“We’re still in the first minutes of the first day of the internet revolution.” Scott Cook, cofounder of Intuit, director of eBay and Procter & Gamble
Whether we’re talking about the internet revolution or the technology revolution in general, billionaire Scott Cook makes a good point. We’re still just getting used to having the internet, technology, and information at our fingertips. That technology has been evolving rapidly and continues to do so to this day, influencing our daily lives and the associations we’re running.
Technology has shifted everything from the way we collect membership dues to the channels we use to communicate with prospects. What was once a phone call is now an email sent through your association management software. Yesterday’s paper check is now a simple electronic submission in your membership database. And the changes are far from over.
Over the past half-decade, we’ve seen enormous advancements on the social media front with the rise (and fall) of sites and apps like:
We’ve seen some platforms go through huge changes and redesigns as well as launching new features, including:
- Facebook Live
Websites themselves have undergone a number of changes from static brochures to interactive experiences. Even search on the internet has changed, now serving up more personalized results as well as instantaneous answers to questions led by Googles’ answer boxes.
Amazon and Netflix, along with many, many other retailers, have also started to provide more personalized results and suggestions on items to buy.
All of these changes are affecting your members and their expectations. Your association does not operate in a bubble. These experiences carry over to their membership expectations and, as a result, the tools you need to manage membership.
The Evolution of Membership Management Software
Membership management software began as nothing more than a database that housed names, addresses, and other member information. It had few capabilities above and beyond that because in the days before Google and Netflix, that’s all associations needed. Fortunately, software vendors understand that members’ expectations have changed, so they have adapted their offerings as well.
Membership software has shifted to meet new requirements from both associations and their members. Since progress, and especially technology, never stands still, that shift is still in motion. Even today, membership management software is being consistently updated. These modern AMS systems bear little resemblance to their database predecessors.
Let’s review four of the biggest shifts to help you get a broader perspective of what’s available and what you should look for in AMS software.
4 Major Changes to the Membership Software Landscape
Change #1) Growth and Relevancy Tools
Associations are at a tipping point. According to the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report released by Marketing General, 49% of membership organizations are growing, and the other 49% are shrinking or remain stagnant. With such even numbers, associations will either remain relevant and grow, or they’ll flounder in today’s fast-paced, digital marketplace.
Membership software is now working with associations to help them fall on the right side of those statistics, providing tools that keep associations relevant and help them grow. Often, these tools are designed to deliver value to members quickly. They include integrated websites, responsive design, file and video libraries, wikis, and blogs. Each of these tools gives members value in modern content formats that can be accessed from the most popular devices.
As an added bonus some membership management software companies now offer features that help associations improve their finances with more non-dues revenue as well. Features like improved event management and sponsorship communications as well as opportunities to sell ads on the association websites and directories, mean additional revenue for associations.
Change #2) Increased and Improved Communications
According to the benchmarking report, associations that are seeing growth are taking advantage of top recruiting methods like word-of-mouth recommendations and email. To help associations capitalize on these recruiting methods, top membership management software now includes marketing and email tools.
Some systems track referrals and have gamification features so you can run referral contests or reward referring members. To further help with referrals, integrated online communities have become a part of the most innovative membership systems. The communities allow members to interact with one another, publish content, and share material with outside social networks – a type of digital recommendation, if you will.
Much of the data that resides in these systems can be analyzed to provide more personalization in emails and improve communications to members and prospects. For instance, AMS software with an online community can often send automatic, customized newsletters with only the community updates that members have said they’re interested in.
Just remember that each software vendor tends to talk about their systems in a different way. It takes some work to boil down the descriptions and sales information so that you are comparing each system under the same magnifying glass.
Change #3) Networking and Education
Social networking has become a widely accepted practice. Over half of association executives believe the number one reason members join their association is to network with other industry professionals. Associations that are able to offer networking opportunities on members’ schedules and terms, not just monthly in-person meetings, are likely to have more active, networking members.
To ensure that associations have everything they need to help their members connect with one another, membership management software has started including networking tools. Private social networks, member directories, and other capabilities such as “following” another member are all a part of today’s innovative AMS platforms.
Many members also join for continuing education and access to best practices in the industry. Having a modern membership system that disseminates important information, provides access to file and video libraries, and other resources is a strong way to maintain your reputation as an industry leader.
Change #4) Reporting
Finally, reporting in membership management software has changed quite a bit over the past five years. It has gone from simple statement reporting to more complex analysis using business logic. Queries and filters have matured and the options mean associations can use this data to shape their offerings for better member engagement.
Other reporting tools, such as member segmentation, engagement dashboards and the ability to schedule and automatically email reports to staff and volunteers, have also been added.
Takeaway: Today’s Membership Management Software
Technology has changed quite a bit over the last few years. If you’re using older AMS software, or if you’ve outgrown your system, you should familiarize yourself with the options on the market now.
It is important to note that this evolution did not take place in a vacuum. There are changes in consumer behavior and technological advances behind these trends.
Being aware of the changes, including communication improvements, reporting additions, and enhanced networking tools will help you put together the pieces and create a framework from which to compare systems. It will help make your research process easier and ensure you find a system that fits your association’s needs.