There are times when an association, whether it be professional, recreational, institutional, regional, or interest-based, has to show its value, and for many associations, a time of worldwide emergency such as the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, is definitely that time. Members need venues to ask questions and share information and resources. These members sometimes need these venues to be somewhat secure from the visibility of the general public. They OFTEN need it to be secure from the commentary of the general public. Sometimes these venues can be the very place that consensus is hammered out among those in the membership community, based on the specialized needs and interests of that community.
Associations that have, over the years, built either members-only email discussion groups or members-only web based forums have a strong tool to help them with this. In the past several years, it has been cost effective and frankly just a lot easier for associations to rely solely on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. But those needs gave a priority to general eyeballs over focused access, and ease of delivery over targeted distribution of content. Not all conversations need to be shared broadly. Some conversations need to be limited.
It’s fairly obvious that for the immediate future, at least, association conference sessions, and attendance, are going to diminish and perhaps practically disappear, and associations can’t count on that venue to share best practices and have open discussions with members. We have watched several clients and vendors cancel events in the past week. It remains to be seen what happens to conference attendance going forward. Associations need to work on paths to find ways to provide resources to members that do not rely on face-to-face conferences. Simultaneously, the need by members for information may be greater now than it has been in a long time. One way that should be considered is the use of email distribution and discussion lists and/or online forums, and use them to share vetted information at a time where all of us are seeking it, and come to some consensus on any urgent issues. These have been successful tools for associations for over 20 years. They take some work. But now may be the time where they are most valuable for association members.
And if an association needs the face-to-face feel of a meeting, there are a variety of videoconference/meeting software options available that many many folks are quite comfortable with, that provide the added benefit of recording for use by those who can’t attend in real time.
Nobody knows what is going to happen in the future, but I think most people prefer to align with those best prepared for whatever it might be. And for associations, it makes sense to get a shared communication tool that the association has considerable control over. If your members have specific and important areas of interest and discussion in a time of pandemic and social disruption, somebody needs to provide the framework for it.