What We’re Scoring When We’re Scoring Engagement

A tool for tracking and measuring member engagement can be valuable for any association—if you can decide what "engagement" actually means to you, first.

In the last couple of years, you might have noticed an upswell in talk in the association community about tracking and scoring member engagement data. At the very least, I know we’ve shared a lot of stories about engagement data here lately.

Data is knowledge and knowledge is power, so we’ve sought out these stories to help associations navigate the rather complex endeavor of translating member engagement activity into meaningful metrics. One of our most recent case studies reminds us that “translating” is indeed a vital step in the process. Last week, Christine Kelley, membership director at the American Productivity and Quality Center, shared her experience in “10 Lessons Learned in Developing a Member Engagement Scoring Model” in ASAE’s Associations Now Plus e-newsletter [member login required].

Kelley offers a detailed list of lessons and adviced based on APQC’s project, and it’s a nice glimpse into the nuance and nitty-gritty of making an engagement-scoring tool actually happen. Three of the first four lessons in her list, interestingly, all relate to translating the varying definitions of “engagement”—just within one organization—into a common, workable understanding:

Engagement is a buzzword that can be applied to just about any form of member (or even nonmember) activity.

  • “Agree on what the engagement score is measuring and what it will help your organization accomplish.”
  • “Determine the scope of ‘engagement.'”
  • “In detail, define each instance of engagement and its source of record.”

You could read these in order as why, what, and how. In any case, they make clear the importance of defining engagement, because it’s an overbroad buzzword that can be applied to just about any form of member (or even nonmember) activity.

Eric Lanke, CAE, CEO of the National Fluid Power Association, noticed this problem in a discussion of association professionals last year and shared his observations on his blog:

One consistent thing I’ve noticed is that when it comes to member engagement, we all seem to be talking about several different things. … For some, member engagement means getting members to utilize the association’s services. For others, its means getting more volunteers for its committees and task forces. … Unless we are clear about which definition of member engagement we’re talking about, it should be easy to appreciate how complicated an innocent conversation about member engagement can become.

And Elizabeth Engel, CAE, CEO and chief strategist at Spark Consulting, argued last year that the definition of engagement is not only fuzzy but also too often determined by the association and not its members:

Nearly all the talk about engagement I hear was about scoring, tracking, and rewarding what the association values. We value committee service, so we give it a high score. We value spending money with the association, so we give it a high score. We value getting articles written for free for our magazine, so we give it a high score. … The perspective is totally backwards [and] tells you precisely zip about what the members and other audiences … value about their interactions with us.

APQC tackled this challenge head on:

  • Why: As Kelley and her colleagues asked various stakeholders how they would use an engagement score, they determined “the membership, marketing, and sales groups’ business cases for the model presented the most potential for significant process changes and the resulting ROI.”
  • What: Then they came to an agreement that “engagement includes the following activities: website, email, event attendance, community participation, and volunteerism.”
  • How: And then they detailed exactly which actions represented those forms of engagement and how they would be tracked. Kelley writes that this was an “absolutely crucial” step. “‘Community participation'” could mean joining a community, posting to a discussion board, or attending an event put on by community volunteers. Be as precise as possible to the exact instance of engagement.”

As APQC and others have learned, both the value and challenge in developing a tool for engagement tracking and scoring is that it makes you turn language into ones and zeros. Those vague, myriad meanings for engagement that get tossed around in conversation have to be translated into clear, unmistakable definitions when you want to turn them into data. It forces some discipline and specificity around engagement across the association.

What’s your association’s biggest challenge in measuring engagement? How have you tried to define engagement according your association’s (and your members’) needs and goals? Please share in the comments.


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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