Post image for Dissociation: Associations and the Reality of Irrelevance

Dissociation: Associations and the Reality of Irrelevance

I was talking with the Empress of Socialfish herself, Maddie Grant, trying to plan out my Social, In Theory topic. Maddie had asked me if I had any thoughts on “associations”; I am, after all, about to be a freshly minted “real person” – leaving grad school in May. I told her that I wasn’t even sure what she meant, which may be the biggest indicator that one can give about the current state of influence that associations have on the current generation.

She asked, “did you consider joining one in your quest for a job?” Is that what that is? Is that something that exists? I didn’t even know to look for one. As someone entering the workforce, without being told of an association to join, I started connecting with people myself. I took the initiative to create a network from where I could draw experience and make connections. After all, we have social media, I thought and still think that creating your own path this way should be a given – especially to people of my generation. Why would I need an association to help me do what I can do easily on my own?

I understand the main idea: established associations are a good place to start for people entering the workforce or who are already in the workforce. They have members and different kinds of resources at their disposal. They are organized. That all makes sense to me. But why haven’t I heard of any associations – why hasn’t their message reached me? Well, maybe I’m the only who has been left unaware. Maybe I’m living under a virtual rock. I asked a pack of my compadres who have recently or who are about to enter the workforce if they had any ties to an association in their field. Blank stares. Some of them have been asked to take part in associations after they got jobs or at least were made aware of them – but isn’t that too late? Is it?

According to Maddie “[associations] think they are the center of the universe and that members will always gravitate around them, if only they provide the right “value proposition” – this assertion, coming from someone who I trust  is giving an accurate analysis, struck me as absurd. Is the Earth still flat? Does it rest on the back of three turtles? What are these dusty institutions?

Here’s the reality of the situation – with the advent of utilitarian social media sites (like LinkedIn for job hunting) and the generations of digital natives (people born after the mid 80s) who are accustomed to taking advantage of their digital resources, associations are becoming obsolete, a relic of the old guard. We can do it ourselves, and we know how to do it ourselves. Hell, we’d rather do it ourselves – especially if I found out that I would somehow be beholden to the association financially. Why should I pay dues? What can you offer me? How are you going to make my life easier? What can you do better than I can? Oh, and I have to find you? I should be grateful that you exist?

There may be some enlightening answers to those questions. There may even be some damn good reasons why I should be a member of an association. But guess what – I don’t know about it. It didn’t even occur to me to find an association to help with my job hunt. The easiest thing to say is, “Well, you’re an ignorant anomaly – people know us!” – well, maybe that just isn’t the truth.

So, what do you associations need to do?

1.) Recruit: stop thinking that your association is the center of your respective universe. The magnitude of your importance is decreasing by the day. People have plenty of opportunities to make their own way. Not only do they have these opportunities, but it’s getting easier to find those opportunities. Here’s a thought – get out there and start recruiting. Don’t wait for your future compatriots-in-arms to come to you, go to them. Realize that you stand to benefit more from their membership than they stand to benefit from having you in their lives.

2.) Advertise your incentives, not your name: if I don’t know of one and I spend most of my time online, in the space where these organizations should exist – there is something wrong. As a recent graduate there are certain things I’m looking for immediately – can you get me in front of a recruiter? Can you give valuable insight into hiring practices? Can you audit my resume? Why should I spend time on you? The advantages of your membership need to be the first thing I know about – chances are, I’m likely to hear these first and then figure out who you are. What I’m saying is – don’t expect “The Social Media Association” (my particular field) to do all the talking for you.

3.) Make me feel valuable and appreciated: alright, so you’ve snagged my interest, but you’ll lose it quickly if you present your hand to me and expect me to kiss it, your highness. I’m the valuable person here. I represent the future of our field. I will be the one with access to new members of the field – I’ll be your champion! How do you make me feel valuable and appreciated? Introduce me to people, show me the conversations happening – let me get involved. Don’t woo me and leave me to figure it out for myself (I would have done that anyway and not had to pay anyone!). Give me a place where my opinions are appreciated; I may not have experience, but I have a fresh perspective.

4.) Don’t shy away from innovation: This is simple. Things change. They are going to change whether or not you want them to change. These new folks, they are going to be the change – don’t tell them they are wrong, don’t force them to conform – you are getting the opportunity to listen to the future of your profession. You are getting the chance to grow with them.  Adapt and survive. Be a vivid reflection of the now, and not a black and white photo of yesteryear.

After all, you’re important right? You may be. The time has come for you to stop fawning over yourselves. The time has come for you to stop propping yourselves up on your elbows and looking at us coyly from a “ready-made” bed. You look cheap. Weathered. Extinct. No, no. It’s time for you to go to work.

Come get us, Tiger.




csmith1 April 19, 2012 at 8:53 AM

I asked this same question, “did you consider joining one in your quest for a job?” of a job seeker at a career fair last night. He said, “Yes, I checked a box on LinkedIn. Some group with 25 people.” To him that was an “association.”
Associations do have a big opportunity in which to educate a large part of the younger generation on their value.

doctorcrowe April 19, 2012 at 9:00 AM

 @csmith1 Aye, the opportunity is there – and the potential is for these associations to guide the younger generation – and also to learn from them… and one day… to be replaced by them. They just have to seize those opportunities now… and realize that potential.

SteveSkojec April 20, 2012 at 11:50 AM

Interesting analysis. If I may, I’d like to present a slightly different perspective.I’m a Gen-Xer, and I fall into the stereotypical “non-joiner” demographic. When I began working for an association almost 2 years ago, I was asking many of these same questions: how is this different/better than a grassroots social network? What advantage could an association provide that I can’t get on my own? Why should I pay money to be a part of something unless I see a direct and immediate impact on my work, my employability, or my bottom line?After spending some time here, though, there’s one thing I’ve learned that stands out above all else: those of us who grew up with the Internet and know how to network online 7 ways from Sunday are likely to completely undervalue face-to-face networking with real people.
I’m not saying we’re socially inept. I’m not suggesting that we can’t hold the attention of a room. I’m not painting us as introverts who hang out in our PJs on the couch with our laptops pretending that we have 500 friends (when we’ve only met 25% of them in real life.) But I think there’s a grain of truth in all of that.
I’m 34 years old. I’ve been out of college for a little over a decade. And something I’ve learned that you can take to the bank with you is that your ability to build relationships with real people, in real F2F interactions, is going to play an enormous role in your career and your personal success. Knowing people gets you places. Being the kind of person that everyone knows they can trust to come up with an idea or get a project done is vital to advancement and job security. Knowing everyone in your office’s personal story, their likes and dislikes, the things that they care about – it all matters. And the same goes for associations. The first time I went to an annual association conference, a light went on over my head. As I worked the room, meeting people IRL that I had only known via email, Twitter, or phone calls, I realized how our relationships changes. There was nuance and personal connections were formed. I started to realize why for so many of my members, their chapter is their primary experience of the association brand: because it’s filled with people who they know!
Associations offer other things you don’t get without them as well: specialized job boards, publications directed at your field written by people who know what they’re doing, online learning opportunities, conferences, certification programs, etc. I still think that you’re right – associations are facing a paradigm shift. But they’re not as useless as you might think. And in some cases, they’re the only thing advancing the cause of your profession in a meaningful way – getting your occupation recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, or supporting legislation that promotes your field. Even something as seemingly simple as creating a code of ethics that employers can look to as a guide for what they can expect from practitioners in the field. A rising tide lifts all boats.
At the end of the day, though, we can’t know for sure what will happen to the association model. Will it survive the transition of business to a social economy? Maybe. I think we’ll have to take it on a case by case basis. Just don’t be surprised if at some point, you realize there’s a value in the association model that you just never could have conceived of before. It happened to me.

doctorcrowe April 20, 2012 at 3:32 PM

 @SteveSkojec All of those benefits you listed are great – but if I don’t know about them – all of the good in the world isn’t going to fall on my ears. We don’t spontaneously get this knowledge. I think the idea is great – I think those benefits are awesome, but if they can’t find a way to keep up with the times the issue isn’t whether or not they offer enough, but rather they won’t have anyone to offer them to. That’s not a sustainable model!

SteveSkojec April 20, 2012 at 5:51 PM

 @doctorcrowe Fair enough, but is the question one of relevance or communication? What I want to know is this: is the association model a relic of a bygone era, or is it something that retains value in the present day, but is an unknown quantity?If it is still a workable paradigm to join an association, then we just need to do a better job marketing them and making sure that they are promoted throughout academia.
If social media has made them irrelevant, though, that’s an entirely different issue.

doctorcrowe April 20, 2012 at 6:05 PM

 @SteveSkojec ah, yes – the latter – unknown quantity. Marketing them and promoting them throughout academia would be a feasible solution, imo. I doubt social media has made them irrelevant – you made some excellent points re: f2f contact, something with which I wholeheartedly agree.

SteveSkojec April 21, 2012 at 8:59 AM

 @doctorcrowe Thanks. This has been an interesting discussion.

jcufaude April 25, 2012 at 7:14 AM

Love the spirit of your overall question about relevance, but associations exist for far more than helping people get a job.  Many people don’t join an association until they are already in a job and realize they want to connect more with like-minded professionals.  Yes, you can do more of that on your own than ever before and associations deserve to be vigorously challenged as you have done.  But the association as a job board is too narrow a prism for the role they can play in many professionals’ lives.

KelleeMagee April 30, 2012 at 6:27 AM

Ryan: you have raised some compelling challenges here that old-line associations would be wise to spend some time thinking through. I believe there is still significant opportunity for associations to be a hub of next-level training, advanced certification, government representation and professional connectivity — but you wisely observe that many of them are not nearly as relevant or interactive online as they need to be. In many cases, their benefits are poorly articulated or hidden behind a paywall that’s too close to the ‘front door,’ with a pricetag that isn’t remotely ‘try us you’ll like us” friendly. And thus, the vibrant community Associations used to be is ebbing away. I mused about a similar subject this week on my blog (irrelevance leading to lack of revenue – a vicious circle), I’d welcome your thoughts! : .  Look forward to reading more from you!  

tomhood May 10, 2012 at 5:54 PM

Maddie, Way to poke us and provoke us into examine our relevance, significance, and the ways we add value to our members. I will take issue with one thing. The “why” many of us exist. While many competitors may provide education and information, the one thing we do better than anybody else is represent them before the legislature. Rest assured we are not relying n this one but instead innovating like crazy around it. Then there is Steven Rosenbaum’s recent discussions about the Association as curators (a notion I also subscribe to). I still have a lot of hope about our future…

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