Katie Bapple is the senior director of community management at Socious, a company that makes community software for associations. On this episode, we dive into the association niche of the online community space, including:
- The career opportunity that associations represent for community professionals
- How associations are adapting to the online community model for survival
- Should every association have an online community?
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Higher Logic.
“[If your association doesn’t have] this opportunity for people to interact in an online setting, then how do you stay up to date? How do you get those younger people, that you can’t figure out, to join your association or actually participate, and renew their memberships, if you’re not enabling them to engage with one another in the way that they want to?” -@kbapple
“There are these associations where they recognize [the value of online community]. And they realize that maybe they’re going to be left behind if they don’t get involved in it. But they have people, who have been in the association space for years, that don’t see the necessity of it. They’re fighting against that whole executive battle of, ‘How do I get by?,’ like a lot of community professionals do every day. We don’t have the budget for this because we’re not getting the revenue we used to, because we can’t get people to renew, because we have an antiquated model.” -@kbapple
“It’s hard for us to say sometimes, but it’s being honest and we’re not doing our job in making sure that the concept that we support and believe in, that keeps us employed, succeeds and is viewed in a positive light, if we let anybody go out there and create a community without a good use case.” -@kbapple
About Katie Bapple
Katie Bapple has been directing the growth and development of communities since 2008. As the senior director of community management at Socious, she’s worked over 30 unique communities, with representation ranging from Fortune 100s to international associations and non-profits. Prior to Socious, Katie spearheaded the portfolio of Toolbox.com communities at Ziff Davis, Inc., with more than 2.3 million members.
In order of reference:
- Higher Logic
- Brandon Eley
- Katie on Twitter
- Katie on LinkedIn
- Katie on CloudPeeps
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals, sponsored by Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers. Tweet as you listen using #communitysignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:24 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for joining me for this episode of Community Signal. Our guest is Katie Bapple. Katie has been directing the growth and development of communities since 2008. As the senior director of community management at Socious, she’s worked with over 30 unique communities with representation ranging from Fortune 100s to international associations and nonprofits. Prior to Socious, Katie spearheaded the portfolio of Toolbox.com communities at Ziff Davis with more than 2.3 million members. Katie, welcome to the show.
00:51 Katie Bapple: Thank you Patrick.
00:52 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure to have you and thank you for supporting the show as well as my work over the years with tweets and retweets, I really appreciate it.
01:00 Katie Bapple: Absolutely. No, it’s been great following you and resources like this are a great learning opportunity for people like us in the community field.
01:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. You work with a lot of associations, and associations traditionally have taken a very offline first approach to community building. But, more and more, they are offering online community-like functionality as part of their membership.
01:19 Katie Bapple: You definitely see the offline aspect come first when it does come to associations. The online community concept within that area is about, okay, well we know we need an association management system. We need to know who are members are. We need to know how to refine the body. We need to keep track of their dues because we know that’s how we make revenue. And we know that the main thing that we do is provide offline meetings or conferences or resources in the form of publications. And I think that associations are really starting to realize, “Okay, how do we put this all together in one package?” because that’s how we put together the whole value and then if an association… It should be based around some sort of strong common interest.
02:03 Katie Bapple: What a perfect pairing with an online community to bring these people together when you don’t have a meeting, when you need them to have easy access to the different kinds of resources that they’re paying for, when you need them to have news about a conference or when you want them to stay involved when they can’t get to it. So, there’s definitely that strong offline connection and it’s definitely the use case we were talking about, where you say, “okay, we know that offline is kind of the thing that’s worked for us in the past, but we feel like maybe that’s being held back a little bit because people aren’t as inclined to interact face to face as much as they are online or regularly or based on their geographic areas or budgetary restraints.” It makes that use case where you say, “We’re going from an offline model to this hybrid also online model make perfect sense”.
02:47 Patrick O’Keefe: There is this whole association niche within online community and it’s one that I think a lot of people have never touched, might never touch, might never be familiar with. They could work community for their entire lives [laughter] and never really though the association space. But there’s this whole group of companies that serve it. Specifically software, strategy, blogs, Twitter chats, that focus on associations and it’s very much related to community. Like I said, Socious is one of the companies that I know of that, and Higher Logic being another, sponsor of the show, in full disclosure, that really focuses on associations and these types of groups. And I just find that really interesting, within the idea of community and communities of this and communities of that, there is this association niche that is really interesting, really strong. Interesting in a sense that it existed before the internet. Membership associations, professional associations, when you pay a fee and you’re part of this group and you have conferences and you have events and you have these things, have existed for a long, long time. Every industry has those things.
03:54 Patrick O’Keefe: And now, with online communities becoming whatever, becoming bigger, let’s say. Becoming more important. Social media, whatever you want to call it. There is this group of companies that’s popped up to serve them and they are a niche within that conversation. Where you see some crossover, but also, sometimes a lot of those people stay to themselves. A lot of association people who do association and community stuff really only talk to association community professionals. Have you seen that, am I… I don’t know. That’s what I’ve seen, sort of watching it casually. Do you feel like that’s a fair description?
04:23 Katie Bapple: You know, I do. It’s interesting. It feels like a very niche space and I understand. It’s been around, like you said, so much longer than even this whole big hype around the internet and Web 2.0 and all these other concepts that now just seem so natural to us. And even when I approach associations because I don’t have an association background before I started here. I’m a consultant now so I work for a lot of different people, but I’m B2B, B2C.
04:50 Katie Bapple: It’s interesting to see the contrast when it comes to associations because I think they come into it and approach the whole software scene and online platform solution as “Okay, I know I need to track things about people. And if this is a simplified way for me to do it and it costs the same, and maybe I have a few extra tools to play around with, then great.” And I’m not saying all of them do. Of course, there are associations out there that are being awesome, that have awesome programs, are doing great work, and have excellent visions. But it does happen where, I feel like maybe online community is a happenstance for them. They find this tool and it has this opportunity for them to think of, in a bigger scope. And they kind of fall into it and see people say, “Oh, well this is interesting, I think I’ll try it.” And they’ll be like, “You know, this might actually work for us. This is intriguing. This is something I should look into.”
05:40 Katie Bapple: And the use case, when you think about it from the community professional, from best practices, it’s really not so different. The objectives are the same. You wanna create value. You want people to be coming here and using and interacting and feeling like they belong to somebody and creating those sentiments and those feelings is actually sometimes easier around association where they’re already joining something because they feel strongly about belonging to some sort of identifier.
06:08 Patrick O’Keefe: For community professionals who are looking at different opportunities, career wise. Association management, is that what they would call it? Is that what you’re looking for, association managers? It’s funny ’cause different groups have different titles for this. And it’s often the same. The media has audience engagement. Like news media, audience engagement is a thing and it’s often the community work. It’s moderation, it’s interacting with the readers, it’s highlighting content, it’s taking stories out of the comments. It’s those sort of things so it’s audience engagement. And then in the association space, I mean there are definitely community managers in the association space. I don’t wanna say there aren’t, like I’d know some but association management is that sort of the practice, the trade that you should look for if you’re looking to move to that space? Oh, what is it called? Please tell me.
06:50 Katie Bapple: I think you know, it’s interesting. There are definitely people where you call them, community managers, that, like you said, that work for associations and that for some that’s natural but since it is so limited, you mostly see this being the role of people who are membership managers because they use the tools inside of their community platform and so they’re kind of just the person that’s picked out but honestly I find in most cases, that associations have a harder time identifying the community manager role as a stand alone role. Often times since people pick this up and say, “Okay. This is a new add-on to our association and our offering.”
07:25 Katie Bapple: And they don’t fully see immediately, probably, actually quicker than other companies but the fully integrated standpoint on it as this is the new version of what an association is and what it means to be a part of it and this is our centralized web presence. They figure out, “Okay, well this will be the part of somebody’s job who was already here, who is part of a program manager” or some of them might go towards the people who are in charge of the educational aspect of it. So they’ll be in charge of making sure there are resources for people to get out of the community from a content perspective. They might have had somebody that was already working in the conference space before so it will go to that person and it’s more of usually a divided role and a lot of the people I’ve worked with or it’s a side job and they don’t have somebody who is 100% dedicated.
08:11 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting. Yeah which is not so much true today but it definitely was true for community once upon a time. And it’s still true in some spaces like I mentioned the news media. A lot of local media outlets have this person who does a million things and oh, yeah, they moderate the comments. And that’s why the comments are so awful, because they don’t dedicate the resource to it. They’ll hire X number of people but they won’t hire that person, which I could definitely see that being true for associations where it’s like you said. It’s a thing that we’re doing and “Well, what do we need a new person for?” so you can do it and then eventually if they do it well, if it’s successful, then they hopefully find they do need a person.
08:48 Katie Bapple: Yeah, exactly, I’m supposed to come in and supposed to make their jobs easier, and that’s supposed to be the solution that helps scale what they’re already doing and enhance it. It just changes the way that people who are already there, are doing their jobs in some regard, but it’s not a person’s job and again, like you said, there are exceptions, but I’m more shocked when I find organizations that don’t have community managers or planning to hire somebody if they’re getting ready to start an online community than those that actually do.
09:16 Patrick O’Keefe: Interesting. Sound like there’s a lot of growth potential there. I would like to take a moment to recognize our excellent sponsor, Higher Logic.
Higher Logic is the community platform for community managers. With over 25 million engaged users in more than 200,000 communities, organizations worldwide use Higher Logic to bring like-minded people together, by giving their community a home where they can meet, share ideas and stay connected. The platform’s granular permissions and powerful tools, including automated workflows and consolidated email digests, empower users to create their own interest-based communities, schedule and manage events, and participate in volunteer and mentoring programs. Tap into the power your community can generate for you. Higher Logic – all together.
09:55 Patrick O’Keefe: Do you see, this was a new space to you but you’ve been in it now for awhile obviously. It sounds like there’s only potential for associations to use the internet more as a whole. Even though it sounds like there is a lot of progress that has been made. It sounds like there is also a lot of opportunity for them to capitalize on it. Not at the cost of their in person, offline interactions but as you said as a benefit, just because as they connect with younger professionals and younger people, who I guess, it’s an interesting thing. I don’t know, are younger people, are millennials more likely to be a part of an association or not? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe you do, but as they cater tp those younger audiences, certainly those audiences are gonna be used to going into a website and asking a question, as opposed to making a travel plan to go to the next chapter meeting to ask a question.
10:42 Katie Bapple: Yeah. And you know that’s really interesting. I was just having a conversation with our CEO just the other day about the challenges of associations and when it comes to concepts like online communities and the software that they use and where they see their vision. And a major challenge that he hears all the time when he talks to these people that are thinking about it but they’re not sure, and they’re trying to figure out how they stay up to date is that they’re struggling because associations, a lot of people feel like they’re sort of an antiquated concept or they worked with demographics that are aging out in industries that aren’t as populous anymore or that are being replaced by technology. I feel like in some cases, associations are even getting into the online community space because they feel like that’s the answer to get younger people involved even though it doesn’t solve the fact that what they are all about might not be something that has… I apologize for sounding so negative but may be quite a feature in an associations model. It’s interesting to see the people who are gravitating towards it and the people that aren’t. And in some regards, it’s great news for us. Good news guys, we have lots of opportunities on associations based going forward because a lot of them are doing it and it’s going to be an excellent decision for them as far as making sure that they’re catering towards their members.
11:56 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s an interesting conversation because I was thinking about when I was coming up, and just the time and the era of associations, and you alluded to it but the idea that it’s easier to network now. Like it’s easier to network and meet people who are doing what you do, than ever, right? Than ever before. Associations, I mean, I don’t wanna speak about the invention of associations but you would think that they came out of the idea of, “I wanna meet people who do what I do and get better.” That’s how I view associations, when I think about joining one or going to a group of people. And so, you can network with people. I join forums, right, which [chuckle] there’s a kind of a hint for the associations, right. I join forums because I wanted to meet other people interested in what I wanted to do, and learn from them.
12:37 Patrick O’Keefe: And so, those are connections that I’ve made, some of my best friends, I met in a specific forum. And we were all at a specific juncture in time. And now, we own businesses, and we’ve written books and we’ve done these things. But we’ve all come up, and we still keep in touch, and we still help each other.
12:51 Patrick O’Keefe: And so there’s this thought that, associations may not be as necessary as they once were. It doesn’t mean that they’re not necessary at all. But you can see a model, where associations are really the premium member communities of today. Because there are these online only, you may as well call them associations, that they’re premium member community, you sign up, you pay, you’re in the community. There’s one called eCommerceFuel, one of my best friends Brandon Eley, I met him on the SitePoint Forums, 15-16 years ago. And he runs an ecommerce business with his wife, Tracy and this community, they only let people in, who do a certain amount of revenue each year. And so it’s high level, or higher level, mid-to-high level ecommerce people, talking about the business. And you pay this monthly fee, or yearly fee, and you go in, and you post, and they have in-person events. It’s essentially an association of ecommerce professionals. So there’s a whole conversation there of what that could look like for associations who might even shift away from offline, and shift entirely online. Are you seeing that at all?
13:50 Katie Bapple: You know, it’s interesting because I haven’t really seen an association do that, to the extent that we’re talking about. I think, it’s definitely a trend. I mean, we’re seeing more and more associations pick up on this idea that I can be online, and I could use this as the definitive model, that’s supports my revenue, and gets people to want to join and connect with each other, but it is exactly the same basis, as far as why people said, “What do you think about having a community but having it be online where people can talk to each other. And that they need help on something because they’re in the knitting space, and they can’t figure out this cross stitch thing, they could go out and ask somebody else to do it.” It’s like those two people that, the person who thought of associations, and the person who thought of the personal online community could’ve talked about it over a beer, could’ve been best friends because they have this exact same idea. In a different age and time, it is kind of like the model, as far as what associations were, I don’t know 30, 40, probably hundreds of years ago versus what online communities are today.
14:47 Patrick O’Keefe: This probably isn’t a conversation you’ve had any association. But just thinking myself, if you can go to a conference, you can charge a certain amount for a conference pass, right. Some professional conferences cost thousands of dollars, if not more, just to attend them, forgetting any related expenses because that’s what the market will bear, or the information they have is worth that much, or the industry makes that much, or whatever it may be. Is there a threat that you think that they’ve… Do some associations view online as a threat because it may cut off that revenue source, or reduce it in a way that they can get from the internet? Almost like the music industry can’t sell CDs anymore. And so the 1997, 1998 peak revenue for the music industry, it might never return to that but we’re in a different era now, and people buy mp3s, and they pay for Spotify. Do some associations view the internet as a threat in that way, do you think?
15:34 Katie Bapple: I think so. And I think it’s from the aspect of, if we’re not a part of it, then we’re not going to survive. It’s almost like it is so essential to every business that’s out there and how people utilize and interact with brands including associations, where if you don’t have that strong online presence, or this opportunity for people to interact in an online setting, then how do you stay up to date, how do you get those younger people, that you can’t figure out, how to join your association on board or actually participating, and renewing their memberships, if you’re not enabling them to engage with one another in the way that they want to.
16:12 Katie Bapple: And what I do see is that, there are these associations where they recognize it. And they realize that maybe they’re going to be left behind if they don’t get involved in it. But they have people who have been in the association space for years that don’t see the necessity of it. So they’re fighting up against that whole executive battle of, “How do I get by?,” like a lot of us community professionals do every day or we don’t have the budget for this because we’re not getting the revenue we used to be because we can’t get people to renew because we have an antiquated model. Or we’re just struggling as an association because of how some associations are today. And I don’t want it to sound like I’m getting it down on associations but I have worked with them where they are at spaces where, it’s very hard to stay up-to-date in the traditional association model.
16:57 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, and then we talk about antiquated methods and [chuckle] I mentioned the music industry, and I’m just thinking about it more. It’s the idea that you had it pretty good for a while, right? Before the internet, you had it pretty good. If you wanted to meet up with a group of people about something, there were bulletin boards at the grocery store, where you could stick up a notepad somewhere. You could put an ad in the classified, the newspaper. You could get a reporter to write about it. But it wasn’t as competitive as it is today. If I want to start an association, right now, about something, I can. And I can compete in your space. And depending on how good I am and how much I know, and how much money I have, maybe I won’t be a serious competitor. Maybe you’ll crush me. Or maybe I’ll take people away from you. And in the music industry, it’s much the same. There was a time when the only way I could get some music was to buy a physical media and those were good days for the music industry.
17:44 Patrick O’Keefe: Different days now. So you have a reality too, you have to confront. You can ignore it all you want, you can put your head in the sand and you can die out, or your members die out. Just like, the music industry you could [chuckle] say we’re not gonna do things online and they could just die because they have to sell things online to be successful in this day and age to exist. So, it’s actually kind of similar. And like businesses before, all sorts of businesses get disrupted, they go, I don’t like the term disrupted but let’s use it here. They get disrupted, they either go away or they change. And so, it sounds like associations have already been thinking about that, are thinking about it, are grappling with what it means to be in association in 2016 because it’s super different than what it meant to be in association in ’96 or ’86.
18:25 Katie Bapple: Yeah. Absolutely. And for us, of course, for people who are listening to this conversation, for people like you and I, who make our careers out of this field, I think it’s exciting. I think that there’s definitely room for us to uncover more research, more use cases, because that’s another thing we haven’t even touched on. It’s interesting even the way associations use online community platforms because in some ways, it’s very different than anything we’ve ever seen just because of what they’re used to and how they’re still evolving. So, I definitely think that the more education and research that we can do and find the parallels and say, “Hey listen. Everything about the concept of an association would meld so perfectly and we know that if these are the opportunities to grow and create a thriving online community, then how can we apply those to something with such a similar history and backing as an association?”
19:16 Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s talk about that then, real quick. So, the idea that associations use community software differently than the average community, how do you mean?
19:24 Katie Bapple: In associations, what you see of instead of having people in just one free, open online community where anybody can join and they can all get together and talk and solve each other’s problems, and to me, that’s the general concept that I think it wants somebody that says, “Yeah. It’s an online community.” So, if it’s not anybody else’s then, then I apologize but that’s the background as far as where I’m coming from. But associations, they think in terms of the chapters that they have and the committees that help run it and so their online communities, they’re frequently segmented into just little sub-communities where the people that interact are the people who are just members of certain chapters or members of certain committees and they almost use it as a workspace to say, “Hey, this is what I got or this is the next meeting that’s coming up for us, so we’re gonna put it on our calendar in our community.” And it’s kind of like that aides to a system when they have their own offline meetings or even if they’re meeting over something like Skype, like we are today, than saying “Oh okay. Well, this is a business tool. This helps facilitate what we are already doing, what we already know is an association.” It just scales what we’ve done before or it creates a central location for all those things so it doesn’t get lost in the inbox or doesn’t accidentally get deleted.
20:33 Patrick O’Keefe: Do you think that the idea of grouping people out like that, is it a strength, is it a weakness? Do you think they should do more to connect people in the association globally or is that part of the perk is that joining the association, you’re signing in, you’re just going to a local thing? I don’t know, maybe they’re not that rigid in general, maybe you can connect globally with the people but I’m just… I know some associations, from other people I know, you log in and it’s very local and that can be wonderful but is that tapping in to the full potential, do you think?
21:02 Katie Bapple: I don’t think so. I think that this is the natural progression right now for some associations because they are looking to solve a problem that they have and the type of technology that some online community solutions can give them, resolving the immediate needs they have. I think that once they realize they have another problem that they have a need to solve for and they realize that maybe the same solution they used to solve the first problem can solve this next one, then they sort of thinking outside of the box of what they know and what they’re comfortable with and start to get a little uncomfortable and say, “Okay. Why don’t we use this to its full potential? What if we let people do this?” And I think that’s why people aren’t getting there. I still think that they’re a little bit held back by their own concerns or reservations of the unknown and they think of all the scary things that we know could happen in online communities that could be awful but rarely ever do.
21:52 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a good point because professional communities are obviously very different from a management/moderation perspective than say the average consumer-facing online community focused on a specific topic or an interest or a niche because you often have people logging in and they’re identified, their professional reputation is on the line. Sometimes they can get a little spammy, I find, in some of those groups. [chuckle] The push to sell can be a little much, so that can be one of the things that sometimes you will try to reign in. But moderation, you know what, I don’t know if I wanna say it tends not to be as hard because I think it’s maybe challenging in a different way because you have people who are paying you $50 a month, $500 a month, $1,000 a month, depending on how much your association charges, and you don’t wanna drive them away. You don’t want to say that what they’re doing is bad, but yet if you let them have free reign on the community then obviously that pushes other people away. So, moderation of professional groups, especially professional groups that are paying, is a really interesting challenge.
22:50 Patrick O’Keefe: So what I wanna say it’s a little easier in general because I don’t think you have the problems that exist when you moderate the normal pseudonymous, meaning, using a pseudonym, using a name to identify yourself rather than your real name. I wanna say they have it a little easier but that they have their own challenges. Do you think that’s correct?
23:07 Katie Bapple: I think it’s correct because when you think about some of the stipulations around associations, yeah, you don’t have the security of hiding behind a fake name or a fake picture, an avatar or anything like that, usually, but you do have situations where you work for something like, we’re a trade association, you have very strict guidelines that you’re held into place on based on a national or international law. You can say this, you can’t say that, or if you’re a law professional, as far as what your practice will let you talk about or won’t let you talk about, or if you’re in finance, I know I run a finance community for, there are a bunch of stipulations both with the United States and abroad that make it really concerning as far as “Okay, what are these people going to say. Are we gonna be held liable? Can this end up being a bad thing for us if we leave people to their own devices?” And we give them what they want but we’re kind of making ourselves vulnerable in the process. And of course, we know the reality is that it’s a very small percentage of people that will join something like this and not be aware of it, or want to represent themselves poorly but they do exist, so it is a concern and I do feel like it’s one of the drawbacks that maybe keep associations from jumping headlong into a concept like this.
24:20 Patrick O’Keefe: And as we discussed, the person who has to moderate is usually a person who has other things to do. [chuckle] It’s not even that they’re, obviously they’re not even a moderator, they’re a person who has X number of things to do that have nothing to do with the online community probably at all. And then there are people who, and they have just in their time, whatever they can spare during the day, they get the community, which means more than just moderation, but includes moderation. So I imagine you probably had people or run into people who are like, “I don’t know, like there’s too much here to look at.” Like, “We’re getting too much activity and it’s still just me.” And I guess at that point it’s time to probably hire someone.
24:52 Katie Bapple: Yeah, we would hope. We just came full circle here as far as… Well we know we have problems, we know we have to get people involved, but we don’t really have the resources for that. What are the solutions from the association perspective. But I agree, moderation is always that kind of left-field thing that I feel like people think about and they don’t really have the time for. And if you did something like pre-moderation to keep people calm, I feel like, “Oh, it’s okay, nothing’s going to go up that you don’t… ” That involves around-the-clock resources, because you don’t want to hold up the opportunity for people to interact with one another. And then you have member support issues, where how do I get somebody to let this person know like, “No, you’re question’s there,” but I feel like I’m kind of getting in the weeds here, so I’m gonna…
25:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, you don’t want to pre-mod. You don’t want to pre-moderate. That’s something that a lot of people probably hear, “Oh, that’s a feature? Yes, let’s do that. Yes, I would like to approve everything.” But it just kinda chokes the community off right at the beginning, right at the start, because people can’t talk. And it’s tough to make that work. There are specific situations where pre-moderation is an important good tool to use. This really doesn’t seem like one of them but you can understand the temptation.
26:01 Katie Bapple: Yeah, absolutely, when you have such strong stipulations on what you want people to talk about, or rather, the things that you don’t want people to talk about, that you can naturally gravitate towards something that’s maybe not the initial thought, “Oh well that really holds back the opportunity in what my investment is about in giving the people the opportunity to connect with one another and have interactions.” And if you’re always delaying it for 24 hours, then it really negates the purpose.
26:28 Patrick O’Keefe: So here’s a total random question, based upon everything we just said about how important it is to have an online community, but these communities, many of them were started offline first, with associations. Many of these associations were started offline first. And then they’re trying to leverage their membership online. Is that always the right call? Is there ever anyone that you talk to and just say, “You know what? Maybe not. Maybe you shouldn’t do this.” Or is it pretty much always, “Yes, yes. You should have an online community, some sort of area where people can log in and talk to one another.” Is there still a case to be made for anyone not to have that?
27:03 Katie Bapple: Yes, and I say that as a strong proponent, of course, but I have done feasibility studies with associations where I worked with them and there wasn’t a definitive conclusion where you say, “Yes, this is a good investment for you, you’ll get what you want out of it, because people will use this. Here’s your use case, here’s exactly how you should start it up. Here are your value propositions.” There are cases where you just say, “This isn’t your demographic, your demographic doesn’t support it. The inclination as far as how they behave online doesn’t work for this type of model so this isn’t your silver bullet, it’s not going to be the unicorn that’s going to save your association or that’s going to increase your revenue tenfold over the next 10 years.” These are people that, of course, are looking into it because they want to, because they believe in the opportunity, but it does exist out there where online communities don’t work for everybody of course.
27:55 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m glad you said that. [chuckle] I agree.
27:57 Katie Bapple: It’s hard for us to say sometimes, but it’s being honest and we’re not doing our job in making sure that the concept that we support and believe in, that keeps us employed, succeeds and is viewed in a positive light, if we let anybody go out there and create a community without a good use case.
28:12 Patrick O’Keefe: Well said, it’s true. You can have a website, you can sign people up, you don’t necessarily have to have a community, it’s not always the thing. And something I tell people sometimes, it sort of depends on what you want to get out of it, how long you can commit. People ask, “How long shall we do this?” And I say, “Well that’s, don’t do it.” [chuckle] No, I don’t cut them off that early, but that’s a tough question. If you just wanna work on something for three months or six months and think it’s gonna magically turn into this great online community, oh boy. I don’t know what to tell you, go do something else. Send some tweets out or spend some money on a marketing campaign. You don’t necessarily need to have an online community. It may sound nice, but it’s totally a long-term thing. I mean you’re asking people to commit of themselves to a space that they will invest in and identify with, and so yeah, it’s like you don’t just start a town and then three months decide, “Oh, we’re closing the town. Can’t come in here anymore, we’re shutting off the traffic, sorry.” You have to invest longer term, so I totally agree.
29:10 Katie Bapple: Yeah, absolutely. There are the prerequisites that you have to think about, whether you’re an association or not you have to make sure that of course you have that audience inclination, the people that you want to participate and want to be part of it, and that they’ll actually adapt to this type of concept that you have the right value propositions in place for those individuals, that you have people inside the organization that have the balance to support it, and that you have the buy-ins to help support the long-term cost that is this investment moving forward. And of course a clear goal that you know that the money is going towards long-term, so you can figure out what that ROI is. So it’s a big question and it’s a hard one to answer sometimes, but the decision can always go either way.
29:51 Patrick O’Keefe: ROI for associations using online community platforms, we talked about it’s not for you, it doesn’t work for you, there are those cases. So when an association is thinking about launching an online community, what should they be looking at ROI? How are they determining the value that they’re gonna get out of that endeavor?
30:08 Katie Bapple: The number one way that I feel associations are really looking at revenue ROI, and again, this is kind of traditional when it comes to associations, but it’s just that renewal rate and their membership fees. So, is the community concept that you put into place compelling enough to increase your renewal rate year over year? How often your dues come up and people are set to decide whether they’re opting in or they’re opting out, or if there’s a free membership and there’s opportunity to pay for it, did you create a compelling enough enhancement by putting the solution into place where you can get more people to become paying members? And there’s other things, of course, as well, if you do something like webcasts or online workshops, or you do your conference space through something like an online community platform that supports that, then you look at that revenue model as well and figure out, okay, did this become viable for us? Is the community helping support this? And so, do we attribute that revenue to this solution so we can call it part of our ROI?
31:08 Patrick O’Keefe: And when you’re talking about tracking renewals and subscriptions, I’m guessing, my guess is that two of the ways to track it would be one, comparing the people who participate in the community to the people who don’t, association-wise, because you might have some holdovers who don’t, so are the people in the community renewing at a higher rate? And then also, surveying people when they renew, is that pretty true? Or what are some of the other ways that people can measure an association renewal or a new subscriber and have it tied to the community and activity in the community, being a reason that they’re choosing to stick around?
31:37 Katie Bapple: Yeah, absolutely. So you should be able to look at a member and say, okay, I can see all of your payment records in the past. I can see exactly the activities that you’ve done in this community, and I can compare it to people who are active and what their renewal rates are and how they’ve been tracked in the community. So what have they found valuable by being a member and having access to this resource, and what are their cost patterns with like us, versus people who have decided to not log in, to not take advantage of, but we still have the same rates as far as… Sorry, back up there. In comparison to the people who have decided, “Well, I’m not going to buy into this concept. It’s not really for me. I’m not going to use the online community, but I’m still a member of the association because I’ve been a member for five years,” and eventually, people age out or they stop seeing the value. That’s the number one reason people drop out, so what does it look like for them? What’s the renewal rate for that group versus the group of people that are doing things, that are seeing the value.
32:25 Patrick O’Keefe: And when you’re talking about tracking renewals and subscriptions, I’m guessing, my guess is that two of the ways to track it would be one, comparing the people who participate in the community to the people who don’t, association-wise, because you might have some holdovers who don’t, so are the people in the community renewing at a higher rate? And then also, serving people when they renew, is that pretty true? Or what are some of the other ways that people can measure an association renewal or a new subscriber and have it tied to the community and activity in the community, being a reason that they’re choosing to stick around?
32:56 Katie Bapple: Yeah, absolutely. So you should be able to look at a member and say, okay, I can see all of your payment records in the past. I can see exactly the activities that you’ve done in this community, and I can compare it to people who are active and what their renewal rates are and how they’ve been tracked in the community. So what have they found valuable by being a member and having access to this resource, and what are their cost patterns with like us, versus people who have decided to not log in, to not take advantage of, but we still have the same rates as far as… Sorry, back up there. In comparison to the people who have decided, “Well, I’m not going to buy into this concept. It’s not really for me. I’m not going to use the online community, but I’m still a member of the association because I’ve been a member for five years,” and eventually, people age out or they stop seeing the value. That’s the number one reason people drop out, so what does it look like for them? What’s the renewal rate for that group versus the group of people that are doing things, that are seeing the value.
34:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Katie, thank you so much for coming on the show.
34:01 Katie Bapple: Thank you. I appreciate your time.
34:03 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Katie Bapple, the senior director of community management at Socious. Follow her on Twitter at @kbapple. Find her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/kbapple, and hire her through Cloud Peeps, cloudpeeps.com/katiebapple. For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. See you next time.
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