Jack McGrath: Hi and welcome to another in our series Ask the Experts. Today we’re going to be talking to Kiki L’Italien who is a social media consultant. Welcome, Kiki.

KiKi L’Italien: Thank you, hi. Welcome.

McGrath: Couple of questions for you. So, you’re the host for the weekly association chat that takes place on Twitter and have led discussions on various topics related to leadership, marketing, meeting, and education among others. How have the discussions evolved over the years and what do you see as being the top issue for association professionals today?

L’Italien: You know, it’s really interesting because I’ve noticed that in the beginning with the chats that people really started talking about general questions that they had about their associations, hot topics of the day, and as time has progressed, it’s been around for five years now, people are more and more wanting to get into the relevancy for associations. “What makes us relevant, while people are finding more and more connections online and using social media?” So, it’s been interesting the way that people have been coming to the association chat and saying, “How can we make our associations more relevant? What is it that we can do to differentiate ourselves from other free, online sources?”

McGrath: So, that’s changed in that previously they wouldn’t ask questions that directly and that relevant to them? Or, has it become more that they’re out there asking more relevant questions to them, is that the change?

L’Italien: Well, I think that what’s changed is really they’re so focused in on that. They’re really focused in on that, worrying that membership is going away, that people are not going to be paying to become members anymore, and they’re zeroed-in on that with a laser sharp focus. So…

McGrath: Right. And that makes sense, we’re hearing that a lot. Like, the whole idea of flux-

L’Italien: Right.

McGrath: -and being responsive to the association.

L’Italien: Right.

McGrath: Another question we had for you, like many of us I know it’s your belief that associations hold the key to the future of education. How do you think the growing skills gap problem in America will affect associations and how can associations compete with institutions of higher education?

L’Italien: You know, my question is this: do they always have to compete or can they work together in some cases? And I think that the answer lies in a lot more coordination and a lot more of associations looking at the content that they have and saying, “How can we use this to approach that skills gap? How can we use this to have more learning availability for people so that we can address those issues.” Because the thing is that associations fill this sort of need that I don’t think that even the associations themselves understand fully, the sort of need that they’re addressing and the fact that they can fill in that gap. They can supply the kind of expertise that’s needed in a lot of cases that higher education just doesn’t provide.

McGrath: And I wonder if higher education has just got to be so focused to meet so many Masters that they can’t specialize. And we see, sort of, associations being able to really focus in on those competencies that need to be taught. So, I agree with you. I think that’s the complement to each.

L’Italien: You have associations for everything. You have- and you don’t have universities for everything. You have associations though, that are out there for every aspect of business, and so you have the ability to provide expertise in areas that people just cannot get that granular and focused and, you know, being able to provide that. You look at the changes that have come into play with the M.O.O.C.s, the MOOCs that are out there, and you think, “This is the way of the future.” You know? When I look at this I see with growing, rising costs of going to universities it’s becoming so prohibitive, cost prohibitive, for a lot of people to just go to a university and hope that they get what they’re going for.

McGrath: Right.

L’Italien: So, you might go and you get your degree, but when you’re going and you’re looking for an expertise in a certain sort of field- How are associations filling that gap? How are they coming into play and being able to offer the expertise that they have on hand for those specific different areas? And you know, that’s one area that on the association chats that comes up again and again. “How are we able to provide that information to people?” And I think associations are starting to get it, but they still have a long way to go.

McGrath: Well, that’s great and association chat is an excellent resource. It’s a really great, lively forum. So I invite you to make sure to check it out and Kiki thank you so much.

L’Italien: Thank you.

McGrath: And thank you for watching and look for others in the series, Ask the Experts.