Professional Associations : Do they have a future?

Toby MarshallAssociation MarketingLeave a Comment

If yProfessional Associations executives meeting around a tableou are reading this you are a member of at least one professional or industry association. Professional Associations that are expensive and so many never seem to do enough to justify their cost.

Now, within 5 years 80% of them will vanish. And the 20% who survive will look nothing like they do now. ‘Social’ networking is changing their world forever.
How are they meeting the threat? Over 90% are rearranging the deckchairs: pretty new websites; working on their ‘positioning statements’ with high priced marketing consultants; and revamping their cash cow, education. Not realising the poor cow will soon be dead meat.
Why are they so blinkered? Well, professional associations were traditionally run by administrators and managers, hired for their organising and people skills. Not for their strategic thinking. So they only see the future in terms of fixing things that already exist.
But that’s old news, and is the topic of one of our articles in Fast Thinking.

A growing proportion of their CEOs are innovators, and will be in the 20% who survive as they are dynamically looking forward.

What will Professional Association survivors have done?

Smart ones will take advantage of social networking tools: powerful, free, global AND local. What does the future look like in this new and highly connected world?
No need for crystal balls here, associations will simply be using the technologies that already exist. Just using the tools to do what they are capable of, using them to their full potential. Here are some of the changes that are coming:

1. Professional associations will be much bigger, thousands of members, not hundreds. 

The old State based organisations will vanish; and many of the sub-groups will vanish with them. For example there is just no need for 12 or more legal associations in little old Australia! State borders have been meaningless for a while. And national borders are getting very porous.
One example: A property development lawyer has more in common with one in the UK than she does with a lawyer working in family law in Australia.

2. Education programs, the cash cow of the bigger professional associations, are about to die. 

The fatal blow will be from technology that is already here. Live video, webinars, online surveys, iPad apps, etc. There is room for one association to profit from this, perhaps 2 or 3, but not 12. A smaller number will be able to provide all the content at a fraction of the price of the old fashioned classroom/conference model. And deliver it at a time and to a place and on a device totally of our choosing. We the customer will choose.
Does anybody really believe that the Apps revolution is not going to revolutionise education?
Their biggest cash cow, the Annual Conference? Where we chooks all fly into one city at vast expense to attend a 2 day talk fest? Going the way of the Dodo, at least in its current form.

3. State-of-the-art software that is fully integrated.

The backend will be organised seamlessly. The best software, well supported, used efficiently. Eliminate the thousands of admin staff who currently do all the back office work for all the associations.

4. Event software – free or virtually free.

Removes the biggest administrative expense and delivers so much more value and saving of members’ time than emails and phone calls could ever do. This on its own will have a huge impact on costs, including in the delivery of the new style education programs.

5. LinkedIn Groups – the big one.

The Groups can do much of what the professional association currently does, but for free. They can connect all the members nationally (and in some cases, globally). Then connect the local chapters, by city or in some cases, suburb. Then connect the members by industry. And by areas of special interest.
So an association might have 20 or even a 100 LinkedIn groups. All for members only, with each member being in multiple Groups for different needs.
And these Groups will deliver so much more than we can dream of – though some of us are already starting to deliver it. It’s just that first you have to think about the Groups very differently, and we have in the 14 we have built to date.

Will your Professional Association vanish? Can you help stop it? 

Maybe you think Professional Associations are peripheral. Or that they are somehow a special case because of what they do. Well, you’re wrong.

Every industry, particularly in BtoB, will be transformed by social networking. The only debate is how fast it will happen to yours.

Cheers, Toby [C119]

More on Social Networking for Lead Generation here.

Toby leads a team of young international B2B marketers at Lead Creation