Study: Membership Tech Is Leaving Engagement Gaps

The survey of more than 1,700 association members found that retention may be weaker among newer members due to the lack of ability to connect with others. 

Associations are missing opportunities to better engage and retain their members—especially newer ones—through community and content, according to a new study.

The State of Association Member Experience Report was released earlier this month by Forj, a member experience and virtual events platform. Its survey of more than 1,700 association members globally found some softness when it comes to member engagement and retention among newer members. For instance, the survey found that while a majority of “late career” members say they will “definitely renew” their membership, only about a third of “early career” members say the same.

Forj CEO Kurt Heikkinen said that this disconnect demonstrates that associations may need to diversify their online experiences to emphasize community connection alongside education. “We’re living in a different paradigm from a learning standpoint,” he said. “A modern learner wants social learning, engaging with their peers.”

Individuals are starving for content that’s relevant for them and from a source that they can trust.

Kurt Heikkinen, FORJ

The report stresses that associations need to prove that the connections they broker, along with their content, is more relevant to their members’ work than anything they might be able to Google or find on public professional forums like LinkedIn. Associations, according to the report, are also facing substantial competition from other conferences and events and other associations. 

One of the main roadblocks to members better connecting with their association is the patchwork of tools members are asked to use, the report says. Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents cited “too many different tools” and “ease of navigation” as their chief frustrations with their association’s technology. 

“Most associations have 15 to 20 technologies in their tech stack,” Heikkinen said. “Members go to one place for in-person event registration, another for virtual events, a third place for online community and discussion forums. They’ll go to a learning management system for structured learning. And all of those systems, many times, don’t talk to each other.”

In addition to recommending streamlining online experiences, the Forj report also suggests that many associations are undervaluing their content and not doing more to spotlight what makes it distinctive. According to the survey, 78 percent of respondents said they are willing to pay or may be willing to pay “for content or experiences beyond [their] monthly/annual membership dues/fees.”

Satisfying that interest can be a revenue driver, as well as bolster engagement and retention, Heikkinen said. “There are sponsorship opportunities, where sponsors want to engage in the community and are willing to invest in providing thought leadership,” he said. “There are also opportunities to monetize the content in ways that haven’t been offered, because individuals are starving for content that’s relevant for them and from a source that they can trust.”

Going forward, Heikkinen said, associations will want to look not just at diversifying the kinds of content they offer and streamlining access to it, but also personalizing it around member preferences. 

“We consume content when it’s relevant, it’s personalized, and we can consume it in short bites,” said Heikkinen. “We hear over and over again from associations that they have great content, and I believe it—they have decades of expertise and thought leadership, and they have access to some of the best experts in their industry. But too often that content is not easy to find.”

(higyou/iStock/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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