Dan's Corner with Director of Training and Publications Dan Loomis

In the words of Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin’.”

I’m not sure if Bob Dylan was intending for his 1964 hit to reference associations, but it’s fitting, isn’t it?

Recently, Steve Manicor and Tracy Gundert sat amongst other association professionals at the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) meeting where a hot topic was the changing demographic in associations. Networking and educational content were big talking points, and here I’ve mixed in my Generation Y perspective.

Associations are Facing a Shift in Demographics

If we look at associations today, it’s becoming clearer that the median age of members is continuing to rise. In order for associations to continue to grow, it’s important to start looking at ways to attract the next generation.

The problem with attracting Generation Y is that we are of a different breed. As a “Gen Y-er,” I can attest I need more than a face-to-face annual meeting with keynote speakers and a printed manual to join your association.

As you know, networking and educational content remain critical to attracting new members, but technology and the generation gap have complicated things.

Networking Isn’t Just Face-to-Face Anymore

Are you providing your members with a place to network year-round? Are you leveraging your association on Twitter and other social media sites?

Networking remains an important factor in gaining new members, but the way we network has evolved greatly. Networking isn’t just face-to-face anymore, and Generation Y loves to “Facebook stalk.” Before we meet new people face-to-face, we like to check them out on social media and learn about their interests. Whether it’s through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or a conference website, it’s important for associations to provide a place for their members to engage, network and, of course, “Facebook stalk.”

Face-to-Face Meetings Have Evolved, Too

Are your annual meetings educational and fun?

If you’re still holding your annual meeting in outdated session rooms of older convention halls with the buzzing fluorescent lights, metal chairs and one-way speaker communication, you’re risking your members being uncomfortable, bored and not engaged. The associations attracting Generation Y members are leveraging breakout sessions, themed events, social gaming and different presentation formats such as pecha kucha, fish bowls and so forth. It’s about the attendee experience.

How Findable is Your Educational Content?

How are you leveraging your association content to attract new members? How are you making sure they are finding your content on the internet? How are you making your content more usable and shareable?

Access is critical! A printed conference program is no longer sufficient. To keep Generation X and Y happy, you now need a printed program, a conference flash drive chock full of speaker presentations, session handouts available online before, during and after the meeting (don’t forget about Wi-Fi and mobile-friendly access!) AND an eBook. (Ok, so you may not need ALL of these, but member expectations are rising in regards to what they are getting for their money.)

Consulting your crystal ball won’t help. Understanding how members and attendees want to receive your association’s educational content is not a guessing game. The key is to ask members what they want, provide options and be multifaceted.

Generation Y Learned Differently

We aren’t trying to be a pain in your association – This is how Generation Y learned!

In college, we learned through two-way discussion sessions and watched streaming presentations. We bought printed course books and study guides, but we also were required to read scholarly journals online (that we didn’t have to search for far and wide on the internet).

We network online. We spend more time on social media websites networking than we’d like to admit. We use Facebook and LinkedIn to build relationships and share information just to stay connected. If we know we’re going to meet someone new, we like to connect with them ahead of time online.

And guess what – My Generation X boss feels the same way.

So while you listen to some Bob Dylan, talk to us on Twitter!
How is your association attracting new Generation Y membership? #omnipress