Member-Data Collection: The Never-Ending Story

Associations have long wondered how to get more members to update their profile info. One association says the key is realizing data management is a multi-channel, every-day job.

Association professionals, like most marketers, lead double lives. By day we strive to collect data about our members, to verify their addresses and job titles, and to learn their interests—anything that makes it easier to serve them and sell to them more effectively. By night, in our personal lives, we jealously protect that very same data about ourselves from the prying eyes of other marketers and advertisers. And so we know from personal experience that the work in our day job is an uphill battle.

Hence the common discussions about member-data acquisition in the association community. It is a frequently recurring topic in ASAE’s Collaborate discussion forum, and one I noted in my year-end post in December as a riddle worth revisiting.

The conversations and advice both within and beyond associations tend to focus on two phases of data-acquisition: during the join experience and, simply put, everything after. How much information you require, or even ask for, when someone joins your association is a delicate balance. Ask too much and you’ve set up a barrier that might stop some people from giving you dues money; ask too little and you’ve made it difficult to adequately serve the new member.

The Society of Hospital Medicine is trying to tackle this challenge. Last year, it reduced its membership application from 64 data fields down to nine required fields. At the same time, it has become “more aggressive” about its ongoing data-integrity efforts. Ethan Gray, VP of membership, marketing, and communications at SHM, says it was time to shift its focus from the join phase to after.

Your data is never static, and your data management never should be, either.

“The application had been layered up over years and years of people within and outside of membership saying, ‘This is very very valuable information to me, and I need you to capture it at the first point of entry,'” he says. “And that just ballooned out of control.”

Now, data acquisition is integrated into the member onboarding process and is focused on the information SHM has deemed most valuable. New members get an email in their second month of membership asking them to complete their profile information. (Renewing members get a similar message two months after renewing.) The message comes from Kim Russell, membership data manager, not from a generic SHM email address, and it speaks frankly about the value of members’ information. “I think the best policy is just being honest about why we’re asking what we’re asking,” Russell says.

Here’s an excerpt from SHM’s “Update Your Profile” email:

Because of SHM’s growth over the past few years, we are working harder than ever to ensure we are correctly matching our communications and programs with the members who would best benefit from them.  Knowing your specialty, the year you became a hospitalist, and even the type of hospital or HMG [health management group] you work for helps us to achieve that goal.

It also helps us to speak accurately about our membership—and hospital medicine as a whole—to media outlets, legislators, and medical students who are considering a career in hospital medicine.

With all of this in mind, I’m asking you to make sure your SHM profile is correct and complete. To do that click here to log in, and click the green button that says “Update Profile.”

Russell says this email gets about 15 to 20 percent of recipients to log in and update their profiles. That’s not a bad conversion rate, as far as email calls to action go, but it still leaves a lot of other profiles incomplete. That’s why SHM’s efforts are ongoing and multipronged. Other tactics it employs include:

  • Postal mail. Every spring SHM sends a postcard to members asking them to update their profiles. Interestingly, this gets the best response rate of any of the methods SHM uses, Gray says.
  • Online community. SHM’s online community platform, HMX, drives members to update their profile information to better find and connect with like-minded hospitalists, and that community platform is tied to SHM’s core member database, so the data is updated in both places.
  • NCOA audits. Twice yearly, SHM checks member mailing addresses against the postal service’s National Change of Address (NCOA) records.
  • Coincident updates. SHM staff are encouraged to verify and update member profile info in the course of their regular interactions with members, and when SHM runs occasional telemarketing campaigns, callers are asked to do the same.
  • Mailing list “amnesty.” Says Russell: “I have this period of mailing list amnesty where people can feel free to forward me the data that they have hiding on their desktops and various Excel spreadsheets and Post-It notes, whatever. I won’t judge them for how they get the data to me just as long as they get it to me so we can share it.”
  • Event kiosk. At its next annual conference, SHM will set up a kiosk for attendees to stop by and quickly verify five profile fields: first name, last name, company, specialty, and email address. A small giveaway will be offered to the first 100 who visit.
  • Newsletter reminders. Also in the works is a short reminder in SHM’s monthly member newsletter, highlighting a different profile field in each issue and asking members to click through to update it. The email will integrate with SHM’s member database to dynamically display the recipient’s current info for the particular field. (One commenter in a Collaborate discussion on data acquisition said a similar effort at his association was successful.)

These efforts reflect a clear understanding that data management is an everyday job, not one that’s addressed periodically and forgotten. Members constantly come and go. They change jobs and locations regularly. Your data is never static, and your data management never should be, either.

Gray says SHM has its own definition of record completeness: “Name, up-to-date mailing address, valid email address, institution, identified specialty, and we measure what percentage we have within our membership that has those fields identified in the database.” That percentage makes for a simple performance metric that puts data integrity in terms everyone at SHM can understand.

Often the question of incentives comes up in discussions about how to get members to fill out their profiles (or answer surveys). That seems to be a quest for a magical silver bullet that may or may not exist. Gray and Russell say better service can be its own incentive.

“The more effective we are in communicating the message that, by providing this information, your membership experience is going to be better and more meaningful, those are the things that really resonate,” he says.

Ideally, your association can offer products and services that will lead members to want to give you their data, rather than begrudgingly surrendering it. But, knowing human nature and the privacy-deficient times we live in, it will likely always be a constant struggle. Russell says she knows getting every single SHM member’s profile completed is unlikely.

“My wish would be 100 percent complete, but we would like to look around 80 percent complete, realizing some people we’re never going to be able to coax to give up more information than they bare-bones have to,” she says. “You’re always going to have your Ron Swansons of the world who aren’t going to give up any of their privacy.”

What methods has your association tried to get members to share more of their info? What has been most (or least) successful for you? Share your ideas 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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