One of the greatest benefits of association membership is the ability to reach out to similar types of businesses for advice on operational issues, strategies, or vendors. Online communities are a good avenue for members to share knowledge, but they may only benefit a small, narrowly defined group of members.
If your association is not large enough to support a variety of online communities, consider using your association publication to demonstrate the value of networking and the benefit of an entire membership of experience, knowledge, and lessons learned.
The Pennsylvania Academy of General Dentistry has recently started a section in their magazine to offer advice on real-life situations encountered by dentists. Members anonymously submit their request for advice and describe the situation, and the association publishes three different opinions on how to handle the issue.
Entitled “What Would You Do?” the column is not limited to clinical issues, such as the first one published, but can also address issues related to staffing, which was the topic of the column in the next issue.
If your association leadership wants to offer online communities to encourage sharing, collaboration, and discussion, follow these tips:
- Identify the most frequently asked questions or requests from your members to develop groups around specific discussion groups
- Develop forum policies to establish rules that ensure the content stays relevant to members of the group
- Assign moderators – engaged community members or association staff members – to keep discussions on track
- Use your other forms of communication – email, newsletters, magazines – to update members on new discussion groups
- Make sure the online communities can be accessed via computer, smartphone, and tablets
- Regularly review content and activity in forums to create new groups or to delete inactive groups
Whether you create online communities, in-person gatherings, or connect people via a magazine or news center, the goal should be to provide information and access that adds value to your association’s membership.