Why (Some) Associations Struggle with Online Communities

Associations are a natural segment of the online community space, because one of the primary objectives of associations has always been connecting likeminded professionals and sharing resources. And yet, according to today’s guest on the show, “most” associations have not yet implemented an online community platform.

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

Big Quotes

“[For associations, it is normal for] the community management duties [to] 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.

Related Links


Your Thoughts

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

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