people that they can connect with easily and that inspires them toward new success? Will they feel like they belong?

Roth loved what he saw when he visited Affinity Lab for the first time. “It was an open floor plan. I saw PR consultants working there. I saw video production teams. International development folks. So, it was really cool. I thought, ‘Well, this is gonna be way better than buying a cubicle somewhere.'”

What is your association doing to build a community that turns new joiners into lifetime members?


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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