The Power of One: How 2012 Reshaped Association Membership

From social media to big data, the individual played a major role in association membership in 2012.

One man can move a mountain, as the saying goes. So can one member move your association to greater heights?

If we look back at marketing trends this past year, it seems that way.

When the economy was at a high point, recruitment was simpler, for the basic reason that when people have money, they’re not as selective about how to spend it. But when the economy took a downturn in the great recession—and wallets stayed closed—associations began to see that it was crucial to stay relevant enough to retain members and recruit new ones.

So how did 2012 reshape association membership? With the economy continuing to struggle, personalizing communications and engagement so that every member feels valued has emerged as crucial to survival: Social media campaigns, specialized loyalty programs, and analysis of member data are requirements, not luxuries.

So for 2013, take a long, hard look at how your staff is using member data. It might be your year to hang with the big boys.

A look back at the trends that defined 2012 on an individual scale:

Social Media

There’s no denying it: 2012 was a landmark year for social media and social media campaigns. While some were better than others, it seemed like every organization was working hard to make a video go viral, to get the highest number of retweets, and to bump up their superfans on Facebook, even when trends are pointing to the dwindling superpowers of the ‘Book.

Social media’s boom highlights the power of the individual: Get one person to like your brand, and, inevitably, others will follow. All year, associations have been told to act like human beings, not corporate megaphones—and it seems they’re listening. The web has been filled with great tips on how associations can form real relationships with their members and be more attractive to potential members.

But, as Marketing General Inc.’s 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report points out, a more old-school approach to marketing is still the king: Email remains the most widely used marketing channel, with 94 percent of associations using it to build awareness, compared to 71 percent using presences on social media channels—proving that the one-on-one connection that email provides supersedes even a robust social media campaign.

Loyalty Counts

Call it groupthink, call it whatever you’d like. People like belonging to something, whether it’s a group of friends or a tight-knit organization. But to keep people around, there’s need for incentives. Rewarding your most loyal members with benefits like exclusive content or early-bird pricing on an annual conference can go a long way in making members stay put.

Some top discounts cited in the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report:

  • Early-bird sign-up
  • Member discount for conferences (for nonmembers)
  • One-day pass

A post by David Carrithers at Affinity Insights highlights the need for loyalty programs and incentives for members and urges associations to compare them to loyalty programs for retailers (how many people do you know have a CVS or supermarket “loyalty” card on their keychain?).

“Associations can attain repeated support, increased frequency of support, and more advocates of the mission by engaging their members on a daily basis,” Carrithers writes.

Member Data

Knowing who your members are matters more than ever. It helps them feel like they have a relationship with you. Furthermore, those “digital breadcrumbs,” as some are calling the bits of data that members leave behind when they interact with you, can help an association plan a long-term membership strategy to maximize its audience—and potential revenue.

What does this mean? Demographics such as age, gender, and household income are important, but you can learn even more from information like what social network they use most (so you know where to reach them) and how much they typically spend with your organization (so you can configure an effective pricing strategy). As TechCrunch puts it: “[I]f you find ways to use that data better than your competition, you just might join the ranks of the (big) data boys like Amazon and Netflix.”

So for 2013, take a long, hard look at how your staff is using member data. It might be your year to hang with the big boys.

Whether your association is stepping up its game on social media campaigns, boosting loyalty programs to keep member retention high, or digging into a mess of data, there are ways to keep your association surviving and thriving. Tell us, what are your plans for 2013?


Chloe Thompson

By Chloe Thompson

Chloe Thompson is a contributing writer to Associations Now. MORE

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