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Associations Are Going Mobile. Really?

For the purposes of this post, I’m defining “the mobile web” with a focus specifically on an association’s provision of and members’ use of web content made available via a mobile smartphone and/or tablet devices.

In July, Richard Gott gave us insight on how European associations harness the web. This month, Rich is back with a guest post that investigates if associations are really getting to grips with the mobile web.

For the purposes of this post, I’m defining “the mobile web” with a focus specifically on an association’s provision of and members’ use of web content made available via a mobile smartphone and/or tablet devices.

Let’s start with the facts as I know them: The mobile web has exploded over the past two years. This makes perfect sense as there are 435.2 million smartphone users across the globe according to Gartner (Updated March 2015: There are over 1.75 billion smartphone users now across the world). Likewise, association members generally use multiple devices at work and at home (think iPads, smartphones, etc.) And we all can empathize with being “time poor” and keen to accessing content “on the go”.

And so, how is your membership association meeting mobile demands in order to optimize member value, engagement, retention and recruitment?


At the start of the year I ‘temperature checked’ the UK association sector to establish the current state-of-play via the MemberWise Network’s “Harnessing the Web to Drive Membership Value and Growth” survey. This was completed by 316 association executives and included key questions linked to organizations’ current and future use of the mobile web.

We asked associations if they believed their members expected ‘an interactive, engaging and value-driven experience,’ and unsurprisingly 4 out of 5 organizations agreed. However, we specifically asked what role the ‘mobile web’ played in the recruitment of new members and the retention of existing members, and the impact they perceived this had on member engagement. The result?

Only 15% of organizations believed the ‘mobile web’ helped to directly recruit and retain members, however amongst larger organizations (100,000 members +) this increased substantially to 29%. This shows that larger organizations place more emphasis on the ‘mobile web’ and this may link to current/potential member expectations and/or the budget available for such activities.


There’s growing pressure for associations to deliver mobile content, however, an emerging association executive frustration is the ‘We’ve got to have an App’ mentality. However, before jumping into app-mode, do you know the answers to the follow questions?

  1. Is it perceived the App will generate a new stream of income?

  2. What will be the role/function of the App?

  3. From a member perspective what will be the proposed positive outcome?

So, will an app drive income? The short answer is no, unless there is (or is likely to be) a strong demand linked to member requirements/demand.

Fifty-nine percent of apps created do not cover the costs of development and 68% earn less than $5,000. On top of that, a staggering 80% of apps do not generate enough income to support a stand-alone business.

An app will not save your association. Focus more on your core member value proposition.

The second and third questions I mention above (app function and positive outcomes) depend on your association’s key role. The very nature of an app is to provide quick access to information, support and two-way communication whilst ‘on the move’. If your organization’s key role are any different, you may want to consult more widely before investing in an app.


Only a quarter of associations currently provide mobile apps (via the Apple iStore). During MemberWise’s recent national web conference, “Harnessing the Web 2013”, we held an expert panel of leading membership and web experts. There was a unanimous consensus that apps are not the way forward and rendering online content for multiple devices via flexible content management systems (CMS) was preferable and more economical.

As we have seen, associations are undecided from a member recruitment and retention perspective, though 54% believe the mobile web will soon play a part in enhancing online member engagement (note: it has already started). More than 75% of associations confirmed they will be ‘ramping up’ their mobile offering within the next 3 years.

The fact is, he mobile web is playing more of a role in our members’ lives and if there is an expectation that content should be delivered via this medium there is a need to at the very least ensure it is rendered across all devices. Failure to do so will impact negatively from an online member value perspective and could have further impact on member satisfaction, engagement and member recruitment and retention.

So I ask you this: How is your association planning to use the mobile web in the coming year? Let us know as part of the MemberWise “Harnessing the Web” benchmarking survey.


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