I had a conversation yesterday that sparked an idea for me of one possible direction associations could move in to remain relevant with their members.
Associations have often served as the social network for a profession, research community, or other group of like-minded individuals and/or organizations. Much effort has been and continues to be put into creating vehicles such as member directories to encourage networking. However, those efforts almost always rely on members proactively providing data via paper and web-based forms and exposing that data to them with anemic search interfaces. Many members choose not to participate or do not provide enough information to create meaningful links.
What if an association focused much of its energy and resources on enhancing the quality of the metadata about each member, their professional activities and work, and the connection of all of those elements to the greater community of members? That web of data could then be made available to members via effective search tools targeted at enhancing professional networking. The association could also develop targeted networking products such as events and meetings that leverage that data.
I’m imagining something like LinkedIn combined with PubMed and your typical association management system data, with a cadre of indexers constantly expanding and maintaining the data. (PubMed being a metadata repository for health care research. Only relevant as a healthcare association example.)
Ultimately the association would serve as a sort of social network concierge, facilitating meaningful and productive connections by working hard to capture and contextualize data about their members.
Just thought I’d mention that LinkedIn already does offer a free product for groups to offer social networking services to their members. This service can help make groups more relevant to their members and has many of the benefits you discuss here.
Check it out at LinkedIn for Groups