Thursday, April 24, 2008

Associations and the Long Tail

Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief at Wired Magazine and author of the Long Tail provided a fantastic opening keynote to kick-off the conference. Having read his book I can say that I really appreciated how he adapted his content and approach to speak directly to the association professionals that constituted his audience. He really set the tone for what looks to be another great conference.

For those not familiar with the Long Tail it is essentially another way of referencing the Pareto Distribution or power law probability distribution, named after Vilfredo Pareto, who found that in looking at the distribution of power in middle-age Europe, the few held the vast majority of the power, and the majority held very little power. The idea is sometimes expressed more simply as the Pareto principle or the "80-20 rule" which says that 20% of the population owns 80% of the wealth.

Chris shared a number of stats and ideas taking from his book that were that I was totally floored by was that according the U.C. Berkeley, we are currently experiencing a 35% average compound growth rate of data storage. That is a whole lot of data.

So how does this apply to the association technology world? Actually the similarities are quite striking. Due to the nature and typical mission of most associations many of us have been doing this for quite some time. An association is a prime example brought about thanks to the same concepts that drive the Long Tail. The ingredients consist of an under served population, the programs, products and services these individuals want, need and desire, and a place to do it. However, at the same time, just because you are an association doesn't necessarily mean you are fully capitalizing on the true possibility of the long tail. In order for that to truly happen you need to shift the distribution of power from the center to the periphery, essentially (borrowing from one of Chris's themes) democratizing production to truly harness the power of the niche.

My biggest take away is that harnessing the power of the niche and by extension leveraging the Long Tail is no longer optional; it is essential for long term growth and viability. People have come to more closely identify with their unique attributes as opposed to the commonalities and come to expect to be able to find products and services that cater to their specific needs. We need to shift from looking for the "blockbuster" opportunities and take advantage of the under served communities. Context, not content, is king.

What is your association doing to take advantage of the Long Tail. What more could you do to exploit the "nicheification" of everything? What associations are doing a better job than others? This isn't the end of the conversation it really is just the beginning.


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