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Internet Strategy for Net Gain: Cultivating Community Online.

For decades, associations have brought together thousands of members, providing industry news and services and establishing themselves as the leading experts for the industries they serve.

But just as the Internet has changed the rules of commerce, it has changed the competitive landscape in the association marketplace. During the past several years, new, for-profit, Internet start-ups have aggressively attempted to establish themselves as the online hubs for major trade and professional associations. With the help of funding, many of these competitors offer robust Web destinations featuring rich content and resources.

However, associations are in a good position to increase their visibility and strengthen their mission by taking advantage of innovative technology to cultivate active, online communities that solidify their position within their respective industries. Associations possess considerable assets that offer significant advantages over newer competitors, including a large, paid membership base, dedicated staff, industry experience and most importantly, a well-established brand. The challenges however, to achieving success as the primary, online information hub for members include time, resources, expertise and manpower. That is why associations should consider outsourcing their online community development to third party experts.

Outsourcing the development of an online community provides additional industry expertise, additional resources, a faster time to market and a reduction in development costs. With the help of an established, full-service solutions provider, an association can effectively cultivate a virtual community that offers the same benefits of a traditional, real-world community (news and information, mentoring and networking, training and professional development, career resources) along with the added benefits the Internet brings (sharing of ideas and information among geographically dispersed constituents).

Harris Publishing, for example, has been in the business of helping associations build, reinforce, and maintain affinity bonds for nearly 40 years. During that time, Harris has never wavered in its commitment to provide the very best quality, resources, and services to the professionals it supports. Extending this commitment to the Internet, Harris has formed a division dedicated to providing member organizations and association professionals with a suite of Internet solutions to meet their current and future online needs.

Harris Internet Services consists of a team of professionals with an aggregate of 250- plus years of Internet experience, which enables them to launch your customized online community, portal, or e-commerce solution in mere weeks, With complete flexibility in look and feel for interface consistency within the parameters of a proven and tested navigational and user-friendly design, Harris Internet Services offers the following solutions:

Online Community--Closed for the association's members only, featuring a pre-populated online directory with search functionality, career services, permanent email, personal Web pages, moderated chat, message boards, and more.

Portal "Start Page"--A place where an association's members can start their day, aggregating news and services from more than 100 different sources, together with links and news from the association itself.

E-commerce Enabling--Collect dues, sell tickets to events or sell publications and merchandise, with real-time credit card authentication and authorization.

ISP--Offer members an ISP service from EarthLink, a high-quality provider, and generate revenues every time a member signs up for the service.

Online Shopping Mall--Members can shop from many of their favorite stores while receiving member-only discounts on the merchandise they want.

When considering an Internet solutions provider, consider companies that not only understand the needs of member-based associations but can also help manage the online community data and translate it into useful and compelling online offerings. Ask tough questions. What is their depth of Internet expertise? How committed are they in helping your association reach its goals? Demand good answers.

Considering the competitive nature of association member retention and involvement and the challenges of facilitating interaction in the midst of restrictions on time and resources, there is no better time than right now to execute a plan for building a solid Web presence. To succeed, chief executives must make an Internet strategy an imperative for the association. Associations need to take the first step today to stake a claim for the surfing habits of members.
COPYRIGHT 2000 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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