From Now to Next

Better Member Engagement With Zero-Party Data

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Although consumers have become savvier about protecting their digital privacy, there is still an easy and intuitive way to engage with them: Ask them questions to start a conversation. Engagement will follow.

Consumers have come to expect a more personalized experience, particularly when it comes to associations. Messaging is often based on what consumers do—their behaviors, purchases, and internet browsing—that is gathered through first, second- and third-party data sources.

But the way consumers regard digital privacy has evolved. According to a report, around 96 percent of U.S. users are opting out of Apple’s permission-to-track option. “Consumers are getting more educated and have more levers at their fingertips to be able to control their privacy,” said Dave Will, CEO and cofounder of PropFuel, a conversational engagement platform.

Here’s a concept: What if, instead of tracking all that information and speculating on what members want, you ask them directly?

Zero-Party Data

When you ask them direct questions, spark a conversation, and then act on what they want, you are “basically getting consent to have a conversation,” said Paul Leahy, CAE, director of member services at Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA). “It’s a way of inviting consent rather than skirting around it.” It also helps increase engagement.

By opening a conversation with members, you can start with a question like, “What’s your top professional goal for this year?” And then include several preselected answers they can choose from. Based on their answer, that enables the membership team to start a conversation.

For example, if members select education, Leahy and his team supply them with additional information about what kinds of resources TIA provides. Once they know education is the member’s number-one goal, then they can ask, “How long have you been in the industry? Do you consider yourself a beginning, intermediate, or advanced learner?”

“That allows us, through the conversation, to curate the membership,” Leahy said. And match TIA’s resources with member needs.

“Zero-party data is data you get from interacting with an individual directly.” — Dave Will, PropFuel

Instead of relying on first-, second- and third-party data sources, this method is called zero-party data. “You are literally asking people something about themselves directly, and they are voluntarily giving you an answer,” Will said. “Zero-party data is data you get from interacting with an individual directly.”

It’s not like a survey, which is sent out to all association members and then their answers are generalized into what they might want and need. “Surveys are collective data about groups, whereas conversational engagement is really focused on an individual,” Will said.

It’s all about looking for questions that will help members create the best experience, which makes it much more likely they will renew. Will recommends imagining a person walking into your office with a sign around their neck that says, “My membership lapsed a month ago.” A good follow-up question would be, “Did you know your membership lapsed?”

Based on his own anecdotal conversations with clients, 53 percent of members didn’t even know they had lapsed. The next question could be, “Are you planning to renew?” And then, “Have you found value in your membership so far this year?”

Ditch the Open Rate

Starting a conversation with an email means a member needs to click through to provide an answer. “We’re stuck in this concept of the open rate, and it’s absolute garbage,” Will said.

Leahy’s team is now focused more on tracking engagement through click-throughs rather than open rates. “If someone is clicking, they are responding to a question,” he said. For example, if he sends a campaign email to 50 people and 17 people answer a question about what they’re interested in, that’s a 34 percent engagement rate. And of the 50 people, if seven people say “education,” Leahy will drop them into a different campaign acknowledging that education is a top priority for them and then asking more questions based on that answer.

“If I get five people to answer that question, all of a sudden my engagement goes from 34 percent to 71 percent,” he said. After that, if two or three people sign up for a webinar or purchase a course, he can measure it that way.

“You’re starting a big conversation, and you’re whittling it down through follow-up conversations,” Leahy said. That is what increases conversion rates as people are being directed toward a product, service, benefit, or resource that is specifically relevant to them.

“We’re not here to increase open rates in an email,” Leahy said. “We’re here to help our members.” If he can help a member find the resource that is going to help them be better at their job or help their company succeed, “that’s going to be help them make the decision to renew, engage with my association, and be an ambassador for my association,” he said. “And if a change in approach helps us be more successful in helping members, that’s a win at the end of the day.”

Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now.

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