Rethinking the Association Model Through Content & Community

Written by Arianna Rehak on November 4, 2016

Engagement is a huge topic within our space. And for good reason.

Our associations have tremendous value to offer, but we’re having some trouble catching (and keeping!) attention in an environment that is so rapidly transforming.

Nir Eyal is a Behavioral Designer, making him an expert on the psychology of habits. We’ve brought him into the discourse because we believe the key is to cultivate a habit around engagement with your association.

Nir’s book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, was written for those who have something that will tangibly improve lives, if only people would engage with it on a consistent basis. The book offers a formula to foster habitual usage.

It was written about product making in general, which is why asked Nir to come chat with us; we felt an association-specific conversation was warranted.

You can listen to the full recording here, but below are two of the big takeaways. It turns out there are areas where we can really shine, but it may require rethinking the traditional model:


There was a time when associations enjoyed a content monopoly within their specific domains. If you wanted to gain industry knowledge, you better well have paid the annual fee because it was the only way you were going to find it.

Enter internet.

If content is just one of the many things you have to offer, consider this. Two million blog posts are published every day.

Let that sink in for a second.

Two million. Every day.

As Nir told us, “if you don’t offer a particular insight to the public, then chances are someone else will.”

With that in mind, he suggested, why not put content in front of the paywall? And produce it often! That way you can form a habit for readers to come to you for information, and from there you can start to sell them on the many other great things your association has to offer.


As Nir astutely pointed out in our conversation, relationships are quite potentially your stickiest offering.

The nature of your association makes it so that everyone in the room has at least one thing in common, so you have a great head start on your rapport-building mission.

When I ask people why they attend ASAE Annual, I almost always hear the same answer: people go back every year because they’ve made friends, and they’re excited to see them again.

Therefore, make your events fun – not just informative. Encourage these bonds in any way you can.

As Nir suggested, if your in-person touch points are few and far between, why not establish an online community?

If you already have one but you’re not seeing engagement, what can you do to make coming back to your online space an every day occurrence?

This is one of the many subjects we touched upon with Nir. Listen to the full recording for more of his ideas on increasing engagement: