Freemium--A Plan for ISA Resurgence

The International Society of Automation (ISA) is a collection of overlapping communities that serve different purposes.

Aw 565 Jimpinto Web
There are local sections, divisions, standards committees and others, each with their own reasons to exist. The successful communities have passionate people, forums for interaction and the exchange of ideas, and leaders that keep things rolling.

Membership has been declining steadily in recent years. Today, there are about 28,500 members, including reduced-dues and non-paying lifetime members. With a plethora of high-content information sources available on the Internet in the “free” paradigm, paying $100 per year for ISA membership is an anachronism. The dues are simply not matched by the value that ISA purports to provide.

A bridge to the future is possible—ISA can offer free membership for people interested in automation anywhere in the world. These could be non-voting members, with the offer of upgrade to full membership upon payment of regular dues. Jon diPietro, ISA member and software developer who started the OurISA.org collaboration Web site, thinks “freemium” membership could attract 500,000 new members.

There are many way to structure free membership while optimizing value. Free members would not be members of an ISA section and would, therefore, not have any voting rights. But they would be able to contribute content to “InTech” and ISA blogs, and receive discounts for training and attendance at ISA meetings and conferences. This would “cost” ISA very little, and yield significant benefits. It will lead to a much higher level of engagement and significantly greater revenue opportunities.

Regular paid membership will increase significantly as free members transfer to full membership through clear value offerings. The regular dialog and conversion results will provide feedback on membership value, and allow development of new member offerings. As more and more people recognize the value of membership, the conversion rates (from free to reduced-dues and then full membership) will climb to an estimated 5 percent to 15 percent, or 25,000 to 75,000 new members. This approaches the number I previously promoted as a goal and still maintain as a viable objective.

With a significantly higher number of constituents, ISA would not be wanting for leaders, editorial content and advertising revenue. Indeed, higher readership of online and printed content guarantees increased advertising rates. Many other current shortfalls will quickly disappear.

Social networking

Today, social networks strengthen and spread discussions and relationships among individuals and organizations with mutual interests. ISA must put high emphasis on the development and stimulation of an automation online community. Members must have a variety of means to stay in touch with ISA activities in their preferred areas of interest and locale, through RSS (Really Simple Syndication), e-mail, blogs and groups. Volunteer-coordinated automation interest groups and subgroups should proliferate on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and others.

With ISA members acting as facilitators, news, information and ideas must be shared easily and effectively among members. Every section, division and committee must have its own shared workspace for effective collaboration. This is already being done through free Web sites; volunteers can simply consolidate and cooperate at first, before making ISA the primary channel.

To leverage widespread membership and audience, members must have a platform to publish their content easily, with the ability to generate immediate and effective feedback. Blogs are like traditional user forums, but also allow complex content and multimedia (images, videos and presentations) and they are easier to monitor. Too, they are more easily indexed by search engines, which raises awareness and drives more traffic to the ISA Web site.

It’s clear that ISA must re-invent itself. Before any meaningful improvements can be accomplished, governance needs to change dramatically, to avoid analysis-paralysis. The conundrum must first be solved: How to get volunteers to relinquish volunteer control?

Acknowledgement: The ideas in this article were developed with the involvement of Jon diPietro, Eoin O’Riain and Nick Sands.

Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology futurist and angel investor. You can e-mail him at: jim@jimpinto.com. Or review his prognostications and predictions on his Web site: www.jimpinto.com.

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