Association Communications Benchmarking Series

Webinar Q&A: The Four C’s of Engagement

By Association Adviser staff • November 6, 2019

Our webinar, The Four C’s of Engagement: Capture, Customize, Curate & Communicate generated several thoughtful questions about strategies or tactics associations might take to increase member engagement through their communications. Because we didn’t have enough time during the 60-minute webinar to answer every question, we’re providing answers here.

If you’ve been reflecting on the webinar and have thought of another question for our presenters, Sarah Sain, director of content for Naylor Association Solutions, and Dawn Caous, director of marketing communications for the American Society for Quality (ASQ), please add them in the comments below, and we’ll update this post as needed!

The 4 C’s of Engagement: Capture, Customize, Curate & Communicate is about our ongoing Association Communications Benchmarking Report. This 60-minute webinar highlights findings from the 2019 report. Our two speakers, Sarah Sain, director of content for Naylor Association Solutions, and Dawn Caous, director of marketing communications for the American Society for Quality (ASQ), discuss recommendations and tips for association communicators based on the top challenges and trends identified. Download the recorded webinar here.

What is an AMS?

AMS stands for association management software. In short, it’s a software platform that helps associations manage and use their member data efficiently.

For a longer explanation, we recommend reading “What is an AMS, and Does My Association Need It?

Can you talk a bit more about myASQ. Does ASQ monitor the activity?

myASQ is ASQ’s online community, launched in early 2018. Our community provides timely, relevant, and personalized engagement for ASQ members. It’s a 24/7 accessible communications channel where members can share knowledge, make virtual connections, and post problem-solving needs for peer to peer solutioning. In just 18 months, myASQ has grown from a general discussion board site to offer more than 250 member-managed micro-communities for use by geographic chapters and divisions where quality professionals share subject-matter expertise and interests. Today, myASQ serves as a resource for more than 10,000 registered users.

ASQ’s online community, like most public social media channels, maintains and enforces community guidelines to foster a positive, supportive and professional environment for quality practitioners to engage with each other as peers. All community users must first register to use the community, and then agree to uphold community guidelines upon registration. ASQ staff members monitor discussion posts and act as ambassadors to answer questions and steer individuals to resources, but most engagement is peer-led. ASQ staff mainly focuses on monitoring the site as a voice of the customer listening source, as well as improving the site’s operations to meet the needs of our membership as a whole. Post moderation and administrative action by ASQ occasionally occurs when users have not complied with posted community guidelines.

How do the associations using text overcome member concerns about data charges?

Your association probably doesn’t need to worry about causing burdensome charges on a member’s cell phone bill: Instant Census estimated, as of 2015, that 88 percent of American adults had unlimited texting built into their service plan. That number is probably higher almost five years later.

Instead of worrying about charges to members, your association should pay more attention to how much it would take out of your communications budget to mass text members. You’ll also want to carefully plan what/how often you would text them so that your association doesn’t become an annoyance. Texting short information about membership renewal, upcoming events or association news is quickly becoming an economical (in terms of time and money) and effective way to reach members. Among millennials, 67 percent prefer texting over voice calls because they feel more comfortable interacting with a brand through text, and they believe that texting is the most efficient communication technology available. Thirty-three percent of boomers also prefer texting over voice communication. However, your association will still want to be respectful of their message list and how often you command their notifications.

One way to overcome member concerns about text intrusions is to give members the option of receiving texts or not, and to inform members ahead of time how frequently they can expect to receive texts from the association. Once members know what to expect from their association’s communications, they can make a decision that fits their data parameters and budget.

Your association should then stick to the texting frequency limits you advertise, as well as ensure there are alternate ways to receive information sent by text so that members who have opted not to receive texts can still be informed. Other ways to quickly update members are posting on social media channels; creating and updating a “Breaking News” section of your website’s home page; sending short, focused emails; or, for a more personal touch, calling members who do not receive texts.

Wondering what you’d text members about? Check out these five ways to use texting for better customer service.

What apps do you recommend for texting?

While Association Adviser and Naylor don’t currently work with an SMS/mass texting platform, we’ve found a few that might be a fit for your association:

  1. Twilio: Offers texting through apps such as WhatsApp in multiple languages (including emoji!) and to any country. Twilio also offers automated responses based on previous interactions with text recipients.
  2. SendHub: A plug-and-play option that is easier for non-techies to use, SendHub offers the ability to attach photos or documents to texts. The platform offers an online dashboard, as well as iOS and Android-based apps from which to send, receive and analyze messages.
  3. ProTexting: Send ad hoc updates or set up comprehensive drip campaigns that feed appropriate information to members at the right time. ProTexting also offers the ability to send photos or graphics, a dedicated link shortener and a full analytics suite to gauge how well your texting efforts are going over with members.

Whole Whale offers this list of free and cheap mass texting services for nonprofits if you’re interested in exploring more options.

Can you offer an example of a text messaging plan?

The right plan varies widely from association to association based on individual organizational needs. Some associations satisfy their member communication needs with a couple simple texts per month that remind members about an upcoming event or pose a simple question about how much the member is enjoying their membership. Other associations use SMS more comprehensively to send surveys, graphics, event registration links, and reminders about dues renewals.

The right texting plan respects members’ text preferences, too. Members of one association might be fine with several texts per month (or week!) from their association because they frequently use texting to communicate in other areas of their professional or persona lives. However, members from another association that do not rely on texting as much might view such a program as intrusive and unnecessary. Your association should ask members how receptive they would be to receiving texts – and what kind of information they would like to receive via SMS – before committing to a text messaging plan.

Our association is averse of non-dues generation because of a fear of alienating members. How can we address this?

No one likes feeling nickel-and-dimed, but soliciting non-dues revenue doesn’t have to feel painful for anyone involved. Ask yourself (or your association’s board or C-suite) a few questions:

  • Why does our association want to earn more revenue?
  • What value can we offer in return for money?
  • Who would be willing to support our association beyond (or instead of) membership dues?

Regarding the first question, examine why your association might want to solicit more funds. Are you failing to meet our mission because of a lack of funds available for staff positions or supplies? Do you want to expand your programming, but you don’t have the money to do so? Would raising non-dues revenue supplement enough of your association’s budget that you wouldn’t need to increase member dues in the near future (or you wouldn’t have to increase them as much)? Members, suppliers and other stakeholders will understand your reasons for wanting to create more revenue streams if those reasons directly tie into your association’s ability to fulfill its mission and advance the interests of members.

Second, what would your association be able to offer in return for payment? Some associations, especially those with 501(c)3 tax status, find success simply asking for donations to support their activities. Scholarship fund solicitations are a great example of organizations asking for donations without offering something of equivalent value in return (usually). However, if your association wants to create a sustainable pool of revenue that makes up a significant portion of your overall budget, you’ll likely need to offer something to patrons in return. Some examples of non-dues revenue sources that are a natural fit for associations:

  • Publication advertising
  • Event sponsorships: everything from table sponsors to snack sponsors
  • Paid exhibit space at annual meetings or conferences
  • Charity events
  • Raffles or other games of chance
  • Fees to participate in extra programs such as mentorships or workshops
  • Certification courses – in person or online

Finally, knowing who would be willing to pay your association money in exchange for taking advantage of your offerings will affect how well your non-dues revenue raising efforts will work. In other words: Know your audience. Your association likely has members on your rolls who only want to pay the minimum necessary to claim membership on their resume. They’re not your target audience for generating more revenue.

On the other hand, you likely have members who would pay good money to participate in an association-sponsored leadership course or one-day skills workshop. Your association might know of companies or organizations that aren’t good fits for membership, but who want to reach your members through ads in your publications or by tabling at your events. These are your people when it comes to non-dues revenue opportunities.

Soliciting non-dues revenue isn’t an inherently greedy or tacky endeavor. The right offer to the right person or company can result in a mutually beneficial financial transaction that advances the goals of all parties involved. Examine your association’s needs, take stock of your potential offerings and audiences, and establish a new non-dues revenue stream one small step at a time.

Why do you think associations are having such a hard time customizing?

Communications customization is time-consuming, and it doesn’t always show an immediate benefit. According to our 2019 report, 63 percent (about 3 in 5) associations believe they could improve member engagement by customizing communications for different subgroups.

However, they’re struggling to overcome a few factors that build up to an ability to customize communications:

  • Lack of ability to create custom communication strategies: Almost half (45 percent) of association communicators we’ve surveyed have a single strategy for communicating with all members. They might not have the foundational knowledge, organizational support, financial resources or support staff needed to sustain multiple strategies and corresponding tactics.
  • Not realizing when it’s time to outsource: Association professionals have long prided themselves on their ability to wear multiple hats. In fact, the opportunity to perform multiple jobs and to have a wide variety of career experiences is what attracts many to the association profession. However, with half of associations telling us they feel chronically understaffed, you need to be highly selective about how you spend your time and budget each day.

Be brutally honest with yourself and your team about what you do best. If you’re not highly competent in the areas of advertising sales and sponsorship sales, production, design, technology or database management, for instance, there are a wide variety of excellent vendors available who specialize in serving associations. Our research shows that two-thirds of associations today outsource some aspect of their communication program, including 1 in 3 that outsource production, design and advertising, and 1 in 4 that outsource video production.

By outsourcing these critical functions, you and your team will have more bandwidth to focus on what you do best. By doing so, your members and your bottom line will be much better served.

  • Not knowing when it’s time for a change: Communications customization is a moving target, and you have to keep adjusting, iterating and engaging in trial and error to keep your members and prospective members engaged. What worked well five years ago, three years ago and even last year may no longer be relevant today. Conversely, just because an idea didn’t work three years ago does not mean it won’t work today.

Our research shows respondents are more likely to spend an unexpected budget windfall on improving the quality of their existing products, services and communication offerings than on launching new ones and hiring more staff to build them out. They’re more likely to upgrade their existing tools, technologies and processes than to invest in new ones from scratch. This is fine, and it can lead in the direction of customization, but association communicators should also realize when it’s time to introduce new platforms, publications or channels – in other words, change can come in the form of a completely new path.

What are some good AI vendors to help with content customization?

As with other tech tools discussed in this article, the best AI vendor for your association will depend on your needs, the priority you want to give to artificial intelligence-powered initiatives, and your budget. Because these factors vary by association, you’ll need to do some homework and probably sit through some presentations or demos from AI vendors before feeling confident enough to move forward with an AI partner.

We’ve worked with rasa.io on AI-powered newsletters to deliver custom content to various association audiences. Check out their website for more details about how their platform works and the benefits it could offer your association.

What are good tools to create a content calendar?

A content calendar can help your association ensure you’re covering all topic areas you want to within a given time frame. They help everyone on your staff see what’s coming up in your publications and plan ahead while avoiding the last-minute rush to meet deadlines. The right calendar tool for your association will be convenient for everyone on your team to access and modify. It should fit your budget, and it should be a tool that you enjoy using – not something that you view as a burden or chore to update.

There are several good, free or low-cost calendar tools your association might like:

Whichever service you choose, creating – and sticking to – a content calendar is well worth the monetary and time investment.

How long did it take to implement your online community?

ASQ created a cross-functional team from multiple departments to customize the platform for our membership’s community needs. The team collaborated for approximately eight months to create, implement, test, and push live the global platform and a series of micro-communities. These micro-communities serve as a targeted atmosphere for our members to have a deeper conversation on select topics of interest. We continually enhance, update, and expand the functionality and reach of our community platform through an Agile-based project management team, content owners, and ASQ’s community members and member leaders.