Lorna Berrett
Lorna Berrett
Director  Society & Association Marketing, Wiley
ASAE sign
Photo credit: Lorna Berrett

In our final report from the ASAE annual meeting, we share some of what we learned during our time in Music City. Several of us were attending the meeting for the first time and we were all struck by the positive energy and buzz throughout the four days. We came away with fresh insights, new contacts, and lots of ideas and inspiration.

In his opening address, ASAE President and CEO John Graham outlined three key themes: changing demographics, communication, and technology. I would add three more that were in evidence throughout the conference: content, community and learning. Here is a selection of our takeaways under these headings:

Changing demographics

1. Recruiting and retaining younger members and engaging with Generation Y and Millennials was a recurring theme. Authenticity is key to reaching these groups with, for example, 85% of Gen Y-ers making a connection between their purchasing decisions and the causes they support. As not-for-profits, associations should be well placed to appeal to this demographic, yet very few have young board members.

2. The ASAE have recently approved a new diversity and inclusion strategic plan that can act as a model for other associations. John Graham also encouraged associations to expand their reach beyond traditional membership to those working in related fields but who may not become members. Career services are one way to provide value beyond the paying membership, with career information being the biggest driver of traffic to the ASAE portal.


Hats and Boots sign
Photo credit: Lorna Berrett


3. We learned from Melynn Sight of nSight Marketing that associations’ value propositions need to resonate, differentiate, and substantiate in order to be credible to members. That means something you deliver well today that matches your members' most important needs and is something that they cannot get anywhere else.  Does your About Us page lead with a credible value proposition?

4. In the sessions we attended and in our meetings we learned that society executives are hungry for data in order to gain insights and improve performance. But data is often in multiple places and hard to pull together to manage in a single interface.


5. Many associations are struggling with creating a coherent digital strategy that reflects their organization's mission and vision. This was clear from questions in the “Creating Your Digital Strategy” session presented by Wiley's Martin Davies and Davina Quarterman, together with Mike Clarke – consultant and Scholarly Kitchen blogger, and Quoc-Dien Trinh – associate editor of BJU International. The session also received prominent coverage in the Associations Now Daily.

6. In conversations with delegates we heard that “innovation” is often interpreted as "make something new and digital" rather than adding value for the organization and its members. Without the groundwork and validation of member research, this can result in wasting precious resources on underused products and services.

7. We also learned lots of new ideas for how to be more creative on social media in Beth Ziersenis’ (@NerdyBFF) session "29 Tech Tools to Create Cool Content for Social Media" and how to improve our presentations from the “Ignite” session.


8. There was very little focus on publishing in the schedule, with Wiley running the only purely publishing session: “5 Key Trends in Professional Publishing” with Alice Meadows and Roy Opie from Wiley, Frank Krause of the American Geophysical Union, Oona Schmid of American Anthropological Association, and Kristen Overstreet of the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors, who covered the move from print to digital, the globalization of publishing, government affairs, peer review, and magazines 2.0.

9. However, there was a big focus on content and the increasingly critical need to find better ways of connecting members with content they need, when they need it, in the format they need it, and easilydiscoverable.  Societies need a content strategy that is seamless and integrated for members, matching content (career advancement, e-learning, research outputs) to member needs at every point in their professional life.

10. It also became clear that there is an urgent need for more education for association executives around Open Access – very few in the publishing session were concerned about the impact of OA on their organizations, and even fewer had an OA option for members.


11. Many associations have multiple social media sites including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, but very few have a strategic approach or dedicated resources for managing them . In the “Link Up with LinkedIn” session, run by the American Ceramic Society’s Megan Bricker and Andrea Silnes, most of the audience were using LinkedIn company or group pages but only a handful used LinkedIn advertising or tied up their LinkedIn groups with their other social media in a strategic way. Megan and Andrea’s examples showed how you can use LinkedIn groups to reach beyond traditional members and extend reach and engagement.

12. Meanwhile, in “Find your online community sweet spot”, it appeared that creating a standalone online community for members with some free content and registration required for more, is still a well-used model for associations. Examples presented included the Society for Human Resource Management and the Institute of Food Technologists. Many in the audience struggled with resourcing the feeding and nurturing of these sites and, again, didn’t have a joined up strategy with their other communities on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.


13. Everything from the “Learning Labs” to the expo hall was geared towards solutions, with the emphasis onsharing proactive and practical advice that attendees could take away and use to make changes (small and large) in their organizations.

And finally, we also learned ....

14. ASAE delegates represent a very wide spectrum of associations farbeyond the scientific and scholarly community, but there are many commonalities in association management, their objectives and aspirations for their organizations, and their members

15. Association professionals are passionate about their jobs, serving their members, and continually improving their skills and expertise

16. We learned some useful interview techniques and how to spot a thief! (From Adam Grant's opening keynote: "Ask someone 'What % of people do you think steal $10 a month from their company?" The higher their estimate the more dishonest they may be!'" )

17. And finally … we saw how country music can grow on you after a few days in  Nashville! I overheard a number of conversations that started "I'm not really into country, but actually ..."

We’d love to hear what you learned if you attended.  Comment below or tweet us @WileySocieties.