How to Unlock Engagement with Busy Five-Minute Members

A new report says that busyness is a common mark of social status. While we all say we're too busy, chances are good that you and your members have five minutes to spare.

This weekend I have to move, so I’m spending a lot of time packing. I hate moving, but I’m also frugal, so I do a lot of the work myself.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been tempted to search for help that is just a click away. A popular service called TaskRabbit tells me that I can “live smarter by outsourcing household errands.” That sounds lovely. Meanwhile, another service, called Thumbtack, offers me several reasonably priced quotes for experienced movers. Maybe, just maybe, I will break the bank this one time.

In the 21st-century service economy, time is an ultimate luxury. Not only do we say we’re too busy, but we also use being busy as a mark of social status, according to new research published last month in the Harvard Business Review. Busyness is both marketable and fashionable.

Associations are also realizing that busyness is a common response from members. You’ve probably heard these before:

  • I was too busy to renew.
  • Your message got lost in my inbox.
  • Can you help me find something?

These common refrains come from your “five-minute members.”

In a recent article, Alexandra Mouw, CAE, senior consultant at the web and mobile services firm Results Direct, Inc., airs grievances and explains who are five-minute members. Membership directors and managers can probably relate too.

Regardless of how you feel about them, these members are very much a growing segment in the association space. They’re known for dipping in and out of touch, but most days they can probably spare just a few minutes.

“You hear members say, ‘I’m too busy,’” Mouw says. “But what they mean is, ‘I only have a moment to spare.’”

Bust Through the Busyness

It’s a tough problem. How do you engage people when attention spans are shorter and information rains down like an avalanche? It’s a question that Nora Weiser, executive director of the American Cheese Society (ACS), ponders almost daily.

“Busyness is not a badge of honor for our members. Busyness means that we need to be doing more for them,” she says. “We try to be a tool for our members to get them off the hamster wheel.”

ACS members are not your typical 9-to-5 employees. They wake up before dawn to milk the cows, and many of them are small-business owners who might have only a few seconds to check email sporadically.

“We can’t expect them to read everything, so we use technology to our advantage,” Weiser says. “We’re looking to use a year-round mobile app that will allow members to use our services directly from a mobile device.”

In addition, ACS just hired its eighth employee, a content manager. Weiser says this new staffer will create relevant membership news and information while serving as a resource librarian, connecting members to archive materials upon request.

“What good is the information if your member can’t reach it?” she says. “There’s really just a five-minute window for you to get them there.”

Lessons Learned

Companies like TaskRabbit and Thumbtack thrive because they alleviate busyness quickly. In the time it takes to fill out an online form, users get names and bids from providers who can supply the help they’re looking for. Associations should be thinking about membership in a similar way. The primary benefit is saving time, Mouw says.

Start by looking at the time it takes to renew a membership. The American Cheese Society limits member renewals to just five steps. When Mouw consults with associations, she recommends making the renewal process responsive and mobile.

“I’m rarely sitting in front of my desk,” Mouw says. “My day is filled with little snippets of time that I need to fill, and I think that is increasingly the same for most people. Your member engagement should fit those moments of time.”

As a rule of thumb, assume that most of your members have just a few minutes to spare. If you need proof that these members exist, Mouw recommends looking at engagement metrics, data points like email open and click-through rates, to determine when and how members access your information. If you’re noticing high open rates on nights or weekends, or lower than normal click-through rates, then you might be dealing with a lot of five-minute members.

While it may seem easier to write off certain members as just too busy to reach, it’s better to shift your mindset. What strategies or tactics are you using to reach five-minute members? How might it impact your message and communication channels directly? Share your tips in the comments below.


Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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