Seven ideas to help your association engage members, create value, and generate revenue using today's mobile technology.
Associations need to be where their members are, and it's now clear that they're on mobile devices. An estimated 58 million smartphones are used in the United States today, and that number is expected to grow to more than 160 million by 2013. People of all ages are joining the mobile revolution: 36 percent of iPhone users are between the ages of 35 and 54, and 17 percent are 55 or older.
So the potential audience for mobile applications is there, but that means more than just a website that's readable on mobile devices. Mobile is a tool to enable members to perform interactive functions, and those functions should relate to the overall mission and vision of your organization. Begin brainstorming with the seven ideas below.
1. Membership applications. Provide a "mobile lite" version of your membership application and reduce it from a five-page document to a half-page one. Get a prospective member's name, address, and basic demographic information—enough to decide his or her likely viability to be accepted as a member—and payment information. Collect any further information after you've received the provisional application and money. This can increase the number of completed applications from those who might give up on an overly complex form.
2. Industry news. Rather than updating members daily or weekly, do it continuously with a constant stream of updated news. For example, let's say you hire a news-clipping service to produce abstracts of the top-40 articles of the day affecting your industry. With a mobile application, articles can be uploaded throughout the day, and every time a member checks for "latest news," he or she will likely see more content. A daily email version can still go out to those who want it, of course, but those who like to keep their fingers on the pulse will connect the association by receiving the latest information.
3. Career center. The most frequently visited portion of an association website is often the job bank. Why not have a career-center mobile application? It could be as simple as an RSS feed that sends the latest job postings to members via the mobile application.
4. Member directories. Upgrade the directory's functionality so it becomes a full-fledged professional social network. Use an application that allows members to find colleagues with similar interests, "friend" each other, and view richer, more informative profiles.
5. Discussion groups. Usually one of an association's most popular member benefits is its discussion groups and listservers. Consider creating a mobile application that will allow members to post questions or responses, view author profiles, and connect with fellow members.
6. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn integration. Social media tools offer tremendous mobile-app opportunities. For example, if your organization has a Facebook page, create an application that allows members to write on your Wall or upload photos or videos. This is a simple way of generating engagement from chapter meetings or industry events. Every member can be a content provider if you make access easy enough.
7. Events. A variety of mobile applications can be developed around your events. Online registration is the most obvious possibility, but you can be even more creative. For instance, the American College of Cardiology recently released a mobile exhibitor directory application. Another area of opportunity is sponsorship. Why not include paid ads?
Don't be concerned that people won't attend the conference if they can get it online. They don't need to have it all online: Just offer enough to get them interested—one or two sessions per day. And no mobile application can replace face-to-face networking, which is still the primary reason most people attend.
Regardless of which mobile-app idea you pursue, ensure it offers some type of daily hook to get the users into the habit of checking their apps. Mobile can make it easy for members to network, connect, and communicate.
Andy Steggles is the chief operating officer and social strategist with Higher Logic, a social media and mobile software company. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org