3 Mistakes to Avoid During Member Onboarding

Common missteps or incorrect assumptions can jeopardize new-member relationships. The author of Retention Point, a new book on how to establish lasting connections with members, identifies three common errors organizations make in the onboarding process.

Since it’s almost Labor Day and back-to-school season is upon us, I’m taking time this week to squeeze in one last book for summer reading. I dove into Retention Point, by Robert Skrob, CAE, who has consulted for dozens of associations and more recently worked for some subscription-based companies.

Skrob’s new book focuses on the rise and power of “the subscription economy,” which has grown and evolved over the last decade. In a chapter on the popularity of subscription boxes, Skrob interviews FabFitFun VP of Marketing Leslie Emmons Burthey (you can listen in on their conversation on Skrob’s podcast, Membership and Subscription Growth”).

Another chapter details how Charity: Water, a global nonprofit, converted many one-off donors into lifelong members.

The book’s premise is that membership growth comes from a keen focus on member retention, not recruitment. That’s something many associations excel at, but it remains a perennial challenge.

“Associations have been good at establishing their presence early on with new members, but it’s a relationship that can also be tested,” Skrob told me in an interview. “Because there are so many distractions competing for our members’ attention today, you have to assume that the bulk of them are tuned out.”

That means every communication you send must answer one key question for the member: What’s in it for me? But you also need to avoid counterproductive interactions that can turn your members off. Those missteps can happen as early as during the onboarding process.

In his book, Skrob identifies three common mistakes that associations make with new members and shares advice for how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Supplying Too Much Information

Resist the urge to inundate new members with a flood of information early on. Instead, Skrob encourages a slow and steady drip-style campaign. He compares onboarding to “an on-ramp to the full member experience.”

“Early on, you have to be thinking about the right information that offers a helping hand, positioned in the right voice,” Skrob says. “Rather than say, ‘Here’s what we can do for you,’ focus on the member and explain how their life will get better.”

As we know, email fatigue is a problem, so look for ways to connect offline too. Try making a check-in phone call or offering a face-to-face orientation program.

Mistake #2: Assuming Members Already Know

This is the opposite of Mistake #1. Are new members calling frequently and asking the same questions? Do you see posts popping up in your online member community requesting basic help? You might be supplying too little information to new members, Skrob says.

“Don’t assume that everyone is as informed as you are,” he says. “You have to remember new members get dropped into your organization. They don’t know anything, so you’ve got to look and see where they feel lost or stuck.”

Web analytics can help by identifying members’ pain points as they move across your website. If a specific page—perhaps an online form or event registration—has an unusually high bounce rate, then maybe it’s time for a change.

It could be that the instructions are confusing, too many clicks are required, or the page isn’t built for a mobile-first audience. User-experience testing can help you determine where the obstacles are and fix them.

Mistake #3: Focusing on Member Value Alone

Ultimately, your goal should be to make new members feel comfortable and engaged in your community. While your value proposition might have sold the membership during recruitment, retention involves a more personal connection, Skrob says.

“Your retention strategy has to be focused on an emotional appeal, more so than the dollar value of the transaction,” he says.

A member-focused campaign using social media or other communication channels is one way you can achieve a personal connection. Take, for instance, the Accounting and Financial Women’s Alliance, which routinely profiles its young members in Q&A-style interviews. These testimonials not only highlight the value of membership—why they joined—but also paint a picture of the individuals and their goals.

“Retention is about relationship strength to the organization,” Skrob says. “It’s about being part of a movement or feeling connected with something greater than yourself.”

(hatman12/iStock/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

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