By: Adam Higgins on May 1st, 2019
How to Build Membership Engagement Through Technology and Data
Technology doesn’t just make it easier for associations to connect with their members – it also makes it possible to measure how connected members feel to the association.
This metric is generally referred to as engagement. Understanding membership engagement is essential if you want to have a thriving association.
Why engagement matters
Engagement is a term that’s often associated with technology. But it’s got nothing to do with computers and everything to do with people.
Engagement is, quite simply, the degree to which members are engaged with the association. If you take a look at your membership, you’ll see that there’s a visible spectrum of engagement out there:
- Low engagement – These are members who don’t interact with the association very much. They may not attend events or even open emails.
- Medium engagement – These people make some use of their membership benefits. This might mean completing education modules, going to conferences and using online tools.
- High engagement – These members will get involved in the organization. They volunteer for committees and subcommittees, and they may go on to join the association management board.
How this looks in practice will vary according to the nature of your association and the nature of your membership. But one universally true fact about membership engagement is this:
Retention is directly related to engagement.
In other words, low engagement means you’re likely to lose members. If someone doesn’t interact with the association, they probably feel that their membership doesn’t offer value. When it’s time to renew, those people are likely to let their membership lapse.
How to gather engagement data
Associations can’t afford to lose members in this way, so monitoring engagement is of the utmost importance. But how do you measure something so vague?
This is where technology comes in. Every interaction with a member generates data. You can capture this data and study it to assess engagement levels, both on an individual basis and for the association as a whole.
You’ll find sources of data throughout your entire tech stack. Common sources include:
- Association Management Software (AMS)
Your AMS captures a lot of data about individual members, and most contemporary AMS will include some kind of analytics tool that allows you to create engagement reports. You can pull a lot of information about people here, such as how long they’ve been a member, whether they’re on any committees, their purchase history, and information about their last renewal.
Renewal data can offer some insight into engagement levels. Look at when the member renewed their subscription. Did they do it after the first reminder? If so, then their membership is important to them. If they waited until the last possible day, however, then they may have had doubts.
- Social media
If your members use social media, you’ll find vast quantities of data here. Likes, replies, follows, retweets – all of these measure different elements of social engagement. If your social channels are connected to a marketing automation platform, you can let it run in the background and pull engagement stats when you need them.
- Learning Management System (LMS)
Programming is one of the most important membership benefits in most associations. Your LMS will offer rich data on how individuals interact with educational modules. Do they only study the bare minimum, or do they show an interest in optional courses? Do they leave it until the last possible moment, or do they consistently consume educational materials over the course of the year?
- Event Management Software (EMS)
Live events are an excellent indicator of engagement – after all, if someone takes time away from the office to attend a conference, then they must be very interested in that event. If you have a standalone EMS that handles live events, you can track membership engagement on a detailed level, including attendance at break-out sessions and smaller seminars.
Email offers two vital engagement statistics: open rates and click-throughs. Open rates tell you how many people read your emails – low open rates means that your messages are going straight to the trash. Click-through rates tell you if people are clicking on links contained in the email, which is a sign that your message is connecting with them.
Rules for Compiling Engagement Data
These are the most common data points available to your association. You may have others, or some of the above may not be relevant to you. The rules for compiling engagement data are:
- Know your members
- Know what member engagement looks like for your association
- Identify the data that helps you realistically measure engagement
- Make sure that your data is accurate and comprehensive
Now, you can see exactly how engaged your members are. What’s next?
Building a data-led engagement strategy
The goal here is to drive engagement, pushing people from the Low category to Medium, and people from Medium to High. Here are six steps to help you achieve this.
- Segment your audience
Personalization is the key to engagement. Your members are busy and they don’t want generic, one-size-fits-all communications. They want timely, relevant messages that address their unique needs.
Fortunately, the engagement data above will help you to start segmenting this audience. Try to create meaningful segments – rather than grouping people on things like age and location, look at education paths, event attendance or website activity.
- Identify relevant offerings
Most associations have a wealth of great content: white papers, webinars, blogs, podcasts, educational videos, productivity tools, and so on. Often, the issue is just that members aren’t aware of what’s available to them. Personalized communication can help to fix this.
What this means in practice is looking at your membership segments, looking at what your association has to offer, and designing a package that works. For example, newer members might be interested in education, mentoring, and networking opportunities. More established members might focus on white papers and trade conventions. Look at each segment and ask – how can we best serve these individuals?
- Send personalized communications with strong CTAs
You can use tools such as marketing automation to inform people about what’s on offer for them. Remember to include strong Calls to Action (CTAs) in each email where appropriate. For example, “sign up for our webinar,” “book your place at our next conference, “log in to update your profile.”
If possible, personalize messages at the individual level. For example, if someone has attended the main conference for the past three years, don’t send them an email saying, “check out our conference.” Instead, thank them for previous attendance and say that you to hope to see them again this year.
- Use a marketing automation platform
If the steps above sound like a lot of work… you’re right. It’s impossible to make the most of engagement data unless you have some kind of marketing automation tool that can track user activity and then follow a dynamic sales funnel.
For example, imagine one of your members reads several articles on a particular topic, such as advice on opening a new branch. If you have a good marketing automation platform, that activity could trigger an action, such as sending the user an email with an invitation to attend a webinar on managed growth. This kind of timely, useful, relevant message is how you really drive engagement.
Before you start out, you should try to set clear engagement targets. What do you want to achieve? Are you hoping to tackle membership churn? Increase attendance at live events? Get more people onto committees? Have well-defined goals so that you can tell if you’re succeeding.
Keep watching your engagement metrics and see if they’re moving in the way you intended. If you have a large enough membership, you may be able to perform some A/B testing. This is when you try two different approaches with two membership subgroups and see which one yields greater results.
- Adjust and adapt
Your membership is continuously evolving. People join, people retire, and their needs change throughout their careers. This means that you have to revise your membership engagement strategy constantly. What worked yesterday may not work today.
Remember that engagement isn’t about technology, it’s about people. The key to measuring and driving membership engagement is to really understand what your members want. The data can tell you a lot, but you’ll still need to rely on the old-fashioned approach of talking to people.
Live events are a great way to learn what you need to know about your members. Talk to people, find out their goals, discuss their concerns about the industry. Most of all, try to learn if you’re doing everything you can to support them.
About Adam Higgins
For over 20 years, Adam has functioned as a marketing and business analyst for non-profits and associations. As Chief Technology Officer at HighRoad, he leads a team of software developers, business analysts, and customer support analysts to supports technical integrations between marketing automation platforms and digital systems. Throughout Adam’s career, he has bridged the gap between the business units and information technology departments. Often when he's working with clients, he is their defacto MarTech liaison and solution architect. Adam is a graduate from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He’s a Los Angeles native that now resides in Atlanta, GA with his wife and son.