Content Hub Boosts Member Retention
The Urban Land Institute was looking for a meaningful way to make sure it was giving members what they wanted: access to content. Serendipitous timing, a smart strategy, and choosing the right vendor all paid off.
In 2017, the Urban Land Institute started to delve into the key drivers of membership and how it could translate those into tangible benefits and ensure it was delivering on the value proposition its members wanted. Through benchmarking surveys and other assessments, members revealed that the main reasons they joined ULI were for networking (95 percent) and access to content (85 percent).
Knowing that access to content was such a priority for members presented the group with an opportunity, said Carolyn Brennan, ULI’s vice president of member engagement. Even though ULI has more than 2,000 events taking place worldwide each year, the content presented at each had a short shelf life, as it was only available live to face-to-face attendees.
“It was a moment in time, and if you weren’t there, it wasn’t captured in a more systematic way,” Brennan said.
Make Content Easier to Find
ULI is also a publisher with a print magazine, books, learning activities, and webinars. “But in that ecosystem, it was represented either at in-person events or online through over 100 ULI websites,” Brennan said. For example, every chapter has its own website, most of its key programs have standalone websites, and ULI also has three regional sites: the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific.
“It was really hard for people to find the content they were looking for across so many sites,” Brennan said.
So ULI embarked on a journey in 2017 to figure out how to harvest all its content across its global offerings and bring them into one place so members could easily search, discover, and find the content. “That was the vision that Knowledge Finder was born out of,” she said. “We had this vision, and we needed to translate it into action.”
The first iteration of Knowledge Finder was a rudimentary prototype built with basic content. ULI spent the first year and a half developing the product to manually harvest various pieces of content across its ecosystem. Basically, they were digitizing content that had never been digital.
Find the Right Partner
Once the basic platform was in place, they began the RFP process to get all the content in one place more systematically. It was written into their strategic FY 18-22 plan to fund a program that was “going to be smart and make this pop, because you’re talking about 10,000 pieces of content,” Brennan said. “It was part of this vision to connect member value to our members digitally through technology in a way that’s scalable and accessible globally.”
ULI identified a project partner that works with other nonprofits. But ULI was very specific about sourcing one that had the resources to undertake a project on the scale they were looking for. “We wanted best-in-class technology,” she said.
They built a site with a powerful search engine with AI machine learning baked into it. That means when a member updates their online profile, their interests are connected to Knowledge Finder. “Now we’re not only connecting members to utilize content from across the globe, but they can also discover things they had no idea happened or existed,” Brennan said. “We’re delivering content and we’re making it more personalized.”
The hard work was worth it. Last fiscal year, ULI found that members who used Knowledge Finder at least one time renewed at a rate of 14 percent higher than the average global member retention rate. That’s not the only reason, and there are many other contributing factors. But there is a correlation between a higher retention rate and usage of the platform.
“It serves as another way ULI is able to deliver value or provide members a way to engage with our content,” Brennan said. “And they can access it anytime and anywhere, which is important for a global member network,” she said.
ULI launched Knowledge Finder in November 2019, so the timing was impeccable because making that kind of investment during the pandemic would have been impossible. “We’re so grateful that six months before everything had to pivot to virtual, we had a place to put content that members could access easily,” said Brennan.
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