Social media was once cited as an existential threat to associations: the digital world sweeping away the arcane practices of membership-based organisations stuck in analogue mode.
The size of the threat was over-egged in the same way that the disruptive power of most new technology is over-egged: it assumed X would replace Y, rather than coexist with it.
The reality is associations have used social media for their own gain, using platforms like facebook and twitter to build a more immediate and dynamic relationship with members.
So what to make of LinkedIn’s move into the face-to-face meeting space?
The Microsoft-owner platform has launched a new free-to-use tool called Events, which allows people to plan real-life meetings. Organisers provide a description, a date and time, a venue, and then invite their connections using filters such as location, company, industry, and school.
From an ‘event page’, users can track attendees and invitees, post updates and interact with each other. Members who have joined the event can invite people from their own networks to attend.
Ironically this sideways shift from the digital to the physical world might pose a more direct challenge to associations, especially if the rather basic functionality is embellished.
At the moment, LinkedIn Events is a glorified appointment maker. But throw in venue-finding, registration, and ticketing functions and D.I.Y organisers could really start to get serious.
At that point the combination of big data and convenience could prove irresistible.
The onus will then be on associations to ensure their meetings, not necessarily annual congress, but workshops and symposia, really are hitting the mark. Otherwise, what’s to stop motivated members, searching for stimulating interaction with their peers, from organising competitive events?
For now, that’s still a way off, and no doubt the more progressive, forward-thinking associations will be looking at this new tool and wondering how they can best exploit it. But membership-based organisations should keep a watching brief on this stuff.
The real threat might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
AMI editor James
Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international
association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation
for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk,
read, listen to music, and drink beer.