What to Do When Membership Is Booming?

When your industry is red hot and your membership numbers are, too, how do you sustain your momentum? The Robotic Industries Association takes a three-pronged approach.

Declining membership naturally causes sleepless nights for association CEOs and membership teams, and finding solutions to that challenge is critical for survival. But what about the opposite situation? While strong membership growth may seem like good news, a rapid rise often comes with growing pains.

That’s what the Robotic Industries Association is starting to see. Fueled by a booming industry, RIA has experienced 25 percent membership growth in the last two years. The industry is surging thanks to advanced-automation and robotics technologies: Look no further than Amazon’s warehouse robots, which can now pick, pack, and ship an online order to your door.

“Robotics is a hot industry, and we continue to see strong growth,” says RIA Vice President, Bob Doyle. “But as an association that has been around for 43 years, we need to make sure that we are indeed changing with the industry and the times.”

For decades, RIA focused mainly on the auto industry in Detroit. But more recently, Doyle says, companies in other sectors and cities have come on board, diversifying the association’s member community.

“There are so many innovations, like collaborative robots and vision technologies, in more places, what I call robotics clusters—Pittsburgh, Boston, Silicon Valley, San Diego, and Austin, to name a few,” he says. “A lot of these innovations are coming out of startups, so we really had to refocus on members. We’re aiming to engage new members early on.”

RIA is taking a three-pronged approach to sustaining its membership growth—engaging new members early and often, adding more face-to-face professional development opportunities through expanded events, and looking for members beyond its traditional North American footprint.

Engagement through automation. RIA is working to establish early and constant touchpoints with members by using marketing automation tactics. “Like most associations, we are small staff, so we try to utilize marketing and communications techniques that automate member engagement communications and processes,” Doyle says. “That includes new member content and automated emails that check in with members and ask how things are going.”

Expanded meeting experiences. Disruptions in the robotics industry have also disrupted RIAs year-round learning programs. One example: the emerging field of collaborative robotics, which produces machines designed to work side by side with humans.

“Four years ago, we decided to host our first workshop about this topic in Boston,” Doyle says. “Now, it’s evolved into a two-day conference with three different tracks. It’s a full-scale meeting.”

Attendance rates are climbing, too. A primary strategy has been to attract attendees from a wide array of business sectors, including healthcare, transportation, and supply-chain management.

“We are broadening our events to build awareness about the constant changes that are happening in the field, and we’re appealing to different attendees as a way to drive future membership growth,” Doyle says.

Global focus. Now RIA is looking beyond its traditional North American boundaries for more members. That’s leading to small tweaks to its meeting structures. For instance, this year the association added the word “international” to the title of its robot safety conference.

“We’ve been hosting this event for 30 years, and this year we changed the name and adjusted the agenda to appeal to a much broader and global audience mainly because our standards are internationally based,” Doyle says. “Now, we see a lot of interest, excitement, and growth from markets way beyond North America.”

Have you seen significant membership growth? How is it changing the tactics you use to recruit, engage, and retain members? Post your comments below.

(Hollygraphic/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

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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