Associations Unorthodox Shift #4: Go all in on digital

This is the fourth (and profoundly delayed…sorry!) post in my series on the six shifts presented in my new e-book, Associations Unorthodox: Six Really Radical Shifts Toward the Future, created in collaboration with CHIEF. (Please check out the previous posts in the series.) If you have not done so already, I hope you will download the e-book, and please join me this Wednesday, September 26 from 2 pm-3:30 pm EDT for my webinar on the e-book, presented in collaboration with Peach New Media. As always, I invite your feedback in the comments below, or you can join the Associations Unorthodox conversation on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #auxsix.

The Problem

Most associations continue to rely on face-to-face interaction as part of their core value creation efforts. Despite the widespread adoption of distributive social, learning and related technologies, orthodoxy still insists associations conduct annual meetings and trade shows, as well as other in-person conferences, seminars and workshops. Even before our current period of ongoing economic fragility, however, these experiences served only a comparatively small minority of stakeholders in most associations. Given today’s uncertain climate, even the most committed stakeholders may find it difficult to take time from work and family to participate in multi-day meetings that fail to deliver direct benefits to their employers, or help them achieve their most important personal and professional outcomes. No matter how financially successful face-to-face events have been in the past, there is good reason for concern about the long-term sustainability of these revenue streams.

The Opportunity

A more mobile and connected world offers associations the opportunity to become true digital platforms by significantly reducing (if not eliminating altogether) the number of face-to-face sessions they offer every year. Without question, it is sensible for associations to go fully digital in all other areas of their work, including communications, finance, governing, marketing, publications and research. The digital delivery of new value, in the form of deep stakeholder support and solutions to their 21st century problems, will challenge associations to enrich their offerings by opening and integrating proprietary knowledge stocks with existing knowledge flows from across and beyond their stakeholder networks. This kind of digital value creation platform will provide associations with substantial real-time data to inform strategic and operational decision-making, help streamline the cost structure of association business models and increase their long-term profitability through the creation of data-enriched “smart value.”

Additional Thoughts

While associations still favor face-to-face interactions with their stakeholders, their stakeholders are actively integrating meaningful new forms of digital interaction and engagement into their daily lives. The issue in question is not which form of connection is inherently superior, but which can create the richest and most accessible value for the greatest number of stakeholders, while also providing sustainable platforms from which associations can serve those stakeholders both purposefully and profitably going forward.

Over the next decade and beyond, then, associations need to think less like in-person destinations at which people are invited to gather at pre-determined moments in time, and more like always-on platforms their stakeholders can use to support connection, collaboration and co-creation whenever and wherever it emerges. As new technologies continue to reshape the fundamental human experience of associating, associations will need to adapt to a different strategic principle: the decision to “go all in on digital” must be made on the basis of strategic opportunity and business model necessity, and not conventional wisdom or past practice.

To begin making the shift to go all in on digital, association leaders can reflect on the following key questions:

+How could your association benefit from not having an annual meeting?

+What obstacles will your association need to overcome to become a fully digital platform?

+What can your association do to challenge all of its stakeholders to embrace digital as an important investment in building their capabilities?

+With more real-time data, what kinds of “smart value” could your association create for its current and future stakeholders? 



Jeff De Cagna

Jeff De Cagna is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, and a contrarian thinker on strategy, business models, governing and the future of associations.

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