AI for Associations: Help Members Develop an Association Habit

AI is not only Artificial Intelligence. AI is Association Intelligence.

With AI, your association can use one of your most valuable assets—your data—to become indispensable to every member. And unlike augmented reality contact lenses, home delivery drones, genetic medicine, and other futuristic promises, AI for associations is already here.


Decoding AI

You don’t have to be a coder to understand AI. Once only discussed in academic journals, AI is now a topic of daily conversation in the mainstream media or on popular websites. But it’s still not so easy to wrap your head around, so let me break it down for you.

Think of AI as intelligent computer programs that try to mimic human intelligence. These programs analyze data, discover patterns, make decisions, and handle tasks as we would but they do it more quickly and accurately. The most common type of AI is Applied (or Narrow) AI. These systems are designed for a specific task, for example, recognizing facial images, operating a vehicle, or trading stocks.

General AI are systems that attempt to simulate the human brain so they can take on any task. At this point, General AI is only found in science fiction: 3-CPO, Wall-E, and Data representing human-friendly General AI and Skynet, Agent Smith, and HAL representing the other side.

Machine Learning is one way of achieving AI and where the exciting developments in AI are happening. Instead of programming a system to do something, with Machine Learning you program the system to use algorithms to think and learn like we would. It makes decisions or predictions based on data, learns from feedback, and continues to enhance its capabilities and knowledge.

Another term you’ll see frequently is Deep Learning. This approach to AI combines techniques from Machine Learning with the Neural Network approach. Neural Networks are layers of hardware and software that classify data the same way the neurons work in our brains. Each layer of the network has a focus, for example, the edges of images in an image recognition program. Deep Learning gets its name from the depth of these multiple layers. Facebook’s facial recognition tool uses Deep Learning to analyze and classify a huge collection of images, so it can recognize the ones you upload.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is another example of a Deep Learning application. It tries to understand our natural written or spoken language so it can communicate back in similar language. Search engines, spam filters, and chatbots are examples of NLP at work.


Everyday Life with AI

Once upon a time, only mathematicians and computer scientists spent time with AI, but many successful brands have made AI part of everyday life, maybe even yours.

A smart speaker wakes you up and gives you the weather report, the final score of last night’s game, and your morning schedule. Later, while eating breakfast, you upload photos from last night and watch while Facebook automatically tags your friends. You request one last check of the traffic and you’re out the door.

At work, Google’s suggestive search saves you time while you do some market research. Meanwhile, you still can’t get over how that ad for a new video game is still following you around the web.

You take a break to look up a book on Amazon, but end up buying two others thanks to product recommendations. Just then you get a text from your bank. Its fraud detection system spotted something that doesn’t fit your normal spending pattern. You log in to your bank’s website and, with the help of a chatbot, you let them know you didn’t make the purchase in question.

Driving home you listen to a bunch of new songs suggested by Pandora. You stop at the store to pick up dinner and save a few bucks thanks to a digital coupon. It’s weird how they know exactly what you may want for dinner.

Finally, on the couch watching a movie thanks to another great recommendation from Netflix.

I know what you’re thinking: these big brands have big budgets so of course they can use AI to deliver services. But here’s the good news: even smaller brands, like associations, can afford to use AI to deliver value to members and customers.


AI for Associations

What’s the most overused word in the association community? No, not “innovation.” Good guess though. The word I’m thinking of is heard in almost every strategic and tactical conversation because an association’s sustainability depends on it.


Too often, engagement means one thing to an association and a number of different things to its members. How do you realistically engage members with all their different needs and interests, and different ideas about how they want to be engaged?

Until now an association’s ability to engage with a member has been limited. One-to-one communication has been impossible. Traditional engagement efforts centered on activities, like conferences or volunteering, that happen infrequently or require a high commitment of time and/or money on the member’s part.

Online communities were seen as a way to engage more members on a more frequent basis, but they have limitations too. If members participate at all, they’re usually lurkers. Only a tiny fraction are active community members, maybe 3 to 5 percent on a good day.

It’s difficult to convert passive members—the majority of members—into active members who participate in a community, volunteer, or attend events. Most members either can’t or don’t want to engage in this way.

So what do you do? How do you give members an association experience that’s personally appealing and relevant, and an experience they can’t get elsewhere?

Here’s how: Help them develop an association habit. Get them hooked on you. Become indispensable. Habits aren’t easy to develop, but once they become part of a person’s lifestyle, they’re transformative.

An association habit is most likely to take hold through frequent episodes of engagement—engagement on your members’ terms. Find a way to become a small part of their lives every day. Regularly provide membership value in a way that doesn’t require a high commitment of time or money.

This is where AI comes in. AI taps into the untapped potential of your association’s data—data in your AMS, LMS, CMS, and email marketing and marketing automation platforms.

For example, AI can use data to discover correlations and patterns and then predict what a member would want to read every morning. It can look at a member’s past behavior and social graph to recommend webinars or conference sessions they’d want to attend. It can suggest publications or online learning programs to purchase. It can identify members who’d want to connect with each other for a mentoring program, peer discussion group, or mastermind group.

AI isn’t a technology of the future, it’s here now, and within your association’s reach. If you’d like to hear how I think AI can be used to deliver a more valuable membership experience, let’s talk.

Repetition Isn’t Keeping Your Members Interested

Memory is based on Repetition. By repeated exposure to an idea, we strengthen the memory that is associated with it. If one does not semi-frequently repeat it, it will become forgotten. Repetition is the building block of school and of advertisement. However, despite all that, Repetition is the wrong way to keep people interested in your ideas.

The danger of Repetition is stagnation. Let’s take your average hobbyist association - their members share a common interest. That is the one guarantee for all members. But only focusing on that interest doesn’t mean that your members will stay consistently engaged. They will eventually get bored with the information offered to them.

What is more important than Repetition is Rhythm. Rhythm is defined as a combination of elements repeated, but with variations. Variations in your messaging are important - they can reach a greater swath of your members than a narrow focus, they unearth hidden commonalities between members if they generate excitement, they keep the organization from getting stale and can attract members - especially younger members.


Identify the Pattern

There must be consistency in your message. Identifying the overarching pattern is key. What can you always agree is important to your members? In many ways, this is similar to the core purpose of an association or company. The pattern of information/content/communication that is identified as the group bedrock forms the basis of the Rhythm experienced by members. From a technological perspective, you can even use software that aids this task by collecting and synthesizing all the information that has been stored by you and using it to form associations that are human-readable and understandable.

Don’t Be Afraid of Wildcards

John Lydgate - protege of Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales - memorialized the following saying - “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” It is a Sisyphean task to have no errors in your content, especially if your organization is willing to change it up. These missteps are as equally important as the successes. Your members provide feedback that can guide your organization to better serve them - a key ingredient to a successful association.

Plan for Change

In the end, this approach will cause your organization to change over time. How will you approach and embrace that change? It may require updating updating old content or even getting rid of your org’s previous work to fit with what needs to happen NOW. From a technological perspective, data analysis tools are extremely helpful in achieving that. Cutting edge tools are now using AI to read and collect your data for you, leaving you with a simple to understand outcome. Companies like Anodot and Databricks - the creators of Adobe Spark - are the first wave of what will eventually become the industry standard.

The Internet Isn’t Engaging Anymore

While starting to write this, I caught myself cycling. Jumping quickly from Facebook to Twitter to my email to my phone and then Snapchat and so on. This happens all the time; there’s so much noise out there pulling my attention away from everything else. That same noise is affecting the content that I’m putting out.

There are many factors that have contributed to this feeling of “information overload” in the last decade. But this isn’t a new phenomenon. As writing became more common in Ancient Greece, Plato decried that “this discovery will create forgetfulness in the learner’s soul.” European scholars felt the abundance of books created by Gutenberg’s printing press was ruinous, even comparing it to an epidemic. And of course there’s the World Wide Web, with its ever growing glut of content and big data.

While writing and books aren’t bad-mouthed anymore (though this may depend on where you are), the age of the Internet may actually be the wave that really overwhelms us. Plato could never have imagined a constant stream of information flashing before your eyes in every waking moment. How can you make sure the content you produce is engaging?


Recommendation Matters

Recommendations make navigating the world a little easier. Trusting something is easier knowing it has good reviews or that a friend actively enjoys it. Recommendation systems like Netflix’s movie recommendations or Spotify’s Discover Weekly are a much valued part of their respective platform. It is worth delving into how your work is being recommended - not just shared - especially if you’re in the process of crafting viral strategies. The future of big data is intelligent Recommendation AI that are capable of using all the data that’s out there about what others are reading and enjoying and using that data to recommend relating and engaging content. As machine learning and AI takes off, staying on top of the revolution is something I’d highly recommend.

No more clickbait

I have a bad habit of oversubscribing to email lists. If it seems tangentially related to something I’m interested or doing, I think “why not?” One of my favorites is CBInsights newsletter which focuses on analyzing the data of private companies and their markets. And my favorite thing about them is that their emails is that the subject line sounds natural. As a conscious consumer of content on the internet, I’m more likely to stay engaged if I don’t feel actively manipulated by what I’m looking at. Be cognizant of the articles you're putting out and make sure they're trying to provide real value; not just clicks.

Steal like an artist

Poet and author Austin Rheon’s book Steal Like an Artist lives on my coffee table. It’s small and square and very black, in fact its actual shape looks very artsy and creative. Rheon’s book has an interesting thesis - nothing is completely original and all creative work builds on what came before. And this artsy looking book that I originally bought for its looks holds a capital T Truth. Through the noise of all the information, anybody who cares about putting their work on the internet should be constantly stealing. Their is modern-day Library of Alexandria at all of our fingertips and this way, the Information Age is a blessing. There is so much to take from that there will always be a chance of finding inspiration. The web is full of great content, help showcase some of it by retweeting/curating.

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How Should We Define Success in Online Communities?

How can you access an accurate picture of how your online community is really performing? Confidently defining what you should be measuring and how often you should be measuring it are common stumbling blocks on the road to in-depth community data analysis.

Tracking just for the sake of tracking (or appeasing your CEO) will do you no good. And while most platforms come with built-in tracking features that analyze traffic and referrals, every community needs to define its own measures of success founded on goals unique to their organization. This is incredibly important to establish before building a community and equally as important to recognize that these goals and strategies will shift over time. So don't get too comfortable.

How we define and measure success is constantly changing. And unfortunately, a metric for success that gets tossed around a lot is number of questions asked and answered - is a misleading and unfair metric.

Simply counting the number of questions asked and answered does not paint a clear picture of how many members are truly being engaged, who is reading the answers, the quality of the content, or its reach.  It also lends itself to an inaccurate portrayal of involvement as there could be dozens of questions asked and answered in one day by the same insular group of 5 super users or association employees.

In a digital environment where everything has the potential to inspire, convert and be tracked, there are so many more meaningful ways to measure success in online communities, 3 of which are outlined below.

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1. Time between visits

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We've found even more ways to encourage interaction between your members.

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