By Will Slade – Senior Consultant
Today, there is an urgent need to accelerate the move to a digital community. Throughout the past year, associations that had already established online communities saw engagement skyrocket. And many organizations that did not have a formal online community rallied to build a solution as quickly as possible to fill the void of lost in-person events, groups and networking.
Now, organizations that haven’t yet launched a community are wondering, “Is it too late to get this project under way and still make a difference?”
The answer is no: It’s never too late. One big takeaway from the experience of social distancing is that online connections are essential—and will continue to be, even as in person connections begin to resume. Hybrid and virtual interactions are still expected. Online communities foster a habitual and meaningful connection that members have already come to depend on. Importantly, your online community enables a direct connection to your association—and all it offers.
Despite the urgency, many associations still face real-world barriers to getting an online community started.
- Cost: Third-party community platforms can be expensive to purchase, integrate and maintain.
- Time: As ASAE notes, when implementing a third-party platform, configuration and community startup can take as long as a year—and there’s a continuing time commitment to ensure it thrives.
- Resources: Associations must dedicate ongoing funds and IT resources to platform integration maintenance—and to creating the reporting they need to use the valuable data that the community provides.
However, today you have options.
Protech is pleased to announce Protech Connect, an AMS-native entryway into the community space that enables you to overcome these barriers.
Weighing Your Options? Challenges of Traditional Solutions Community is at the Heart of Associations
The idea of having an online community is not new; digital community spaces have existed for decades. But the implementation of those spaces varies widely.
Piecing it together is not a “free” option
In many cases, communities have been allowed to grow up rather organically, through a string of ad hoc groups inside popular social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
This informal option has provided a stopgap measure for many associations. Instead of dedicating software and staff resources to an integrated platform, they assign social media staff to moderate threads, monitor engagement, gather discussion data and include their findings in tracking and reporting.
This option does enable members to find each other at a low cost to the association. However, it has serious limitations. Social media networks are separate from your association site, so members must take the initiative to visit your site to interact with you and your resources. Before they take that step, it’s highly likely they’ll be distracted by their neighbor’s funny cat post—and you’ve lost that thread.
In addition, interactions within those ad hoc threads is superficial and siloed, preventing the development of deeper conversations, professional support and group work that a formal community fosters. And the time your staff spends on the highly manual monitoring process is not free.
Full-featured platforms might be overkill
Third-party community solutions provide a full-service, full featured community experience. The partners who provide these solutions have created highly functional offerings with rich capabilities. They can be branded and integrated to match your AMS and member portal, and they typically include extensive reporting options that can sync with your data analytics modules.
The primary roadblock here is that most of these solutions come with a high price tag. The association must budget not only for the initial license costs but also for recurring costs for the software, ongoing maintenance and updates, AMS integration, data sync and dedicated IT and management resources.
And after all that investment, many associations find they don’t end up needing or fully using all their platform features.
Protech Connect: A Practical Alternative
An AMS-native community solution offers an attractive option for starting and growing a vibrant association community. When your community is built into your association management software, it’s easier to overcome critical hurdles and get the benefits of community—quickly.
Protech Connect is just such an option. Connect is not an add-on or integration. It’s embedded directly in the Protech MX 365 solution. Our internal development team adapted the technology behind our proven member-facing e-commerce solution to create a community platform that is part of your existing AMS.
Connect provides a pragmatic solution that overcomes the critical barriers to establishing an online community:
- Lower cost: The cost to add Connect is significantly lower than the upfront cost of a third-party platform. In addition, you eliminate the added costs associated with integration, synching and maintenance of an external platform.
- Simple to use: Staff who are already familiar with your AMS can easily see posts and replies, access threads and work with data—without leaving their work environment.
- Seamless user experience: The solution matches your branding, incorporating the look and feel of your existing portal.
- Single sign-on: Members can interact with peers in the community and pop over to check their latest certifications, access a new resource, or register for a course—without thinking about how to get there.
- Flexibility: Your team can get your community started using basic features and expand to leverage additional capabilities when you want them without having to upgrade or switch software.
- Improved reporting: Because your community is natively integrated with your association’s relational database, you can see and work with the data it generates—in an actionable context.
- Enhanced member insights: A native community adds layers of vital engagement data that can be used with an engagement meter to better understand your members.
Best of all, with the support of your trusted customer success team, it’s easy and fast to get started.
Community is at the Heart of Associations
Online communities are indispensable sources of connection, data and growth for associations. And today, your community doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing investment. Protech Connect gives you a fresh option for supporting the community structure your association and members really need now.
Associations are centers of education, exploration, innovation—and most important, personal and professional relationships. Talk with your customer success team and let us help you find ways to further engage your members and optimize the value your community brings to your organization.