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Generation Y
Guest Posts

The State Of Social Media In Associations And What To Do About It

We hear over and over again that associations are struggling to recruit, retain and engage young members in their organizations. And, according to Marketing General’s 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 74% of responding associations indicated that increasing member engagement is a top membership goal. Yet, according to the report, among the top three reasons cited for members not renewing is lack of engagement with the organization.

We hear over and over again that associations are struggling to recruit, retain and engage young members in their organizations. And, according to Marketing General’s 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 74% of responding associations indicated that increasing member engagement is a top membership goal. Yet, according to the report, among the top three reasons cited for members not renewing is lack of engagement with the organization.

Houston, we have a problem.

Digging deeper, when talk of social media enters the picture, associations freeze up. True, Marketing General’s report states that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the three most common social media sites used by associations, but what are they using those channels for?

Associations are using Twitter to promote events and associations are using Facebook to solicit new members or promote membership in general.

In short, they are using “push marketing”. It’s no wonder the engagement piece is a struggle; associations are not entirely on board with utilizing these online channels in the way they were designed: to communicate, engage and have conversations with their audiences.

Here’s the deal: If you aren’t offering valid, relevant, engaging content, your members aren’t going to care that you’re even on social media. And they sure as heck aren’t going to engage with you online or otherwise.


So what do you do?

For starters, keep your social media channels and don’t be afraid to use them. They won’t kill your association. And if you haven’t started to implement social media into your marketing mix, now is the time to start.

That said, let’s talk about using social media effectively to drive membership engagement so that next year, you can say you focused on retaining the great influx of members you recruited in 2013…from your social media channels!


Eighty-three percent of Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use social networking sites according to Pew Internet. Basically, we’re talking about Generation Y (born between 1982 and 1995). Association must no longer abide by the “business as usual” mindset and adapt to changing communication needs of your potential members–the Millennials. They’re looking at associations who offer cutting-edge training, technology and communication tactics. Gen Y is on the go. We’re all on the go. Meet them where they are–online.


There is a balance of give and take when it comes to using social media within your association. The great thing about the platforms is that they provide an equal playing field for all organizations. How you play the game is what counts. Think about the following five ways you can use social media to your association’s advantage while, at the same time, providing a benefit and engagement to your audience. This will in turn drive potential members to your social networks, to your website and, ultimately, to your membership sign-up form.

Show off your expertise

Your audience looks to you as an expert in the industry. And Millennials are researching your organization online long before you ever know about it. Provide relevant information across your social media channels that showcases the latest trends and reports in your industry. Prove that you’re an organization worth following because you can provide an “in” within the industry. Exclusive content (but not a sales pitch) is ideal here.

Build a network

According to the report, Marketing General states that associations list “networking” as a primary reason for why members join. I’m not sure if that is entirely true for Gen Y, but regardless, it’s your chance to build your own network and showcase why it pays to belong to and engage with your association.

Use your social networks to introduce mentors and mentees. Promote and congratulate members of your organization on a job well done or a recent promotion at work. Encourage discussion by way of comments, retweets, pins and likes between members and non-members alike that follow your association on social media. Use pictures; lots of them. Be a part of the discussion so that when the face-to-face networking takes place there is a sense of camaraderie has already been established online.

Prove value

Networking can’t be the only “value” you show to members. I can network anywhere; I want an association who provides additional services to meet the needs of where I am in my current career track. When your potential members find you online, they’re looking for the same thing. Discount codes aren’t going to cut it (though they are nice to send out every once in awhile). You can utilize promotion in a way that showcases high caliber speakers, events and training opportunities for members all while using social media. These same channels also give you the opportunity to showcase your organization’s personality. This is important for younger generations; they want to see acceptance and a casual, yet informative atmosphere coming from the leaders of your association. Use that to your advantage online.

Build awareness

Hashtags can be a wonderful thing and now, you can use them on Facebook and Twitter alike. Think of fun ways to build awareness and conversation around your association online. Likewise, be sure to monitor conversation and check in to your social media channels on a daily basis (yes, daily). You want to do your research on what others may be saying about you online as well, even if you’re not present on those particular channels. Many times, when conducting a Google search, a company or organization’s Facebook page appears first in the search results–even over their website. Social media channels are searchable and trackable. Understanding this is a great way to build awareness and conversation around your association.

Promote community involvement

Think about the 80/20 rule when it comes to social media content. Eighty percent of your posts should be informative and provide the answer to questions your members and potential members have; their pain points. Think free information here. The rest of the time can be used to promote specific events or your association as a whole. That said, be sure to demonstrate your civic involvements. Generation Y is all about the good cause. Give kudos to local organizations in your community or provide information on service projects available to members. These are just two examples of how community involvement can engage younger members online.

It’s not OK to just state that your association uses social media. Anyone with an email address and a sign-up form can say that. How you utilize the channels and engagement is what will set you apart from other associations in your industry. Be the change your members seek. Be fully aware of the give-and-take mindset when it comes to social media.

And the next time a social media poll comes around that asks about your association’s social media use, you can confidently say you not only use the channels, but build membership engagement around them as well.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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