Why (Some) Associations Struggle with Online Communities
Ben Martin has carved out a specialty, helping associations build their online communities. Why are most associations still skipping online community building? And where do associations often struggle when they attempt it? That’s what we discuss on this episode. Plus:
- Ben’s plans for a Community Manager Appreciation Day livestream
- The biggest reason that associations fall short in their online community efforts
- The differences between an association community and a public-facing community
“[For associations, it is normal for] the community management duties get divided up among several staff. The problem is, if everyone’s in charge of the community, then no one’s in charge of the community.” -@bkmcae
“My best clients are the ones who have a full-time community manager. The ones who struggle more are those who have either taken the Field of Dreams approach or outsourced it to volunteers to say, ‘Hey, this is your job. We’re just going to ask you to keep an eye on things when you have time to do it.’ That doesn’t work. The bottom line is my clients who have full-time community managers, far out perform those who can’t allocate a full-time community manager.” -@bkmcae
“When it comes to onboarding members, I think associations are at a bit of an advantage in that regard because, when I join an organization, I fill out a membership application. Some of those membership applications can be two or three pages long. I learn a ton about my member just when they plunk down their money to join. And I don’t have to go through the process of trying to elicit more information from them in a community by getting them to complete their profile and all that jazz. I know that stuff when a member joins my organization.” -@bkmcae
“My estimate would be that less than 10% of associations have implemented an online community. One of my prospects, that I’m working right now, said something interesting to me as we were chatting on a trade show floor. She’s like, ‘I’m shocked that every association hasn’t implemented one of these. Why would you not give your members the very thing that they want from their membership?’ Because over and over again, if you do membership studies or if you look at the membership studies, people who join associations do so primarily for the networking. Here’s a networking tool. You have access to every single member in your association 24/7/365. You want to wait until the annual convention to allow your members that kind of an opportunity?” -@bkmcae
About Ben Martin
Recognized as one of “Five to Watch” up-and-coming association executives by Associations Now magazine, and a winner of the National Association of REALTORS® Technology Spotlight Award, Ben Martin is an association executive with over 15 years of experience in online communities and membership organizations. He is the chief engagement officer at Online Community Results, providing online community consulting, coaching, outsourced management and strategy services.
- Online Community Results, Ben’s company
- My Community Manager, who has previously hosted a Community Manager Appreciation Day livestream
- Sherrie Rohde and Jonathan Brewer, who have led the most recent of those efforts
- Jeremiah Owyang, who created Community Manager Appreciation Day
- Community Manager Appreciation Day livestream website
- Community Signal episode, with Katie Bapple, where we discussed association management
- Higher Logic, a community platform that is popular in the association space (former Community Signal sponsor)
- Socious, a community platform popular in the association space
- Katie Bapple of Socious
- The Community Roundtable’s most recently salary survey
- Small World Labs, a community platform that caters to associations
- Breezio, an online community platform
- rasa.io, a community platforms that focuses on associations
- Reddit CEO Admits He Secretly Edited Comments from Donald Trump Supporters by Jon Russell
- eCommerceFuel, a private community for ecommerce store owners
- Community Signal episode with Andrew Youderian, the owner of eCommerceFuel
- Project Management Institute, a large professional organization for project management professionals
- The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification offered by the Project Management Institute
- ProjectManagement.com which grew to become a successful independent community for project managers, leading the Project Management Institute to acquire it
- Blockbuster’s CEO Once Passed Up a Chance to Buy Netflix for Only $50 Million by Celena Chong
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal. The podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #CommunitySignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to Community Signal. This is our final episode of 2016 and I’m joined by Ben Martin, to talk in depth about community management in the association space, including why most associations don’t even have an online community and why those that do often struggle to implement the software. Recognized as one of five to watch up-and-coming association executives by Associations Now magazine and a winner of the National Association of Realtors Technology Spotlight Award. Ben is an association executive with over 15 years of experience in online communities and membership organizations. He is the chief engagement officer at Online Community Results, providing online community consulting, coaching, outsource management and strategy services. Ben, welcome to the program.
01:02 Ben Martin: Thanks, it’s a pleasure to be here.
01:03 Patrick O’Keefe: Since 2013, the My Community Manager team, namely Sherrie Rohde and Jonathan Brewer with a host of others, has been organizing a yearly live stream for Community Manager Appreciation Day every January and they recently announced plans to step down and pass the project to someone else and you are at the head of the group that stepped up. [chuckle]
01:24 Ben Martin: That’s right.
01:25 Patrick O’Keefe: What are you planning to do this year?
01:26 Ben Martin: I guess I should maybe hedge a little bit to say, “Look this is our first rodeo.” Sherrie and Brew did such a kickass job for the last two years, and they had a small army of people supporting them as well. Sherrie and Brew came out with their decision to stop doing this in November, and after thinking about it for a few days I decided to be the stupid guy [chuckle] to step forward and said “Hey, I’ll take over this huge job and volunteer to do it.” What we wanna try to do is not to bite off more than we can chew. Unfortunately, that’s meant making some hard decisions about what we’re gonna focus on, and what we have decided to focus on is an eight hour live, what we’re calling “webathon,” that we’re gonna broadcast from a location outside of the DC area where most of my co-organizers are located. I happen to live in Nashville but they’re all in the DC area. We’re planning a probably 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM webathon, where we’ll have a live studio environment, we’ll have guests coming in. We’ll have some guests who will webcast in as opposed to being there live in person. We’re kind of branding it as CMAD Americas, ’cause we don’t have the capacity right now with our day jobs and so on and so forth to do a full global CMAD, at least not in this first year as we’re kinda getting our feet under us.
02:41 Ben Martin: We do have some really kickass things to announce and this is actually the first time that it’s being uttered anywhere outside of our organizers but Jeremiah Owyang, is the guy who came up with the idea of Community Manager Appreciation Day in the first place. And we have reached out to Jeremiah, and asked him to be a guest during Community Manager Appreciation Day and he said yes. We are negotiating on trying to get him to DC but failing that we’ll have him webcast in. We’re gonna have some serious star power for Community Manager Appreciation Day. We’re kinda viewing him as our keynoter for the day. Sufficed to say, plan on something from about 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time on January 23rd, that’s a Monday. You can go to communitymanagerappreciationday.com, to keep updated on the schedule and other things that are gonna be going on, as well as get details on how you can join the Webathon on the day of.
03:35 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s great. Yeah, I participated a couple of times myself and I really appreciated the way that Sherrie and Johathan have approached it. And My CMGR too because there’s several resources in this space and some may be more active, but they all have day jobs [chuckle] and there’s a certain selflessness that they’ve taken to CMAD. There can be a fair amount of ego in our space, like any other professional industry.
04:00 Ben Martin: Sure.
04:00 Patrick O’Keefe: And I think there’s a certain honesty and selflessness and openness in the way they’ve approached CMAD. I really appreciate them taking that approach, and hosting this great program for several years. Like you, I thought about it too, briefly. Not as long as you. I thought about taking it over briefly, [laughter] certainly not as long as you. I was like, “Oh man, I hope someone steps up and takes care of that, and I hope their heart is in the right place.” I appreciate you stepping up. I look forward to seeing what you do, best of luck this year.
04:29 Ben Martin: Thank you, I hope to do you proud.
04:30 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m optimistic. Moving past CMAD a little bit. You are really someone who comes to the community space from the association space, from membership associations, trade organizations, etcetera and we talked about that space once before on this show, but I find it interesting because it’s a space that existed concurrently and before online community came about in the mid 80s, and it’s like a subset of our industry and they deal with different challenges and they have different vendors that cater to them. There’s a lot of commercial community professionals who are in public facing communities, and are familiar with these vendors and these software options and then there’s software options that are for associations and are really dominant in that space like a Higher Logic, like a Socious. And so we’re gonna talk about that space specifically today, and you work with a lot of association clients and you’re running into clients that are signing contracts for community products and software, paying money and then struggling to implement the software. Where’s the breakdown happening?
05:26 Ben Martin: Well, that’s an interesting question. I think a lot of it has to do with the way that associations and nonprofits are typically staffed, and just kinda the whole staff ecosystem of associations relative to for profit companies. First of all, most associations tend to be pretty small in terms of their staff size. We’re talking, the average association has less than 50 employees, and with a staff size that limited, for one thing, information technology professionals are not as plentiful [chuckle] as they are in say a for-profit company, where there might be 200, 300, 500 employees or more. That would be a very, very large association with 500 employees.
06:04 Ben Martin: So from the perspective of the technical resources, they aren’t as plentiful. Number two, I think associations, like many for-profits as well, kinda struggle to figure out exactly where their community initiatives should live and who should be the owner of that project. And I think associations struggle with this more than for-profits as well, I think for-profits understand that, “Hey, we need a sponsor for this program. We’re gonna have somebody at the C-level or at the VP Level who’s gonna oversee this. They are gonna be accountable, they are going to have a team, there’s gonna be a point person running this project, or may be several people running this project.” And unfortunately with associations, that’s not really an option because everybody is already stretched and there’s limited capacity to add staff.
06:45 Patrick O’Keefe: And that staffing really applies to the management of the online community itself.
06:50 Ben Martin: It does.
06:51 Patrick O’Keefe: A lot of organizations, I think from what I talked about with Katie Bapple from Socious there’s not a lot of organizations that maybe even have a dedicated person for that community. It falls to various desks who divide it up into pieces.
07:03 Ben Martin: Yeah. I call it the Field of Dreams syndrome. If you build it, they will come, and that just does not work. And I think Katie is right that… Actually, I would say this is the norm, the community management duties get divided up among several staff and the problem is, if everyone’s in-charge of the community, then no one’s in-charge of the community. [chuckle] And so without having a dedicated resource to be the community manager, more often than not we see that the community under performs relative to those who are able to allocate a full-time resource. So my best clients are the ones who have a full-time community manager, the ones who struggle more are those who have either taken the Field of Dreams approach or outsourced it to volunteers to say, “Hey, this is your job. We’re just going to ask you to keep an eye on things when you have time to do it.” That doesn’t work. The bottom line is my clients who have full-time community managers, far out perform those who can’t allocate a full-time community manager.
08:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Right. I was gonna ask you what you advocated for because I love this space, I have been in community for a very long time, I believe in its future, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But that doesn’t mean that I always advocate for having a community, for hiring a dedicated person, but it sounds like, from what you’re saying, that you do believe for associations that, if they have an online community, they need to have someone who is that community’s manager.
08:21 Ben Martin: The answer to that is yes.
08:23 Ben Martin: I can give you a one word answer there, and it’s yes.
08:26 Patrick O’Keefe: Of course that probably varies by the size of the association, the number of people they serve, and I’m sure in some cases it falls to some sort of cruise director, some sort of member director to have it start as their role and then hopefully grow into something bigger.
08:40 Ben Martin: Yeah, definitely. So the way that membership organizations are organized is, as you’ve mentioned, there is always or usually like a membership director, somebody who’s in charge of things like dues billing, insuring that members… We’re getting member feedback, conducting surveys, providing members services, so that if a member changes jobs, they can maybe move from one niche of the association into another one. So say, I move from sales into operations, I can get re-allocated and start to get information about operations as opposed to sales.
09:14 Ben Martin: So the people in membership tend to be pretty well suited for a community management role. So I usually advocate with my clients that if you’re gonna hire a community manager, you’re gonna put them into membership because those people have an attitude of member service in ensuring that members are having their needs met. And in the other area that we put community managers into typically is the communications role, because those folks are more oriented towards getting information out, ensuring that people’s questions are answered. Which is a big part of community management where we have often times picked up community managers and moved them out of departments is when they sit in the IT Department because those folks tend to be oriented towards fiddling with the community software and not doing the human aspect and the daily grind of building the community.
10:04 Ben Martin: We’ve also taken them out of marketing because those forks tend to be all about making announcements and trying to get people to buy stuff, which doesn’t go over too well in a community context, as I’m sure you’re very familiar.
10:13 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. No, that’s really interesting. And it’s funny how you said IT, because when The Community Roundtable released their most recent salary survey, which in my opinion is probably one of the most valuable pieces of research done every year in this industry for professionals. They had a certain percentage that were in the IT department. And I think a lot of people were surprised by that, like what is that doing there? It really does depend on the organization, because while that might be hard to see for say, some sort of consumer B2C brand, even a B2B brand, there are organizations like associations where that might seem like, to whoever makes that decision, the decision that makes sense to put, “Oh it’s technology, it’s the internet, it’s software,” okay, well that certainly will go into IT then. So it’s kinda of funny to hear that ’cause this is an area where that’s certainly true.
10:58 Ben Martin: And I think in reading over your stuff over the years, you’ve made it very clear that community is not software. Community is a strategy. And from an association perspective, getting your community manager aligned into the department that has the ability to best capitalize on the value that’s created from community is imperative. So in order for an IT department to capture value from a community, to me, that just blows my mind, I’m not sure how anybody does that. But in communications and in membership, you can think, “Well, look at the conversations that are happening here, how does that inform my decision making on our upcoming conference,” or, “In scanning these discussions, I can see that members are interested in X. And oh my God, we don’t have any resources around that, what can we build to suit that need or to meet that need?” So the IT department is not thinking about serving the members necessarily, they’re thinking about making sure the trains run on time, [chuckle] to use the old metaphor… So that’s why I always advocate for membership, for communications, for community managers, as to where they should sit in the organization.
12:01 Patrick O’Keefe: That makes a lot of sense and it’s also interesting to think about how the role of community manager obviously differs. It differs from company to company. But when you… divide into different segments like B2B, B2C. The public facing community, the responsibilities a community manager has are certainly different, I think, in a lot of ways, then the responsibilities of a community manager at an association with a private community or how… Similar to how the responsibilities are different for an internal community in a major company, the intranet essentially. Or, a private member community where people pay to access it, right? There’s a shift there because the public facing community is easy example, is you have to deal more with moderation. You have to deal with more moderation content. Professional associations, people generally [chuckle] they step out just like they might have a little bit too much to drink at an industry party.
12:48 Patrick O’Keefe: But for the most part they are putting their best foot forward because they are a professional in this space, they want to be respected in the industry. This was apparent to me when I demoed Higher Logic software. I think it was early this year and I like Higher Logic, I know you like Higher Logic. They were kind enough to sponsor our podcast, like a lot of people over there. But when I went through it, I said, “Yeah, this is nice software,” and then I went to the moderation ability [chuckle] to report a post was to remove it. And I was like, “Wait a minute, that’s not gonna work if you’re trying to get that commercial market.” In associations that might be fine because there’s so few posts reported probably. But you can’t just yank the post down. So talk about that a little bit, how did the responsibility shift in your eyes different between say, you’re managing the community for Kellogg’s, versus your managing the community for the Association of Cereal Producers where everyone is an industry professional and they login and view that community?
13:34 Ben Martin: Yeah. So to your point on the associations side, people’s real names are almost, always attached to their online persona within these online community platforms. You mentioned Socious, Higher Logic, Small World Labs is another one, and there are some new one’s coming on to the market, like Breezio and rasa and there’s a whole host of other ones. They tend to be more oriented towards, these are real people, we’re not just using usernames over here and often times people’s photos are attached to them. And really at the end of the day, people’s livelihoods are attached to their online persona when it comes to their professional organizations because they want to put their best foot forward, they don’t want to be seen as somebody who is a blow hard.
14:16 Ben Martin: So I would say that, except for powder keg issues, I would say 99.99% of all posts that go into an association online community, are absolutely fine, would require no moderation whatsoever. That’s the vast, vast majority. So, yes, less time is spent on moderation. One interesting twist and this is why I love working with association clients and really the reason I focus on it is because I know it so well. I have 12 years experience on the inside before going out on my own. And we talked about an interesting thing, from my point of view that the Higher Logic software and some like it. Your only option when you get a post that needs moderation, is to delete it.
14:56 Ben Martin: And actually that’s why the association market is so peculiar, that is absolutely the best practice is just to delete it out right. And the reason for that is, associations are held to a very high standard when it comes to antitrust and also this whole Digital Millennium Copyright Act stuff and the Communications Decency Act. Associations can find themselves in hot water very quickly and so the lawyers that I talk with about this say, “Do not edit a post”, because the more you edit a post, the more you take part in the publishing of the content that’s on your site, which then increases your potential liability if somebody were to come after you to say, “Hey, this isn’t just a bulletin board where people can come up and post their thoughts. This organization is actively participating in the publishing of the content that goes into its online community and therefore is subject to higher level of responsibility for what appears there”.
15:48 Ben Martin: So all of my lawyer friends who are at least, [chuckle] even minimally familiar with what I do. When I ask them the question, “What should I do if I see a post that comes up that needs editing because it disparages somebody, that’s potentially libelous, there’s some antitrust like somebody’s talking about a boycott?” Their response is, “Just delete it. Get it out of there as quickly as possible, do not edit it because the more that you do, the more that you participate in the publishing which then increases your liability.”
16:16 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s an interesting point and I want to clarify for people. When you say, “delete,” there’s a difference between deleting from the database totally, and removing from public, right? So I just wanna clarify that for people because what you say about the Communications Decency Act is true as far as if you edit a post and change the opinion or add your opinion, especially, you become a party to it. But if you just remove it from the public eye, keeping it for records or whatever because sometimes with communities you do have to illustrate a paper trail when you remove someone from the community and say, “This is what happened, right?” when it comes time to remove that person.
16:47 Ben Martin: Yep.
16:47 Patrick O’Keefe: And yeah. And the Communications Decency Act actually empowers us to do that. But, when you do change the opinion or edit the opinion or you make something of an opinion that wasn’t there, thats when you can get into trouble. In a non-association example, I mean, the CEO of Reddit did something foolish recently where he changed the words of Donald Trump supporters and changed their opinion to something else they had said, the F word and then his name, and he puts someone else’s name in there. And that’s changing their opinion, that’s changing what they said. So that is definitely a problem and also with the Higher Logic example I gave, it was reporting a post that removed it. And I was like, “Oh God, okay,”
17:24 Patrick O’Keefe: You can’t do that, I mean, you can’t have anybody report a post. I was just a member of the community and the post was gone. I would think that freeing people up moderation time one of the other differences that occurs is with communities of a large scale, we talk about onboarding and getting people to become a part of the community and you build processes but a lot of people you can’t go one by one. But association professionals, for the most part I think a lot of them really can when people are paying to join and the join rate is slower. You can really spend that time on getting them to become an active member of the community I would think.
18:00 Ben Martin: So that’s one of the other peculiarities of the association market is that the community isn’t the whole package for these guys. When you join an organization, you’re gonna plunk down somewhere between $50 and maybe even up to $1,000 depending on the profession to join this organization. So there’s already… Even before they’ve added a community at your association, they might have 100 years of history, of journals, magazines, conferences, standards, manuals, all kinds of stuff that you can get because this organization’s been around for 50 or 100 years.
18:35 Ben Martin: And so, I think that’s another interesting wrinkle on the association market, is that the community is not the end all, be all. It’s not the main way that you communicate with the members like they’re coming to conferences, they’re serving on committees, they’re getting a magazine or a journal. When it comes to onboarding members, I think, associations are at a bit of an advantage in that regard because when I join an organization I fill out a membership application. This isn’t a best practice, but some of those membership applications can be two or three pages long. So I learn a ton about my member just when they plunk down their money to join. And I don’t have to go through the process of trying to elicit more information from them in a community by getting them to complete their profile and all that jazz. I know that stuff when a member joins my organization. And I, also, get to touch them in other ways like I might have a membership committee who makes phone calls. I might have a more elaborate onboarding where I’m actually mailing people stuff, like a new member kit. Maybe there’s a drip campaign that goes along with that. I think associations have a benefit or have an advantage when they onboard new members because there’s so much more inertia behind the concept of membership at an association as opposed to a for-profit.
19:47 Patrick O’Keefe: But before even talking about having someone to do that, to onboard people, to moderate, to manage the community, you told me before the show that most associations have not even implemented an online community platform at all. What is the reluctance?
20:02 Ben Martin: Associations, in general, tend to be risk averse. An online community is seen as potentially risky. We’ve already talked about Communications Decency Act, the DMCA, there’s the whole anti-trust and price fixing, boycotting stuff that associations deal with. And so, there’s a sense that they would lack a level of control that would be required to ensure that the risk is sufficiently minimized which, I think, in the association context means make it zero. If you’re expecting zero risk, you’re not gonna get that from a community. So I think that’s a big part of it. I think some organizations tried it years ago, before the software was really mature and it didn’t work, or they implemented it years ago and they didn’t assign somebody to run it. They used the field of dreams approach and it didn’t work. So they said, “Screw it. We’ve tried this. We tried it five years ago. It didn’t work, so we’re just giving up on it.”
20:58 Ben Martin: My estimate would be that less than 10% of associations have implemented an online community. One of my prospects that I’m working right now said something interesting to me as we were chatting on a trade show floor. She’s like, “I’m shocked that every association hasn’t implemented one of these. Why would you not give your members the very thing that they want from their membership?” Because over and over again if you do membership studies or if you look at the membership studies, people who join associations do so primarily for the networking. Here’s a networking tool. You have access to every single member in your association 24/7, 365. You want to wait until the annual convention to allow your members that kind of an opportunity?
21:41 Ben Martin: To her she was flabbergasted that more associations hadn’t adopted this. And when she said that, “I would love for every association to have one ’cause that expands my market tremendously.” [chuckle] But I know how slow associations can be to adopt technology like this and so, maybe it’s a matter of time. We may never get there. But that’s my hunch for why more organizations haven’t done it, is they’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t work due to under staffing or due to the software being less mature and also the risk. This is not a zero risk game here. There is potential for stuff to go wrong. The same thing happens on the for-profit side, as well. There’s risk on that side, as well.
22:21 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, there’s risk putting people together in person.
22:25 Ben Martin: Yeah, absolutely.
22:25 Patrick O’Keefe: I’d say just as much risk putting people physically in the same room, which is what a lot of organizations do. People can say things that are bad in person and it’s harder to clean it up, I would say in some cases. They can act inappropriately. There’s so many things that can happen. So what happens here is that, I’m guessing a lot of association websites, my Dad has been a part of a large association, and I think what the website ends up being is a glorified member directory and an announcement area, right?
22:53 Ben Martin: Yep, that’s right. There might be official resources that are released by the association on how to deal with this law or how to cope with this new trend in the market. It’s a lot of magazine, publishing kind of stuff. There’s not a whole lot of interactivity between the members, which is a shame because that’s like the number one reason that people join their organizations, is for networking and to access their fellow members.
23:15 Patrick O’Keefe: When I look at it, I think they’re missing an opportunity, not just for the reasons we discussed, but also because someone is gonna fill that void. Good example, for me, is a site called eCommerceFuel, which is a premium member community. It’s for eCommerce business owners who make a certain amount of money, it’s like a million dollars a year or maybe a million to 10 million I think is their range. And so they have this qualifying factor. You have to be the principle owner or a primary employee of a business that makes this money in e-commerce to join and talk with each other. The members love it. One of my best friends uses it, loves it, raves about it. I had the owner of that community, the manager of that community on this show a while back. It made me think about associations for, let’s say, an e-commerce business or e-commerce professionals, right? If they take that approach, but they don’t allow members to connect and don’t connect them based on some sort of qualification, or even don’t let them talk at all, right?
24:08 Ben Martin: Yeah.
24:08 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a vacuum. And so theoretically, that vacuum was filled by eCommerceFuel, but it has a thousand paying members that love the community, where people can talk and share best practices in private and not have to share them in public, and they love it. Do you feel that there’s just no sense of that opportunity being missed with some of the people you speak with? If we don’t do it, someone else will. Is that missed?
24:33 Ben Martin: So I think associations understand that in concept.
24:36 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah.
24:36 Ben Martin: But I don’t know that they’ve seen enough examples of that happening yet to really spook them. So let me tell you a story [chuckle] that should spook them. One of the largest, most reputable associations in the world is called the Project Management Institute. They’re based, I think it’s up in New Jersey. These guys, if you’ve ever seen it with people with the PMP behind their name, that’s these guys, the Project Management Professional I think is their certification, and it’s widely, widely popular. It’s become the gold standard for project management around the globe.
25:08 Ben Martin: So a couple of years ago, an online community was set up called ProjectManagement.com. And in order to be a member of the Project Management Institute, you have to pay dues and you might wanna start going through their certification process, which is gonna cost you more. And by the way, the certification is where I think they make the vast majority of their money. It’s not on dues, it’s on the certification. So ProjectManagement.com came along and members were talking with each other. It’s a free to join, it was advertising supported, and they built up this huge community and Project Management Institute looked at this and said, “Holy crap. They’ve built up an audience of people that are perfect for our organization.” And so they actually went out and acquired ProjectManagement.com.
25:50 Ben Martin: I don’t know what they paid for it. We could probably look it up in SEC filings, but PMI got to the point where they said, “Well, we could build our own community and try to compete with this one, or let’s just go and buy them.” The risk that associations run is that most organizations don’t have the coffers of a Project Management Institute. These guys have a huge budget relative to most associations. So they were able to actually go out and spend a big chunk of change to buy this online community that’s in their space. The alternative is, “Okay, well, now we have a new competitor, and what are we gonna do with this?” So PMI actually gained a whole bunch of new prospects, they got this huge prospect list of people they can sell membership to and the certifications, and then they also turned around and gave all of their members access to ProjectManagement.com, which then became another member benefit for PMI members. Cool story, right?
26:44 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. And they got a great domain name.
26:46 Ben Martin: Yeah.
26:48 Patrick O’Keefe: They got the definitive domain name. So yeah, that is really interesting. They had the opportunity. They were the leader, but someone else came in. I guess that’s a story of business and it’s a story of associations.
26:57 Ben Martin: It is.
26:57 Patrick O’Keefe: People come in and they came up with Redbox, or they came up with Netflix, and Blockbuster could’ve bought Netflix. There’s the story, the CEO, Reed Hastings went to Blockbuster, basically, said, “Buy me. Please buy me.”
27:11 Patrick O’Keefe: And they didn’t. So that’s a great story.
27:13 Ben Martin: Yeah.
27:14 Patrick O’Keefe: We talk about associations, we’ve talked about them not getting it in some ways, whether it be software or professionals, but there’s plenty of great communities being built and there’s plenty of great work being done. You also told me before the show that you were surprised that associations weren’t getting more attention from for-profits, for inspiration on how to mobilize communities. Let’s talk about that. What are some of the ways that you feel for-profit or public communities should be learning from the association space?
27:41 Ben Martin: So I think we talked earlier about how, with associations, there’s just this ethos of membership that, “Our organization exists to serve the interests of our members.” Whether that means advocating for them on Capitol Hill or in-state legislatures, whether that means going out and doing PR campaigns to raise the profile of certain professions or industries, the whole reason that an association exists, really, is to serve the interests of its members. And so that ethos that just runs through the core of what every association does, I think, is valuable to organizations, for-profits that are trying to figure out, “How do we ensure or increase the likelihood that our members of our online community feel that we really exist to benefit them that, yes, we have a profit motive at the end of the day and let’s not be glib about that and try to hide it, but what do we do, what do we say, where do we go to show the members that we truly exist to benefit you?”
28:40 Ben Martin: Again, you can’t pull the wool of the members’ eyes. They know at the end of the day that if this community is run by Best Buy, then we have a profit motive. But being able to just at least impart the message and raise the likelihood that people really view that online community as for their benefit and less so for the benefit of the company, I think membership organizations have that ethos running through them, that can help to inform how for-profits approach community management.
29:08 Patrick O’Keefe: Sticking with that, I wanna ask you, what is the greatest thing and that’s putting you in a corner, or it could be a great thing, but what is the greatest thing that you’ve helped an association accomplish through their online community?
29:20 Ben Martin: I would say my favorite stories as a client that, unfortunately, I no longer work with, but at the time that I was working with them, was when the Ebola crisis was going on over in West Africa. And this organization exists to serve nongovernmental organizations and help them provide aid to the people who need it overseas. And so this organization has an online community… Actually, they have several of them for different verticals of their organization. At the time I was working with them, they were setting up a resource library and providing best practices for NGOs on how to serve the people who were in need, to ensure that their personnel were safe. All kinds of crazy stuff that you would not even think about the implications of something like Ebola. There’s all this HR stuff that has to happen and visas and there’s just this huge mission and this huge project behind merely getting a doctor into the right spot. And so I feel that one warms my heart. Have the ability to help serve an organization that’s doing such awesome work like that was a huge benefit to me personally and hopefully some of the work that I did there actually touched somebody’s life over in West Africa.
30:29 Patrick O’Keefe: Well Ben, it’s been a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for sharing your deep knowledge in the association space with us.
30:34 Ben Martin: I’m happy to do it and it was great talking with you.
30:37 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Ben Martin, Chief Engagement Officer at Online Community Results. Ben is organizing a live webcast for Community Manager Appreciation Day on January 23, 2017. For more information, visit cmad.co or communitymanagerappreciationday.com. For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and we’ll be back next year or next week.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be grateful if you spread the word.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.
Great podcast guys! As the Manager for PMI’s online community on Projectmanagement.com, I’d like to thank you on behalf of my team for the shout out! There is actually a larger and even cooler story behind how we managed the acquisition and transition of our existing private online community into our new home on Projectmanagement.com. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to share it with you!
Have a great and prosperous New Year!
– Danielle Ritter
Thank you, Danielle! I will keep that in mind.