There are a lot of posts flying around about what information professionals need from an association. My discussion on too many associations seems to have struck a nerve and gotten people thinking. Before I dive into details regarding AIIM, I want to share these posts.
- Donda Young entered the fray discussing what she wants in an association. As a member of AIIM and ARMA, her post was all-inclusive and included things that are present in some form currently.
- Chris Walker went on to state explicitly what he would like AIIM to offer. The comments on his thread are almost as good as the post itself so read it all.
- Alison North then shared her thoughts on re-shaping associations from her perspective outside the North American bubble. She implied that we need to look outside the information associations to learn more about cutting edge technologies.
- Marko Sillanpää is a little more forward and suggests what he might do if he were the next AIIM president now that John Mancini is moving on to other duties. Marko gets right to the point in saying that people are what AIIM needs to focus upon over the next year.
I’m not going to reference the posts moving forward but know that they have, to varying degrees, influenced this post. That said, I had a lot of thoughts on this topic already rattling around in my head. Many of the thoughts below have been shared with other previously as well to test them out.
There are two ways I can share my thoughts. I could rant and rave about everything AIIM is specifically doing wrong. It would get a lot of hits, generate a lot of discussion, and upset the very people who need to read this.
I can simply dive into what AIIM needs to do going forward. The past is written. The present is malleable. The future is fluid. It is the future that I wish to influence by helping form the present.
Before You Forget
I actually know the association business. I may not be an expert at it like John Mancini, but I made a point of learning the business while I was AIIM’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). I attended association industry events so I could be more effective in my role.
In that time I learned that there were two primary types of associations. There were ones that had members that were companies and those that focused upon professionals. Neither was exclusive to the other as companies are made-up of people and sponsorships from companies help finance professional associations.
The difference is where you focus your attention. Whose interests do you serve? Ostensibly, AIIM is focused on the information professional. As the Global Community of Information Professionals, their stated goal is to help the information professional. That means that every program should be viewed through the lens of determining if it helps the information professional. Finances are important and I’ll get to that later.
What We Need
I will state unequivocally that AIIM has a lot of resources to assist anyone new to the space. The training is excellent and will help jump-start anyone starting their career in the space. The webinars offer a variety of topics, though finding a variety of topics to fill every week of the year is a challenge. The research is also interesting though it is typically confined to survey responses from the membership.
When talking to AIIM members about what they get for their dues, it often boils down to either discounts or giving back to AIIM out of a sense of obligation or gratitude. Most of the things that they value are available to those that are willing to sacrifice their contact information.
The problem is that discounts are not valuable. A sense of obligation only works until budgets get tight and they always get tight.
As for the community…
It thrives in spite of AIIM’s efforts. The annual AIIM Conference is excellent. I’ve only missed one iteration of the current incarnation of the conference and it has been well run. The conference is always attended by smart people in the space with whom I enjoy connecting. The problem is the rest of the year.
Chapters are Hurting
Chapters are not in good shape. Meetings in cities like Washington, DC should not have less than 20 attendees. AIIM HQ has failed to help chapters in Phoenix and across the country. While there are two sides to every story, the stories about poor support for chapters is too consistent to be ignored or written off as exceptions. Having seen the other side of the operation, I can attest that chapters, at least a couple years ago, were a low priority item within AIIM HQ.
And there is no evidence that things have changed since then.
I have a few ideas on this front. I’m not active in chapter leadership so my suggestions are just a starting point. Not all are easy to implement but the goal of this list isn’t to be right or wrong. The goal is to get people thinking about what could be done.
- Turn the spring/fall seminars into chapter events. Let the chapter officially host the event. Let sponsors attend and speak but let the speaker list be at least 50% drawn from the local community. Throw in an AIIM HQ speaker and lend support for the marketing, the event turns into an educational event that also serves as a recruiting tool for the chapter.
- Every chapter should have a visit from AIIM HQ every program year.
- There needs to be an annual meeting of chapter representatives with up to two attendees per chapter. It needs to be attended by AIIM leadership. That means the President and the Board of Directors chair. The head of marketing should also attend.
- Put someone from the chapters back on the AIIM Board of Directors. Ideally two people, allowing for more reliable attendance at board meetings and more diverse representation. These people should be voted upon by the chapters at the annual meeting.
- Pass a rule that every third chair of the board should be a chapter representative. This would mean that at any given time, either the vice chair, chair, or immediate past chair would be a chapter representative. End-user representation is nice but if they are not active in their local chapter, their leadership value to the board is diminished.
- Add something for chapters at the AIIM Conference. A mixer where anyone can attend and learn about the chapter nearest them. Sometime on day two would be ideal as it would give people time to get situated in the conference before attending.
Talk to the chapters. See what they want. See what they need. Execute and prioritize their requests with their input. There needs to be clear communications from chapters to HQ.
The chapters need to not only be heard. They need to be respected, valued, and listened to by AIIM leadership.
Why Focus on Chapters?
When building an association, or any organization, engaged people are more loyal and are more willing to pay. Having engaged local communities throughout the country, and the world, is the best way to build an excited community. AIIM has been trying to build a “global” community without focusing on all the local communities that are the foundation for larger community.
Remember SoLoMo? It stood for Social, Local, and Mobile. It was an approach to engaging people in the new mobile world. AIIM, like many organizations, lost sight of Local and it has cost them.
It’s like trying to build a log cabin with rotting logs. You’ll constantly be wondering why it isn’t stable and providing the benefits that should core properties of a cabin.
Another reason is very practical. More members on the rolls of the chapters means more members in AIIM proper. If member retention can be increased beyond what was it was sitting at when I was there, then numbers can start to grow. The numbers have been stagnant and AIIM has had to keep recruiting new members to replace the ones that just stop renewing.
[Note: Ran some interesting numbers for staff back when I had the data access. Wish I could remember the exact figures but turnover was high enough that simply getting retention to association industry averages would lead to steady growth.]
The reason for this comes back to economics. While AIIM makes some money from professional memberships, that number is likely under $1 million. Even if it is doubled, that isn’t going to finance AIIM. Every other program needs to bring in revenue. Those programs make money with names.
Companies sponsor webinars, research, seminars, and the conference. They pay for it all from their marketing budget. They get brand exposure, recognition that they are trying to help the industry, and the names of the people that participate in the program.
More names = more leads to hand over to sponsors = more money that AIIM can charge for sponsorships = more money that AIIM can use to support their professional members.
Makes financial sense to me.
The suggestions are either overall suggestions for changes or are benefits to Professional Members.
- Commit to Digital: The fact that they ask me for a physical address or a phone number when I register for something is wrong. We are in a digital world. I don’t want things mailed to me anymore. I let it slide on conference registrations sometimes but for everything else, no. Just stop it. Country and postal code make complete sense because it allows for local, targeted marketing efforts but you don’t need to know my street address. If the vendors insist on having this information then they are wasting their marketing spend.
- Fix the Data: I know this is not easy but it impacts the perception of AIIM. While implementing different systems for different functions (sales, marketing, learning, community, etc.) is a way to quickly gain more capabilities, when the data is disconnected there is a problem. I see and hear about this as people have to repeatedly provide the same information or mark email as spam to stop receiving unwanted emails. This level of expectations may not be fair but when you service the information industry, members notice when your information is not in shape.
- Provide more Research Data: Research would be much more interesting if professional members had access to the raw data. Pull out the personal information but knowing the demographics, correlating answers, and even knowing if there was a different response between professional members, associate members, and non-members would be interesting. It would be an easy add-on for professional membership that would definitely be worth pulling together. It would also allow for correlations between different research reports for the industrious data analyst. This would be inexpensive and provide great value.
- Transcribe Webinars: Webinar transcripts would be useful. Being able to scan a transcript for information and quotes would be valuable for busy professional members. Having select transcripts for some webinars (e.g. discussing AIIM research) available to the public would also help with search engine optimization (SEO). SEO drives web traffic which would benefit AIIM directly.
- Open up the ELC: The Executive Leadership Council (ELC) is currently a vendor focused event that comes out with some interesting thought pieces. The question is, how does it serve the professional membership? I am not saying the ELC doesn’t but the benefits need to be clear. Right now, only vendors can participate though anyone can get the reports. Perhaps if professional members could view recordings of the talks that were given that would be an improvement. Maybe a way for some professional members to attend? Selection could be done by the chapters. A live stream or the ELC for professional members would also be valuable even if the attendee list didn’t change.
- Better online community: What does this look like? A dedicated community resource from AIIM is a good start. The online community was a lot stronger when AIIM had one in place. A well-implemented community product would be the second need. To be honest, I’d start with the chapters and ask them what they need. A blogging platform is nice but it needs to have some curation. The expert blog posts from the old days were useful but they are gone now.
- Mentoring Programs. You can find this in the community site but it is hidden and limited. Designing the program and making it a larger benefit would be useful. Perhaps allow mentors a free professional membership if they are highly rated by five or more people they mentored and are still actively mentoring people.
That’s just the easy things that I have thought of over the years or heard suggested by others. Many ideas have been discussed so much it is hard to remember from whom they originated. In the end it doesn’t matter as ideas are needed to stimulate action in the AIIM leadership.
If you made it this far, thank you. You obviously care about the industry and want a better association. Share the ideas above that you think have value. Add more ideas in the comments. Send your thoughts about any ideas that you think have merit to AIIM. Use twitter, blogs, email, or all of the above. Anyone can write something on LinkedIn. Share the link here if you don’t have twitter, or even if you do have twitter. Let me know and I’ll help amplify your efforts.
It will take a lot of us working together in order to spur action.
As John Mancini pointed out, let’s keep it civil. The goal is to build a stronger AIIM and not to tear AIIM down. People can have bad ideas or make mistakes but that doesn’t make them bad people. I know the AIIM staff personally and they all care and work hard.
Don’t be afraid if your idea isn’t perfect or could not work. I’d rather see bad ideas be suggested than none. As long as debate and discussion ensues from the idea, it is a success.
Let’s make a difference.