The recent Memcom conference, for professional associations, celebrated some excellence in the world of professional membership organisations. Most obviously in the awards.
But there is an underlying, and disquietening, sense that perhaps these organisations are losing their relevance in the modern world. Failure will happen slowly at first, and then very quickly, if members aren't more engaged.
Is the uncomfortable truth that members, particularly the younger ones, just don't care any more about their professional membership organisation (unless they have to)?
Where has the passion gone?
"Back in the old days it was about your hobbies and passions”
So said one of the Memcom speakers. Has the world changed so much that no-one has any professional passion any more? Does no-one care about their chosen professional craft or industry?
Indeed, all the research shows that we have lost trust in institutions and brands over time. That contagion has spread beyond government, financial institutions, the media and other organisations to impact professional membership organisations too.
An erstwhile position, and perception, of professional authority - a trusted, respected, credible, worthwhile, meaningful institution - is being undermined.
As a result the relationship between members and their professional associations is becoming too transactional.
Where is the sense of belonging? Can we not rekindle and nurture a more emotional attachment?
What can be done?
My first business, Econsultancy, is a professional membership organisation so we are practitioners too. Based on this, ten exhortations to fire up your member engagement:
1. Get talking
There is no evidence that people are any less keen to talk about their jobs, share their ideas, or discuss how to do things better. But professional membership organisations are losing control of the conversation. You need to be at the centre of those conversations.
2. Get young AND old
Understandably there is a lot of hand-wringing about the dread millennials and how to engage them. But are you missing an opportunity with older members? Those with time (and money) who are living longer and want to stay professionally engaged? How are you engaging them? What do you do for your alumni or lapsed members? Might they want to mentor a millenial? Most of these older members are actually very comfortable with technology contrary to popular opinion.
3. Get small
As people lose trust in faceless institutions they are turning to smaller, private, groups of friends and colleagues. Trust and engagement is mediated via known individuals and "The Dunbar Number" still applies in the digital age.
4. Get specific
Research shows that professionals still want to engage with smaller special interest groups if they focus on their particular areas of interest and passion.
5. Get face to face
Despite the growth of digital, there is still huge appetite, and power, in the face to face, the live, the experiential. Best of all is to blend in-person experiences with digital.
6. Get fluid
You need to be able to move with some agility and responsiveness. Too much structure and process, too little ability to change, just sucks the life out of the experience.
7. Get easy
We have all become impatient. We all expect things to be easy and convenient. We expect to do it all on our mobile phones easily. We expect the interface to be natural.
8. Get out from behind your systems
It is too easy to hide behind some database, mailing list, CRM system and communicate with members through processes and clunky technology that feel impersonal.
9. Get experimental
Try it. Unless it is really that important, who cares if it doesn't quite work? Be transparent and move on. Be bold, not boring. This helps bring the human, emotional, qualities back.
10. Get off Facebook and LinkedIn
They should be your members - don't hand them over to a competitor. And the content your members create, and their personal data, should belong to them. We need to take back control of engagement rather than help build others' businesses.
We believe passionately in the value of professional membership organisations and want to see them thrive.
We believe in the power of new technologies to improve engagement (we are a messaging app after all) but also in 'old' values that have not changed: professionals still want to connect, learn from their peers, get better at what they do, win the respect of their profession, give back to others etc. It is no accident that we are called 'Guild' which is more medieval than modern.
We already work to improve engagement with almost 20 professional membership organisations, but want to work with more. We want to prove that what we say above is possible and that Guild can help you achieve these things.
Our offer: we're looking for a few organisations to work with, for free, in return for case studies that we can share to help inform the professional membership sector.
Obviously we can provide the technology but we're happy to input on the strategy and execution.
In terms of results, we're interested in hard metrics (renewals, churn, conversion rates, yield etc.) but also soft metrics (attitudinal shifts, NPS, referrals etc.) to prove/disprove our aim of changing how members feel about their professional association.
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