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 Theorytopic. 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.

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