Reading this article about Sermo, an online community for physicians, reaching 260,000 members, a part that jumped out at me was this one:
“Over the years, physicians collaborated on tens of thousands of cases and although many successes go unreported, over 50% of iConsult cases posted are “Solved on Sermo.” Our average solve time is just 20 hours and most cases receive a first reply within 10 minutes.”
How many associations that have online communities look at the collaboration that happens on those platforms in this way? Take ASAE, for example--every day, I see fellow association professionals “solving” cases on Collaborate, ASAE’s private social network. Does ASAE even notice what member benefit that is? Imagine if associations actually valued their private online communities as the tremendous member benefit they are and looked at them through the lens of “solving” member “cases”? Going with the ASAE Collaborate example, how many association execs were able to save the cost of a consultant or legal counsel as a result of putting a question out to the community and getting useful responses back? How many consultants got new business as a result of either being recommended on Collaborate or answering questions there? I’m sure the numbers are pretty high. Note to ASAE...you should get on that for future member marketing pieces :)
But to be able to claim successes like these, it first requires associations to actually be tracking stuff like average response time on questions posted in their online communities, number of issues “solved” by the community, etc. And before being able to track those kinds of things, they first they need to build vibrant communities, and not just settle for the standard association online community plan: purchase online community software platform > launch > ignore > complain that nobody uses the platform > forget it exists or sunset community after a few years, insisting that public social media platforms are better for member engagement anyway.
If you read my blog regularly, you know I’m obsessed with platforms like Sermo and Doximity...the example above is just one reason why. Look how good they are at promoting their online communities. Look at Sermo’s blog. EVERY post is about a discussion going on in the community, or about something going out outside the community….but then the post includes a link back to the community to discuss. How many associations are doing this with their content? Because for companies like Sermo and Doximity, their whole value IS their online communities, they invest in driving people to those communities and keeping them engaged. Associations could and should be doing the same thing with theirs….but so many aren’t.
And can you imagine Sermo or Doximity suddenly deciding that actually Facebook or LinkedIn would be a better platform for their communities? Of course not...the distinct value of those communities is that they are NOT Facebook or LinkedIn and provide safe, private spaces in which medical professionals can connect and collaborate.
By all means, please feel free to tell me I’m wrong and that there are associations out there doing awesome stuff with their online communities, because I’d love to be wrong about this. Actually, I do know some are doing it well, but they are the very rare exception to the rule. I just think it’s such a missed opportunity and such low-hanging fruit...associations can and should be doing better with managing their private online communities. And once they are doing it and can show how their communities are a valuable member benefit, they'll need to be sure to start showcasing online community wins in their membership marketing efforts. Again, if you know of any doing this, please share in the comments.