Doing Personalization Right

Written by Mark Kibble on February 20, 2018

To imagine the future, it’s sometimes useful to turn our sights to the past. When the internet was first developed and became a part of our professional landscape, what did an organization’s engagement with their communities look like? And, how can technology improve our interactions with members today?

Remember the early days of internet retail, for example? People shopped online motivated purely by financial benefits. While the local store might be friendlier, and the shopping mall might offer a more exciting experience, shopping online became a game of bargain hunting, competitive pricing, and convenience. Eventually, companies learned to harness their analytics and leverage the power of data to make the internet feel more individualized than real life.

Personalization has become a key characteristic of our organizations’ technological capacity and stretching our minds to the not-too-distant past can point us toward future possibilities. With this in mind, what could we, or should we, be dreaming of for the future?

I think we should take personalization even more seriously. After all, it’s no longer the case that associations can claim a monopoly on industry information. Many libraries are free and accessible, open-access scholarly journals eliminate barriers, and Google searches serve up a smorgasbord of resources with similar information. The collaborative and networking opportunities offered by associations face competition from LinkedIn. If we want to embrace changes to our environment, while still maintaining the solid foundations upon which our associations are built, personalization is going to be key.

How, then, should technologically-supported personalization play out through member engagement?

Consider the (admittedly creepy) fact that numerous databases across cyberspace house an enormous amount of information about us, as evidenced by the tailored advertisements that crop up on our social media pages. Associations can harness the array of information in their own databases for good, provided it maintains total transparency, respect and openness with its members. Why should we not, for example, request that our members give us more details about themselves, what they want, and what they need? And why should we not, with this information, work to use this data to create value? For example, when creating a newsletter, can we not use machine learning to build a version of the newsletter for each individual depending on his/her interests and requirements?

Thanks to technological innovations we can take personalization to a new level via measuring the sentiment of our constituents. Not only can we tailor our engagements with them, we can see in near real time the success (or failure) of that engagement.

Ultimately, the way towards successful, “not creepy” personalization and effective member relationships is mutual transparency. While we gather from our members as much information as we can about their needs, we should in return be open about how we implement this data into our practices. For analytics to be successful and meaningful, we need this reciprocal respect.

Mark spoke in the “A Practical Discussion on Driving Rapid Technological Change” session during SURGE Spring, an interactive virtual summit hosted by on May 2nd-4th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.