Associations exist to bring people together around a shared purpose and values—and online communities are an extension of that connectivity. But they can do more.
“They have the opportunity to not only deepen those relationships, but the mission and purpose of the association and help members feel like they really belong to something bigger,” said Marjorie Anderson, product manager of digital communities at Project Management Institute and founder of the Community by Association website.
One of the things that became clear during the pandemic is there is a personal element missing in how associations use technology. “It’s hard to get personal connection from the kinds of communities we have now,” said Moira Edwards, CAE, president of Ellipsis Partners.
Currently, online communities are predominantly asynchronous. People post messages and the replies come later. There needs to be a shift from purely text-based interactions to other forms of communication. “There will be audio, video, and virtual reality,” Edwards said. “And they’re going to bring people together in real-time that is much closer to in-person interaction.”
Let’s Stick Together
To improve online communities and take them into their next iteration, it’s important to get a clear understanding of member needs and values, which will help define how the platforms support those priorities.
For example, even though a lot of people currently use online communities to support committee and other group-related work, most of the platforms don’t adequately help members do what they actually need to accomplish. “That’s a huge gap,” Edwards said. “People are using Dropbox, Google Docs, somebody’s Zoom account. There’s no central place or tool for a committee to truly work.”
That’s where real-time, small group, personal interactions will help by allowing for instant messaging, video chat, and group messaging. “It’s crazy that we don’t have the ability to reach out to somebody quickly and easily through these online communities,” Edwards said.
Enhanced Member Journey
It’s clear that online communities have the potential to provide lots of information around member behaviors, the types of content they are consuming, and the kinds of conversations they are having—particularly for professional associations.