In the late 1990’s, if you knew how to build a website, the market was heavily in your favor. Content management systems didn’t exist, so the ability to write HTML left you at a huge advantage.

Such high demand also existed in our space. We have the common tendency to let the question, “what are other associations doing?” drive initiatives, and other associations were building websites.

The problem is that there was a lack of understanding as to why a website was important. So what was the result? A lot of ineffective websites.

Jumping into the present, I am seeing a similar phenomenon with data. We’re having many conversations about how important it is to collect and apply meaningful data. People are walking away feeling inspired to do so, but when it actually comes down to it, many aren’t sure where to begin. Just as HTML seemed unknowable and entirely necessary at the time, so does data maturity today.

But why are we letting ourselves get so overwhelmed? Think about the fact that we call it “big data.” Doesn’t that make it sound utterly unapproachable?

Rather than opening up your analytics tools and trying to draw meaningful conclusions from the numbers, my advice is to come at this from a completely different starting point. Instead, write a list of assumptions that your association currently holds in regards to your effectiveness. Then, consider what data would support or refute these assumptions.

For instance, EDUCAUSE (my association) has an expo floor that is 250,000 square feet. For a couple of years, we had a learning theater in the middle of the floor and thought of it as a traffic anchor. Our assumption was people would come into the expo hall to check out the theater, which would increase traffic on the floor.

Once we initiated a beacon tracking program and started measuring attendee behavior, we looked at the data to find out how many people were actually coming to the learning theater; it turned out to be less of a traffic driver than we thought. It then became a question of ROI. Rather than a learning theater, instead we could create eight 10-foot by 10-foot booths and sell them. Was it actually worthwhile to have a learning center, or were the booths better use of the space? The data helped us make a better business decision.

While you might not have the budget to put beacons in your conference halls to track the whereabouts of your attendees, the good news is you likely have many other data sources. You have data on renewals and event registrations. You have data on web behavior. You likely have marketing data as well. Each piece offers you the opportunity to challenge your assumptions, and pivot in ways that will make your association even more effective at what you do.

Operations and Chief Information Officer at EDUCAUSE

Thad Lurie is VP, Operations and Chief Information Officer for EDUCAUSE and leads the association’s functions relating to marketing, conferences and events, content, web, and information technology. He holds both the CAE and CIP credentiaos, and has served as CIO for a number of different associations, including the American Wind Energy Association and the American Health Lawyers Association. He is an active speaker and author for ASAE, CSAE, PCMA, DigitalNow, and other organizations, serves on the boards of both Maritz Global Events and Nurture Project International, and recently served as the Chair of the ASAE Technology Council.

Thad Lurie is VP, Operations and Chief Information Officer for EDUCAUSE and leads the association’s functions relating to marketing, conferences and events, content, web, and information technology. He holds both the CAE and CIP credentiaos, and has served as CIO for a number of different associations, including the American Wind Energy Association and the American Health Lawyers Association. He is an active speaker and author for ASAE, CSAE, PCMA, DigitalNow, and other organizations, serves on the boards of both Maritz Global Events and Nurture Project International, and recently served as the Chair of the ASAE Technology Council.

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