What do you do when your members have too many choices for online engagement? Don’t add to their options. Instead, help them find a safe space to connect on platforms where they already are. Here’s how one association did it and saw engagement spike during a challenging time.
The pandemic has made the community element of association membership especially valuable over the past year. But what’s the best way to help members find each other when there are so many options?
The Michigan Veterinary Medical Association had tried to engage its members with formal online communities, but members said they were overloaded with similar offerings from veterinary specialty associations they belonged to. So MVMA took a different tack: It made a strategic decision to engage with members through a private, members-only Facebook page, since they preferred that platform for connecting with one another.
Understanding where members want to get their information and how they want to engage with each other is essential, said John Tramontana, CAE, MVMA’s CEO.
A Private Community
MVMA’s private Facebook page is a place for members to talk freely, ask advice from other members, and share opinions and practices. “It really took off,” Tramontana said. Right now, for example, there is a lot of discussion surrounding where veterinarians are in the rollout plan for COVID-19 vaccinations. Members are comparing notes, sharing personal experiences, and helping each other navigate complex information from state and county health departments.
“People are thirsty for information and trying to figure out what they need to do and what the next steps are,” he said. The private forum has helped strengthen the bond between the association and members, but also member to member.
“People are really looking at each other as colleagues and friends and looking for ways to help each other, rather than looking at each other as competitors,” he said.
Mutual Support System
To offer another venue for private conversations, Tramontana began hosting informal Zoom coffee hours and happy hours for members when the pandemic began. The events are free, and members can preregister until about an hour before the video call starts.
Anywhere from a dozen to 20 people participate on the calls, which attract different members most of the time. “It really helps us as an association to understand the profession and some of the issues that are going on much better,” he said, making MVMA more responsive to members during a challenging time.
Tramontana hosted the calls weekly at the start of the pandemic, but he was mindful of members’ time. Veterinarians are busier than ever because more people getting new pets—and observing their existing pets more closely—now that everyone’s home. That means more calls and visits to the vet.
The forums are held about every four to six weeks now. “It’s an outlet for members to just talk to us and know that we’re here for them,” he said. It’s been a stressful period, so keeping the mental health and well-being of members central has been key.
“It’s really important that they know they have the support of their association during this time,” Tramontona said.