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What Does Digital Transformation Really Mean?
Increase member value using 6 best-practice strategies to create an effective plan that will digitally transform every aspect of your association.
There’s a lot of information about digital transformation out there for businesses, but not much guidance to address the specific and complex challenges that associations are facing today.
Changing/evolving to meet the new demands from your membership can be a little scary at first, but we’ve got your back. We’ve pulled together the following advice you can use to further advance your current transformation strategy — or just dip your toe in the water.
Create Your Association’s Own Definition
Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all aspects of your organization. But, at the end of the day, the only definition that really matters is what it means to your own association.
Start with an assessment
Your organization is like no other and you can’t define your journey based on the paths of others. Many organizations are already highly digitized, others are just starting out. You need to start with an assessment of where you are on the digital spectrum and where you want to go.
Determine your association’s priorities
Don’t let analysis paralysis set in. Your plan can start off very simply, but you should begin as soon as possible. Ask yourself and your colleagues:
• Is engagement our biggest issue?
• Are members failing to renew because we’re not delivering something they need?
• Are product sales down because our resources aren’t digitized?
• Are data silos keeping us from delivering real value to our members?
• Is training and certification down because members need something else?
Set measurable goals/objectives
When determining your goals for your plan, assign a numeric value whenever possible so you have something to strive toward and measure. It’s okay to have broader objectives that are more qualitative, but you’ll also want some hard-and-fast numbers to demonstrate your progress.
Want more information on putting together your plan? Check out our recent blog post for more ideas.
Focus on Your Association’s Members
The overarching objective of your digital transformation plan should be to streamline and improve your association’s operations to enhance the member experience. The challenge lies in how to do that! 😊
Center your plan around improving member value
Your association has been challenged to deliver the same or better experience to your members almost exclusively online. That may be an adjustment for both you and the membership. You should look at every service and resource you offer through the prism of: Does this really deliver member value?
Recognize emerging needs
For Individual Membership Organizations (IMOs) as well as trade/professional organizations, you likely have members who are grappling with the “Great Resignation” — either as an employer trying to find qualified workers or employees who want to advance their careers. Depending on your association/industry’s objectives, you may want to explore:
• Enhanced job boards
• Digital job fairs
• Expanded career training/certifications
• Mentoring programs
• Online networking opportunities
Listen to what members are telling you
Check the Data
Cloud-based association software — such as an Engagement Management System (EMS) — will help you engage your members in every interaction they have with your organization — so you can learn from their interests, habits, fears, and aspirations. But to do this, your system must align your database with your website so you can spot emerging trends and pivot as necessary to ensure your long-term growth.
But your database is not the only source for member insights. One of the best ways to know what’s on their minds is to simply ask them. You can survey members (or poll them through a year-round mobile app) on how they feel about your:
• Website: Is the site user-friendly enough?
• Resources: Can they find everything they need from you online?
• Events: Do they want to see more in-person or hybrid events, or do they still feel more comfortable with online events?
• Products: Can they easily get the information they need?
• Training: Are they looking for new ways to enhance their careers but don’t know where to start?
If you don’t currently have a year-round mobile app, check out our blog on 7 Mobile Tactics Every Association Professional Should Know to learn more.
Assemble Your Team of Experts
To create an effective digital transformation plan, you need to pull together a team that will drive your efforts. Let’s look at how to do that:
Choose a diverse group
Your “innovation team” — the group that will review your current way of doing business and recommend new ways to improve it — needs to reflect every sector of your association. It should be a diverse committee of independent thinkers with differing:
• Experience levels
• Age groups
• Skill sets (Operations, Membership, Accounting, IT, etc.)
• Personalities (Outgoing vs. quiet, big picture vs. granular, imaginative vs. pragmatic)
The most vital criterion for innovation team members is a willingness to think creatively and critically. They must be empowered to speak their minds, experiment, and not be afraid of proposing an innovative idea because it might go against the status quo.
Consider inviting a member to participate
As you craft your digital transformation plan, it may make sense to include a non-staff member on your innovation team. This might include a highly regarded member who has been active in your organization or someone who has recently undergone a transformation initiative and has relevant advice to share.
Drill Down on the Four Main Elements
As a result of your planning efforts outlined above, you should have a clear view of your priorities for the digital plan. Now, you’ll want to take a close look at these four areas:
Your digital transformation is a great time to reassess exactly how your association operates and consider new ways to meet member needs. Some organizations are considering all-digital membership levels, others are delving more deeply into professional education, certification, and standards. It’s an exciting time to think creatively about:
• Who you want to serve — has this changed?
• Which services, resources, and experiences can you best deliver?
• Where should you offer these services (online, in-person, hybrid)?
• How and for which issues do you want to advocate?
Overall, you’ll want to look at how your organization conducts business to determine if you can increase efficiency, effectiveness, and member value.
If your business model changes or even shifts a bit, this can have a ripple effect on your business processes. There’s no association out there that can’t benefit from increased operational efficiency, and this is a great time to reevaluate each of your processes to determine if they can be automated, streamlined, modified, or eliminated.
• Are you attracting the members you want? Is it easy to join?
• What’s the onboarding process like — how well do you welcome new members?
• Is it easy for members to update their own profiles?
• Are you providing the online/in-person/hybrid events members want now?
• Are your virtual events successful — are they easy to attend, browse, and exhibit?
• Can members easily access the resources they need online?
• For resources that can’t be delivered online, do members have to wait an unreasonable amount of time to receive them?
• Do you offer professional education/certification/training they can’t get elsewhere?
• Has online attendance remained steady or are members finding it difficult to navigate? How can you improve the experience?
• Is your course selection reflecting the changing needs of members?
• Do you communicate as often as you should — and do you personalize the communications?
• Are you respecting members’ communication preferences?
• Do members get involved from the start? How can you make this better?
• Do you ask members for their opinions (polls, surveys, forums, etc.)?
• Are the networking events you offer welcomed or ignored?
• Do you have a retention plan — and do you adhere to it?
• Do you offer justification letters to help members quantify/qualify the value you bring?
• Is the renewal process simple and convenient?
A cloud-based platform is essential for your organization to thrive in the current and future environment. Association software that can support and optimize your digital transformation will make the entire process so much easier and more effective. Keep these best practices in mind:
Assess your current technology:
• Can my current system support my new objectives?
• Which applications are out-of-date and no longer work for us?
• Have we created data silos by using applications that don’t integrate well with our member management system?
• Are we making decisions based on accurate, real-time data?
Ensure your website and database are one:
To successfully implement a digital transformation, your business system and websites need to emanate from the same source. You need association software with one database, one complete, up-to-date historical member record that gives you complete confidence in the integrity of your data. Members should be able to effortlessly:
• Engage with their peers
• Register for events or courses
• Conveniently pay their dues
• Manage profile updates in real time
Empower your staff:
The technology should also allow your staff to easily make changes to the system, especially to your web pages, without programmer help. With a cloud-based member management system, maintaining data security and upgrades are someone else’s problem, thereby freeing your staff of this responsibility.
For some associations, this is the hardest area to tackle. You need to show respect for your history while embracing future opportunities. It’s tough. We get it. But if your leadership agreed to explore a digital initiative and you chose a free-thinking innovation team, you’re halfway there. Here are a few things to consider:
Digital transformation may be challenging — but it’s exciting, too! Try to:
• Ask the difficult questions
• Look at everything in your organization with fresh eyes
• Prod/poke to elicit the responses that are going to help change the face of your organization
Rethinking Skill Sets:
It’s important to have the right staff for what the future holds. You may have people who have been with you through thick and thin, but perhaps now their skill sets are not as useful. Try to look for new ways to use them within your new framework:
• What skills do you need that you don’t have right now?
• Are there ways to retrain existing staff?
• Does the staff have skills that could be applied in another area of the organization?
Tear down departmental boundaries and look at knowledge, skills, and experience that may work better when applied in a different functional area.
Being open to new approaches makes the process better. Consider the following:
• Are you willing to test new theories?
• Can you accept failure if you don’t succeed on the first try?
• Are you open to unconventional business processes that could work for you?
If you’d like more information about planning your strategy, download our complimentary whitepaper on digital transformation.
Measure Your Association’s Progress
Your plan should have stated goals that are meaningful to your organization and can be measured by your association software.
Celebrate the small victories
Your digital transformation plan doesn’t need to be long or elaborate. At first, it may focus on digitizing your publications. Or improving the onboarding process. Or personalizing your communications. Whatever the plan entails, look for the small victories you can celebrate along the way.
Look at qualitative & quantitative results
While you may tend to think about the quantitative goals that can be easily measured, you should also look for signs of qualitative improvement:
• Do your members appreciate what you’re doing and leave kudos in your surveys?
• Do they say thanks in your online forum?
• Do they refer new members or upgrade their membership level?
• Are they attending an event for the very first time?
Never Stop Evolving
One of the most important things to remember is that your transformation plan is a living, breathing document that should always be on everyone’s mind, including staff, leadership, board, and members. You’ll never be done and if you embrace it, the strategy will become an energizing part of your association’s everyday life.
• Ask for regular member/staff/board feedback (polls, surveys, etc.)
• Evaluate your plan’s focus every 6 months to ensure you’re ready for the next crisis
• Share your plan with your staff, board, and membership — this is the time for transparency
The digital transformation process can be challenging but it’s also an exciting opportunity for your association. Here’s a checklist you can use to get started:
Define what digitally transforming your organization really means
Focus on increasing member value
Build a great team to lead the effort
Explore your business model, processes, technology, and culture
Use your association software to measure your success
Regularly update your plan