COVID-19 upended most 2020 member engagement plans. But it also created an opportunity for associations to elevate how they interact with their members, according to a session at ASAE’s Virtual Annual Meeting. Here are three ideas to consider.
Membership engagement, like many things, is having a “that was then, this is now” moment.
Associations learned that they needed to respond to member needs immediately to help them do their jobs effectively in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Suddenly it was less about a linear, one-way flow of information—and more about listening to what members needed in the short term.
“Engagement used to be transactional,” said Susan Cato, senior director of digital communications at the Association of American Medical Colleges, during the “Member Engagement 2020 and Beyond: Everyone Wants It, but What Does It Mean?” session at ASAE’s 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition. Engagement used to be all about reading content, clicking on a link, and conversions. The current crisis has presented an opportunity, she said, to “elevate the way we interact with each other around a shared purpose.”
Give members power. AAMC created a collaborative resource with clinical guidelines on COVID-19 so its members—composed of teaching hospitals and medical schools—could quickly share potentially life-saving information with each other. Cato said AAMC was focused on putting the power in members’ hands.
For example, as AAMC assessed how to transition to a virtual meeting, they knew they had to get member buy-in. After listening to members and hearing that they wanted more content related to combatting racial injustices within healthcare and current challenges in public health, AAMC quickly created an entire series of content based on those two high-priority issues in partnership with members and people in the community.
Flip the script. Letting members tell the story became a focus for the Food Marketing Institute, said Margaret Core, CAE, vice president of marketing and industry relations. FMI opened its virtual meeting with footage of members talking about the importance of grocery stores and communities during the pandemic, the role they played, and how they gave back to their communities. “Opening the event with the stories was so powerful,” she said. “That’s engagement: We let the actions of our members tell our story.”
Put members first. The rules of engagement became more about building loyalty, the power of the brand, and giving members access to resources and connectivity in a time of need, according to Erin Lee, vice president of marketing operations and customer experience at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
BIO’s members were on the forefront of helping to develop solutions to the pandemic, so as the organization transitioned its in-person meeting to a virtual one, BIO surveyed members to find out what would be most helpful for them. “We focused on being a service to the industry,” Lee said.
BIO Digital was held in June with over 7,000 participants from 64 countries across 28 time zones—no small feat. To foster a spirit of connectedness, BIO changed the meeting’s tagline from “Beyond” to “Nothing stops innovation.” Then, in advance of the conference, the group mailed all speakers a custom mug with the new tagline. Lee said while it was a premium price point, it was worth it because it gave speakers brand recognition onscreen that reflected togetherness.
“We will continue to be disrupted,” Cato said, “and we need to be prepared to ride this roller coaster together.” The thinking has shifted to a more participatory process where associations are partners with their members to create value. “We are co-creating the future together,” she said.