Buzz-Worthy Advice for Member Engagement and Market Analysis

A roundup of five great reads for association membership pros that will get you thinking differently about how to get members engaged, how members view your association, and what benefits they'll want next.

If you’re a regular reader of Associations Now Daily News, you’ve likely come across our daily “Buzz” posts, which round up several new must-reads for association professionals every day. It’s a feature that dates all the way back to the early days of ASAE’s first blog, Acronym (RIP) and its regular “Quick Clicks” posts. Even then, there was more high-quality, buzz-worthy content related to associations on the internet than we could write full posts about, and that’s even more true now.

Our Buzz posts run the gamut of association topics, of course, but this week I will borrow the Buzz theme for a membership-specific roundup of five must-reads for association membership professionals. These have been gathering in my pileup of open browser tabs in the past couple weeks, and they’re too good not to share. Enjoy.

What really affects membership performance? In “Beyond Numbers: Using Non-Financial/Quantitative Measures of Success,” Anna Caraveli, managing partner of The Demand Networks, zeroes in on a difficult problem for every association: understanding indirect impacts on membership. For instance, how does customer service, product quality, or employee engagement influence membership recruitment and retention downstream? It’s easy to track those as expenses but harder to discern their ROI.

When an innovation serves a basic need in a new way, it sets new customer expectations.

Caraveli supports measuring nonfinancial drivers of success and treating revenue or member growth “as a byproduct of other things.” The trick is identifying those drivers of success and uncovering their relationship to more tangible results, like customer satisfaction. This is crucial in shifting your board of directors’ criteria for success. “Understanding what drives customer satisfaction and how satisfaction converts to increased sales will allow you to make the kind of cultural and managerial changes that will nurture such drivers,” she writes.

At the end of the post, Caraveli outlines several “research questions to investigate” to develop these new measures of success.

The heart of engagement. Speaking of hard-to-measure metrics, are you giving enough attention to how your members feel about your association? In “Ignoring an Important Indicator of Engagement,” Jeffrey Cufaude, president and CEO of Idea Architects, points out what we’re missing in the association community’s focus on measuring activity-based engagement. “A member could attend a lot of association events, but still feel outside the community,” for instance.

“We need to move beyond the activity that is easy to track to the feelings that individuals may hold toward the organization and its offerings,” he writes. “We need to discover the measures that customers and members themselves would use as indicators of their engagement level.”

What those measures are is hard to say, and Cufaude doesn’t posit any specific ideas, but he makes a good case for taking time to consider how you might augment your engagement metrics with other measures of customer satisfaction.

The little stuff matters. More on engagement, this time focusing on getting members active in online communities. “How to Fix the Highest Barriers to Engagement,” by Ben Martin, CAE, chief engagement officer at Online Community Results (in a guest post at SocialFish), outlines a series of tips for removing common obstacles that get in users’ way in online community platforms, such as lack of email notification, trouble logging in, and “empty-restaurant syndrome.”

Martin’s tips are simple and practical, and they focus on getting the details right. They include posting clear reminders to check the “Remember Me” box on the login screen and favoring discussion teasers near the top of the community homepage rather than large images that would push that content down the screen.

He concludes: “Members will always cite the other two reasons that they aren’t participating: lack of time and lack of motivation to participate. Those are more difficult problems to solve. Start with the above, which are more easily attainable, and which will compound the positive effects you’re able to bring about on the motivation and time problems.”

In other words, fixing the little problems will help with the big ones.

Don’t play the nonprofit card. Colleen Dilenschneider, chief market engagement officer at IMPACTS Research & Development, shares some perhaps surprising data in “Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More to Visitors Than Your Tax Status.” Research on people’s perceptions of cultural institutions like museums, theaters, and zoos shows they are largely unaware of their nonprofit status. Only between one-third and one-half of people believe such organizations are nonprofit. For anyone working in the nonprofit sector, that might come as a shock.

It’s important to note that consumers’ beliefs about cultural institutions may not translate to their beliefs about trade associations and professional societies, but personally I’d bet there’s more commonality than not, because Dilenschneider chalks this misperception up to a simple truth: “Today’s audiences are generally sector agnostic. This means that they don’t much care about an organization’s tax status. They care about how well your company or organization does what it claims to be expert at doing.”

For associations, this means that, as you consider your place in your target market, you ought not to use nonprofit status as an excuse for not comparing your organization to other types of businesses, because chances are your members and prospects already are.

Look beyond your members. The latest update from Trend Watching, “Turn Overwhelm Into Opportunity,” is ostensibly about innovation, but it adds an interesting wrinkle to the mantra we hear often (like here on this blog, last week): Listen to your members.

That’s good advice, of course, but it might be too narrow. As Trend Watching puts it, you also ought to be watching what businesses are doing, not just consumers. Looking for “clusters of innovation” in other markets can show you what your own audience may soon be asking for. It’s more than just copying those innovations, though. Instead, look at what new expectations these innovations create, which members and prospects may then carry into their interactions with you.

“When an innovation serves a basic need in a new way, it sets new customer expectations. That is, it primes customers to expect something new,” Trend Watching writes. “And then the really important part happens: expectation transfer. Once created by a game-changing innovation, new expectations spread across markets, industries, product and service categories, and demographics. And thanks to the global brain, they spread faster than ever. Eventually, they’ll spread all the way to your door!”

How might any of these articles and their ideas shift your thinking at your association? Or, what else have you read lately on membership that you’d qualify as buzz-worthy? Share your thoughts 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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