In the last few years the advent of an assortment social media applications has meant that many professional associations have been quick to see the possibilities offered by these new communication and networking routes and have begun to utilise as many as possible. They offer obvious benefits and opportunities to access large numbers of people, elicit opinions or motivate through almost instant communication of ideas. Yet it is worth questioning how many of these organisations will have taken the time to identify the strategic intent or benefit of these activities, both for the organisation and for the membership as a whole.
With the development of the science of network theory, the mathematicians have offered us a plausible explanation of the route to the foundation of professional associations, from groups of like minded individuals to centralised hubs of activity for vast communities of interest. However, the theory also shows us that such hubs are fragile and must also function as key connectors – these are the crucial roles that really matter and are channels for the transfer or ‘flow’ of resources. If they fail in this role then organisations risk losing their hub status, well illustrated by the ‘fashions’ in certification and the story told by the peaks and troughs in take-up for specific qualifications over time.
BALANCING POTENTIAL AGAINST RISK
So for professional associations an interesting balancing act is developing, to utilise the functionality of the social media with its potential to extend the range of their influence, and probably increase membership, without compromising their leadership role within their defined and connected communities of interest.
This leadership role means that they will probably need to work harder to safeguard their place in developing and driving standards while at the same time enhancing their positions within the extended networks represented by their communities of interest. Their members (and non-members) have several layers of networking available to them, both as members of their associations and as members of the burgeoning social media networks at their disposal. These networks should be used to enhance not displace the very real purpose and responsibilities that professional associations have as disseminators of the standards and requirements for professionalism within their disciplines.
So the challenge is for professional associations to stay relevant in an increasingly connected world and the question is whether evolution will determine the result despite our best efforts.