One of the most common questions I get from prospective Online Community customers is, "Who uses the Online Community?" There is a misconception sometimes that the users are primarily in the younger demographic. This makes sense because if you look at mainstream social networks such as YouTube or Facebook, there is the perception that mostly teenagers use it. Here are the actual usage statistics from Facebook as an example:
Private Professional Online Community Usage
As you can tell from the usage percentages, the perception of a brand and the reality are two different things. But what about your association's Online Community? I'm going to post averages, but keep in mind these trends are very similar for most professional membership organizations:
You can see the 50 - 70 year old audience by far dominates usage in private professional online communities. People often find this surprising. What is the reason behind these usage patterns trending towards an older audience? I think the reason is simple and makes perfect sense when you take a step back and think about it. When someone is starting a professional career they don't usually go solo. They are under the guidance of a firm as an employee. So they aren't going to be focused as much on knowledge sharing.
The audience that benefits the most from knowledge sharing in a professional online community are people who don't have the resources of larger firms: sole practitioners or owners of small and medium firms. Additionally those who want to share their knowledge and experience are going to be older veterans of the profession and more established.
One thing I personally find disappointing is less focus on students in online community. Although guided mentorship has a lot of value, more general sharing of knowledge between generations is valuable and often overlooked. I'd like to see this trend turned around as onlne community becomes more of a key feature for associations.
Another key and often overlooked audience for online community focus is anyone who doesn't have continuing education requirements. Why should they be members of an association if there isn't more of a requirement incentive? A primary reason could be for access to the vast knowledge sharing network an online community provides.
The Value of Professional Knowledge Sharing
Knowledge sharing is another overlooked member benefit that needs consideration by associations. In the sampling for average ages listed above, I did another analysis which showed that per 1,000 members was an average of 33,283 years of professional experience (starting from age 20). The associations analyzed for this information had an average membership of 9,773, which equates to an average of 305,892 years of professional experience per association. That's a lot of knowledge and experience potentially being overlooked!
Modes of Engagement
The other question I get asked often is how members are engaging. The reality is that email is vastly preferred. This is why we place a lot of importance on email interactions and best practices in handling. 88.94% of engagement happens through email. 11.05% of engagement is through web or mobile application. I anticipate mobile will begin to pick up more as installation of Tapatalk or our new Membership Connect app becomes increasinly common for our association customers.
Bottom line: if you have an online community and it doesn't support an integrated email experience for creating topics or responding to them, you're potentially missing out on nearly 90% of engagement. Likewise if you have a listserve without web or mobile, you're missing out on 11% of engagement potentially. Email is still massively used for professional communications, and most professionals value the convenience of email based communication for discussions.
Hurdles in Adoption
I also get asked, "Will my members actually use the Online Community?" Yes, but you need to participate to ensure success. Online Community is incredibly valuable, but it's not something people immediately find value in. Your members have been operating without a cohesive communications platform for many years - so why should they need one now? Some associations believe the value is to their Committees and focus on internal use for productivity. While some internal use is great, the real value is to your members.
So how do you get your membership to adopt your new Online Community? Here are a few strategies:
- Take your AMS data and create interest based groups: students, professional topics, etc. so that everyone with an interest or particular demographic is in a discussion group
- After creating your groups, you can use our "Automatic Opt-In" feature so that members receive 1 - 3 notifications over time about participation. If they ignore those emails, nothing happens and they continue with life as usual. If they Opt-In they can take part in email discussions conveniently. They can also update their notification frequency from Immediate to Daily or Weekly digests to avoid getting a lot of emails.
- Consider creating a General Discussions group for those who might be interested and make it available to anyone who wants to post - even if they aren't a member of the group. This is a great way for members to ask questions without knowing what topic or who to ask specifically.
- Consider using our Social Education features to create Continuing Education groups which can introduce members to the new Online Community in a particularly targetted and relevant way.
- Consider using our Audience Response System for an interactive Question & Answer experience during Live sessions. This is a real benefit to your existing offerings as well as a way to introduce members to the new Online Community.
Lastly, what is an Online Community exactly?
You'll notice some items I've talked about related to Education or Audience Response System seem tangental. Online Community typically includes methods of having discussions in a cohesive and relevant way; from our perspective, it can mean a whole lot more. We see some gaps in how associations may not be using technology to create more value for their members - we also see how Online Community can fill those gaps. If you're an existing customer or perspective customer, you'll notice over time our offerings have increased. We strive to keep these mostly under the umbrella of Online Community without raising our subscription fees for those interested - though generally there is a setup fee due to custom integrations with your AMS.
If you're looking for a strategic partner to modernize and help grow your Association, you've found one!