What Can Artificial Intelligence Do for Your Members?

For membership organizations, one of the primary benefits of artificial intelligence is that it adds a hook to member experiences and engagement. Here are three examples of how AI could be used by association and membership pros.

A lot of people are trying to make sense of artificial intelligence (AI) these days—what it can do for their business, and more specifically, their big data. Count Thad Lurie, CAE, among them.

Last week, he made a career move—from chief information officer and vice president of operations at EDUCAUSE, a higher education technology association, to vice president of business intelligence and performance at Experient, an event management company that is doing a lot of work around event technology and attendees’ behavioral data.

The job change coincides with a significant mindset shift for Lurie that has him thinking about the power of artificial intelligence, not just as a tool to augment existing products or services but as a way to completely reimagine the membership experience.

“We need to look at our business models through the lens of AI and in a completely different way because there may be member services and programs that we can do differently,” Lurie says.

So what exactly is artificial intelligence? Lurie has an easy-to-grasp explanation: AI is a machine that’s constantly learning and getting smarter as more qualified data about an organization’s customers—or members—is fed and processed through the system.

“Soon it begins to learn by itself,” Lurie says. “The matches that it provides, the suggestions that it makes, and the content that it puts in front of people will get more accurate.”

So how can AI help associations serve members better? Lurie has three specific examples to share.

Member Matching

For starters, let’s take annual meetings and conferences. Associations might collect passive behavioral data from attendees while they go to sessions, visit booths, or participate in social events. Artificial intelligence is the machine that can track and learn from that data to improve attendees’ overall experience, Lurie says.

“If you ask the right questions—before, during, and after the event—you can change and do certain things differently,” he says. “When you blend that data with the membership data, volunteer data, engagement data, marketing data—then we are getting to a completely different member experience.”

By taking into consideration each of these data sets, AI can begin to connect dots you might otherwise miss. For example, it may help you create a conference buddy system that matches attendees based on their career experience, geographical location, and member engagement score.

“AI can take an incredible amount of information and not only look at one individual but look at thousands of individuals, and it can find patterns more rapidly and give latitude to acting on patterns,” Lurie says. “Associations are all about making connections. What if we put an AI behind that, and the job was to know and use that information to make a free connection?”

In the future, that could mean a small group of attendees meets for a pasta dinner before a conference because they all have a similar career focus and share a love of Italian food. AI could interpret multiple layers of data, make matches, and auto-send invites for dinner.

Personalized Newsletters

One of your biggest member-engagement challenges is probably your five-minute members, those who might say they’re too busy to take action—but who really may only need the right kind of gentle nudge in that direction. With AI, associations can create a more personalized experience for members that leads to action.

Let’s say you’re an association professional who likes reading about membership trends every Wednesday (let’s hope that assumption is already true). By tracking your behavioral data, like click-through and open rates, AI could begin to dynamically load content into a newsletter the delivers articles on membership topics and from sources you like the most. Taking it one step further, every so often that newsletter might present you with a special offer to enroll in a free membership webinar or save on conference registration rates. Because those resources are valuable to you, you may take an action you wouldn’t otherwise have taken.

This isn’t a pipedream. It’s happening as we speak. is a tool that personalizes newsletter content and helps to build engagement with members over time using AI. Amith Nagarajan, who heads the company, says the goal is to hook members into habits that spur deeper engagement.

“Most members get their daily news and industry insights from sources other than their association, which is a huge missed opportunity,” he says. “Associations are well positioned to fill this gap. They have a brand that is generally trusted in their space, and they often have large amounts of data that is sitting latent but capable of providing deeper insights.”

Customers Also Bought…

At its most basic level, you have probably already been exposed to the power of AI. Anyone who’s ever made a purchase on Amazon will immediately recognize its item-to-item filtering—the feature that tells you what “customers also bought.”

If you’re like me, those product recommendations often lead you to other unintended purchases. It’s one of the signature engagement hooks of Amazon. And the AI that powers it isn’t a secret anymore.

Last year, Amazon released an open-source software that allows developers to tinker with the engine that drives its customer recommendations. That’s something association and membership professionals probably want to pay attention to.

“The success of personalization in the private sector is affecting all associations,” Lurie says. “If you talk about Amazon, that’s what we’re up against. Our members have an experience with Amazon. So when they shop online with you, that is their expectation—it’s going to be like Amazon.”

Have you tested or experimented with AI? How does it deliver better member engagement or experiences? What qualms or hesitations do you have with the technology? Leave your comments in the thread below.

(MF3d/Getty Images Plus)

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

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!