Expert Ideas for Engaging Your Association Memberships
Did you know that the number one reason association members skip out on membership renewal is a lack of engagement with their organization?
According to Marketing General’s comprehensive Membership Marketing and Benchmarking Report, other significant factors contributing to opting out include being unable to justify membership costs, failure to recognize any significant ROI, and simply forgetting to renew altogether.
Now, what do these reasons all have in common? They boil down to value—or a lack thereof.
If your association isn’t consistently delivering value to its members, what’s to stop them from up and leaving when their membership is approaching expiration?
In order for your association to thrive, you need to do everything you can to retain existing memberships. Let’s look at why member engagement is so crucial for your association, as well as five tips from the experts that will help you get those essential renewals and attract new members.
Photo by Sigmund
Why Is Member Engagement So Important For An Association?
The key to retention is member engagement. But what does “engagement” really mean? Rather than defining this term by the sheer number of activities a member participates in, it’s more about cultivating relationships.
As renowned association marketer and ASAE presenter Erik Schonher says, “engagement is the emotional fabric that drives an association’s success.” This means to get your members engaged, you need to use strategies that will stimulate their emotions and attract their attention.
Association members who are involved will offer critical benefits to your association as a whole. Let’s look at why member engagement is essential to the success of your association.
Benefits Of Member Engagement
Why It’s Important For Your Association
Higher levels of engagement mean members are more likely to renew their memberships with your association.
Members who are engaged with your association will be motivated to invite their friends and colleagues to join, which drives memberships.
When members feel like they are part of a community, they are more likely to engage and stick around, which makes your association a place professionals want to be.
If your association does a lot of fundraising, high levels of member engagement will inspire them to contribute to nonprofits and buy extras that help your association make more revenue.
Without engagement, your association won’t reach its potential. But how can you measure engagement? Unlike your webinar metrics, it can be tricky to nail down a concrete statistic for association engagement. Let’s take a look at how you can analyze your association’s member engagement.
How Do You Measure Member Engagement?
It can be tricky to calculate how engaged your members are. However, it’s not impossible if you have a solid strategy in place.
Membership organizations often use the wrong metrics to measure the engagement and influence their audiences. If a member opens an email, it doesn’t necessarily mean they looked at the content. If they subscribed to a monthly publication, it doesn’t mean they’re reading it, just like webinar attendance doesn’t guarantee attentiveness.
Association directors and marketers must tap into their members' minds in order to generate higher engagement levels. Why did they join in the first place? Marketing General’s report lists the top reasons for signing up are to:
Network with others in the field (56%)
Learn best practices in their profession (25%)
Participate in a continuing education program (23%)
Receive access to specialized and current information (20%)
Member benefits go beyond features. People want to be successful and project a unique social identity. There are also deeper needs that lay underneath those reasons. So what can your organization do to fulfill those needs?
Five Membership Engagement Strategies For Your Association
Ultimately, your goal should be for your members to become brand evangelists who are emotionally invested and involved in your organization. They should want to promote your association to people outside the network and actively engage other members.
To do this, you need to create a positive member experience with tried-and-true engagement tactics that go beyond your basic marketing approaches.
Let’s look at five ways you can ensure your association produces engaged members who want to renew their memberships and recommend others to join.
1. Offer Opportunities for Continuing Education
Humans are lifelong learners, so quenching that thirst for knowledge is critical. Research tells us that continuing education is the third most important reason people join professional associations. You can start simply by offering free relevant content, such as:
Exclusive blog content to build trust and authority with your audience.
White Papers to show your knowledge about a specific topic or subject related to your association.
Webinars to provide personalized presentations to engage with your audience.
By doing this, you’re marketing your organization’s expertise and thought leadership to both current and prospective members. You’re also catering to those interested in obtaining specialized and current information through unique learning opportunities.
Early on in the membership cycle, provide content that gives a complimentary taste of the value you offer. You’re more likely to increase participation in educational events later on. However, continuing education can also be formalized and monetized.
With the right CE technology in place, association members can earn continuing education credits in their field. If you are running communications for a trade association, one idea for boosting engagement is sending participating employers aggregate certificate completion data. If participation levels are low, they will encourage their employees to complete the CE course.
2. Encourage Feedback Using a Variety of Tools
Everyone wants to feel as though their opinion matters. This is especially true with association members. To drive engagement, ask for their views on a variety of subjects. Simply asking for a response from all of your members, engaged or not, is going to keep your association at the top of their minds.
Use surveys and polls to acquire feedback about their interests, what’s working for them, and what isn’t. Find out if there are any events in which they’d like to participate. And make sure they know their opinions are valuable! Without this qualitative data, it’s challenging to improve the overall membership experience.
Another critical way to obtain feedback is to pick up the phone and call. You can do this right out of the gate with a well-timed onboarding or “welcoming call.” If you manage to speak with someone, that’s great! You’re one step closer to building a solid personal connection or advancing an existing one. But a simple, friendly voicemail can also be effective.
Sometimes talking about a topic out loud makes it easier to digest. Phone calls also serve as great opportunities to remind members to vote in an upcoming org-wide election, encourage them to write a community blog article, or invite them to be guest speakers for a webinar, round table discussion, or podcast.
3. Leverage Personalization Techniques
Your association members, just like anyone else living in this fast-paced, content-saturated world, are constantly subjected to a flood of emails and bombarded by media and ads. They will tune you out if they see the same bland, generic messages coming from your association. This is why it’s imperative that you avoid using mass marketing tactics.
Instead, foster a sense of intimacy with your communications. If you kick off your association’s relationship with each member this way, they are more likely to stay engaged and continue opening messages from you in the future.
Data shows that early engagement is so meaningful for first-year member renewals. In light of this, ensure their welcome package or the first series of messages they receive are customized based on what you already know about them. This will increase member engagement and show that you care about more than just their dues.
Personalization is all about the little things. Yes, it’s absolutely a best practice to use their first name in an email salutation instead of something along the lines of “dear member.” But each person who joins your organization should be funneled into a membership path based on the information you collect from and about them during the first few months.
Does your association leverage audience personas for its content marketing efforts? It should! Identifying member interests and presenting them with content and opportunities specifically related to those interests will generate far more engagement than blanket emails to no one in particular.
EConsultancy has found that 74% of marketers report targeted personalization significantly increases customer engagement. Moreover, Campaign Monitor reports that dues revenue is 760% higher as a result of segmented campaigns in comparison to those that are not segmented.
4. Communicate Using Members’ Preferred Channels
Driving engagement is all about customizing the membership experience so that your members see the value in participating. Effective one-on-one interaction calls for communicating with your association’s members through the channels they like to use.
Developing your member personas will enable you to map this out in a documented fashion. But the only true way to find out how they like to receive content is to offer various options and ask them about their preferences. Here are some questions you can ask your members to get to the heart of what they want:
What’s important to you?
Which methods of communication do you prefer?
What communication channels do you find annoying?
How frequently do you like to receive updates?
If you’re having difficulty determining which channels are the most effective, diversify the types of content you’re producing and test them for six months or so. Association management can then decide if videos are more effective or if online forums are a better way to disperse information to the member base than face-to-face meetings.
Figure out what is creating better responses, higher attendance rates, more interaction, and less frustration—and continue to leverage whichever channels are working best.
Maintain your website and stay active on social media. Your site and social profiles are accessible to everyone, and if members are looking for a schedule of events or your latest content, they should quickly be able to find it online. If you're looking to increase engagement, offer incentives for sharing promotional materials for upcoming events or participating in your forums.
Has your organization ever tried live-tweeting during an event or launching a webcast at a conference and then offering an OnDemand recording? These are great techniques for keeping members informed and engaged from virtually anywhere.
5. Facilitate Online Communities With Virtual Events
A critical engagement-related goal is for members to become evangelists for your organization. Therefore, focus some of your efforts on inspiring your members to engage with other members.
We crave community and gravitate towards others with similar interests. So finding ways to facilitate a “common-ground” experience should be a priority for your association. After all, networking is rated the number one reason people join associations in the first place. This means that you can boost member retention by giving them what they want via virtual events.
Start by thinking in terms of smaller groups. Are there any niche markets within your membership pool, potentially based on location or job function? Grouping people into sub-committees based on geography or sector has improved participation in committees, which in turn improves renewal rates. You can have them meet face-to-face or even host a webcast that builds up mini-communities within your association.
Even going local on the virtual stage can bring people together. Something as simple as a LinkedIn or Facebook Group could prompt discussions that otherwise wouldn’t occur face-to-face. Monitoring these discussions can provide your leadership team with greater insight into what members are looking for.
You can even set notifications to alert you when an important conversation starts so you can lend your voice. This will help engage existing members and help new members feel welcomed.
Finally, showcase your brand evangelists in your marketing collateral to demonstrate how active members benefit from engaging with your organization.
People are influenced by other people, so include testimonials on your website to generate some hype. Promote a video of a member's story on your social channels. Create a case study and send the link out in your next eNewsletter.
Giving people a window into the lives of other members will foster a greater sense of community and propel members to go out and do the things the successful evangelists are doing.
Photo by Alexander Suhorucov
Use Member Engagement Strategies To Improve Your Association’s Member Retention Rate
Member engagement doesn’t stop at registration. Engagement and retention is the name of the game if you want your association to thrive.
Try implementing some of these best practices and recommendations. Consider hosting a virtual event to help your association members network and build a sense of community.
You’ll likely see an uptick in participation—and garner more fruitful, positive responses from your next member satisfaction survey!