By Kristen Wright, Director of Marketing, Forj
The corporate world is experiencing something of an epiphany when it comes to the value of community.
In 2020, 15% of professionals said their organization had a dedicated community service, according to Community Leaders magazine. In 2021, that figure rose to 22%, with 35% of respondents saying their organization had at least one full-time position dedicated to community operations.
A recent headline from TechCrunch – “Community Director is the New CMO” – sums up the trend nicely. But the value of community comes as no surprise to association leaders, who have always brought people together to advance business goals, connect buyers and sellers, and pursue education in niche areas.
“Associations have always built communities; they or they are communities,” said RD Whitney, Director of Community at Chief Executive Group (CEG) and COO of the CFO Leadership Council (a CEG community), which has decades of experience building niche B2B communities. . “For them, success is simply about advancing existing communities and keeping up with digital trends.”
Associations can draw some wisdom from the for-profit space in this regard. “What for-profit organizations do well is constantly innovate and challenge their sources of revenue in a way that delivers ongoing value,” Whitney said.
Partner to access innovation
The good news is that associations can get in on the action by partnering with digital platform providers to deliver a sleek, frictionless (MX) member experience — no in-house tech skills or innovation required. “This kind of technology didn’t even exist until recently,” Whitney said.
These innovations are not meant to replace in-person experiences, but to complement them, providing year-round educational resources, venues for community engagement, and sponsorship opportunities.
“Organizations that don’t have a digital experience for their members will quickly become irrelevant at a rate never seen in history – I think it already is,” Whitney said. “Does that mean they have to go entirely virtual and online? Absolutely not.
The key is to create synergy between virtual and in-person functions. “The two are constantly interconnected, and there’s a lot of experimentation going on,” Whitney said.
Research shows that communities with abundant social capital have members who communicate well, spend time together, help each other, and contribute to the common good. Providing ongoing opportunities for digital engagement helps association leaders continually check all of these boxes.
“Why not upgrade from a three to four day experience to a 365 model?” said Whitney. “You’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, as you know, the show is coming up, and all of these topics that you’ve digitally engaged with will be featured on it. Can I sign you up?'”
Measure community ROI
Robust, always-on communities generate revenue by creating magnetic value that attracts and retains community members.
To measure return on investment in this area, associations are turning to brand new metrics of success, including return to the community – the value an association receives from building successful communities of practice. Some association leaders also assess MX maturity to gain insight into strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
Whitney suggested that association leaders create an engagement dashboard centered around business goals. “Engagement is key to the longevity of any organization, and there are different ways to measure it depending on what is important to a particular association,” he said.
Don’t make the mistake of focusing only on vanity metrics like connections, views, comments, posts, signups, and attendees. The actionable metrics that come from healthy communities—think new member acquisition, member retention, and non-dues revenue—are often more important and can help associations improve their future bottom line.
The advanced predictive analytics capabilities inherent in modern MX platforms help association leaders uncover meaningful insights and make data-driven decisions. For example, the analytics could help predict member churn, as those who don’t meaningfully engage are more likely to drop out upon renewal.
Whitney said analytics will play an important role in improving the community experience in the future.
“Communities create many data points, and being able to use them effectively is critical,” he said. “If you can’t measure, you can’t grow, so you need easy access to reports based on existing data.”
Associations can learn a lot about their industry and its future by using the data that exists at a single physical event. “Adding virtual events, online interactions and community posts creates millions of data points that can be exported and analyzed efficiently.”
The team at Forj, an MX platform for associations and professional community organizations, thanks RD WhitneyChief Community Officer at CEO Group (CEG) and the Deputy CEO of the CFO Leadership Council (a CEG community), for her expertise in the value of strong communities. For information on the Forj MX Maturity Model or to request a demo of the company‘s MX platform, visit www.forj.ai.