Friday, June 27, 2008

Why Are We Here?

In my last post, Ben points us to a question derived from Clay Shirky's book (It is tops on my list of books to read right now, I just need to find the time):

Now that forming groups is ridiculously easy, what's the point of "professional group organizers" like association professionals?

Ok, association professionals. Time to defend our salaries. Why are we here? Why are our associations here?

I will post my answers later on, but I want to hear what you have to say!


Ellen said...

Hi, Matt! This is a great dialogue. Here's how I see the question you and others are asking: if everyone can make connections via the Web in any way they wish (to others in their profession, to others with the same social causes, to others seeking the same change in the world, etc.), then why would they continue to join associations?

The question suggests some assumptions, including the fact that everyone has access to the Web, knows where/how to conntect to others via social networking options, and chooses to forge strong bonds through those options in the same way they have forged strong bonds via their association membership.

While this is all true for some, it's not true for others.

In our case, our trade association members retain membership even though the strong bonds have already been forged. Why? Because they can get together with their friends/colleagues at our events, and do so within an established PD budget they have through their employment.

Could they get professional development online or elsewhere? No doubt. Could they meet up with their colleagues outside of our events? Absolutely, and they certainly already do (through membership in other associations, vendor-organized meetings, etc.).

The advantage to membership? We already have the structure in place that provides a way for them to justify the cost for in-person meetings. We have already developed and offer the PD events relevant to them so they don't have to go find them somewhere on the Web.

Are we looking at Web 2.0 anyway? You bet! But we also, every day, make sure our members see us as THE place to get what they can't get anywhere else. As long as we can do that successfully, we will retain our members over time.

Is it too naive to think that associations struggling with membership loss due to social networking are those that can't define what makes them unique and therefore desirable if not necessary?

Maddie Grant said...

Forming groups is easy - nurturing them is not. As long as associations can provide continuous and ever-improving reasons for their communities to thrive and to be indispensable, they will survive. Those that provide average or mediocre content won't, and I predict there will be a substantial loss across the industry before there can be reinvention to a better model of association.

Lindy Dreyer said...

It's important to realize that ridiculously easy group forming is not just a Web 2.0 phenomenon. There are lots of ways that people are more connected than ever. Plus, sometime in the next 10 years, the Web 2.0 tools that seem so foreign and new to some folks are going to be as ubiquitous as e-mail is today.

Then what? When people want to get together to discuss a very specific, urgent problem, will they go to your webinar that takes a minimum of three weeks to plan and promote, or will they self-organize and meet up immediately?

So I believe we need to redefine our value. Rather than seeing ourselves as producers of events, we can see ourselves as enablers of groups. We can be the ultimate resource by being knowledgeable about our industry or profession, in touch with new ideas, and agile enough to take the lead when new groups or initiatives need work.

We have all the building blocks and we hold all the keys...but if we lock down too tightly, someone will come along and change all the locks.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

I echo Linda's astute observation and add that just as the US is going to have to increasingly find its way as less of a superpower in our global economy, so are many associations going to have to explore the implications of being less a superpower in their members' lives as it relates to community and professional development. What does it mean to be one of many and not necessarily the preferred source for all things? It's definitely not an exclusively Web 2.0 question, but it does have some new nuances to it.