how can trade associations adapt to our digital age?

Posted in Associations by Caroline Jackson
pressing modern social buttons

I’m interested in how our digital age can inform how trade associations work, how they influence and draw people to them.

If you shine a light into the corners of many trade associations I suspect you will find huge volumes of paper and tried and tested processes that haven’t changed in decades. Traditionally they relied on a combination of letter writing, telephone conversations and the use of a fax machine. Work was effective, but slow, and results were therefore showcased and publicised at a rate that appears positively glacial these days.

In 2000, email and the web changed things fundamentally. We’re now living in a quicker, more proficient ‘2.0’ age. Communication is faster, efficient and often instant, and with the evolution of the internet, smart phones, tablets, YouTube, Google, we have information more readily available to us than ever before. Social media has also come into its own; over 10 million UK citizens are reported to have a Twitter account, whereas over 24 million of us in the UK use Facebook daily. With the reporting of these figures, and with the knowledge that 9-18 year olds spend almost 11 hours online each day, we’re entering a new ‘3.0’ age.

But what does this mean for Trade Associations?

I see two challenges/opportunities.

The first: at present, there seems to be a disconnection between the older, more experienced generation and the internet savvy, ‘digital native’. I sense there’s a genuine recognition among my clients of the need to connect with the rising generation of professionals. To find ways to engage with them, be relevant to their interests while passing on hard won wisdom. This is not a new challenge – what is new though is the scale of difference in the experiences of the two generations.

The second challenge: How can trade associations harness the intensely connected, intensely shared nature of what our technology brings? Trade associations need to consider new models, ones that use technology to virtualise the work of committees and spread their influence more widely.

So how could Trade Association move forward?

I’ll blog on that over the coming months, but ask yourself these questions …

1. Have you started any social conversations? i.e. have you contributed to discussions on Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media platforms that have pushed your agenda or led to ‘real’ world activity and impact?

2. LinkedIn: have you explored putting some of the issues you care about here for discussion, and have you created a mirror group to your committees? Done well it could magnetise the right people to you.

3. Is everything shareable from your website? If it is, is what you have worth sharing?

4. Do your events allow people to follow and contribute outside the room and after the event? Are you creating a big enough footprint for its content?

5. In short do all of these areas work together to mutually reinforce what your association does and its agenda?