Recent research shows member engagement is surpassing expectations. But now associations must work to maintain those increased levels by offering members opportunities to find connections and belonging in an ever-changing professional—and personal—landscape.
Here’s some good news about member engagement: 56 percent of association members are more engaged with their association than before the pandemic, according to Forj’s recently released 2021 State of Member Experience report, which surveyed nearly 4,000 virtual event attendees.
“Opportunities to bring members together at virtual events has created more engagement,” said Forj CEO Kurt Heikkinen. And there are clearly ways for associations to sustain that high level of member engagement, but groups need to look outside the traditional ways they have historically done business and employ other factors.
Digital First: Expected and Intuitive
For example, dependence on a single annual event—or just a few events—is a limiting strategy, Heikkinen said. In their day-to-day lives, consumers are much more engaged in a digital-first experience—and they expect it. That is a plus for associations. “Associations that match those expectations have an opportunity to increase member engagement because of the chasm that’s being created through the separation and changing landscape of the world of work,” Heikkinen said.
Significantly, the report shows that 95 to 96 percent of both association members and nonmembers rely on virtual events, webinars, online community platforms, and social media for their industry knowledge and professional networking. Members like digital experiences because they are convenient, respect their time, give them more insights, and they can connect quicker, Heikkinen said.
A digital-first strategy is also more intuitive to the next generation of members who are going to expect it as digital natives. “The pandemic has really shifted some of those paradigms,” Heikkinen said. “Associations that fall back on conventional, pre-pandemic means are going to be the ones who lose, and those who really embrace this as a catalyst for a shift in strategy are going to be the ones who win.”
Belonging and Connectedness
Another opportunity for associations to capitalize on is, now that the world has become more global, companies are skewing smaller and work is becoming increasingly specialized, which means organizations might have only one employee with a particular specialization, but they still have a desire to connect and learn from a peer group. That means these employees will be looking for connections outside of their own organizations.
“Members don’t join associations to pay dues,” Heikkinen said. “Members join to learn, grow, and have a sense of belonging and connectedness.”
Members expect to be able to connect at any time throughout the day—and the year— where they can network with like-minded colleagues, without waiting for an annual event to happen, Heikkinen said. Increasing the frequency of events could be a factor in increasing member engagement and return on investment.
“There’s a great opportunity for associations to offer up more,” Heikkinen said. And it doesn’t have to be for the entire community at one event. “Through virtual, there’s a way and a means to pop up more frequent events that are more personalized and keep members engaged throughout the year,” he said.