The term “Knowledge Community” has many different meanings in association circles. Its purpose, however, is consistent – to bring together members who share common interests within their fields.
This idea and others were discussed during a special CEO-only session at the Association Forum of Chicagoland’s Annual Holiday Showcase, held on December 16 at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. McKinley Marketing Consultant Mike Norbut facilitated the discussion, which included more than 25 executives from a broad range of trade and professional associations.
According to the participants, knowledge communities can range from listservs to Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to more complex sub-communities with their own dues structure, publications and in-person and virtual meeting opportunities. In other words, there is a broad spectrum of opportunities for members who share common interests to gather and collaborate. For the purpose of the session, we used the term, Knowledge Communities, broadly – referring to any method for an association to bring together members who share interests within their fields.
Following are 10 key considerations and practices the CEOs shared on the subject of ensuring success of Knowledge Communities, wherever they fall on the spectrum.
- “If you build it, they won’t come.” Or they certainly won’t come automatically, in any case. Just like any association offering, a Knowledge Community – either simple or complex – is unlikely to become populated and active without considerable promotion. Members must be aware of it to participate, and it’s through their participation that the Knowledge Community becomes valuable and noteworthy. Recruiting a member champion or two to get the dialog started on a hot or controversial topic is a great way to ensure initial Knowledge Community traffic and spur interest.
- Staff support is necessary to make Knowledge Communities work. Many associations see the value of staffing Knowledge Communities with web content editors to ensure that contributions are accessible and that the association perspective is included when necessary.
- Get your lawyer to look at online language. Your lawyer can help ensure your liability and exposure are limited and that contributions are not construed as coming from your association, but rather from the members themselves.
- The Exec can play a key role by suggesting members and dependable volunteers to participate in the organization’s Knowledge Communities. Consider that the principal value most associations offer is access to other members. That means members must be active in the Knowledge Community for it to deliver value.
- Knowledge Communities offer opportunities to convey and reinforce your association’s brand. But you must be certain the content and activities are compatible with your association’s branding principles. This is another place where staff attention can pay off.
- Content is king. While members might value the networking opportunities that Knowledge Communities offer, their content must be relevant to sustain member interest, activity and contributions. After all, it is this activity that makes Knowledge Communities valuable.
- Consider the “Members for a Moment” concept, which is becoming increasingly prevalent in associations. Think about audiences who tap your association’s resources when they need them, as opposed to a continual connection to your group. Can your Knowledge Communities help meet this need?
- The name doesn’t matter. Whether you call it a special interest group, knowledge community, section or practice area, the key is that it offers the content members care about in ways which are easily accessible to members everywhere – both in the US and globally. Electronically delivered Knowledge Communities are an extremely effective way of engaging members, regardless of their time zones or geographic locations.
- Mine Knowledge Communities for additional association resources. Look for ways to re-purpose the content from Knowledge Communities, perhaps by synthesizing the most popular sessions or discussion topics into association website content or journal articles.
- Be open to retooling and adjusting. Consider that Knowledge Communities must be configured to secure the most member engagement possible. What will that take? Ask members about their preferences and adjust accordingly.
The guiding principles of successful Knowledge Communities are analogous to the lessons learned and applied by associations in other aspects of association management. Knowledge Communities must be member-centric and consistent with member needs and expectations. In the session conducted at the Holiday Showcase, it was determined that Knowledge Communities are simply another medium for associations to deliver member value.