Why 2018 is the year of association thought leadership

It’s time to futureproof your association. Start by reclaiming your expertise through thought leadership content.

BY James Meyers
Founder, President and CEO, Imagination


Are you owning your associations' expertise? Download

Make 2018 the year you redefine the future of your association. All good plans come with a first step, so here’s yours: Reclaim your thought leadership.

Nobody does it better

Yes, thought leadership is everywhere these days. Self-proclaimed subject matter experts post in LinkedIn groups or on blogs in an effort to shore up their place in an industry. And don’t forget 140-character (or maybe 280) bons mots from industry rabble-rousers on Twitter.

Way back in 1993, The New Yorker published a cartoon that featured a dog sitting at a computer and telling his canine friend, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Today, that dog is probably writing best-selling books and running a community of 500,000 members—because on the internet, nobody knows whether you’re truly an expert or not. The problem? This phenomenon is chipping away at the perceived value of your association’s content.

But remember this: You know your members and their needs better than anyone, so take a hard look at whether the free information out there truly serves them in the best possible way. Then strategize on how you can do thought leadership better than anyone else.

A quick scan of the competing content in your area usually reveals that many “thought leaders” simply curate information or post opinionated summaries of the news. You’ll also notice that many of the thought-leader posts on social media are engineered to generate likes and clicks. There’s a mass of generic takeaways such as, “Work-life balance is important” or “Success is what you make of it.” These pithy posts may garner thousands of likes, but are they truly serving your members better than you can?

Industry knowledge is what you do. Combine your strengths as an association with the tactics online gurus use to generate all those likes and clicks, and you’ll offer incredible value for your members.

Start by thinking of your competitive advantage. Maybe you can provide newer, faster, better content and products than your competitors. Or perhaps your focus is on depth within a particular industry or interest rather than speed, and you can package your insider POV and information as added member value. Or combine content, services and products in a counterintuitive way that actually works.

Provide true insider viewpoints that members can’t easily get elsewhere—because the insiders you choose are those whose expertise is too valuable to spread around gratis. Remember the expression “You get what you pay for”? Make that your motto. Make quality count.

Also, keep in mind that many outside sources offering free content are only working one channel. Use your resources to create omnichannel content so each member can get information the way he or she wants it—from print to podcasts to Instagram.

"Provide true insider viewpoints that members can’t get elsewhere for free—because the insiders you choose are those whose expertise is too valuable to spread around gratis."

Let your members be your experts

How ironic. Your members are looking outside the association for expert news and advice, while by definition your association is full of experts. Why not give your members the opportunity to ask one another questions and to show off their own smarts and skills?

In 2014, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry launched an online member community called AACC Artery that does just that. The Artery allows members to post questions—such as “How can I solve this problem I’m having in my lab?”—and, within hours, receive dozens of helpful replies from fellow members.

“It has been a huge success. Huge,” says Molly Polen, AACC’s senior director of communications and PR. “We’re one of their most active clients on the platform because our members are always on there.” In 2016 AACC conducted an extensive survey to identify drivers of member retention, and the Artery was at the top of the list.

The lesson: No matter how daunting it seems to break through the thought leadership clutter, it’s worth it for proving true membership value.

And membership value is just one of the 4 M’s for futureproofing your association. Dive deep by downloading the Futureproof whitepaper from Imagination’s own thought leaders.


Are you owning your associations' expertise? Download