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The Power of MemberFuse Collaborative Groups
February 8th, 2013

Among the keys to the success of any online social network community are members that are actively engaged and creative. One of the many ways Avectra’s MemberFuse enables you to create a rewarding and productive environment for your association is through the creation of collaborative groups

MemberFuse enables the creation of collaborative groups for members serving on committees, task forces, special interest groups, and communities of practice. For instance, you might create a secure group for your Board of Directors, or you might allow users working together on an event to create their own group to share progress and organize their efforts. Within these groups, members find a place to work with each other on topics relevant to their mission. They can upload and share resources such as links, whitepapers, flyers, notes, and presentations. Groups can also host discussions, field polls, and even create live collaborative wiki documents that log critical data about editors, comments, and versions.

Depending on how you choose to configure MemberFuse, groups can be formed and function in a variety of ways. You can allow users to create their own groups, or you can allow only admin created groups, or both. You can also choose to have any or all groups moderated by admins, moderated by users, or not moderated by any one.

Of course, since MemberFuse is yours, you have the advantage of using powerful analytics and reporting tools to monitor activity in your groups and throughout your entire network. These tools reveal not only what groups have the highest membership and engagement, but the size of your community, how often members log in, what content is currently important to members, and what discussion topics are active. And with such information, you can tailor your recruitment, education, and other programs to further enhance both engagement and loyalty.




Avectra Social CRM Suite Helps Member-based Associations Manage Member Lifecycles
February 9th, 2013

Technology continues to create disruption and opportunity in all kinds of organizations and enterprises across the business spectrum – and membership-based associations are certainly no exception. The rise of online social network platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others have fundamentally changed the game for associations.

Your members – like everyone else – are out there enjoying this brave new online social world. Which means you have new opportunities to not only learn about your members, but also to interact and enrich your relationships with them. At the same time, they have new ways of being public with their opinions about your organization, or your upcoming event, or the way you conducted your last fundraiser. They have new, powerful ways of sharing these opinions with their friends – some of whom are other members of your association, and others may be some your best prospective recruits. You’ve surely realized by now that simply establishing a Facebook page or tweeting out news on Twitter is not really adequate.

Avectra Social CRM moves beyond traditional CRM tools to help associations make the most of these emerging opportunities. Organizations need to develop ways to understand how to strategically and thoughtfully gather and analyze social network data, and then how to transform that data and analysis into action they can efficiently and consistently execute.

Traditional CRM tools have proved invaluable in automating the capture and automated application of customer data for traditional companies and even some associations.  But a traditional CRM wasn’t built with member-based associations and the new, emerging world of social networking in mind. The Avectra Social CRM Suite furnishes you the right tools to support smart tactics. And when you combine solid tools with a member-driven philosophy, you can more accurately identify what members want and need and more effectively enhance engagement and maximize retention, development, satisfaction, recruitment, and loyalty.

For instance, let’s take a look at membership lifecycle management. After members were recruited, a traditional CRM software solution might help orchestrate efforts to retain them, market to them, and schedule routine interactions. From a traditional customer relationship management standpoint, it was these kinds of straightforward methods and transaction-based metrics were enough to succeed. But the socially networked world is no longer so linear or simple to manage. You need a way to know what a member is saying about you on Twitter, how active she is on your Facebook page and what kinds of things she’s saying there, and how to present engagement opportunities to her that align with her interests.

And that’s what Avectra Social CRM Suite can do. It revolutionizes both the methods and the quality of the data you harvest and then the accuracy and speed with which you can analyze and act on that social data. While in the past, you might never have noticed threats to retention or failed to recognize ways to maximize engagement, you now can have more meaningful exchanges with your members in a greater variety of places – so you can deal with that threat or enhance that engagement right away. And you can do all of this in the social network where they’re already comfortable while building invaluable conversations that will endure and flourish throughout your customer’s entire lifecycle.




Avectra Social CRM – A Complete Answer to New Challenges
February 10th, 2013

We live in a world where the nature of both our social and business interactions are undergoing revolutionary change. Years ago the rise of the Internet disrupted the way businesses around the world conducted themselves. More recently, the eruption and continued explosive growth of social networking has forced associations to rethink how they evaluate member expectations and manage member communications, conduct prospecting and fundraising, and impacted nearly every aspect of how to effectively serve their membership and achieve their business goals.

The effort to smoothly integrate the new social network world into your membership and business strategies is on. It presents the potential to revolutionize how you work and to allow you to build new, robust and very personal levels of loyalty and engagement with each and every member of your association – but only if you find ways to do it right.

Avectra Social CRM for Associations is the tool you need to do it right. Social CRM is an invaluable suite of tools for any association that recognizes both the opportunities and challenges in the world of social networking. Social CRM integrates industry-leading applications into one complete solution. Built around category leader netFORUM, Social CRM also includes MemberFuse Community, Social Console, A-Score, and Socialytics. With Social CRM you can better run your business, provide a highly engaging experience for your members, conduct optimal two-way communications, gain critical insights into how to maximize your fundraising efforts, and gain both invaluable business and membership insights – and the power to act on them effectively.




Can Avectra Help Me Consolidate All The Software Functions We Have In Our Organization?
February 11th, 2013

“Can Avectra help me consolidate all the software functions we have in our organization?” is a question we hear quite a bit from Executive Directors.  They’ve been assessing the organization, trying to make strategic moves to revitalize the association and more proactively respond to the needs and desires of the memberships.

It’s usually at this point, when Executive Directors are trying to get a holistic view of the association and coming up short  (due to the various systems assigned to a particular process or function) with no way to tie all the information together – they realize what a mess their information systems are in.

The various pieces probably sound familiar:  online shopping cart, event registration, member management system, to name just a few.

Typically these tools and platforms are scattered all over the association.  Some are Access databases.  Some are stand-alone software programs.  There might be dozens and dozens of spreadsheets throughout the organization that are being updated manually.  None of which is integrated.  All of which is difficult to assemble and access.  Some of the solutions or repositories are unsupported and undocumented, and often there’s only one person who knows how to get the information.

It’s chaotic and ineffective.  It’s also a huge time drain – time that could be better spent recruiting, developing volunteers, strengthening relationships with existing member, etc.

Implementing an integrated solution like Avectra solves the problem.  It brings a common platform, integrated system to store your information.  It provides dashboards for easy, real time viewing of critical association information.  It’s easy to use for association employees as well as association members.  It relieves much of the duplicate re-keying of data from one system to another.




Creating a Better Member Experience
February 12th, 2013

Knowledge is power but real power comes from having the information you need when you need it.

It’s hard to engage with members when you’ve got one hand tied behind your back in the form of not having critical data available to you when speaking with members.

If you find that your most regular response to member inquiries is “Let me do some digging and get back to you on that” – it’s a missed opportunity.  Scrambling to find data doesn’t contribute to a strong interaction.

One of the greatest benefits of Avectra association management tools is the ability to have all member data at your fingertips.

Let’s say that you get a call from a member who is uncertain whether their order for a book went through on your eCommerce system.  In addition, they noted on their event registration that they would be happy to volunteer but hadn’t heard from anyone yet.  And, while they have you on the phone, they’d like to know if you could recommend someone for them to talk to in order to decide if one of the association benefits would make sense for them to purchase.

If your events are handled through one system and your member database is on another system and you can’t access the data relevant to the eCommerce system – you’ve got to scramble to address their questions.  And, chances are, you’ve just entered into several days of telephone tag simply to get your member the needed information.

With Avectra cloud-based solutions, you have all the information you need to quickly respond to member inquiries.  Your quick response not only provides a better member experience, it gives you an opportunity to spend time building the relationship.  With their questions answered, you can take a few moments to ask what is most valuable to them with regards to their membership; what’s been the most challenging aspect of their experience; what could improve the experience.

These are the crucial conversations.  These are the interactions that are often lost when we spend more time tracking down data than actually sharing the data.

Today, the advances in technology have finally made using technology easier.  With tools like Avectra you can finally say goodbye to the mad scramble for information and spend your time delighting your members.




Do I Need to Worry about Security with a Cloud-based Solution?
February 13th, 2013

No matter what technology you use, security should always be top of mind.  Often there is a belief that on-premises software is more secure than cloud-based software.  We’ve all read and heard stories of online services being hacked and critical data being lost.

However, on-premises software is just as easily compromised.  Information stored on laptops is at risk if the laptop is lost or stolen.  Critical data stored on flash drives that are easily misplaced are at risk as well.  We’ve heard of an instance where a thief broke the window of a business and a server with employee payroll information was among the items stolen.

There are a number of layers to security.  There is the security built into the software itself (who is assigned access to various applications and reports).  There is the process of developing security measures and best practices for your organization and adoption of the policy by employees (handling of confidential information, password protocols, etc.).  And there is the security of where the application server is housed.

Regarding passwords, a best practice to adopt is requiring “strong” passwords.  A strong password is complex.  It has at least 8 characters, a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters if possible.  A complex password is difficult to guess or crack.

The security built into the software is also important.  There are a number of ways this is handled.  During the setup of the software, you can determine by user who has access to applications and reports.  There are also other security features.  For example, Avectra requires periodic password changes.

When it comes to the security of location, it’s hard to do any better than the data centers used by cloud computing software publishers.  They have the best security money can buy because economies of scale allow them to spread the cost of that security across thousands and thousands of tenants (customers).

But perhaps the most important security measure you can take is to develop internal security procedures.  Then invest the time in educating all systems users in the process and discuss with them the importance of adhering to the process.  Most people don’t set out to compromise critical data – it usually happens as a result of carelessness or naiveté.

We’re happy to answer other questions you may have about system security, just let us know.




What Associations Should Know About Disaster Recovery
February 14th, 2013

In a previous blog entry – Do I Need to Worry about Security with a Cloud-based Solution? – we explored why you’d be hard pressed to find better security than that provided by cloud-computing publishers’ data centers. They are able to furnish the most robust security money can buy because economies of scale allow them to distribute the cost of that security across their entire customer base.

While your organization already has back-up solutions and continuity plans should a disaster disrupt your IT systems – cloud-based vendors use those same economies of scale as they do with security to assure you that your system will enjoy some of the most robust and sophisticated disaster recovery services available anywhere. And the importance of making your backup and continuity as bulletproof as possible can’t be overstated – according to widely cited studies, about 40% of enterprises that experience a disaster go out of business within five years.

Your membership database is your lifeblood.  Critical member contact information, as well as history and individual notes collected over the years would be a devastating loss.

Solutions from Avectra – such as netFORUM – run in a secure, world-class hosting facility with system redundancy, fail-safe power systems, and full database backups – measures that ordinary individual enterprises just can’t match.. For instance, Avectra maintains a “triple redundant disaster recovery” system.

The “triple redundancy” system is built like this:

  • The primary network.
  • A secondary network available and online in the data center exactly mirroring all data and systems in real time.
  • A third system in a data facility geographically remote from the main corporate data center that also maintains exact copies of all data and systems on the entire primary network.

And there’s one more convenience afforded by adopting a cloud-based solution. Even during relatively common and minor disturbances – power failures, for instance – Avectra solutions are still available to anyone remotely with an Internet connection and a PC.




Every Association’s Nightmare
February 15th, 2013

This morning I noticed a friend of mine had posted the following on Facebook:

“Is it worth renewing my ________ membership?  Any other _______ members – let me know what value do you get from it these days?”

My friend operates his own business and the association he was talking about was a large, very well known association.

Besides my comment to him of “I’ll be very interested in what feedback you get” –there hasn’t been any activity in his status post.  Chances are, unless he’s gets some compelling feedback, he probably won’t renew.

As a member contemplates renewal, is your association connected enough with the member to swoop in and make the case for your value proposition?  Are they turning outside of the association to their communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to assist with their decision?

Avectra Social CRM tools can help you strengthen member relationships and seal the leak of revenue that comes from members choosing not to renew.

These tools not only help you to better communicate with your members and showcase your benefits, they allow other members to communicate with one another about the value of your association.  That 3rd party endorsement (member influencing member) is a powerful complement to the efforts of your internal team.

There are many things competing for the time and money of both your current and prospective members.  If you’ve been seeing a downward trend in renewal and recruitment, it might be time to try something new.  Avectra association tools make it easy for you to provide the information members are looking for, quickly answer questions, and allow for the membership at large to help you promote the good work you do and valuable benefits you offer.

We’d be happy to answer your questions on how these solutions might work for your association.




How Safe Is Your Data?
February 16th, 2013

Access to critical member data enables association managers to craft more effective communication, deliver a better member experience and provide easy-to-use portals for collecting dues and selling products.  But what if this data were to fall into the wrongs hands?

News of systems being hacked and critical personal data compromised is sadly frequent and gives cause for reasonable concern over the safety of member data.

Security around systems and access to data is something that should be discussed, documented and monitored in order to keep member data safe and member confidence in association management strong.

Threats to Security: External and Internal

With the rise and popularity of cloud computing, there has been much written about ensuring that data stored in the cloud is secure.  But data stored in on premise systems is every bit as susceptible.

When thinking about threats to your data, the first image that may spring to mind is that of a hacker.   And while there are hackers who look to crack into systems for fun or criminal purposes, much of your security risk comes from lax internal practices and to a lesser degree from disgruntled employees.

Consider the implications (and the ease) of critical data downloaded onto a thumb drive and carried out of the offices.  How many staff members transport laptops housing spreadsheets and downloads of sensitive data?  A lost or stolen laptop, depending on the information stored on that laptop, can mean a security nightmare.

Whether your information is stored physically within your office or virtually via the cloud, keeping your data secure requires thought, planning and policies.

System Security:  Policies, System Controls, and Technology

Policies

First and foremost, it is important to identify and address security concerns as well as put procedures in place to create an organization environment that is committed to security and aware of their role in keeping data secure.

Other measures can include background checks as a condition of employment, reviewing liability insurance, and regularly reviewing and enforcing security procedures.  Written procedures and regular review of procedures with employees can go a long way in ensuring your information remains safe.

No one likes to consider the worse case scenario or to be suspicious of employees.  However, proactive measures can protect your organization from embarrassment and liability.  And, with everyone in the organization participating, it becomes a prudent organizational discipline rather than a matter of suspicion.

Here is a short checklist:

  • Are system passwords required to be a minimum length as well as include numbers and special characters to make them more difficult to crack?
  • Do you require passwords to be changed on a regular basis?
  • Has your organization defined role-based access to information and is the access enforced?
  • Do employees sign confidentiality statements?
  • Is an adequate budget maintained for network security tools?
  • Are those network security tools implemented and updated regularly?
  • Can you audit data being accessed and who is accessing the data?
  • When employees leave the organization, do you ensure that appropriate processes are changed and access closed down?

Documenting and enforcing your policies, even simple measures such as password design can go a long way to keeping your information safe.

System Controls and Technology

The software applications used by your association, whether cloud-based or on premise, have built in security functions.

These functions most likely include: log in/password protection, the administrative capability of assigning, on a user-by-user basis, degrees of access, audit trails and other security functions that can be set up by the system administrator.

It is important to understand what functions are available to you and the best practices for deploying the functionality.

Here is a quick checklist:

  • Do you use virus protection programs and update them regularly?
  • Are firewalls used to protect personally identifiable information?
  • Do you maintain and review audit logs for attempted intrusions?
  • Have you created an incident recovery/back-up plan in case the worst happens and your data is corrupted?

Best Security may be in the Cloud

Established, reputable Software as a Service (SaaS) publishers provide excellent security for your cloud-based applications.  Having said that, always perform your due diligence, to ensure that they do have top-notch security.

SaaS publishers consider security a core competency and key competitive differentiator from on premise software publishers.  Because they serve hundreds and thousands of clients, through economies of scale they are able to provide security on a level that most organizations could not afford to do on their own.  For example, SaaS publishers use world-class facilities for data center infrastructure and back up and disaster recovery.

Typically these data centers feature round the clock monitoring and operations.  The data center system professionals are constantly monitoring the system, proactively looking for anomalies so that they can intervene immediately and resolve any threat before they impact the client base.

Cloud Computing and privacy:  Canadian implications

When working with a SaaS provider and using a cloud-based solution, it is important to know where your data resides physically.  Most Canadian organizations prefer, and some are required, to have their data reside in Canada.  This is because if your data is stored in data centers located in the United States, the data is subject to the US Patriot Act.

Here is a quick checklist:

  • Will your organization’s data reside in Canada or in the United States?
  • Does your cloud solution provider maintain a Tier 1 data center?
  • Does your cloud solution provider maintain SAS Type II audited and certified processes and controls?
  • Is the data center of your cloud solution provider monitored and managed 24x7x365?
  • What is the frequency of local and remote backups?

While there is no guarantee against security compromises, you can best protect your association and dramatically minimize the risk with vigilance and sound policies and procedures.  Encourage all in your organization to treat security with the attention it deserves by adhering to internal security procedures.  Work with your software providers to ensure that you are taking advantage of all the security measures that are built into the software.  Taking the time to be proactive about your organization’s security will help to ensure that you won’t fall victim to sensitive data falling into the wrong hands.




MemberFuse Member Dashboards Make A Better Social Networking Alternative
February 7th, 2013

Avectra’s MemberFuse allows you and your community to take charge of the way they experience your association online. While social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can sometimes feel dangerously unpredictable, MemberFuse can help you help manage the conversation and set the topics and the tone. You can customize the look and feel of the site, branding it and including your logo. You can make features, documents, and other resources accessible to whomever you like by managing access site-wise by user category (such as member, guest, or public) or for individuals.

Of course, your members take an active part in making your MemberFuse network engaging by creating, sharing, and accessing data. The first thing association members see upon logging in is their own personalized MemberFuse Member Dashboard. The Member Dashboard presents an easily navigable amalgamation of news the user has expressed interest in and information about the community as a whole. Further, MemberFuse can offer users suggestions of more content and other members they may wish to learn more about based on their activities. With their Member Dashboard, users can also create their own polls, post their activities or documents, monitor conversations, subscribe to RSS feeds, and manage their calendar, contacts, and messages.




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