European Industry Associations& Online Engagement
Digital technologies change the world and the way we interact with one another. Consecutive waves of innovation have created a new technological reality through which we communicate, advertise, vote, position ourselves and even build long-term relationships. by Attilio Caligiani
As there is almost no sector which is spared, digitalization is also transforming the activities of European industry associations. The majority of such associations recognize the importance of integrating the digital dimension in their day-to-day activities and engaging efficiently their audience online.
To remain competitive in an environment full of information and keep bringing added value to their membership, associations can consider integrating innovative digital tools to their strategy and its implementation.
DIGITALIZATION AS AN ENABLER
Most of the associations have three key roles:
1) Advocacy – with the aim to influence decisions-makers;
2) Communication – with the aim to spread key messages to a targeted audience and
3) Management – including the administration of the association and the acquisition of new members.
To fulfill those roles, an association implements several activities which could benefit from digital tools. Here are some examples.
COMMUNICATION & ADVOCACY VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media are nowadays indispensable for engaging in communication and advocacy. For instance, out of 750 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), there are 666 active Twitter profiles! Social media can enhance advocacy capacity through legislation monitoring, economic intelligence, keeping up-to-date with industry news, networking and coalitions building.
Of course, before rushing into a chaotic creation of accounts and posting random messages, an association should carefully elaborate a social media strategy. In it, the association should, among other things, select the right channels to use, elaborate on key messages, identify its audience, prepare an editorial calendar, consider “live” posting and anticipate a regular analysis of the progress of the account.
Furthermore, the association should not disqualify the possibility to develop paid campaigns as it can increase the visibility of the account and the reach of its messages. Social media is also an invaluable source of big data whose collection and analysis could help associations tailoring their advocacy campaign to their audience.
ORGANIZATION OF EVENTS
Associations can make use of digital tools to increase the dissemination of their events and their outcomes. Information should be published on the association’s website before the event actually takes place, yet other websites specifically dedicated to the advertisement of events (e.g. Eventbrite) can be considered.
Moreover, associations could envisage the possibility to promote social media posts that will spread the event towards an identified audience. During the event, digital polling could be implemented to trigger more interactivity and engage the engagement in the discussion.
MEMBERS & COMMUNITY
Digital tools can enable associations to engage with their members more successfully or in targeted ways. Also, online platforms (e.g. Basecamp) can facilitate the communication within an association, as well as the information exchange and documents sharing. Others (e.g. YourMembership) provide a single place for the acquisition, renewal, management, and communication with members allowing to save staff time and resources.
In fact, digitalization can easily bring people and groups together paving the way towards better community management of associations. This is especially useful for associations whose goal is to advance the interest of a particular profession towards decision-makers. Thanks to online tools (e.g. SurveyMonkey, SurveyHero), a professional association can conduct a survey among the professionals it represents to obtain their feedback and suggestions on how to proceed on a particular matter. Social media analytics (e.g. Sprout Social, Keyhole) are helpful to understand what animates the professional audience and enable the association to proactively address the issue.
Lastly, digital platforms easily provide a forum for professionals to mutually raise their awareness on a given matter affecting the sector, establish and maintain professional and social contacts.
NOT WITHOUT HURDLES
However, digitalization does not go without hurdles, and there are a few that can be identified.
The first one relates to the mindset of some organizations. Some EU associations lag behind in the process of digitalization due to the lack of understanding of how digital tools can be beneficial. Currently, 25% of the EU associations have yet to adopt online tools. By having an openminded attitude about the benefits that digital technologies can bring, an association can open a new world of opportunities for its members.
Data protection and privacy can also be an issue. The use of online tools might involve the handling of personal data. National and European legislation (e.g. General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR) seek to protect the personal data of citizens and any infringement could entail substantial fines. For this reason, associations wishing to embrace the digital path need to make sure that all personal data processed by them is respected.
In a similar vein, the use of digital technologies opens the risk of cyberattacks whose consequences could be devastating as they can disrupt the workflow, lead to a loss of critical data and harm the image of the association and its members. Therefore, the association should take the appropriate steps to protect the data it collects and processes and the integrity of its computing assets.
The last one concerns the investments digitalization may imply. While some digital tools are free, the use of others could bear considerable costs. Before kickstarting a digital transformation, the association should carefully assess its objectives and available resources in order to avoid unnecessary spending which would not bring results.
In the digital age, in conclusion, EU industry associations are challenged: new trends and new technologies require associations to adapt their operations while envisaging new ways of engaging effectively their audiences. While digital novelty brings uncertainty, it bears constant evolving opportunities and tools that associations can grasp to effectively engage their audiences. Amid disruptive technological changes, EU associations should ask how to properly tap into the potential the digital revolution offers.