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From Membership Professional to Community Officer

Imagine the scene. Two nonprofit association membership pros talking in a crowded restaurant at lunchtime, commiserating with each other and sharing their professional anxieties that they fell into the wrong line of work. Not that they dislike what they do…quite the opposite. They enjoy working with members, building relationships to improve the member experience, strategizing new features and the like. But there is something nagging at both of them: they wonder if anyone outside of association management understands and values what they do. They worry that they’ll always be confined to associations because they don’t think there is any clear parallel in the corporate world. They leave the restaurant thankful for each other’s company but no closer to putting their anxieties at ease.

Okay, one of these characters is me and this is a scene from my life roughly six years ago. After graduating from college with a liberal arts education, I fell into the nonprofit association membership profession purely by accident. And after doing membership work for five years, I was concerned that few of the skills and experiences from that work would be appreciated outside of my narrow niche.

Let’s fast forward to today. Do I still think the skills, experiences and insight gained from a membership career is unappreciated outside of associations and not viable in the corporate space? Nope…quite the opposite. In today’s business reality, this unique experience translates incredibly well to the needs of social media, most specifically to the role of online community management.

Drawing on a recommended community manager job description posted by Connie Bensen, here are the parallels to membership management:

• Creatively and proactively assist customers.
• Serve as the initial point of contact for inbound requests from online company properties and the web at large.
• Monitor online conversations and participate in them to build brand visibility and thought leadership.
• Author blog posts, articles, podcasts, videos and screencasts – whatever media you want to use – to creatively communicate product uses.
Association membership development is about attracting prospective members and retaining current ones. That means knowing how to communicate well, building strong relationships with members, helping them get more out of their membership, and assisting them with thorny issues. Membership pros are multifunctional in role and serve as customer service, product management, marketing, and corporate communications.

• Identify and analyze issues, patterns and trends in customer requests and product performance.
• Transfer the information to the appropriate departments so that they can respond accordingly.
• Proactively escalate issues, observations, opportunities, and insights to the executive team.
• Communicate issues, opportunities and insights to the company at large.
Membership professionals serve on the front line, listening to members and determining whether their issues are problems needing resolution or opportunities needing to be addressed. Membership professionals must then be able to influence key stakeholders to effect changes on behalf of the audiences they serve.

• Identify and engage advocates.
Membership professionals must connect with their organization’s volunteers and help them put their enthusiasm to good use. Knowing how to find and then successfully guide passionate supporters is a must, particularly since most associations need these volunteers to help put initiatives into action.

• Stay up to date on new social media tools, best practices and how other organizations and companies are using them, so that the company can continue to be an early adopter of these technologies.
• Participate in professional networking by interacting with peers and influencers and attending events.
Membership professionals must explore the latest technology, leverage networks and resources, and plot a strategic path that will provide the most beneficial products and services to their association’s members. It requires a curious and creative individual who enjoys collaborating with people.

I write this post for a couple of reasons. One, I hope it gives a closer look at who I am and why my current work in social media and online communities is simply a natural extension of the work I’ve done since I first started my career. Two, maybe it offers membership professionals a roadmap to guide them toward other career possibilities and emphasize that their expertise is valuable beyond associations.

If your company is seeking its next great community manager or chief community officer, consider expanding your search to individuals beyond the corporate world and include nonprofit association membership professionals.

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