Want Better Engagement? Start By Thinking Small.

[Sponsored] One marketing pro reveals how a targeted approach to communications can yield wide-reaching results.

One marketing pro reveals how a targeted approach to communications can yield wide-reaching results.

While no one has yet to invent a truly magical crystal ball, there is a key data metric that association professionals can count on to predict membership renewals: engagement. If members are actively participating in community boards, webinars and networking events all year long, there is a good chance they’ll not only be re-upping, but will likely take an active role in recruiting the next generation of members.

Since engagement plays a vital role in an association’s revenue and overall health, it has become a focal point for marketing pros (not to mention a source of great stress). In fact, according to the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report—a survey of nearly 500 leaders of North American trade associations, professional societies and association management companies, 56% of respondents believe that they could get better engagement results by targeting their audiences more effectively, but feel stymied by the size of the task and the minimal resources at their disposal.

Meghan Architect, marketing and communications director at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, knows what it’s like to feel overwhelmed. For the entirety of her first year, she was a one-person department in an organization devoted to supporting 9-1-1 telecommunicators and other public safety communications professionals. Her advice for other association professionals who want to improve their targeting but feel stretched too thin? “Start small and go from there.”

For Architect, the first step toward improving member engagement began with emails. “I dug into things and quickly realized that we were absolutely inundating our members’ inboxes,” she says. Almost every communication from the association went out to every member, whether it applied to their role in the industry or not. So, Architect made a bold move that would put many marketers in a cold sweat: “We decided to do less.”

Members were given the ability to opt in or out of certain emails and the option to customize the types of newsletters and announcements they’d see in their inboxes. “I have to admit that it was scary,” Architect recalls. “Usually, you feel like you want to keep hitting members over the head with things like event sign-ups. We couldn’t help but wonder if we were shooting ourselves in the foot.”

The team created new newsletters that were hyper-focused on subtopics within the broader scope of APCO and created preferences for webinar alerts, as well as other email subscription customizations. Within months, Architect saw open rates shoot up, click-through rates increased and event attendance got a healthy boost.

She extended this surgical approach to APCO’s social media channels. Rather than post everything everywhere, she took a look at what type of content got the most engagement on various platforms and made adjustments. “We honed in on our educational content for LinkedIn, featuring clips of speakers, and doubled our following in a year. For Facebook, we post a lot of positive stories, like congratulations to graduating classes or spotlights of members who helped save a life. And for Twitter, we use it mostly for the government relations side of our work. Across the board, our social followings have increased.”

For small departments hoping to find similar engagement success by targeting and segmenting their audience, Architect again advises taking it one step at a time. “Start with one campaign or one newsletter or one segment,” she says. “While it may seem scary to purposely inform fewer people about your offerings, the key to great engagement is grabbing people’s attention by giving them the content that they actually want.”

Lastly, think about how your communications fit into your members’ lives, she adds. “Our members are mostly shift workers, and don’t have access to their own computers or phones when they are busy saving lives. So it is very important to segment this audience—get them the information they actually want and need as quickly and seamlessly as possible.”

Naylor Association Solutions provides innovative association tools and services for strengthening member engagement and increasing non-dues revenue. Our offerings include member communications, management of live and online meetings and events, online career centers, Association Management Software (AMS) and Member Data Platform (MDP), full-service association management, and online learning. A strategic partner to professional and trade associations in the U.S. and Canada, Naylor serves more than 1,700 associations across 80+ industries. For more information, visit