Archive | August, 2011

Member Engagement and Retention

17 Aug
I’ve been involved as a volunteer in a few different associations of varying sizes. Membership growth seems to be a fairly universal concern — which is not surprising since an organization whose membership is in decline is facing extinction at some point in time. I’ve also noticed that many associations have a fair degree of churn in membership; they gain quite a few members each year, but they also lose quite a few. Interestingly, when they want to address membership growth, there is sometimes a tendency to focus on how to get more members, rather than on how to keep the members that they have.

But given the high level of churn, there is a significant potential for membership growth by increasing renewal rates. One technique that associations have reported good results with is contacting members over the phone, often to welcome them to the organization. This onboarding process creates a sense of engagement for the new member.

But how can we retain and build on that sense of engagement? We need something that is ongoing and it would be ideal if it were also self-sustaining. I think an obvious candidate is a private online community for the association and its members. Such a community affords opportunities for interactions between members and association staff, as well as between members themselves. Both types of interactions help build a feeling not just of engagement, but also of belonging.

There are several aspects of private online communities that are particularly well-suited to building engagement levels. I’ll talk about just one today: using the community as a platform for the association to solicit feedback from its members. Many associations already survey their members periodically to help assess the state of the association. But an online community provides much richer opportunities for feedback.

The reason for this is twofold. First, the feedback process can be much more fine grain. For example, every document document that the association produces can survey as the locus for discussions, questions, polls, etc. And since the community is private, these interactions can be far more candid than if they were conducted in a more public forum. Second, the feedback process can ongoing. Rather than collecting data once or twice a year, you can respond flexibly to the need for more information as it arises. In fact, with an active community, you will find members giving you feedback without having to be explicitly asked for it. Ideally, the community will provide you with an up to date and accurate sense of your members needs and aspirations.

Facebook for the Association?

5 Aug
I just read an interesting piece on the changes happening as enterprises try to figure out how to take advantage of social media. The article lists a number of different vendors who are working on social media platforms specifically aimed at businesses. At first blush, it might seem that these platforms might be well suited for associations too, but as I read through the article I realized that there are some aspects of associations that distinguish them from other businesses and more than likely meant that these platforms were a good fit.

I think that the first significant difference is that, at least to a certain extent, business can force employees to participate in their social media effort. Obviously, you can’t force people to contribute, but you can set up guidelines to make sure people are monitoring it and you can try to ensure that the platform is used for sharing content rather than letting people fall back on older technologies such as email.

But in associations, we can’t force our members to adopt our social media platform. Instead, we have to make the platform something that they want to use. It has to have features that they are going to get value from immediately. It has to align with their expectations of the role that they see the association playing in their life. Social media platforms targeted at business often miss the mark on both counts because these are not critical factors for their adoption in a business environment.

The second difference that comes to mind is that social media in a business context is normally put in place to create more value for the business. That is not to say the needs of the users are ignored, but they are in some sense just a means to achieve the underlying goals of the business.

With associations, the primary purpose of a social media platform is to provide value for our members. It provides a means for members to find other with whom they have common interests, it provides a place to collect and discuss best practices, it has the potential to serve as the locus of ongoing learning, and much more. Of course, the association itself can benefit from the platform, as it can provide a unique view onto members thoughts and needs.

These two differences can significantly influence how software is designed. Here at AssociCom, we’re constantly asking ourselves how we can better serve the members of associations. It is the underlying tenet that guides everything we do. It doesn’t necessarily mean our product is radically different from some of the business-oriented platforms out there, but I think it does mean that we tend to be much better aligned with the way that associations and their members think and work.