October 27, 2021
Learning how to improve member engagement is a constant goal for association leaders. Engaged members are the most likely to renew their memberships, stay connected to the organization and spread the word about your association to others. While member benefits are what bring people to your association, it’s the ongoing engagement that keeps them happy to renew year-in and year-out.
It’s a constant process to reach the audience and build meaningful relationships, one that doesn’t end after the conversion or onboarding stage. However, there are some important things to consider when working to improve member engagement.
Member engagement is important for a number of reasons. It:
Marcy Karpowitz is the founder of MKMCreative, a branding and experiential marketing agency that specializes in consumer engagement. She encouraged association leaders to first take a step back and evaluate the value their organizations provide to their members.
“Associations should make sure they’re clear on their brand promise and value proposition,” Karpowitz said. “They need to ask [internally]: are they delivering on it and how? Then, they’ll be able to find the holes and evaluate if the how is working or not. If it’s not working, then it’s time to rethink those pieces.”
For example, if your association emails are getting all-time low click-through rates, that doesn’t mean stop sending emails or send more emails — it means rethinking the way you’re delivering your content. Instead of writing an email, try sending a personalized video.
“Try a different mechanism. Serve the information differently, in a new way,” Karpowitz said.
If your webinar is about an interesting topic but the attendees are zoning out, find ways to build interactivity into the experience. In a recent virtual show Karpowitz produced, her team used QR codes as “infusions of interest” for prize giveaways and Q&As. Karpowitz said this resulted in participation from 90% of attendees.
Associations don’t have to change who they are, but they can find new and different ways to present the same message. As an association leader, every message you craft should be done in a way that encourages your audience to think, feel and act a certain way.
While members may feel satisfied with the decision to continue being a part of your association, that doesn’t necessarily translate to engagement. For example, according to data compiled by Community Brands, 84% of members surveyed feel satisfied with their membership, yet only 55% feel connected to their membership organization. It’s up to associations to recognize this rift and strategize how to mend it.
If your members are feeling a lack of connection to your organization, Karpowitz recommends setting up an audience counsel — a modern iteration of the focus group — instead of simply sending an email blast with a survey or poll.
“I would look at the different levels of members the association sees as highly engaged, in the middle and the ones they can’t get to engage. Handpick five of each, offer a gift card in return and ask for 15 to 20 minutes of their time,” Karpowitz said.
In those sessions, association leaders should ask the small groups directly what feeling more connected to the organization looks like to them. Then, using that feedback, determine what’s possible for the association to implement.
Karpowitz urged association leaders to revisit the customer journey, analyzing what they want members to do and what they’re not doing, so they can address those specific elements.
“Just because you’re an association doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have slick creative or show up somewhere in the real world,” Karpowitz said.
Whether this is in the form of a mixer, volunteer event or another type of experience, associations shouldn’t stay hidden behind a screen. Use the data your association has on the highest and lowest communities of adoption to get out in the real world and engage with your audience — even if you end up hitting people who won’t be impacted, Karpowitz said.
If your association wants to improve member engagement, be prepared for a mindset shift. After all, Karpowitz said, “The brands that succeed and the ones that people want to be, are the brands that always market and always reinvent themselves.”
Though improving member engagement isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and will vary by association and audience type, these are a few ideas for your association to try:
Improving member engagement starts with a mindset shift. Just because your association has done things a certain way for so long, doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Keep this perspective from Karpowitz in mind: “If you’re not putting in the full effort, it's likely neither is your target when it comes to adopting.”
Change is scary, but trying new things and being consistent will help your association strengthen its brand and build more loyalty. Your members will appreciate the dedication and attention you pay to ensure their successful member experience, while happily renewing their memberships year after year in return.
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Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour.