Why do members join associations? For the professional value they provide. As an association leader yourself, you already know that this value often revolves around the experiences you offer, the people members will meet, and the abundance of opportunities you provide. These engagement methods aren’t just used to recruit new members, but are also essential elements needed to actively retain those members.
However, as time goes on, the same old engagement tactics won’t hold out. Whether more engaging alternatives are popping up or you’ve simply run out of fresh ideas, it’s worth it to explore how you can strengthen your association member engagement strategy.
We at Astron Solutions are not association leaders ourselves, but we are experts in HR consulting. Not only do we have an array of association clients, but some of our staff have also held leadership roles themselves in associations, like President or VP of Finance. One of our main areas of expertise is internal employee engagement and productivity. The same best practices used to engage staff internally can and should teach you a thing or two about boosting external engagement with your members.
As we begin this new year, refreshing and revitalizing your member engagement strategies might be just what you need to ensure success for 2021. After all, no one could have predicted the impact of last year, and it’s likely that your own association needs an engagement boost. Here are our top tips from an HR consultant:
- Invest in a comprehensive management solution
- Communicate consistently and valuably
- Offer ample learning opportunities
- Provide tools for members to engage with each other
With most large in-person gatherings and face-to-face meetings on pause, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of digital tools and online platforms for member engagement. That’s why our first tip will be investing in a key management solution. Read on to learn more.
1. Invest in a comprehensive management solution
If you haven’t invested in a management solution for your association, then right now is a great time to start. With many of your member engagements now happening virtually (thanks, 2020), having a comprehensive management solution is even more crucial, especially if you want your members to have the tools they need to engage with your offerings and each other. It’s also incredibly useful to track all of those key engagements, which your software can do.
For internal HR leaders, the solution we turn to will likely be some sort of talent or performance management software. For associations, membership management tools will be your best bet. Depending on the opportunities your association offers, try to look for membership solutions that can integrate with or also have event management capabilities.
Here are some of the top features your own solution should have:
- Member database. Every piece of data and information you have on your members should live in your member database, also known as a constituent relationship management (CRM) system. Not only does this help keep your association organized, but you can use these data points to personalize member communication and build more meaningful relationships. Make sure to actively track engagement (like event attendance, online activity, etc.) as it’s essential if you want to strategically improve over time.
- Online member profiles. Along with the data in your member database, provide a public member directory for members to browse through online. Encourage users to add photos so that your members can get familiar with one another even if they can only do it virtually. Members should be able to self-edit their profiles to avoid inaccuracies.
- Email marketing and communication. In order to actively engage your members, you’re going to need a way to talk to them. With most of your interactions confined to the digital space, a management system with highly capable email and communication tools is key. We touch more on this in the next section.
- Event planning and management. As mentioned briefly before, finding an association management solution with event planning capabilities is key. For one thing, your association is already likely hosting a number of events, whether they’re smaller meetings, larger conferences, or a virtual experience. With your event tools integrated into your core management system, you have the ability to easily create event pages and streamline the registration process. Then, all of that data can be centralized in your member database to further help you engage your members.
It’s worth it to invest in a comprehensive association management system whenever possible, instead of piecing together separate tools as your organization grows. With an integrated solution, you can pull all of your data together to create in-depth and meaningful reports. These help you and your team visualize past data and ensure that you’re always moving forward and improving.
2. Communicate consistently and valuably
One of the key ways to recruit members is to meaningfully communicate with high-quality prospects. This means sending content that aligns with their values, preferences, and so on. When a member joins your association, that doesn’t mean your communication with them should stop. In fact, as soon as they officially become a member, this should be the start to a long lasting and two-way communication channel.
As an association leader, your role is to offer exciting and valuable opportunities and content, while your members’ jobs are to engage back and ask questions or offer feedback when prompted.
However, it isn’t enough just to send a couple of emails per month. The average email open rate is only around 15-25%, so taking steps to optimize your communication strategy is worth it. One essential strategy that many growing organizations often neglect is email segmentation.
According to DNL OmniMedia, segmentation is “the act of organizing the [contacts] in your database into groups— segments— based on their shared characteristics.” This could range from how long members have been active, what skills they have, and any other relevant qualifiers. This will depend on your unique association and the data points you value.
Then, you’ll create targeted communication content for each segment and use your membership management solution to send emails out to the relevant recipients. This way, each of your members is getting outreach content specifically tailored for them.
Creating targeted communication content is a must for developing more engaging relationships with members. If you want to take this to the next level, consider data automation to personalize your email communications. In fact, the Aberdeen group found that personalized email messages can improve click-through rates by as much as 14% and conversions by 10%.
In order to automate data personalization, it’s crucial that your membership database and email tool are integrated and work together seamlessly. Your tools should pull the relevant data points from your CRM and populate it into email communications. Implement these personal data points:
- Event status
- Past accomplishments
These little tidbits of personal information ensure that members know that the email they get is made for them. After all, no one enjoys receiving and scrolling through hundreds of spam emails that don’t even pertain to them. Set up the expectation early on that each email you send to members is actively valuable and targeted for them.
3. Offer ample learning opportunities
Many times, members join associations to further their career or expand on a certain skill. That’s why professional associations are so popular. This means that one of the most engaging ways you can continue building your relationships with members is to offer ample learning opportunities.
Because of the nature of current circumstances, your learning courses have likely pivoted to online. But don’t fret, as this approach actually opens up many more new opportunities than you might think. For instance, you can pre-record content instead of having to staff a live presenter, or ask an experienced staff member to step in for each session.
Offering online learning also enables you to expand the number of people who can experience it. Members (or non-members) can sign up and participate in the course no matter where they are, and no matter what time it is.
To get a better sense of the types of learning opportunities your members would most likely be interested in, consider the following:
- Take a look at your membership database and make note of common goals
- Review what other professional associations are teaching and offering to their members
- Research the industry and jot down different skills for different levels
- Take a look at public e-learning online platforms and select a few that you think might benefit your members
- Create and send a survey to your members asking them to rank their top choices for new educational content
Partnering with an e-learning content development company might also be a tactic to explore. If you’re thinking of taking your association learning to the next level, this article explains how custom e-learning development can help.
4. Provide opportunities for members to engage with each other
Along with the engagement opportunities you offer to your members, consider how you can encourage members to engage with each other. After all, a huge draw to becoming a part of an association is meeting others in your sector and taking advantage of networking opportunities.
Traditionally, your association likely hosted live events that brought your members together with professional speakers or a multi-day conference with a variety of different panels. However, due to the nature of current social distancing guidelines, we might not be able to host these types of gatherings until later in 2021. So, what other opportunities can you provide members to ensure they engage with each other in the meantime and going forward?
- Dedicated online member portal where members can explore other profiles, get familiar with the other members, access discussion boards, and more.
- Virtual association events where members can take advantage of live streaming tools and other online solutions to engage with others entirely online.
- Association member committees made up of some of your most active members. Invite prospects to be a part of the committee, let them know of the role requirements, and encourage them to chat and discuss topics via text, audio, or video.
Ensuring that your members are engaging with each other is crucial for your recruitment and retention strategies. The same goes for employers trying to increase employee productivity. Without the ability to talk and interact with other team members, it’s harder for employees to feel a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organization.
As an HR consultant, we are faced with numerous challenges when it comes to engaging employees and other constituents. Recruitment and retention are critically important for any organization that relies on people power, but it must all be backed up with solid engagement strategies.
These tips are sure to help you with your own members and how you engage with them. Throughout it all, a solid foundation with a comprehensive management solution will be your best long-term bet. Start the new year with confidence and start strengthening your member engagement!