Checking In With AMS and Online Community Providers

What are the major developments and trends in the field of association management systems and online member communities? I visited several industry partners at ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference last week to find out.

At ASAE’s 2013 Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference last week, I visited the expo hall to speak with the industry partners there who provide association management systems (AMSs) and online community platforms (or both). Because these tools form the foundation of much of the work done by association membership professionals, I wanted to get a feel for the state of the industry.

AMS and community partners said they see their platforms as tools for driving better engagement, not just enabling it or tracking it.

I spoke with representatives from nine partner companies, which I’ve listed at the end of this post, and they were all glad to share their perspectives. Below are the major themes I heard throughout these conversations. (Note: Most of this is paraphrased, except for a few direct quotes where worthwhile. I’ll keep all of it unattributed, though, for the sake of impartiality to the companies.)

Integration. It seems the biggest ongoing job for AMS and community providers today is integrating across multiple platforms, so that core databases can connect with websites, online communities, e-commerce modules, learning management systems, event management tools, publishing tools, external social media, and more. One partner called it “an explosion of channels” to try to get working with each other, and another said the AMS is “the center of the storm.”

Data. Of course, data is the actual matter that must be integrated, and the ever-growing volume of data that can be gathered about members and their activity is a major concern for associations. The industry partners I spoke with recognize this challenge and say they’re striving to help their clients make sense of all that data and evolve their analytics capabilities to enable true business intelligence. One partner said associations are frustrated when “they can get data in, but they can’t get it out in a meaningful way.”

Engagement. AMS and community partners said they see their platforms as tools for driving better engagement, not just enabling it or tracking it. To me, that signifies an understanding of the fundamental needs and goals of their association clients. They know that better integration and better use of data can lead to improved engagement, which improves retention, revenue, and so on. Engagement came up repeatedly in the conversations I had, and one partner is even labeling its platform as an EMS (engagement management system).

Mobile and tablets. Perhaps no surprise here, but the partners I spoke with are all rolling out or currently working on adapting their wares to the smartphone and tablet context, and that means both for staff using the tools on the back end and members interacting with the various customer-facing elements, as well (e.g., communities, directories, e-commerce, and so on). I heard a mix of approaches among web-based tools and native apps (or sometimes both), but either way the call to enable cross-platform usability is clear.

User experience. This might be a perpetual pursuit for any technology provider, but most of the ones I spoke with brought up their efforts to improve their user interfaces, both internal and external. I got the feeling this is tied to the mobile and integration trends mentioned above. Mobile is changing the context of how AMS and community systems are being used, but the degree to which so many association business functions are now digital and connected to an AMS means that an AMS has to be easy to use for a broader set of people than ever before. It’s not just the member-services team and database administrator using the AMS anymore; it’s potentially everyone on an association staff, and even members and volunteers. One vendor named a few key developments and then said his company has otherwise simply “doubled down on product development” lately.

A few other random but interesting thoughts shared in these conversations: Remember this debate about whether to invite nonmembers into association online communities? One provider estimated that 60 percent of its association clients make at least part of their online communities open or viewable to the public. … One AMS provider said association staff are more frequently taking advantage of AMS training opportunities lately. He didn’t speculate as to why, but better-trained staff is certainly a good thing. … Another AMS provider mentioned a couple recent high-profile mergers and acquisitions of AMS firms (here’s one) and wondered aloud whether that trend would continue and how it would affect the products available in the marketplace.

As promised, here are the companies I spoke with at the MMC expo. Thanks to them for sharing their perspectives. You can learn more about these and related companies via the ASAE Buyers’ Guide.

  • ACGI Software
  • Advanced Solutions International
  • Avectra
  • Higher Logic
  • MemberClicks
  • Protech Associates
  • Socious
  • Timberlake
  • TMA Resources

Now it’s time for you to share your thoughts. If you’re an association membership pro, what are the key solutions you’re seeking in your AMS and online-community platforms? Or, if you’re an industry partner, what major developments or trends are you facing? Please share in the comments below.


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

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!