Engagement Scoring: Big Benefit or Big Brother?

How much do your members know about your association’s data and engagement tracking? And how do they feel about being scored for their activity?

It might be easy to forget that it wasn’t until 2003 that American consumers were legally granted access to their own credit reports. It took an act of Congress to finally give you the right to view (once a year) the third-party monitoring of your own financial health.

However, few such regulations exist to govern access to the other data that follows your every move in life. We live in a world where we know—and are more or less resigned to—the fact that companies and the government are amassing troves of information about who we are, what we do, and how we live.

Can you explain how tracking certain data or publicly scoring certain activities benefits the member?

It’s in this context that a recent question in ASAE’s Collaborate discussion forum garnered a mix of opinions: Should an association share engagement scores with members? (See threads posted in both the Membership and Executive Management communities; ASAE member login required.)

Engagement tracking and equivalent “scoring” have been a part of the association lexicon for close to a decade now, but with such diversity among associations and their markets, there is far from a standard formula for such practices. So, what might seem like a straightforward question devolves into a complicated one rather quickly.

As commenters in the Collaborate discussions noted, the purpose of a member engagement score matters. If you’re looking to understand your member segments and target your marketing more precisely, those are internal goals. If you want to motivate more engagement through incentives or gamification, that’s external. You could, perhaps, even develop two scores or sets of data, one for each purpose.

And there’s also the question of the type of data you’re tracking: demographic or activity. How an association might use each of those types of info about a member and how a member feels about each of those types being tracked will vary.

But there’s one more point to consider: Does an association have a greater obligation to be transparent about the data it collects on members because it’s a membership organization? An association, after all, is an entity owned by the members. Members form an association, they belong to it, and they govern it.

In theory, people can demand greater transparency from the government about data tracking, at least to the extent that it can be balanced with national security interests. And people can simply choose not to purchase products from companies that they deem too nosy, at least to the extent that they can bring themselves to live without particular products. Associations, though, exist in a hybrid state where their members could respond in both ways, both demanding change and deflating revenue.

When I read that a company like Meredith Corporation has “an average of 800 data points for each of the 115 million customers in its database,” my eyes pop out of my head for a moment, but then I chalk it up to the cold, calculated profit motive of a typical business. If, however, I read that a nonprofit association to which I belonged had that much data on me, I’d wonder if it really valued me as a part of its community or merely as a customer to be sold to.

None of this is to say an association shouldn’t gather data on its members; rather, the complicating factors are, well, more complicating.

If there’s a guiding light, I’d suggest it’s one that informs just about anything else an association does: Do what’s best for your members. If you can explain how tracking certain data or publicly scoring certain activities benefits me as a member, then that will be good for you, the association, in the long run.

If an engagement score or a lengthy demographic profile only clutters the member experience, though, then it won’t be worthwhile. Similarly, if being scored leads the member to feel penalized rather than motivated—especially when some members just may not have the capacity for deeper engagement—then that’s counterproductive, as well.

But a score may also help members better understand how and where they’re getting a return on investment for their dues dollars, or where they could be getting more. In other words, if an engagement score helps illustrate why engaging with the association benefits the member, then that’s a win for everyone.

How does your association share engagement tracking or scoring with members, if at all? Should members know everything your association knows about them? What qualities make an engagement score good for external consumption? 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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