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Professional Associations – Redefine Value

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There’s still time for professional associations to redefine their value to members, but I’m not aware of any such initiatives among any of these groups. The clock is ticking.

I’m only aware of the associations that serve my profession, the likes of PRSA, CPRS, and the organization to which I’ve belonged since 1977, IABC.

These associations have fulfilled several vital needs for a long time, primarily networking and professional development. However, practitioners don’t need associations for these activities any more. Social media have enabled self-organizing groups to satisfy these professional needs. Some examples:

  • While the last Global PR Web Week was nearly two years ago, it shows what can hapen online when a group of volunteers throw their hats in the ring.
  • CaseCamp is a self-organizing “unconference” focused on marketing, although anyone interested in any profession could use the same model to put together a similar unconference focused on their own field. In fact, CaseCamp is based on BarCamp, which focuses on web applications, and DemoCamp, a BarCamp offshoot that allows for more regular networking.
  • PodCamp, another unconference based on the BarCamp/CaseCamp model, focuses on podcasting. I mention it separately because the recent New York PodCamp drew more than 1,000 participants (only about 400 shy of the typical attendance at an IABC international conference) and some heavyweight sponsors. Like all of these unconferences, the registration is free and the agenda is self-organized using a wiki.
  • Third Thursday is a monthly meeting of Bay Area PR and marketing pros interested in learning more about the practical applications of new media in business. It’s currently jointly sponsored by The Social Media Club and The Society for New Communications Research, but was organized by four practitioners who saw a need and started Third Thursday to meet it. In Toronto, the effort has been duplicated with Third Tuesday, while Ottawa offers Third Monday.
  • Social networks focused on communications offer individuals another cost-free alternative for networking and knowledge sharing. MyRagan has already attracted several thousand members.

The point is that, given the social network that allows individuals to self-organize for networking and professional development, these benefits of association membership—at a cost of several hundred dollars per year—may lose their appeal. That’s not to suggest these associations can’t provide genuine value that makes the dues worthwhile. And it’s not to suggest that the 14,000 members of IABC are ready to jump ship for online networking just yet. It’s still pretty much the early adopters who have figured out that the network itself can provide the benefits for which they used to rely on their associations. So IABC, PRSA, CPRS—and all those other associations in other professions—still have time to define that role that the social media space cannot play.

But they’d better get started now. Things move fast these days.

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