Digital first isn’t about just going online. It’s much more than bringing on new digital competencies, or enhancing your tech – it requires a larger organizational and business model shift. Membership associations must shift strategies and operational practices across a number of functions to successfully drive digital growth and transformation. 

By shifting strategies in the following areas, you will become a future-ready, transformational association. These key areas will help your organization move from a member-centric organization to an entrepreneurial, mission-based business with a membership core. This shift will future-proof your organization as you grow and scale in a digital-first landscape.

Audience Strategy

Your members matter. But being too member-centric can result in insularity. Shift your hyper-focus on core membership to a focus on building a large and engaged ecosystem that will spread and amplify your message. How do you find that network? You need to ask questions of and about your membership, and consider how you might reach that broad audience. Think about who they work for, who they work with, who works with them, who they buy from, who they associate with, who they want to influence, and who impacts their work. Audience acquisition is not the sole objective here – engagement from an extensive network of people is. 

Broadening this consideration set is a crucial part of a digital transformation. To maximize your impact (and new revenue) your organization must first drive engagement across this broadened audience. Visit our blog for more resources on audience strategy.

Content Strategy

In our digital-first age, content is king, but your organization doesn’t need to be the only one creating it. Many membership associations focus on self produced and often self-promotional content. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to rethink your content strategy. Transformational associations are aggregators and curators of content that is produced by multiple sources, including members, employees, volunteers, sponsors, industry experts, third party sources and more. Again, it is about creating an ecosystem.

There are three components to a content strategy: development, distribution and monetization. Your content must be informative, valuable, and available in multiple formats. This new and improved content, coupled with your broad and engaged audience are the foundations of success for your digital-first organization. Leverage data to improve your content – reach people where they are, sharing the types of messages they want to hear. A Content Marketing Institute study found that 90% of user engagement comes from just 5% of content. What’s more shocking is that up to 50% of content gathers almost no engagement. Why? That 50% is just not what audiences want or need. So how can you learn from that top 5% to create more content that performs just as well? Leverage real-time user data to see which topics, formats and layouts are performing with segments of your audience. This nuanced content intelligence will help you trim the fat from your content creation and distribution strategies to help you create better content with ease and efficiency. If you’re not quite sure where to start when it comes to content intelligence, we have a few ideas

Technology Strategy

So many membership associations work from a monolithic, legacy-tech approach led by an Association Management System. Transformational associations use a dynamic, integrated set of specialized systems built to work together. They consider specific technological needs and requirements to identify targeted solutions. These niche technology solutions should work to create cohesive tech stacks.

Your technology strategy should be led by a goal of achieving operational excellence and rapid business innovation through digital technologies. We recommend investing in a digital platform that ties your core applications together, including your website, AMS, LMS, events software, and more. Our top recommendation for a systems-unifying intelligence platform? Well, ourselves, of course. While there are multiple analytical tools and CDPs (Customer Data Platforms) on the market, Hum is the only platform built specifically for associations. 

Regardless of which data platform you choose, focus on analytics to capture behavior and interests in a way that allows you to analyze the data to improve tactics and outcomes. This organizational intelligence will allow you to develop an enterprise culture based upon the capture, analysis, and use of data to drive growth – which is entirely possible, no matter the size of your organization. And remember that enterprise systems need optimize business processes and efficiency whilst offering an engaging customer-facing experience.

But don’t just rely on the tech. According to Randy Heffner, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research: “Enterprise technology architecture is technology-centered. Business architecture is business-centered. Simply layering it on top of ETA will result in tech-centered silo implementation.” So think about how you will combine technology with business strategy – and don’t let one dominate.

Product Strategy

2020 has proven that in-person events can go online, and digital offerings are the way of the future. But transformational associations have been working this way for a while, and will continue to do so. Shift from offering limited (and inflexible) in person experiences hosted by limited contributors on separate platforms to offering nimble, dynamic digital offers, hosted via multiple sources, working together on coordinated platforms. Use your tools and platforms to create integrated events and offerings that deliver value, and are cost effective. When coupled with your new strategy for growing your audience, you will achieve maximum reach, impact and influence.

In online-to-offline commerce, businesses treat their online and offline marketing channels as complementary instead of competitive. Learn from those companies, and think about how each aspect of your offering can enhance the others.

Where to Start

At this point, you may be wondering “Great, but how do I actually do these things?” First you must lay the foundations for digital transformation by developing strategies in the areas described above. Form objectives to align the board, management and staff, and develop specific outcomes and KPIs to measure your progress. 

The internal culture will have to change, with a shift to emphasize audiences in addition to members, thinking about a diverse product portfolio that drives engagement, and a willingness to learn from non-association business models that might be more entrepreneurial than many membership organizations.

Above all else, be bold as you approach this organizational pivot. Think about the future and what you want to achieve. To move your legacy operations to a place of agile, nimble, digital-first operations, you must make intentional decisions to become more entrepreneurial. Having the right attitude and approach is crucial for digital transformation success.

Parting thoughts: don’t be afraid to ask for help. Hum is well-versed in the strategic and operational requirements for moving to digital-first models. We’re thrilled to be a resource for you as you plan your operational shift. Our blog is full of compelling thought leadership, and when you’re ready to shift your tech stack, reach out. We’re happy to discuss solutions tailor-made for your organization.