The International Coach Federation saw LinkedIn as an untapped reservoir of potential members, and a $25,000 membership campaign paid off in a big way.
I’m just going to let the following numbers from an association member-recruitment campaign speak for themselves:
- Total cost for recruitment campaign: $25,000
- New members enrolled: 1,899
- Dues per member: $245
- Total revenue: $465,255
- ROI: 1,761 percent
None of those numbers are typos. They’re just absurdly good performance numbers. The lucky beneficiary is the International Coach Federation.
You might recall ICF from back in April, when my colleague Rob Stott checked in with the association after a record-setting year of membership growth. Part of that success, which hadn’t become quite clear at that point, was a three-month recruitment campaign on LinkedIn, which, as ICF discovered, is apparently very fertile ground for attracting new members, at least in the coaching profession.
Magdalena Mook, ICF executive director and CEO, says a membership study showed 97 percent of its members had a presence on LinkedIn. “That immediately gave us an idea that perhaps LinkedIn is a good place to try to find like-minded people and attract them to the organization,” she says.
Rather than standing idly by, ICF leveraged an external social network for membership growth.
During the first quarter of 2014, the campaign targeted 30 groups on LinkedIn with “above-the-fold” display ads, sponsored InMail messages, and sponsored updates in LinkedIn’s news feed. (Get a closer look at these in this slide deck about the LinkedIn campaign that ICF shared [PDF].)
Most of the work required came up front, as ICF staff had to research LinkedIn groups to identify the best ones to target. Mook says they aimed for groups that ICF members also commonly participated in as well as groups for people interested in human resources, organizational performance, and personal development. Then they adapted existing membership recruitment material to be used in the ads, InMail, and updates, all of which pointed to a dedicated landing page. From there, Mook says, LinkedIn’s advertising team handled the rest.
“I have to say that they were quite a formidable partner for us because they sent us weekly progress reports and they also gave us some tips,” Mook says. One suggestion LinkedIn made along the way was to swap out ICF’s 160-by-600-pixel ad for its 300-by-250 ad, which was performing better.
In the end, the ads and InMail outperformed the sponsored updates, though all far exceeded LinkedIn’s client averages, according to ICF. (LinkedIn declined a request for an interview.) And, of course, ICF found itself with a big batch of new members on its hands, far beyond what it had hoped for entering the campaign.
So, why did it work so well? The biggest reason likely has to be that LinkedIn was simply a ripe, untapped market for ICF. A large pool of potential members were active on the site, seeking professional knowledge and community. ICF reached them where they were and appealed to their interest in further advancing their careers.
“Our members tend to be quite broad in their learnings, in their ability and willingness to learn new things. They would branch out to the fields that are supporting and enhancing coaching. And LinkedIn, although perhaps not the same in every country on the face of the planet, is a rather common platform, and, with our members present in 123 countries, that’s perhaps one of the few platforms that they can share no matter where they reside,” Mook says.
ICF also wasn’t completely foreign to its audience on LinkedIn. It already had a regular presence there (both a company page and a group) that likely legitimized it in the eyes of its potential members who were on LinkedIn.
Meanwhile, the campaign came as part of a full-scale revision of ICF’s membership appeal across all channels. Mook says ICF is trying to adapt as the coaching industry is getting younger, on average. And she told Associations Now in April that ICF’s membership recruitment efforts are “talking more from the perspective of true value added of membership rather than just the benefits we offer. Benefits are nice to have, but they’re not why people join an organization. It’s more about the commitment to the profession, commitment to the standards, and having a voice in shaping the future of the profession.” Much of the messaging for the LinkedIn campaign was borrowed from existing membership material.
A recruitment campaign with more than 1,700 percent ROI is, in all likelihood, unrepeatable, if only because LinkedIn is no longer a completely fresh, untouched market for ICF. But Mook says it shows associations shouldn’t ignore external social media. “LinkedIn can be a fantastic platform for associations to be visible and to also be a place for their members to have yet another venue to communicate, to create a network and a community,” she says.
It also offers an alternative to the notion that social media is stealing associations’ thunder. Rather than standing idly by, ICF leveraged an external social network for membership growth. Other associations that see potential members using those networks can do the same.
The real test for ICF will come next spring, when its yearly renewal date comes up. Will those 1,899 members who came to ICF from LinkedIn stick around for another year? ICF is working hard this year to make sure they do, Mook says. But already she’s noticed some stickiness in that audience. A group of new members on LinkedIn have asked ICF if they can start an “ICF Millennials” group there. Perhaps that’s a good sign.
Has your association advertised on LinkedIn or other social networking platforms? How have you tried to tap into social media for member growth? Please share your successes and challenges in the comments.