Membership

A Major League Member-Engagement Metric

By / Nov 5, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Tracking engagement on a per-member basis is valuable, but what could an association learn from an organization-wide engagement indicator?

One of my favorite baseball statistics—or, as is the case lately, perhaps least favorite—is league-wide batting average. It’s a big-picture view of the game and a benchmark for player performance. But these days, it does not paint a pretty picture.

In the 2014 Major League Baseball season, per Baseball-Reference.com, the league-wide batting average was .251, the lowest it’s been since 1972. Other league-wide numbers also display the sport’s depressing lack of hitting: 4.07 runs scored per game, the lowest since 1981, and 7.7 strikeouts per game, the highest rate in MLB history. (While some will hail the World Series that ended last week for an all-time great pitching performance, I’d argue that the championship being won by essentially one ace pitchter and 24 bystanding teammates on an 88-win team is a clear sign of the utter degradation of a once-great sport. I also just don’t like the Giants.)

What does MLB batting average have to do with associations? Nothing, really, but it nicely illustrates the value of a wide-angle lens on organizational metrics.

An organization-wide engagement KPI could reveal an association’s ability to drive collective action.

Three weeks ago, I participated in the CxO Performance Improvement Summit hosted by Advanced Solutions International (ASI). The membership session showcased three associations that excel in the realm of member-engagement tracking. Each of them shared how engagement tracking is enabling them to better target members based on their engagement habits, identify highly engaged members with potential for future volunteer roles, identify unengaged members at risk of lapsing, or encourage further engagement by surfacing that tracking info to members themselves in the form of an engagement history or score.

In the Q&A at the end of the session, though, ASI Global Director of Marketing Ed Wendling asked if any of the panelists’ associations were using engagement as an organization-wide key performance indicator (KPI). None were, at least not yet, and that fits with other examples we’ve shared of engagement tracking efforts (here, here, here, here, and here): By and large, member-engagement tracking is being used by associations on a member-by-member basis.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. Associations taking on in-depth engagement tracking, in any form, are a step ahead of most others. But Ed’s question got me wondering. What would an organization-wide member-engagement KPI look like? And would it be useful?

When you think of KPIs for associations, some typical ones come to mind: revenue, total members, member retention, event attendance, website traffic, and customer satisfaction (or maybe Net Promoter Score). Engagement seems like it could fit right in there, if done right. An association building an engagement KPI would have to answer the following questions:

Total or average? A total engagement number would reflect the collective action of the association’s member community, but it would also be affected by changes in the number of members. Average engagement per member would show how large-scale engagement efforts are trickling down to the member level. Do you want to know how much member engagement you have, or how engaged your members are? The difference there is subtle but important.

Include nonmembers? If you’re tracking member engagement actions, you’re probably tracking nonmembers, too. Would the overall engagement among nonmembers be a separate KPI, or would it lumped in with members?

Scale or raw index? How would the engagement metric be expressed? It could be a percentage (0 to 100) or a letter grade (A to F), or it could be a raw number. Or it could be something else. In any case, context would be important. What’s a good score or number, and how does it compare to past performance?

What engagement counts in the KPI? This is a question you’d answer as you established your member-by-member engagement tracking, but it’s worth revisiting for the purpose of an organization-wide KPI. If you’re already measuring revenue or website visits across the organization, should they also be included in an engagement score?

In short, I think that if you’re tracking and scoring engagement in depth on a per-member basis, then you’ve already done most of the work. An organization-wide engagement KPI would, in theory, only mean a few additional decisions and some extra math.

But what story would it tell? For a mission-driven association, an organization-wide engagement KPI could perhaps reveal the association’s ability to drive collective action. It could indicate the health of the profession. It could show how well the association is meeting member needs. And, if plotted against other KPIs, it could add a valuable filter for decision making. What if membership was up but overall engagement was down? Or what if engagement was up but revenue was down? These would lead to some interesting discussions.

In the course of a baseball season, most of the statistics you’ll see will be about individual performances. Who has the best batting average in the league? Who’s slumping? And so on. The off-season, though, provides a good chance to take stock of the sport as a whole. Incoming commissioner Rob Manfred will take the helm of a sport with all-time high revenue but dismal on-field offensive performance. He’ll be challenged to keep the game from becoming a bore.

For associations tracking member engagement, targeting individual members and member segments based on their engagement patterns provides great day-to-day utility. But a periodic big-picture look at engagement in the association as a whole could be an important tool in setting organizational strategy and goals, as well.

Does your association include member engagement among its key performance indicators? If so, how is that metric composed, and how do you use it? Please share in the comments.

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor at Associations Now, a lifelong Phillies fan, and a proud alum of Ohio University. More »

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