Membership Memo: Growth Factor

By / Aug 1, 2016 (Laura Flugga/Getty Images)
We believe that, strategically, the only way [Plantae] is going to work is if people are using it in a context that helps them do their jobs, do their research, learn something new, solve a problem.

How one group aims for success via Plantae, its community at large.

When the American Society of Plant Biologists embarked on a strategic planning process a few years ago, it envisioned how it would serve the plant science community in the future, not just how it would serve its members—a small but crucial difference.

Today, that choice shows up in Plantae, a new online community for plant scientists and a profound shift in membership strategy for the 90-year-old ASPB. Plantae is free to join for anyone in plant science, not just ASPB’s 4,000 members.

“We figured out who our audience was, and then we said, OK, we’re really talking about 35,000 people. They don’t necessarily call themselves ASPB members. Does that really matter at this juncture or not? Our goal really is and our mission is to support the whole plant science community globally,” says Susan Cato, director of digital strategy and member services at ASPB. “And that’s when Plantae was born.”

The platform is “powered by ASPB,” but the association is forming partnerships with other organizations in plant science to engage more of that 35,000-person community. And Plantae is driven as much by content as networking, with resources for career advancement, research, continuing education, and funding opportunities.

“We believe that, strategically, the only way this is going to work is if people are using it in a context that helps them do their jobs, do their research, learn something new, solve a problem,” Cato says.

With Plantae, ASPB turns the traditional association membership model around by providing value first, earning a loyal audience, and then selling memberships, other resources, events, and so on.

Plantae members can upgrade to premium membership, which includes an ASPB membership, and existing ASPB members get premium Plantae access. But the future of the association’s traditional membership may be narrower—aimed more at the engaged core who want to support research, scholarship, and science advocacy—while Plantae and its academic journals target plant science at large.

“Professional societies need to take a long, hard look at how they’re providing value to the community outside of membership,” Cato says, “and stop getting stuck in the are-they-a-member-or-not mentality.”

Joe Rominiecki

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