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Blog post by Deb Dietz
I was having a conversation with a client about the decline in attendance at her association’s annual meeting this year. She was telling me that her organization had thousands of members, but many were passive. She felt they were disengaged from the organization, and she felt many were probably on the cusp of not renewing their membership. When discussing her annual meeting specifically, she stated that she was spending more on marketing and communications campaigns to drive less attendance than in years past. What’s going on?
To try and make sense of this, I did a little digging and came across a book, “Bowling Alone”, by Robert D. Putnam. For those of you that don’t know the book, he speaks about the collapse and revival of the American community, and speaks specifically about the sport of bowling. He has analyzed a lot of data and has come to the conclusion that Americans are becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and social structures; whether the PTA, church, or even bowling leagues. His data show that people…individuals…are bowling more than they ever have; they just aren’t bowling in leagues. He notes the impact on revenue (declining) because bowling lane chains are no longer benefiting from the revenue associated with beer and pizza, which is where the money is.
Some additional trends in Putnam’s research speak to Americans spending less time DOING and spending more time WATCHING. Watching their phones, their iPads, their TV – would you disagree? Try having a conversation with someone when they won’t put down their phone or digital device, look you in the face and actually have a conversation! This is the world we live in today. Great to be so connected, but we’re connected digitally, not physically.
With this in mind, I asked my client if she was witnessing the same declining participation with her association’s on-line or digital (e-Learning) programs. She said, no. In fact, they were trending up on the digital events while trending down on the live events. Her members are getting what they need digitally and don’t seem to value the impact of social/professional connections – in person connections.
Of course not everyone has their nose in their phone or iPad, and some members actually value the in-person connection, but you have to know the demographics of your membership and how they want to learn, or receive information. Have it their way. So ask the right questions and develop a portfolio of value; products, programs and services that serve their needs and that they’ll willingly pay for. If you provide the right value to the right audience with the right message via the right channel, you may just end up bowling in the league instead of by yourself.