Is Your Tech Strategy Keeping Up with the Times?

Your audience has been deeply affected by the growth of technology over the years. Is your association shifting its tech strategy to reflect this? If not, your relevance could be at risk.

The way we consumed music was completely, utterly different on November 12, 1955, the date in which Billboard magazine first published its all-encompassing Top 100 chart.

(It’s also, side note, the date in which some strange things happened in the fictional town of Hill Valley, California, but I digress.)

Back then, the American public wasn’t exposed to new music by social media, streaming, or taste-making websites. Instead, it was driven by the radio, television, touring musicians, jukeboxes, and maybe whatever was on store shelves at the time. That’s it. Large-scale concerts weren’t even a phenomenon until the 1960s. The chart, as a result, reflects a simpler time.

A lot has changed since then, and the eventual formula of the Hot 100, which came about in August  1958, is interesting, because the formula is just as malleable as the trends that fill its charts. For example, as jukeboxes became less relevant as a part of American culture, they receded in the makeup of the charts. Meanwhile, FM radio became more important as a tastemaker, and during the CD era, singles for many songs became far less common, as record labels pushed consumers to buy full albums. Then, with the rise of digital downloads, the album once again lost some relevance as a tastemaker.

Now, a song can top the Hot 100 based on what’s popular on YouTube, and streaming has become dominant as a cultural bellwether. Just last week, Billboard announced changes to the way it tracks music for the Hot 100 and other charts, and will now more heavily weight songs played on paid streaming services—which makes sense because the industry makes more money from pay services than it does free ones.

“It is Billboard‘s belief that assigning values to the levels of consumer engagement and access—along with the compensation derived from those options—better reflects the varied user activity occurring on these services,” the magazine wrote in an explainer of the changes last week.

See, relevance is a difficult thing to earn for any organization, no matter its roots or historical footing.

But what if Billboard kept the formulation of its Hot 100 the same as it did in 1958? Certainly, the chart, the magazine’s calling card, wouldn’t have the relevance it does now. So, instead of staying stagnant, it changes with the times.

And this, friends, highlights a key strategic issue that you must consider in terms of broader technological trends.

See, relevance is a difficult thing to earn for any organization, no matter its roots or historical footing. Just because Billboard was important 60 years ago by no means guarantees its modern relevance.

And remaining relevant increasingly comes with a technological angle—because, unlike, say, 60 years ago, technology drives everything about modern life. If your organization isn’t trying to keep pace with these trends the way that Billboard is, your audience—be they members, donors, or the public at large—will ultimately look somewhere else for what you’re offering.

Data, Billboard‘s primary use case, is a great example of this. If your association is basing its benchmark surveys or internal research on out-of-date trends or approaches, that has a negative effect on the data gathered, as the data points you collect will eventually have less relevance in the modern day. In some ways, that’s why Billboard has to change—the data points keep changing with the technology, and if it only focuses on what happens on the radio and in stores, it misses out on a sizable part of the public.

A comparison point to this is its television counterpart, Nielsen. It’s been traditionally slower to change its ratings system in part because it’s more directly tied to advertising than the Hot 100 traditionally has been.

But it’s starting to shift gears, too: Recently, it announced an aggressive plan to track Netflix viewership data—famously a black box because the streaming giant doesn’t think in those terms—perhaps because they know that if they don’t have this information, they’ll miss out on perhaps the most important technological trend in entertainment in the past 20 years.

These companies have to follow along with technology trends, because that’s where the valuable data is.

For associations, this issue of changing with the times takes a lot of different directions—for example, at your meetings, with your online technology, and with your internal infrastructure. Make no mistake—changing with the times is difficult, costs money, and requires an ever-changing skill set among your employees.

But failing to invest in time with these changes creates a relevance challenge that becomes a steeper climb the more you ignore it.

Clearly, your organization has managed to keep up to some degree, hence why it’s made it to the present day.

But the changes are going to get more dramatic in the years to come—Billboard, for example, has gotten more aggressive about changing its Hot 100 formula in the past few years—and simply ignoring those marketplace changes leaves you more open to the old standby of disruption.

So do your organization a favor: Keep up. Or at least try to.

A 1955 mindset doesn’t make sense for a 2017 world.

(PeopleImages/DigitalVision/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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