Creating Member Engagement is a Two-Way Street

Member engagement as commonly discussed in associations is all about getting members to act. But it goes both ways. What is your association doing to engage with members where they are, on their turf?

Before I started working in associations, the only thing that came to mind when I heard the word engagement was people getting married. Now, after years of exposure to the concept of membership engagement, it means so many other, very different things.

Engagement might be the association world’s most fungible term. It’s a catch-all for just about any kind of interaction or involvement (two terms that normal people would be more apt to use) on the part of an association member. Heck, ASAE has published a book with 199 different ways a member could be engaged. A member volunteers for a committee? Engagement. Member posts a discussion comment? Engagement. Member attends a local networking event? Engagement. Member downloads a research report? Engagement. Member tweets on a conference hashtag? Engagement.

If your members were to give your association its own engagement score, based on engagement that they value, what would your score be?

Just keep filling in the blank: “Member does _____.” We could go on for a long time here. But the pattern reveals a particularly association-centric viewpoint of engagement. On the surface, it appears to be all about the member, but in fact it’s all about getting the member to do something. Something the member isn’t doing already, or isn’t doing enough of, or isn’t doing on the association’s turf.

It might serve associations well to flip that dynamic, to think differently about what type of engagement is valued, where it happens, or who’s doing it.

If, for instance, members of your industry are conversing on their own LinkedIn group, that’s engagement, too, right? Could your association join the group and add value to the conversations, without insisting they join an official group or converse in your private social network? Or, if members of your profession are meeting in a lodge 1,000 miles from your headquarters, that’s also engagement, isn’t it? Do they have to travel to your events, or could one of your staff or volunteer leaders Skype into their meeting to participate with them?

In other words, how is your association engaging with members? Fill in the blank: “Association does _____.” An association professional I discussed this idea with suggested associations should get better at “taking their show on the road,” whether that’s physical or virtual.

To put it even more simply: A lot of associations are adopting member engagement scores, but they’re only scoring engagement that the association values. If, instead, your members were to give your association its own engagement score, based on engagement that they value, what would your score be?

For specific ideas about how an association can do more of its own engaging, I’ll turn to you: How is your association making engagement a two-way street? What practices or programs have you developed to “take your show on the road,” to engage with members on their turf, rather than demanding they come to you?


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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