2020 Association Tech: 3 Expert Tips to Guide Your Planning

Associations // Planning for association growth in 2020? Four industry experts who recently attended ASAE TEC shared trends impacting the association technology landscape.

Gabrielle Wathen
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Good news: Four association experts sat down to share their favorite trends and lessons learned from the newly rebranded ASAE Technology Exploration Conference (TEC) and their valuable conversation can help guide your association’s 2020 planning strategy for success.

Let’s dive into the latest trends in association technology, as identified in a recent webinar hosted by Protech, featuring the following expert panel:

They talked buzzwords, cultural shifts, and the introduction of a truly collaborative environment.

Association Tech Tip #1: Put Data + Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Work

What does it all really meaaaaannnn? At the start of Protech’s webinar, Technology Trends for 2020: Lessons Learned from ASAE TEC, the host Liz polled the audience on whether they were using Artificial Intelligence (AI) or not. Most attendees answered no. Perhaps the question is intimidating, or perhaps people aren’t sure exactly how to define AI.

Put simply: If you’re using a chatbox to address customer support objectives, you’re using AI. If you’re automating your email marketing communications, you’re using AI. If machine learning makes you feel overwhelmed as an association professional, you’re not alone.

But if you’re a tech provider, it’s time to catch up and assess the benefits of AI as they pertain to your organizational goals.

Heather McNair, Chief Community Officer at Higher Logic, says that AI shouldn’t be “Something you have to go out and seek yourselves – it’s our job, as tech providers, to offer the benefits of AI to you.

How? By building it into our tools, like marketing automation, for example.

Kunal Johar, Chief Technology Officer at OpenWater, says that “Systems are moving from systems of record to systems of action.” This comes from the idea that we’re collecting a lot of data (e.g. surveys measuring what people say they want), but what we’re starting to see is that what people actually do is very different from what they say they’re going to do.

Which prompts Kunal to ask, “Are we building a nice concrete stairway in a park when people just want a trail?”

If you want the real answer to this question, you have to target your audience and measure behavior. You can’t build a 2020 strategy based on gut feelings. Behavior is honest. Data analytics can track things like what types of email content people are consuming, and you can put that data to work in tandem with AI to help your association make better decisions.

2020 planning takeaway: Use data to predict outcomes. Dedicate time and resources to supporting your membership by tapping into the data you already have to make decisions for future systems. If you aren’t sure where to begin, ask your tech provider for deeper guidance on your tools.

Need inspiration? Data Informs Decisions: ASAE and Association Analytics Aim to Predict Engagement [Case Study] 

Association Tech Tip #2: Embrace B2B Partner Collaboration to Support Digital Transformation

If this association tech trend feels more like a change in mindset, that’s because it is. Digital transformation…what does this mean to you? The attendees at ASAE TEC had mixed responses. A physical whiteboard at the event asked people to write what ‘digital transformation’ meant to them, yielded a surprising amount of frustration and disagreement in the answers.

While there wasn’t one clear answer to the question, what is clear from the exercise is that a good amount of association professionals feel that ‘digital transformation’ is more of a buzz word than a strategy. And of course, people resist change. And loathe buzz words. But that all stems from a lack of understanding.

Finding this interesting, the expert panel urges attendees and tech providers to get super clear on what digital transformation means to their specific organization. Ask yourself questions like:

    • What are the handful of challenges we’re looking to solve today/in the next year?
    • Are we giving clear guidance on how we plan to implement our strategy?
    • How are we working with our partners to achieve our goals?
    • What are we doing to ensure our systems work together?

The panelists note the last question is especially important as we look to the future of association technology, which is calling for a truly collaborative environment to maximize sustainable growth. Dialing back to ‘systems of action’ – your AMS is your central view of member data, but you have all these other systems that still can do more together.

A positive trend Heather notes is that people are moving away from buying one system that tries to do everything and toward investing in the best solution for each of the things you need.

“That’s why partners working together and systems being able to feed data back and forth becomes critical,” Heather says.

For example, your AMS, LMS, award systems, online community, and marketing automation tools should all be seamless to your members, while pushing all the data to a central repository to enable a full view of your members.

These systems need to work together to drive organizations forward, and panelists say we’re starting to see B2B tech providers embrace this in a way that we haven’t before. They noted that many conversations at ASAE TEC felt different this year, centering around open APIs and how partners can better work together to ensure everyone is doing their jobs more effectively.

Meghan Gowen, VP of Client Development at CommPartners, says “The more we can collaborate and have our systems speaking to one another, the better off our clients are collectively.”

2020 planning takeaway: It’s really hard for one company to do everything well, so if you’re interested in transforming how your association creates value, get clear on your goals and invest in tech tools that work together to connect your data. B2B partner collaboration helps give associations the power of choice when choosing the best technology to serve their members. Work together, understanding that true transformation comes from a cultural shift in mindset.

Small staff? When you’re evaluating your tech budget and looking for the best functionality and integrations, consider getting familiar with 6 Tech Tools Your Small Org Staff Needs to Succeed.

Association Tech Tip #3: Utilize the Technology You’re Already Paying For

While the association experts on this panel talked a lot about how they can better work together as tech providers to serve their customers, they also encouraged attendees to challenge their tech providers. Because the real trend they’ve noticed? Underutilization of the things you’re already paying for.

Simply put: The software your association has invested in does a lot more than what you’re using it for, and the onus is on tech providers to ensure you know that.

Kunal says to ask, “What [tech] are we already using? Let’s inventory what it can do then match it up with our digital transformation initiatives.” From there? “Challenge us partners to do a better job of disseminating that information.” They’re taking accountability and working on it.

Because despite tech providers’ best efforts, customers are still frequently unaware that common challenges they’re facing can be solved with the technology they’re already paying for.

If you do plan to invest in new technology, remember that system integrations are critical. When vetting new vendors, Heather says it’s important to, “Ask what integration means.”

Because for some software companies, an integrated solution might just mean the capability of Single Sign-on (SSO). But Heather says if you’re really looking to create a seamless experience for members as they move back and forth between systems while getting that data back into your system of record, “It needs to be a much deeper integration than SSO.”

With tools like marketing automation, Heather says associations can focus on letting the systems do the work only systems can do while freeing up time for people to focus on the tasks only people can do.

For example, setting up automated workflows can enable staff to focus on building a data-backed strategy.

2020 planning takeaway: Kunal suggested that, if you do one thing after hearing this talk, and only one thing, “Pick the piece of technology you love the most, and ask that vendor to do an inventory of all the things you can do.” He says if you learn something from that, share your takeaways with other departments who should be using that tool. Then, challenge your colleagues to do the same for their favorite tool until you’ve inventoried everything you’ve invested in.

He adds, “Don’t assume your vendor will say no or that they can’t do something, just ask them.” Because lots of times, your software can do exponentially more than you’re aware of. Spread knowledge.

Listen to this 15-minute webinar to learn how two associations made over $130k using automated campaigns. 

Lean on Partners to Improve Your 2020 Association Tech Strategy

The biggest takeaway from ASAE TEC this year that can guide your 2020 association tech strategy is that leaning into your partners to collaborate and work better together will help your association better serve its members and provide comprehensive solutions that are effective.

Want to learn how to effectively target your members and deliver more relevant content in 2020? Here’s a handy guide on how to create member personas for your organization: From there, use your technology to gather behavioral data and insights on what they need.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Gabrielle Wathen

Content Marketing Manager, Flockjay

Gabrielle is the Content Marketing Manager at Flockjay. She has a background in journalism, film, and marketing. When she’s not writing, you can find her cuddling her cats Harvey and Wilbur, traveling the world, or storytelling in any way she can. Favorite food: All things cheese. Favorite place: Black Rock City, NV.

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