If your professional association is like others, you are constantly under pressure to deliver more value for members. And you probably already know that community engagement is critical to sustain memberships, attract attendance at events, and maintain organizational credibility. So how can you improve the engagement of your membership?

Most professional associations have mandates that include the following:

  • Educate and inform members of industry or relevant trends, practices and news.
  • Publish trade journals, blogs and/or magazines.
  • Evangelize the profession and attract new people to join.
  • Facilitate networking events and communication among members.
  • Set standards for, and govern the skills, ethics and conduct of the community.
  • Provide career guidance and resources for members to find new job opportunities.
  • Be a sounding board/triage center for complaints about the profession or individual members.
  • Establish guidelines for product and/or service quality.

For large, globally distributed associations with many members, a self-service web portal is a great way to communicate and deliver many of these services digitally. For smaller, niche communities, a private online social channel may still be an engaging way to share information and include members who can’t attend in-person events. Easy access to resources and information is as much a responsibility of an association as it is a function.

But when an association portal goes beyond just delivering information, it becomes a virtual gathering place for members and the digital community becomes a tremendous asset.

Here are four key attributes that make a successful online community destination for your association.

1. Local and Global Discussions

Live, in-person discussions are usually the best way to share information, but for key association meetings there can be a number of advantages to capturing conversations in a community portal:

  • Offers remote members the opportunity to contribute by way of a convenient forum, or to comment on a recorded video after the fact.
  • Instead of “off the cuff” commentary, members can put more thought into pervasive issues and reference online sources and submit ideas for consideration.
  • Discussions can be moderated by association management and help influence strategic decisions.
  • Hot topics can be transitioned into polls, and members can be identified as “subject matter experts” on topics they contribute to.
  • Since portal conversations are generally kept private within the community, members are often more outspoken than in public.

Conversations can also become a long-term knowledge base instead of a fleeting moment in time. By archiving conversations in a searchable discussion forum or by integrated with a CRM system like Salesforce.com or Dynamics, conversations can be associated with files, documents and even data records.

2. Personalized Content

There are a number of scenarios where an association needs to serve personalized or role-based content. Tiered memberships, probationary members, or prospective members often call for unique content for each role. New members might need to be certified with online training courses before getting broad access to member content.

By delivering personalized content, you can channel the sort of content, and permissions a member has for sharing community information. If you have members who have been active for a long period of time and are strong influencers, empower them to share content and attract new members from their sphere of influence.

3. Member Services and Case Management

Some technical associations provide career-mentoring services or manage complex member inquiries. Instead of sending emails back and forth, a community portal can make it easy for a member to find someone that knows the answer. It can offer a list of FAQ’s and a searchable knowledgebase, though a case management function is also a great way to route/assign questions on a regional or expertise basis.

4. File Management

Even though you’re working with members online, there are still times when you want to share or get files and documents. These could include:

  • Membership applications
  • Professional certifications
  • Group or individual photos of local chapter groups
  • Conference itineraries and/or event related documents
  • Remittance invoices for expense/tax purposes

Sending these sorts of documents in the mail, or e-mailing attachments can be cumbersome, they get lost and take extra time to keep organized. A community portal makes it easy to provide secure access to files, permit members to upload to certain areas and track activity so you know what files are most popular.

If your association is looking for a way to streamline business processes, get more out of your web presence, and capture it all in your CRM system, consider a self-service community portal.