The short answer to that headline? No. Your association really only needs one thing: members.
But it’s a question worth considering. And one you’ll surely encounter at some point.
That said, an online community is a perk — a great one. But smaller associations can’t always afford all the bells and whistles. And for the small to mid-size association, the wants will never get priority over the needs.
So we’ve already told you an association doesn’t need an online community. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want one. If you run a large association and you’re asking for our opinion, we suggest you start considering a member community ASAP.
The purpose of this post, however, isn’t to sell you on community software. Sure, Alliance by Protech association management software seamlessly integrates with a fantastic online community platform, but our bread and butter is a robust, function-rich database.
Here, we’ll run through the reasons your association can go without a member community. Then, why it can’t. If you’re still deciding, we’ll also throw some alternatives your way just to keep things interesting.
Why Your Association Doesn’t Need an Online Community
Reason #1: Cost
If you run a smaller to mid-size association, it’s OK for some luxuries to be cost-prohibitive. That means you’re spending dues revenue wisely.
If it feels too expensive, and maybe you’d rather put that revenue toward on an email marketing integration — go that route.
Let’s put it this way… Sure, that luxury car with heated seats and all-wheel drive will be pretty great come winter. But can you go without it to save a few bucks? Absolutely.
Reason #2: No One’s Asked for It
We’ve come this far in the 21st century and your association still doesn’t have an online community. That’s a strong indicator you don’t really need one.
Members aren’t clamoring for it. Maybe that kind of forum simply doesn’t suit them.
Or maybe no one’s asked for an online community because they haven’t thought about it. So conduct a quick straw poll and find out what a handful of members think.
Reason #3: Social Media
A cheap alternative is out there…
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all provide forums for your members to connect. Shoot, there’s even good, old-fashioned email to keep members in the loop.
No, we’re not suggesting you go back to email chains. But Twitter might offer a more affordable alternative.
Set up a hashtag for your members to use and track. Something unique which couldn’t get crossed up with another group. There, members can share links of note or share thoughts and ideas.
But what if your member base isn’t on Twitter? Try setting up a LinkedIn or Facebook group.
It’s always nice to have free and easy backups to keep members connected, even if you do support an online community.
Why Your Association Needs an Online Community
Reason #1: You Have a Ton of Members
The more members, the merrier. But you’ll need a way to connect the lot of them.
Those social media outlets are great complimentary resources for your association. And they’ll serve you well during events or for quick communications to social-savvy members.
But if your association is of a certain size, you’ll want a place for members to gather more effectively.
Your community platform could cut out all the noise, giving members a focused space to connect unencumbered.
Reason #2: A Safe Space to Connect
Want to provide members with a safe space to share? Look no further than an online community.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are easily infiltrated. If you aim to use those as your main method to connect members, anyone and everyone could enjoy the benefits of connecting with association members…. Without actually signing up to join.
A private community, which can integrate seamlessly with your AMS, gives your member base a place to workshop strategies and share ideas behind closed doors. It’s also the perfect place to house exclusive member benefits like learning resources and more.
Reason #3: Be the Best at New Member Onboarding
There’s nothing quite like a community platform for new member onboarding.
That’s not to say there aren’t other options. Dynamic learning, support staff and a wide array of learning resources should be available, too.
Not to mention how intimidating new member onboarding can be when facilitated through association staff. Or, it can feel too much like a sales pitch when you’re suggesting a new member attend your annual event. Instead, let the discussion on your online community spark your new member’s interest instead.
Depending how large your association is or how social media savvy your members are, you may or may not need an online community. It depends which luxuries you’d prefer to prioritize.
Whether you go with a full-fledged online community, you’ll still need an enterprise-wide database to keep things organized. We’d suggest you nail down your AMS, and decide on those add-ons later.