Why Carving Out a Digital Community is No Longer Optional

Pandemic or not, virtual interactions are essential to a holistic member experience. Here’s why associations must use the latest technology to their advantage.

By Laura Craft, Sr. Manager, Corporate Communications, Higher Logic

The internet has always brought people together, even in its primitive forms.

When Tim Berners-Lee opened the web to the public domain in 1990, it fundamentally changed how humans communicate and connect with one another. Today, in its modern incarnation, the internet continues to offer endless opportunities for people to connect through online communities—the perfect complement to associations.

“Online communities have existed for decades in the form of listservs, bulletin boards, and forums,” said Higher Logic Association Evangelist Beth Arritt, an experienced thought leader in marketing automation and online community platforms. “Today’s technology can do so much more for associations while also ensuring their online communities are safe spaces.”

While large-scale technological progress certainly advances the quality of service associations can provide, it also raises the bar for customer service across industries.

“During the 2022 Mid-Year Meeting, ASAE Chief Information and Engagement Officer Reggie Henry said associations need to realize they’re not competing with other associations’ technology,” Arritt said. “It’s true—they need to instead compete with whatever technology members are accustomed to in their personal and professional lives.”

Whether that means fast, Amazon-style customer service or highly personalized media feeds, today’s members want frictionless, customized interactions. Aligning your association’s software approach with those expectations makes meaningful member engagement possible now and in the future.

Here’s how to make the most of today’s innovations.

‘If You Build it, They Will Come’ is Bad Advice

Arritt said that fostering engagement within an online community isn’t all that different from rallying volunteers to belt out karaoke tunes.

“Only certain types of people go to karaoke bars in the first place,” she said. “Just a subset of those people will consider getting on stage, and let’s face it, nobody likes being the first one to sing.”

DJs have been known to seed karaoke bars with gregarious personalities to get the party started. Likewise, association leaders can identify members or staff who are willing to kick off conversations—or keep them going, an equally important task.

“If a member gets the courage to create an online post and no one responds, they’re going to feel rejected and may not post again,” Arritt said. “That’s why associations need to designate a core group of volunteers who make comments and answer questions. You have to do the work, but once you’ve set the pace, so much of the other work can be automated.”

In her role at Higher Logic, Arritt helps associations make the most of online community software, whether the goal is to drive engagement, strengthen member acquisition and retention, or grow non-dues revenue.

Working as a direct tech partner helps Arritt address the unique challenges of each group she works with—because, as she says, “If you’ve seen one association, you’ve seen one association. One of the biggest misconceptions in the association world is that they are all alike.”

Community Building in a Post-Pandemic Future

Of course, some commonalities do exist between associations, namely the difficulty online marketers currently face getting their message out. Email marketing performance may have soared in 2020 as consumers began to spend their lives behind screens—but as the pandemic began to recede, so did the trend.

“Many online communities were extremely active during the first year and a half of the pandemic, but now, people are starting to leave their computers again,” Arritt said. “Associations are seeing the need for automation in reminding people who commute that an online connection is still there.”

It’s equally important to meet members where they are 24/7. Case in point: In a recent survey, most (60 percent) of consumers across 18 countries said they expect the flexibility to interact with organizations anytime, day or night.

Providing a hybrid community experience also allows associations to address the diverse and changing needs of its membership. Communities that only meet in person, for example, disregard the communication preference of digital natives, who researchers expect to account for more than 58 percent of the workforce within 10 years. They are also considerably less accessible.

“Some people prefer to interact online because of parental responsibilities, medical considerations, or cost restrictions,” Arritt said. “You can’t close the door on members who can’t (or don’t want to) interact in person.”

Higher Logic Thrive is a member experience solution that provides a powerful, but simple approach to community, marketing, and member engagement. For more information on how Higher Logic’s years of experience, research, and feedback can solve your challenges, visit