Your Questions Answered: Data Management

By Association Adviser staff • September 28, 2020

Our August 2020 webinar that walked attendees through our most recent Association Communications Benchmarking Report generated lots of great questions! Here, we’re answering questions that asked about data collection and management.

Data (along with members!) is an association’s best friend. You can’t know what needs improving or adjusting without knowing where things currently stand. These are our recommendations for smart data storage, analysis and surveying.

Download the free 2020 Association Communications Benchmarking Report here!

We have a lot of different sources of data, but no way to integrate it and make sense of it, because disparate data sources can sometimes tell you different things that can confuse rather than inform action. What platforms or mechanisms are best for making sense of disparate data sets?

Most associations employ one of two solutions to weave together their data in an actionable way: a member data platform or association management software.

A member data platform is a new type of member management system that acts as a hub for the many software programs you might use for email marketing, e-commerce and learning management. The MDP lets all these programs exchange data with each other so that records are always up to date, and your staff can see how actions in one program affect results in another. For more explanation, listen to our recent podcast featuring Jeff Horne and Juan Silva of Wicket.io.

Association management software is an all-in-one platform that contains modules for membership records, events, email marketing, finance and dues, learning tools, job boards, and more. While an AMS can sometimes integrate and share data with add-ons like video conferencing tools or resume builders, they’re mostly stand-alone platforms.

To determine which type of data management software is right for your association’s data needs, it’s best to analyze what kind of data you have, what you want to do with it, what your anticipated data analysis needs will be in the future, and how flexible your association can be in terms of adopting new platforms. Jeff Horne dedicates an entire article to this choice to further point out the pros and cons of MDP and AMS systems.

Associations are bombarding our members with surveys and info on new virtual offerings. How do you suggest we continue to collect data without turning our members off?

It’s true that there are a lot of requests and demands for your members’ time and attention. They’re more likely to provide you with the feedback and information you need if you share why you need this data and how it will improve their lives with them.  How will you use it to enhance their membership and make their lives easier? Will their feedback translate into an event they’re able to attend, considering that many members are juggling work and family demands more urgently now than before 2020? Make the case that your association needs their input because like your members, you’re trying to plan for a lot of uncertainties. A few minutes of their time will help your association continue to deliver the most meaningful membership experience possible.

That said, make sure your surveys, focus groups or one-on-one chats do only last a few minutes. Plan ahead with your team what information is most important to collect; leave out minor questions that can be resolved depending on the initial answers you receive or can be answered at a later date. Check out our classic article on  how to build a more efficient yet comprehensive survey.

If we haven’t made data-driven decisions during the pandemic, is it still a good idea to make dramatic value-add changes?

Yes, we think it can be. While you may or may not have tracked the appropriate data long-term, it may be that you have access to some useful past data. For example: a newsletter platform. Just because you haven’t looked at open or click through rates in the past doesn’t mean you don’t still have access to that information.

If you look back at email engagement one year ago today versus where we are right now in the middle of this pandemic, you may be able to see some noticeable changes and be able to map those changes in engagement to changes in content, format, frequency or email list. If your engagement metrics are mostly the same, maybe that current data becomes your baseline for future goals. Where do you want to go considering your current KPIs? Give yourself three to six months for initial changes to show up in your data, and then refine your strategy and your goal attainment expectations.

Is there any specificity in terms of the email open rates in this context among other groups? We’ve seen higher open rates mostly, with a few exceptions.

We don’t have hard numbers about differences in email engagement during the current pandemic compared to other times, especially because the pandemic and the resulting civic shutdowns are a new situation. However, it doesn’t seem like people are experiencing email fatigue just yet, especially because people are communicating more electronically since we are not able to do so in-person as much.

People want information. When information comes to them over email, they do open it. Sources like Campaign Monitor say not only has there been a rise in email volume over the past few months, but there has been a rise in emails opened. The amount of the increase in open rate depends on the industry. Vital industries such as healthcare, government and social services are seeing much higher open rates than they are used to, as well as lower unsubscribe rates. Campaign Monitor is reporting that industries like government are seeing an unsubscribe rate 38% lower year over year. Other industries are showing a little less of an increase. Email is still a great way to receive information right now. Employees want to stay on top of changes happening in their industry as well as changes that might affect them in their personal or professional life.

We still recommend being somewhat judicious about your use of email. You don’t want to annoy members with a communication that isn’t really necessary. But if you do have something important to say, it’s likely members will listen by opening another email, considering these unique times.