Monday, April 30, 2012

31% of Associations Have Online Communities. Where are the Association Community Managers?

I just read a post about an upcoming membership marketing benchmarking report, specifically detailing the part of the report that addresses social media use by associations. The report surveyed 700 associations and, according to the summary of the upcoming  report, among associations with over 20,000 members, 31% reported having a private social network.

Hm, I thought--that's a lot of private social networks....yet, as far as I know, there are still very, very few community managers in the association world. I've blogged about this before--this is an aspect of associations that I simply don't get. As you know if you read this blog or follow me on Twitter--I'm a member of The Community Roundtable, basically an association for community managers (I consider it to be a "concierge association"--basically an association without the governance stuff and dedicated to serving each individual member--in short, I'm obsessed with it!). Of well over 100 members, exactly TWO of us work for associations (ok, three, yet those two members work for the same association). Yet, according to this report, there are a lot of associations with private social networking platforms. With the cost of launching and maintaining a private social network being what it is, I just don't get the disconnect when it comes to community management. Of course, the Community Roundtable is not the only qualifying factor when looking for community managers--I'm simply using it as an example because I think my experience there being one of only a very small handful of association community managers among over a hundred corporate employees filling that role is pretty accurate with regard to the disparity between associations and for-profit companies and community management staffing.

I get that there are many small associations. I get that resources are tight and new positions are hard to justify. But seriously--if you're an association that has the money to invest in launching a private community platform, how can you NOT address the community management part? I see it all the time in action--associations who launched a platform several years ago who are now questioning whether it was worth the money and whether it's worth maintaining the community because they're not seeing the activity and resulting revenue generation that they'd been promised by the software vendor. Guess what? Without a community manager you most likely WON'T see those benefits, ever. But as I said in the post I linked to above, I think  vendors don't talk about that aspect of the product much, if at all--they just want to make the sale. Actually, that's not entirely true--Socious has a fantastic blog and resources specifically about online community and community management. Avectra's blog is good too, although it focuses on more than community management, and they actually have a community manager on staff who does a lot to educate the ASAE community on community management and engagement. But I still can't help but wonder--isn't it in vendors' best interest to stress the need for community managers as a vital component of a successful online community platform?

I'm curious--if you work for an association that either has a private online community platform or have demoed one--how much focus has been on the need for someone with expertise in community management--be it a consultant or a staff person--as a critical element of the success of the community versus just purchasing the software and reaping the benefits basically by magic?

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