I use LinkedIn enough to know it could one day be a serious threat to traditional associations (if it’s not already). That’s why LinkedIn’s addition of more dynamic functionality to its discussion groups, it has once again raised the bar for professional networking among members of an industry – and this, in turn, puts more pressure on associations to add value to their members beyond what the members can get for free.
LinkedIn changes the game….again!
The new LinkedIn features will give the community a more active role in deciding what they want to feature. Members of a group can now rank and vote on discussions on the fly, making it much easier to remove spam-like messages, to elevate topics that are of interest to the community and to make the discussion forums more valuable, even when the users do not necessarily make written comments.
The reason these changes are important to the association community is that the growth of peer-to-peer professional online communities continues apace. When LinkedIn or other social platforms add features and functionality for free, the changes will add more and more pressure to traditional association models by eroding the difference between what a paid member in an association has access to and what that same person can now access for free in an online community.
This has been a long time in the making, but the pace of change is heating up. Most organizations/associations are using public social sites like LinkedIn and Facebook in two primary ways:
- To attract new potential members by first engaging them in a free, open group
- Using the public groups as an additional tool for member engagement. Associations also fall into one of two camps regarding these public sites: a.) closed member only access that has to be administered by the association or b.) open membership for members and non-members alike.
So far most of the response has been that associations have been happy with the results they are getting in terms of recruiting new members through these public platforms but have expressed dissatisfaction over the time required to manage and monitor them properly. The jury is still out if this is a net benefit (i.e., enough new members versus the time allocation required and which could be used for alternative efforts).
Both public and private communities are, in my opinion, going to be needed, and the two should complement each other. Associations need to understand the changes LinkedIn and other social networks are making to their structures and integrate them with the organization’s overall social media strategy. Associations can be left behind when they are missing big missing pieces to the puzzle, such as a lack of a clear strategy, lack of measurement and the lack of understanding of the time, labor and attention a true social media effort will take.