Australia has over 200 industry associations spanning professional areas such as public health, nutrition, sport, nursing, business, accounting, finance, law and marketing, just to name a few – but are these associations at risk of becoming redundant at the hands of the social media boom?
That is certainly the argument being made by online marketer and chief executive of Lead Creation, Toby Marshall in a recent BRW article titled ‘Industry associations lose ground’ and I’d have to agree.
As Toby points out, industry associations were traditionally set up to connect people professionally; facilitate networking; share information and knowledge through conferences and seminars; facilitate professional development; lobby governments and, in many cases, provide accreditation. However, social media sites such as LinkedIn can provide many of these functions for free, leading many professional association members wondering whether their annual fees are still providing value for money.
Social media groups certainly seem to dilute some of the traditional advantages of association membership, but will they eliminate the need for having professional associations all together?
For some industries, being a member of a professional association will continue to be important in terms of endorsing or adding credibility to your qualifications; however, for others the lure of social media’s ability to offer a wider range of information, varied commentary and increased engagement is likely to force many associations to consider integrating social media into their current membership offering or risk a reduction in membership numbers (and therefore revenue).
If professional associations are to survive in this era of social networking, they will undoubtedly have to adapt to better serve the needs of their member cohort. Certainly some appear to recognise this and have developed online newsletters and webinars to enable online professional development; however, many still fall short of their potential to provide online networking and relationship building opportunities.
So how can professional associations use social media to provide members with a place to connect and build relationships at their own convenience?
One solution would be to create a networking section on the association’s website in addition to developing and maintaining a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn, then facilitating engagement by giving members an opportunity to contribute blog posts, start discussions, and post news updates. Associations could also create a Twitter list for members, and through the association’s own twitter account, routinely link to member tweets and posts. Doing so would enable the association to become a valuable social networking channel for members, providing them with a place to network in their own time, on their own terms, and in the comfort of their own home.
Would you consider membership of a professional association that didn’t provide a social media offering to members?