It’s February: the month that comes dripping in pink and red with declarations of never-ending affection all around. For associations, February is a good time to examine how you can show members more love, if not your never-ending affection. Member engagement, another term for “member love,” is constantly at the forefront of your staff’s and board members’ minds. Members are the foundation of associations. They fund association activity, volunteer to keep programs and events going, and advocate for the success of the association and industry at large.
But, measuring how much members like your association is difficult because there are likely more than a dozen ways they can interact with your organization. Pinpointing what “engagement” means, exactly, is also difficult. The IAB has defined engagement in terms of
A recent Association Chat on Twitter delved into the topic of member engagement and how you can measure it and improve upon it. While your association may already have a firm grasp of what makes your members, and your association, function smoothly, the group discussed three areas of member engagement that form a direct path to members’ hearts:
1. How can you measure member and volunteer engagement?
a. Quantitative counts. Track attendance at meetings and events. Keep tabs on who, and how many attendees, are using your publications or materials. Start by looking at quantitative measures like online analytics and opt-in distribution lists.
b. Talk to your members and get the qualitative story. Call them and invite them to be more active in your association. If they decline, ask why. Most members will give a tactfully honest answer, and then you have a starting point from which to improve. If email is preferred by your members, send a short note inviting them to air their opinions about a recent event, a revamped publication or a change in dues requirements. The private and one-on-one nature of email might net you even more of a response than a phone call.
c. Surveys are another option that many associations employ because they are easy to create and administer to a mass audience. Surveys are a good tool for collecting information from a mass audience; “listening” via surveys is a valid way to improve your membership experience. But exit surveys tend to have a lower participation rate than qualitative methods for collecting feedback, and usually won’t win the member back. Even if it’s “them, not you” they’ve already decided that the engagement with your association is off.
2. Which aspects of member engagement should you track?
a. People “vote with their feet” when it comes to determining how to spend their time. Review your attendance records from recent events and programs to see which one(s) your members feel are worthy of devoting a portion of their day to attend.
b. On a related note, track who supports your activities and how they do it. Speakers, donors, board members, lobbyists, and other people who perform background activities that keep your association functioning are just as important as those who show up at “go” time. They vote for your association (or not) with their time and energy, and should not be ignored.
c. Who’s engaged with your association beyond events? Who’s reading your member magazine? How many members, and potential members, visit your website each month? Which pages do they view the most? We’ve all experienced a time when an article, pamphlet or blog did not go over as well as we hoped it would with our intended audience. Sometimes this means you start fresh, but other times it means you make only a few small adjustments to your content so it serves the purpose members need.
d. Finally, keep in mind that there is a difference between an engaged member and a satisfied member, as Associations Now’s Joe Rominiecki writes. Some members don’t want to attend your events, but they enjoy having “Member: ABC Association” on their resume, so they will keep renewing, he says. Others will enjoy attending your annual conference but don’t have time to read your publications. Make sure you’re measuring a robust slate of member touch points to gain a better understanding of why your members join and stay.
3. How can you use engagement data creatively to connect with your membership?
a. Show non-members what they’re missing. Use membership data, both quantitative and qualitative, to show potential members the benefits of belonging. Are your members paid more than the average industry employee? Do members enjoy perks such as travel or political influence because of their association activities? Use the information you gather from the methods explained above to show that engaged members enjoy a more robust career than non-members.
b. Show new members the benefits of networking opportunities. Talk with veteran members and encourage them to share publicly how their membership has introduced them to other industry peers from whom they have learned better skills, secured better jobs, and made lasting friendships.
c. Reinforce your industry’s purpose. Use the data you collect about publication readership, exhibitor satisfaction, member networking and more to show that your association, and your industry, serves a needed economic and societal purpose. Advocate for your members and their work in political circles using your engagement data. Remind your communities that your industry continues to evolve, improve, and thanks to that activity. Educate students about the career opportunities available in your industry, and cultivate the next generation of your association, by showcasing the success of your highly engaged members.
One last note about member engagement: Make sure your members know how to be engaged. It’s great if membership offers a regular feed of industry updates, or the chance to advance in their careers, but they won’t know it if you don’t tell them. Most associations have some form of regular communication, but start an eNewsletter or website if you don’t. Most members welcome additional communications from you, but make sure you’re offering multiple formats for receiving it. Pick up the phone and chat up a new member. Introduce yourself to someone you haven’t spoken with, and haven’t seen much of, at your association’s next event. With a little show of “member love,” they could become your association’s greatest advocate.
If you haven’t participated in the weekly Association Chat on Twitter, check it out soon.
Kelly Donovan is the team leader for online marketing at Naylor, LLC.