Competition is coming for you: 4 strategies to help your association thrive and survive

Has your association experienced this latest trend? Recently, there has been a rise in for-profit organizations building “community” as part of their business strategy. Because of this trend, associations have experienced more and more competition.

Many of these new “associations” began as a byproduct of an individual building their personal brand with the help of easy collaboration tools like Slack. Because of this, these communities don’t view themselves as traditional member-based organizations, so they are playing by different rules.  

With more niche careers, people are looking to expand their networks and advance their careers. Let’s look at my career, product marketing as an example.  

  • Product marketing is a career that has completely evolved and grown over the last decade. Until a few years ago, there was no association dedicated to product marketers. So, thought leaders in the space started a Slack group that grew to thousands of community members, formed an organization and eventually grew to be a conglomerate of more than 13 niche organizations serving growing careers.   
  • Within product marketing, there are more subsets of niche skills that are growing careers. Industry thought leaders are turning side-hustles into fee-based communities that are exclusive and career advancing. I’ve joined two in 2023 alone.  
  • Content is still king and thought leaders showcasing their expertise by hosting podcasts or publishing a book, enables industry thought leaders to then enter the professional education space, directly competing with the bread and butter of many traditional associations.

To keep up with the competition, your association will need to do things differently. Read our blog for tips to get started. 

4 best practice strategies to keep up with the for-profit competition

Now more than ever, it’s vital your association shares the value of your membership. Not only will communicating this value help you compete with for-profit organizations, but it will help you improve your member engagement, as members will see the true worth of your organization.

Follow these strategies to highlight your membership value and outshine the for-profit competition: 

1. Know your competition. Know who your competitors are, what they offer, and how your programs stand out. Have an honest conversation with your board about the competition and how it will impact your organization.

Not only should you follow your traditional competitors, but also consider following thought leaders in the industry to see what they are doing to build their personal brand. Want to learn more about building a competitive intel program at your association? Join us at 2023 ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) Annual for “What is my competitor doing now” on Tuesday, August 7 at 11:45am.  

2. Emphasize digital-first. Becoming a digital-first organization is an expectation today. According to Community Brands Research, 65% of association professionals and 63% of members agree, professional membership and trade organizations that don’t transform technologically within the next few years won’t survive.

Your association can embrace a digital-first culture by supporting staff training in all new technology. You’ll also want to look for association management software (AMS) that integrates seamlessly with other crucial software solutions to avoid data silos. Enhance your digital member experience by leveraging an online community platform to build virtual connections and encourage member engagement. Consider creating different channels regarding different thought leadership topics or member internets to build connections. 

3. Social learning. To compete with for-profit organizations, consider offering more learning opportunities for your members. Your members love your learning program and professional development opportunities.

To give your association a competitive edge, try boosting your learning program with social learning components, like offering more speaker panels, workshops, and opportunities to learn from other members. You could also consider creating learning cohorts to further boost this social learning aspect.

4. Level up onboarding. Begin building member loyalty and value as soon as your members join. Offer strong onboarding opportunities to set the tone for your organization and set yourself apart from your competitors.

Create a member orientation program that educates your members about your association’s mission and goals. Onboard your members so they understand how they fit into your organization, fostering excitement and engagement. Consider building an onboarding manual, so your members have a reference guide after orientation ends, helping them transition into fully connected members.  

Learn more strategies to improve your association’s member engagement

It’s time to stand out from the competition! Discover even more tips to improve your association’s member engagement strategy when you read our free whitepaper: Seven tips to strengthen your member engagement strategy.

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