How do I Measure Member Engagement in Trade Associations?
Member engagement can be harder to measure in trade associations than in professional societies. But that doesn’t mean it’s not vitally important.
The issue is that the members – the individual people who consume content, show up to events and sit on committees – are signed up to the association by their employer. Membership doesn’t necessarily mean engagement. In fact, someone could be a member without even knowing!
Similarly, you can’t just consider statistics like consumption of educational programming. Sometimes people complete course units simply because their boss told them to. Other times, they do it because they’re highly engaged and genuinely interested in the materials provided.
You might not have the kind of direct link to individual members that you get in other kinds of associations, but you can still measure member engagement. Having these metrics in place will tell you a lot about your return on investment (ROI) and return on engagement (ROE).
Defining Member Engagement Within Trade Associations
The first step towards measuring engagement is to have a clear picture of what engagement looks like.
Normally, we do this by looking at member activity and seeing how much they interact with the association. This is a little trickier in a trade association setting, because member activity falls into two categories:
- Voluntary – An action that the member chooses to perform because it is of benefit to them personally or professionally.
- Employer mandated – This includes both automatic actions, such as employees being signed up as members when they’re hired. It also includes actions that the member is required to complete by their employer, like attending conferences or completing certifications.
You can contact the designated primary contact (employer) to find out how association membership is handled within each company, and use this information to get a better picture of what member engagement looks like.
With available data, you can then start to build personas for people at different levels of engagement. These personas vary, but most trade associations will find people falling into a tier structure. An example of this is:
- Tier 0 – No engagement
Members who are enrolled but show no sign of engagement. If they haven’t logged into any of the tools or opened any welcome emails, you should check with the employer that you have the correct contact details.
- Tier 1 – Low engagement
These people show some engagement with what's offered. Users at this tier might complete their online profile and upload a photo, for example. They know the association is there, but they don’t rely on it for many things and are relatively self-sufficient.
- Tier 2 – Medium engagement
These people actively engage with the association by consuming programming materials, attending live events, using tools and interacting with other members. Some of this activity may be employer mandated, but regular interactions generally point to solid engagement.
- Tier 3 – High engagement
These people are extremely involved in the association. Highly-engaged members will volunteer for committees and subcommittees. They may even end up taking positions on the association management board. These people become advocates for the association, both within their own company and across the industry in general.
Ways to Measure Member Engagement
Now that you know what engagement looks like in your association, how do you measure it? There are a few options here:
You’ll start to see recurring patterns of member engagement. For example, the typical senior management positions might fall into the High Engagement category. They will go on to apply for positions on subcommittees and take an interest in decision-making.
Accurate personas can help you if people are progressing along their membership journey as expected. In the example above, you might identify an engagement issue if senior managers stop taking an interest in joining subcommittees. Once you’ve identified the issue, you can take steps to fix it.
Raw retention figures are not always a reliable indicator of engagement. Trade association members rarely decide whether or not to keep their membership, and the employer company usually pays the membership dues.
Membership renewals might be processed by an entirely unrelated party, such as the accounts team. These teams often handle subscriptions in a batch without checking to see if membership is still required. You can learn a lot about engagement by talking to whoever deals with association membership renewals and asking:
- Who is required to join?
- Are all contact details correct?
- Does the organization have any process to assess the usefulness of individual memberships?
- How does the company decide who joins the association?
You can make this a two-way conversation and flag members who are highly engaged. This way, the employer can make sure that those memberships are kept active and avoid accidentally unsubscribing active members.
Association Management Software (AMS) data
The AMS will track a lot of the data related to individual member activity. You should be able to pull reports on member activity such as:
- Time spent logged onto digital tools
- Completion rate for educational programming
- Membership of committees and subcommittees
- Demographic data such as age and job title
If you don’t have access to this data directly, you can speak to your IT team for further guidance.
Context is vital when you are looking at member engagement. Compare your current data to previous reports and check to see if things are trending in the right direction. Remember also to factor in non-recurring variations. Things like economic changes, new regulations, and general industry trends can impact engagement.
How to Improve Member Engagement for Trade Associations
Even if things are going well, there’s always room to improve member engagement. To do this, you need to understand your members, know their needs and provide them with opportunities for growth.
Know what content works
Some content is more popular than others, and this impacts member engagement. You need to take a look at underperforming content and ask questions like:
- Does this content provide a clear benefit to members?
- Do members understand that benefit?
- Are members aware of how to access the content?
- Is there a better, more user-friendly alternative?
You should also look at content that is performing well and ask things like:
- How can we make this even better?
- How can this content be leveraged to help drive marketing?
- What lessons can we learn here and apply to other content areas?
Ultimately, engagement is all about value. If you provide meaningful value to members, engagement rates will go up. You do this by offering useful, relevant and interesting content.
Put people on user journeys
Marketing automation tools are great at guiding buyer journeys – taking leads, guiding them along a discovery process, and converting them into new members.
You can create similar journeys for existing members too. It’s possible to create actionable plans that bring people from a state of low engagement, when they’re basically ignoring you, towards a high level of engagement, where they are applying to be on the board. You can do this by:
- Looking at your personas
This information will give you an idea of the typical journeys that already exist. For example, there may be a correlation between people going from a junior role to management at work, and members who go from low engagement to high engagement in the association.
- Identify people who are ready to progress
Some people are ready to move forward in their career, but they don’t know how the association can help them. If you can identify these people, you can send them messaging about relevant programming or invite them to join subcommittees.
- Create niche offerings
Each persona should have its own content offering that is highly relevant to the individual. Ideally, you should create a different experience for each of the different personas, so that they see content that is precisely tailored to their needs.
Keep improving your measurements
Measuring member engagement is always going to be a challenge in a trade association. You’ll need to keep looking at the data, refining your personas and staying in touch with the needs of members.
Some of this work can be automated. AMS systems often have built-in functionality for engagement tracking, and marketing automation platforms are ideally suited for lead scoring, which you can use to fine-tune your strategy.
Keeping Sight of Members in a Trade Association
When a trade association struggles with engagement, it can be a sign that their strategy is too high-level.
A trade group is like any other association – it is a group of people, each of whom brings something to the conversation, and each of whom has their own individual needs.
To build member engagement, you have to start out by considering all members as individuals. Find out who they are, what they need, what benefits they are tasked with delivering to their employees, and what you can do to enable their goals.
When you understand your members as individuals, then you can start to build big-picture strategies. With the right plan in place, you can keep building member engagement, improve ROE, and help to attract the next generation of association members.
About Maneesha Manges
Maneesha Manges is a seasoned digital marketing professional with 20 years of experience working in multiple markets and global companies. Her prior experience includes consulting roles in digital marketing strategy, data analysis, field marketing and social media. Maneesha holds a Master of Business Administration degree in High-Tech Marketing from American University’s Kogod School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Concordia University in Montreal.