A Social Platform for All

By: Teri Carden

Learn how the Florida Society of Association Executives built an association-altering social platform.

Nearly two years ago an active and innovative member told us that we needed to investigate private online social platforms and perhaps institute one as a new member portal. We were presented with the idea of a platform that could provide an online hub where members could connect with one another and have 24/7 access to all of the resources and information we offered. The Florida Society of Association Executives has always considered itself the bellwether for Florida associations and recognizes the need to have cutting-edge technology. FSAE was dipping its toes in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, so we thought instituting the private social community within the social media strategy would be a great opportunity.

Empower your most engaged members and marry the new form of communication with current efforts.

First on the list of things to do was to find a vendor that understood FSAE's philosophies and could build what was needed. Part of FSAE's philosophy is to strive to work with technology partners that push the envelope and to know what FSAE needs before we do. After examination of several platforms, we decided to work with NFi Studios, and in June 2009, we launched the "I Am FSAE" community.  A year and a half later, we can truly say that it has been one of the most significant and association-altering programs FSAE has ever instituted. 

One of the major things we were able to do was substitute all of our email listservers for groups within the community. The groups have become the hub of all the committee resources, announcements, and discussions. Groups allow for the committees to be thorough, efficient, and unified. The same goes for our two boards' business as well.

Even better is that the member feedback has been terrific. Members report that the system is user friendly and is a great space that provides the personal online touches that a static membership directory provides. Approximately 125 of our 800 members log on to I Am FSAE at least once a week, and more than 60 percent of our members have active profiles. It not only adds value to the FSAE membership but has recently become a source for nondues revenue.  

And as with any other project an association undertakes, we learned some lessons that may help other small associations that are considering a private social network:

It requires a constant education. Some members welcomed the community with star-struck eyes, and some dug their heels in the ground (a few still are, but we'll recruit them soon enough). Formal training is the best thing that you can do to make your community successful. For us, it was a matter of getting staff buy-in first. The next feat was educating the volunteer leaders and boards. When we first launched, we did trainings at board meetings and one-on-one training with our committee chairs. A live webcast with members helped them get acquainted, and for the past two years, we've had a social media lounge at our annual conference where the NFi staff has demonstrated and educated members on how to set up their profiles and make the most of the community. 

Don't doubt the power of the platform. However, don't assume that member buy-in will happen overnight. It won't work unless staff and members actually use it. Empower your most engaged members and marry the new form of communication with current efforts. A community manager is a must to enforce policies, be a community liaison, ensure that the community keeps active, and meet the overall social media or communication strategies. The community requires attention and care and, where appropriate, can be customized too. NFi recently built a custom feature called Association Meeting Profiles within I Am FSAE. The feature asks members upon login whether their association holds meetings. A yes answer will lead them through a series of questions regarding the specifics of their events. The information is stored in the member profile and in a search directory where industry-partner members can access the information at any time, making it a perfect example of how the power of the technology enhanced a completely separate member need.   

I Am FSAE has been a success thanks to our staff, members, and technology partner. I can't imagine going back to the way things were precommunity. Maybe we will start calling that time period PC. 

Teri Carden is director of marketing and technology for the Florida Society of Association Executives. Twitter: @TeriTally, Email: [email protected]

Small-Staff Stats

Name: Florida Society of Association Executives
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Staff size: Five
Members: More than 800
Budget: Approximately $1 million