In Recruitment, a Little Recognition Goes a Long Way

There's no one way to make a member-get-a-member program a success, but recognition for recruiters is a must. Here's why.

In a perfect world, your members would do your recruitment for you. They’d love your association so much that they’d tell everyone they know and insist they join, too. Your recruitment budget would be zero: All word of mouth, all the time.

Maybe it works that way in a parallel universe, but ours demands a little more hands-on effort. Associations know the power of word of mouth, though. In Marketing General Incorporated’s “2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report,” 49 percent of associations ranked “word-of-mouth recommendations” among their top three recruitment marketing channels, more than any other marketing channel by a wide margin (email was next at 32 percent).

The more you recognize recruiters, the more everyone else will see member referral as a valued form of engagement.

The problem with WOM, however, is that it’s unpredictable. It’s hard to understand exactly who will do it, when, and why. But WOM is too powerful not to try to capture it and bend it toward our goals. Enter the member referral program, also known commonly (and clunkily) as the “member-get-a-member” campaign. ASAE benchmarking research in 2012 showed more than half of associations (54 percent) utilizing formal member-get-a-member (MGAM) programs for recruitment.

Judging by questions posted in ASAE’s Collaborate discussion forums [ASAE member login required], no universal template exists for associations to follow for MGAM success, which may not be surprising if you view MGAM as a structured process imposed on a natural, organic occurrence. Methods associations try range from full-scale volunteer membership-development operations all the way down to the forward-to-a-friend button in an email. Most often, though, association membership pros puzzle over the same question: “What incentives will spur my current members to recruit new ones?”

That topic came up once again in a Collaborate thread a couple weeks ago, and a recurring theme (though certainly not a new one) emerged among several responses: recognition for the recruiters.

You can, and likely should, offer other forms of incentives, such as prizes or discounts on association membership or products, but I stand with the commenters in that discussion as a firm believer that recognition is crucial to MGAM campaigns, and I’d like to add or expand upon a few reasons why:

Members are a self-selected audience primed to value being recognized among their peers. Not everyone joins an association primarily for the sense of belonging, but a lot do, and those people will crave opportunities to earn stature in your community. Recognition is a rare resource. You could give top recruiters iPads, but those people could skip the MGAM effort and just buy their own devices. Peer recognition can’t be bought.

Top recruiters will have built-in networks, which recognition will only strengthen and expand. As Kevin Whorton, president of Whorton Marketing & Research, noted in the discussion, “The kind of person who will recruit effectively is often well-connected and holds a position where they 1) interact regularly with potential new members … and 2) they are interested in facilitating relationships.” In other words, these people are super-networkers, and recognizing them carries multifold benefits: It legitimizes them as influencers in your community, which is good for both them and the association; it builds their networks further by holding them up as “someone you should know”; and it leverages their network for opportunities for their recognition to be shared further (e.g., the influencer’s connections share their congratulations on social media).

Majority illusion means recognition can quickly establish new perceived social norms. A couple months ago we learned about the majority illusion, the social network dynamic that says just a few highly connected people saying the same thing can make it seem like the majority opinion to everyone else. Recognizing members for recruiting new members to your association can work the same way. J. Todd Daniel, CAE, executive director at the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association, also recommended recognition in that Collaborate discussion: “Each year our president gives the Silver Star President’s Award to a top member recruiter. The idea is to raise awareness and create a membership-recruiting culture,” he wrote. The more (and more often) you publicly recognize members who recruit other members, the more everyone else will see member referral as a valued form of engagement in your association and perhaps something they ought to be doing, too.

As an association, you should be showcasing members’ good deeds anyway. This may just be the principle underpinning all these other reasons recognition is important to MGAM success, but if everything else is too complicated, you can just rely on the fundamentals. Your association is community of people, and you ought to be showcasing their good work whenever you can. Recruiting new members to the community would certainly count.

Of course, the whole reason incentives of any sort are necessary for MGAM efforts is to spur people to action, which assumes that the action of recruiting a new member is arduous. Whatever incentives you choose, you’d be wise to pair them with efforts to make the referral process easier. You could make recruiting new members mobile friendly. Or you could keep it traditional, with an ROI-focused brochure for recruiters to pass along. Or you could take a hand in facilitating recuitment, by collecting referral cards at in-person events or hosting a recruitment phone-a-thon.

However you craft your member-get-a-member efforts, perhaps the best fuel for success is striving for that perfect-world scenario: Keep improving your benefits and programs so your members need less and less prodding to do your recruiting for you.

Does your association run a member-get-a-member program? How is it structured and what incentives do you find work best? How do you recognize your member recruiters? Share your experience and advice 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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