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February 27, 2006

Long tailing for Associations

Associations Now's most current issue features an excellent article entitled "Associations in the Age of the Long Tail" (subscription required) by Jeff De Cagna and Jamie Notter. I'm fascinated by this concept, and am trying to process this thought that the long tail and user-generated content represent a new opportunity for associations through the filter of the stark realities that associations face.

With respect to applying the long tail concept to associations, here are a few factors association executives need to consider that I don't feel are substantively or explicitly covered in the article:

  1. Associations face a knowledge shortage. I suspect that only about 10% of all association members consider themselves knowledgeable enough about their field or trade to create and share their own expertise in a public way, and only 1% feel confident enough to pioneer new ideas or concepts publicly. Here's the basis of my suspicion. Who can blame them? "I joined your association to learn, not teach!"
  2. Associations face a volunteer deficit. If you asked 100 association executives the simple yes or no question, "Do you have enough quality volunteers?" I bet 90 or more would say no. Jeff and Jamie seem to be making the assumption that members will simply create this content for free. Some (but not enough) will. However, the most skilled creators will expect to be paid.
  3. Developing this breadth of content will require money. Netflix, Amazon and iTunes are successful in part because they're resellers. Imagine if they had attempted to build their libraries with volunteers or internal staff resources!
  4. Associations are accountable to their mission, and members are entitled to roughly equal levels of service commensurate with their dues investment. This is a fundamental principle of association management. Associations that develop content which only appeals to micro-niches need to consider whether those expenditures of resources are in line with their association's mission and whether all members are receiving a level of service commensurate with their level of membership.
  5. Overlap is inefficient. Imagine two or more associations in adjacent markets begin working in the long tail. They begin to develop nearly identical content in areas that were formerly considered on the fringes of their markets. This is inefficient, but perhaps also advantageous because different views of the same concepts begin to emerge.

Some of these questions are paradoxical, but none of them is insurmountable.

Here's a deep thought: The association community itself IS the long tail.

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