You may get caught up in all the bells and whistles that a platform offers. But what matters most is that your members use it, which means less is more trumps new and shiny functionality.
Functionality is defined as the quality of being suited to serve a purpose well; practicality.
The majority of the groups didn’t want the bells and whistles. They wanted something easy that fit their basic needs.
In 2006, here at the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), we started using a collaboration platform that had a lot of functionality. It was really exciting and ultimately 100 volunteer groups were using it. Some of ASHA’s volunteers were rock stars! They really picked up using the platform quickly and continued to use it with ease. Some of the others … not so much. Who could blame them? They are volunteers, and this wasn’t a platform they used every day.
Recently, we decided to upgrade to the next version of the platform. But, instead of the ever popular “that’s the way we’ve always done it” approach, we took a step back.
It was important to find out what functionality our volunteer leaders were using, get feedback, and find out what they wanted. While the platform was really powerful, we found most of our volunteer groups weren’t using all the platform had to offer. We heard some groaning in the past, but we needed more information.
The conclusion: the majority of the groups didn’t want the bells and whistles. They wanted something easy that fit their basic needs.
We explored other platforms. I had to refrain from getting excited about all the new, fun, and shiny functionality out there (think Frodo and the ring). I repeated to myself, “Basic needs, easy to use.”
Another option was the idea of putting the groups in our online community platform. Could a platform designed for our member forums work for our smaller volunteer groups? Our members love the online community, but what about this? So I went back to the list. Let’s see: it does this, check; it does that, check; it does this slightly different, check; this piece, not really.
The functionality the online platform lacked only affected 5 percent of our groups. If these groups were using the advanced functionality successfully, I thought they could learn a new way to handle that piece. Decision made. We moved our volunteer groups to ASHA’s online community.
Were members going to start asking why we moved their cheese? After most groups moved, I remember sitting at my desk. I was wondering if my email was working because I hadn’t received one single complaint from a member about moving platforms. I was skeptical, so we surveyed our volunteer leaders.
Ninety-three percent thought the transition was super easy or fairly straightforward. They rated different parts of the new platform—group communication, document library, calendar and events list, meeting materials, and group roster—from one to five stars. The good news: 82 percent gave each of these four or five stars. Only two people gave these one or two stars. The common words I heard from members were “easy,” “ease of communications,” “user friendly,” and my favorite, “functions nicely.”
So what did I learn from this exercise? More functionality doesn’t always mean better. More functionality could mean the platform is less user-friendly. Picking the right platform for your members could be the difference between an engaged member and an unengaged one. For example, one volunteer group has engaged in discussions 75 times in the first two months on the new platform, compared to half that in all of 2014.
I also learned that you need to first define what the majority of your members need, and then you need to make it as easy as possible for those members to get what they need without distracting them. If you have a volunteer group of 10 with a priority to communicate in one place, do they really need a tool for workflows?
Sure, the tech geek in me would love to setup a fancy automated workflow for this committee, but what does that do to the complexity of a platform? That complexity could create a very frustrated member. Instead, my attention probably would be better served focusing on how they can communicate from any device. Remember that just because one group might benefit from a particular functionality doesn’t mean it should make the cut for a platform 99 other groups use.
We hear “engage members” pretty much with anything related to associations, so it’s best to make it easier for them to engage. Functionality is great, but we have to figure out the right balance.
How does your association make sure it achieves that balance?
Hear more thoughts on new tactics for engaging members during ASAE’s 2015 Marketing, Membership, & Communications Conference, June 1-2, in Washington, DC.