Making Augmented Reality a Reality for Membership

A technology expert explains how augmented reality apps can deepen the membership experience for associations.

Next Tuesday marks the start of ASAE’s Technology Conference & Expo at National Harbor, Maryland, and I’m looking forward to hearing from association leaders who will be talking about new and emerging technology trends.

But there’s one emerging tech in particular that I’m excited to test for myself—augmented reality.

Now, maybe you are scratching your head right about now and asking yourself: What’s augmented reality? And, what’s it have to do with membership?

Or, maybe you think back to this past summer when the Pokémon Go craze became a viral sensation almost overnight.

What’s interesting about augmented reality, unlike virtual reality, is that it’s an experience that connects the physical world to digital experiences using a smartphone. There’s no headset to wear or goofy glasses to put on.

Most people were introduced to augmented reality in July with Pokémon Go. It was once an analog video game and is now a fully immersive experience for millions of people.

That’s the kind of the magic that augmented reality has to offer, says Beth Ziesenis, who dispenses geeky wisdom for association professionals and others on her site, Your Nerdy Best Friend.

“Augmented reality is taking what you see in the real world and putting animation or engagement tools on top of it,” Ziesenis says. “And associations need to understand that augmented reality can be used as part of larger objectives, like deepening connections with your members or connecting them to new resources.”

Augmented reality is also how companies like Snapchat are growing user engagement, and it’s how one Canadian association is making recycling even more rewarding. There’s already talk that augmented technology will be a standard feature on your next smartphone. Apple is planning to incorporate a camera lens that recognizes augmented reality on the iPhone 8.

“While it may seem like a dream now… really this is a technology that’s growing quickly. All you need is an application that connects to a smartphone,” Ziesenis says. “Which is why I’m encouraging associations to test it with their members.”

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

In the Pokémon Go game, individual players walk around their world and try to capture as many Pokémon creatures as they possibly can.

The game’s slogan, “gotta catch ’em all,” probably rings true for membership directors and managers, who may feel like they need to catch all their members at the right moments.

Augmented reality can help you do that, Ziesenis says. It’s a creative way to update members with important information, and it takes full advantage of engaging users from their mobile devices.

“In the future, associations could begin to communicate with members in highly personalized ways,” she says. “Imagine scanning a static image and seeing a video message play from an association leader. That’s now a real possibility.”

Customized Learning

At the same time, augmented reality has the potential to revolutionize professional develop opportunities through customized learning, Ziesenis says.

It’s how the White House Historical Association is getting people to learn more about U.S. history.

Last week, it launched an augmented reality app called 1600 (a nod to the presidential mansion’s street address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), which enables a user to scan the front or back of a dollar bill using a smartphone and then take a 3-D tour of the White House.

The biggest challenge for the augmented reality may not be cost or technical know-how. There are some apps that are free to use, Ziesenis says. The biggest issue is the adoption rate.

“Many associations do not have a digitally engaged audience of, say, Pokémon Go,” Ziesenis says. “If you’re trying to get your association members to adopt the technology, that means they will have to download and install the application first.”

Right now, there are several major players in the augmented reality space, including Layar, Blippar, and Aurasma. Membership can use this as a “wow” factor, Ziesenis says, but really this is about deepening engagement.

“This might not be something that you add immediately, but it’s a technology that is speeding up,” Ziesenis says. “I want people to see the possibility of where we are headed. For associations, I tell them to play with augmented reality because it might unlock a new way in which your membership will engage with you.”

And if you need a playground space to test the technology, be sure to attend next week’s Technology Conference & Expo. On Tuesday, Ziesenis will be leading an exercise on specific augmented reality apps. Come prepared by downloading a few of the recommended apps to your phone. Start with Aurasma, Layar, and Google Translate.


Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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