3 Digital Member Acquisition Strategies to Grow Your Base

Recruiting (and retaining!) dues-paying members is not only paramount to the longevity of your association for financial reasons, but an ever-growing membership also correlates with your organization’s potential for industry-wide influence. Your members are essential to the success of your association. As such, member-based groups should be constantly seeking new avenues to discover prospective supporters with the goal of motivating them to join the association. Fortunately, recent research suggests that association membership is generally on the rise across the country. In fact, as reported in the 2018 Membership Management Report1, nearly half of the associations surveyed saw an increase in new members over the past year.

What does a national trend in growing memberships mean for your association? To put it simply, engaging in new member acquisition is an opportune and worthwhile undertaking. There are many different methods that your association can employ to search for and gain new members, both offline and online. In this blog post, we are only going to focus on key online tactics you can use to grow your base. In this digital age, online member acquisition efforts should be a cornerstone of your association’s membership growth strategy.

The internet offers countless possibilities to find and attract prospective new members. From producing web-based content to digitally involving current members, online strategies are both useful and cost-effective. This blog post discusses three digital member acquisition strategies you can employ to grow your base. These strategies are:

  1. Implement an inbound marketing strategy to attract potential members
  2. Use paid advertising to target member personas
  3. Design and activate a digital “refer-a-friend” program

While one of these strategies requires a financial commitment in line with your budget, the other two are completely free tactics that your association can use to grow its’ online presence and reach likely supporters. Building comprehensive online member acquisition strategies can take time, but the net result of attracting new members to your professional or trade association is undoubtedly worth it in the long-term. Here’s our first tip:

1. Implement an Inbound Marketing Strategy to Attract Potential Members

Inbound marketing involves the creation of purposeful content (such as blogs, social media, and search engine optimized posts) that provide educational value to your targeted audience2. Ultimately, the goal of content creation is to motivate readers to download pertinent items, generating new leads (prospective members) for your organization. Targeted content brings in interested readers who are searching for helpful information online. The best part about a solid inbound marketing strategy? After crafting and publishing high-quality content produced by the brainpower of your team, the major legwork is done! The beauty of inbound marketing is that relevant content doesn’t have an expiration date. Once helpful material is produced, your content will continue working on behalf of your association’s membership growth strategy over time. As you build up your association’s digital content library, your work is simultaneously improving your association’s online visibility and increasing the chances that your ideal prospective member will organically find the website.

Here are a few tips to producing an effective inbound marketing strategy:

  • Focus on search engine optimization3, also known as SEO. For associations, SEO will involve a variety of ways to ensure that your website and its content appear high in search rankings, so interested readers easily find your materials. The goal of SEO is to drive organic traffic to your association’s website while becoming a trustworthy source of relevant information, dare we even say an industry thought leader! A great resource for charting an SEO-driven marketing path is to check out Moz’s Open Site Explorer tool4.
  • Create industry-relevant eBooks, webinars, or guides that seek to educate your niche audience. For example, if your association includes members who work in the retail industry, publishing downloadable infographics that discuss industry trends and insights might be of interest to your ideal member. As an added bonus, educational content will also create additional value for existing members, enhancing member retention efforts.
  • Ensure your content is mobile-responsive. In this digital age, we’re always accessing information on our smartphones on-the-go. It would be unfortunate if a likely supporter found one of your association’s eBooks online, only to discover that the format was incompatible with his or her iPhone and left your website before even reading the eBook’s first sentence! Ensuring that your association’s content is mobile-ready is key to a lasting and effective inbound marketing strategy. To put it succinctly, “mobile technology is an imperative” according to Fonteva5.

2. Use Paid Advertising to Target Member Personas on Social Media

Now that your association’s team has developed an arsenal of interesting and educational content for your audience, an important step is to share it far and wide. While inbound and content marketing material will serve your association without paid advertising, promoting your material with the help of paid media can’t hurt either!

Paid advertising can help grow your base by expanding the reach of your association’s content and deliberately surfacing the materials to the right people.

The goal of this type of paid media campaign is to attract the interest of your target audience and guide them to download information from your website. A key component to conducting a successful paid advertising effort is in targeting the right personas, or detailed mock-ups of likely supporters6. It can be helpful to think of your association’s member personas as “pre-members”. Some questions to ask yourself when creating each target persona are:

  • What is this typical member’s job responsibility?
  • How old is this member? How does this member’s age impact their involvement in the association?
  • What value does the association bring to this member?
  • What is this member’s education level?
  • How does this member interact with the association’s industry?

It is okay to get detailed when developing member personas, but remember to allow room for variation as well. Both Facebook and LinkedIn allow for very specific targeting of criteria, and Twitter provides multiple options for tailored targeting.

3. Design a digital “Refer-a-Friend” program

Attracting and retaining membership is important and strategic work that requires a year-round approach. For an association, updating and iterating on a membership growth strategy is imperative. Every creative idea you have to attract new members has merit. One of the most effective member acquisition strategies is to implement a referral program! Why? Your membership is your greatest resource. Each of your members’ has his or her own personal and professional networks that likely includes individuals who would be a great match for your association. In essence, a member referral program involves requesting that your current members suggest to their own contacts that they join your association. Since we are focusing on digital tactics to grow your base in this blog post, here are a few ideas on designing and implementing a digital member referral program.

  • Design your member referral program. There are multiple ways to design a successful referral program, so focus on developing a program that fits best with your association’s current membership and marketing operations. One referral structure is simply to ask that your members send a personal, informational email to a friend or colleague about the association and CC your membership coordinator on the email. This is an easy way to track which of your members is engaging in the program and personalizes the outreach in a meaningful way. Another way to organize a member referral program requires a little more tech savviness. Work with your technology team to implement a pre-filled text box with language that can be sent to prospective members from current members with one click of a button. The easier the task, the higher the likelihood that your members will follow through on the ask.
  • Send an introductory email to your existing members. In launching a referral program, it’s important that you spread the word! While adding new website content describing the referral program is great, the first step in introducing a new practice is to send an introductory email and get your members excited.
  • Incentivize your members to refer their contacts and/or colleagues7. There’s nothing quite like a prize to motivate the masses to participate in an activity. Incentives can vary based on your association’s industry area and type of member. For example, if your association operates in the coffee industry, sending your members a branded or personalized coffee mug could inspire them to join your referral program. Of course, digital gift-cards are also coveted and easy to pass along to active members. Lastly, remember to be patient with your members!8 Hopefully, engaged members will contribute to your referral program promptly; however, it is important to remember that building a digital referral program takes time.

We hope this article has provided you with three actionable member acquisition ideas you can put into motion at your association soon. Members are the lifeblood to every association, and as such, developing and executing a membership acquisition strategy should be a top priority. Good luck!

Author bio

Cleo Dan is the Vice President of Communications at Muster, a civic technology company providing online advocacy, grassroots engagement and data analytics solutions to organizations of all types.


1. http://marketing.marketinggeneral.com/acton/form/6893/0011:d-003b/0/-/-/-/-/index.htm
2. https://www.hortongroup.com/blog/why-your-association-needs-inbound-marketing
3. https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo
4. https://moz.com/blog/one-giant-leap-for-link-data-announcing-open-site-explorer
5. https://www.fonteva.com/2016/12/07/will-virtual-reality-become-reality-for-associations/
6. https://blog.bufferapp.com/marketing-personas-beginners-guide
7. https://associationsnow.com/2018/08/membership-hack-referral-incentives/
8. https://www.fonteva.com/2016/02/04/maintaining-healthy-relationships-4-important-keys/

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