Becoming a digital association is not for the weak of heart, but, the prognosis for your association is gloomy if you don’t.

At the digitalNOW conference, I learned about an association that is in the midst of making that transition – the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP). Stephen J. Welch, Senior Vice President, Communications at ACCP, walked us through their journey so far. He said, “The heavy lifting is yet to be done” and it’s going to be more expensive than they initially projected, but their board is still “on board.”

The online world is changing everyone’s habits and expectations, and doctors have been quick to adjust. In late 2011, ACCP conducted a readership survey and found that 65 percent of their members had, or were planning to have, an iPhone and 59 percent  had, or were planning to have, an iPad by the end of 2012.

The Amazon model – the knowing portal — has also set new expectations for online experiences. We’re used to seeing targeted and personalized communication, advertisements and search results, even though the platforms don’t always get it right – I’m talking about you, Facebook.

ACCP saw other changes in their industry. Healthcare professionals had more demands on their time, and their pay was decreasing due to cuts in reimbursements. Members were moving to a continuous educational update model, instead of taking a test every ten years. It was time for ACCP to make some big changes.

ACCP’s goal: Develop an integrated and personalized online experience across all platforms to inform, engage and empower their customers and bring them a one-stop knowledge portal.

They set out to make these changes to:

  • Make it easy for members and customers to find the right information.
  • Provide value that meets their needs in a changing educational environment.
  • Cut through the noise to provide “must-have” engagement opportunities.
  • Create a one-stop shop for education, maintenance of certification, content, research and other relevant information that’s accessible anytime, anywhere via digital delivery.

At the outset, they underwent an IT audit and identified areas of weakness that needed to be addressed through a technology strategy. Then, they created a plan to completely overhaul their IT infrastructure and platforms to revamp their ability to develop, store and deliver content with a digital-first approach.

They developed a content strategy with the aim of reinforcing their core value proposition, positioning ACCP as the leading source of educational content for their industry and increasing collaboration. They’re using a unified taxonomy based on the ACCP education curriculum.

They are rebuilding their technology infrastructure from the ground up and moving as much as they can to the Cloud. Stephen said, “When you build a house, you put in the foundation first — the AMS. However, pressures from our leadership and membership dictated that we build the rooms first and add the foundation later.” They’re in the process of migrating to their new foundation, Avectra Social CRM.

The “rooms” (integrated platforms) of their new “house” are:

  • MemberFuse-powered online community launched in March 2012. Member use and engagement continues to grow. They’re developing content around case discussions. The mobile-optimized version of the ACCP e-Community launched last December.
  • Content management system and website with integrated search: all sites will be mobile-optimized, moving ACCCP toward their “information anytime, anywhere” goal.
  • Public education website.
  • iPhone and iPad apps.
  • Multimedia publications site with improved search, browse and “related content” recommendations.
  • Learning management system for educational content delivery, online learning, testing and assessment.Web-based quality improvement tool for chest physicians to help them improve their practice through the application of data reports and peer comparisons. Stephen said, “Data is key to ACCP’s future endeavors. It’s the building block in our “essential resource” concept.

 They’re moving forward in phases and making progress. “We are doing it backwards, but it’s working,” said Stephen.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who loves seeing associations moving forward even when the path is twisty.