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Aimee Pagano

By: Aimee Pagano on May 31st, 2019

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How to Engage Members Through Your Programs and Services

member engagement

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Associations put a lot of effort into their programs and services. In theory, this should result in excellent levels of member engagement, as people take advantage of what’s on offer to further their careers.

But often that’s not the case. Sometimes, member engagement will fall even though you know your offerings are top-quality. How can you turn this situation around and start driving member engagement back up?

Before we address that question, let’s take a look at the programs and services you offer.

What’s the Difference Between Programs and Services?

Programs and services are the two pillars of your value proposition to members. They’re often intertwined and grouped under the collective term “programming”, but you can roughly divide them into two categories of member-focused activity: the things that you give members and the things that you do for members.


In most associations, the most valuable types of programs are conferences and e-learning tools. Members expect these programs to be of the highest quality and you will, rightly, focus most of your resources there.

But there are other types of valuable programs. Your regular newsletter can be an immense source of value to members, especially if contains information that they find relevant. White papers, blog posts, audio and visual content, and webinars are also extremely valuable types of content that help to drive member engagement.


For many associations, the most valuable service they offer is certification. Members might find that certification helps them advance their career – it might even be the case that certification is mandatory for people in their role. Either way, member engagement will go up if you can provide a user-friendly certification experience.

You can also provide other types of engagement-driving service, such as online tools and discussion forums. If these web-based services provide useful tools to members, you’ll see an increase in digital traffic that bodes well for overall levels of engagement.

Sometimes members need more programs, sometimes they need a service, and often they require programming that’s a mix of the two. The key to building member engagement is to know what members want.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of associations fall down.

The Biggest Mistake Made by Associations

What’s the one mistake that associations keep making with their programs and services?

Here’s a clue: if you’re thinking, “we have tons of great content but engagement seems very low”, then you’re probably making this mistake as well.

The problem is a lack of personalization.

Most associations have a huge body of content to offer their members. They have endless white papers, industry research, training documents, best practice guides. There are live events happening every week all over the country, active industry discussion forums, and informative social media feeds.

But none of this content is of any use if members don’t know about it. If members are left to figure out what’s available for themselves, they will likely get confused and leave. They’ll miss out on terrific content – you’ll miss out on member engagement.

The solution to all of this is increased personalization – creating a member experience that’s suited to the individual, based around their needs rather than the association’s. Let’s take a look at how to create that experience.

6 Steps to Drive Engagement with Products and Services

Here’s what you need to do to improve member engagement.

1. Use analytics to identify personas

To begin with, you need to understand who your members are.

Personas help give us an insight into member needs. A persona is essentially an audience segment, so we might break down the membership into small groups divided by things like job title, time in role, company size, education history, and so on. Your AMS or CMS may have some tools for automatic persona creation, based on your existing member data.

When you have well-defined personas, you can start to see how each type of member interacts with your association. For example, you may find that people in the Recent Graduates persona tend to be very digitally-oriented and want high-tech web services to help them build their career. Or you may find that the Mid-Career Manager in a Company with Under 500 Employees persona is very interested in live events where they have a chance to network with industry colleagues.

Goals are the most important detail of each persona. What do people who match this persona want? What do they hope to achieve next? What’s their ultimate objective? What kind of support do they need to get there?

Not every individual fits exactly into their persona, but personas are a good place to start. They’ll allow you to provide a much more personalized experience to each person, and you can use their responses to fine-tune as you go.

2. Review the programs and services you have

Next, you need to go through the programming that is available to members. Catalog everything that you have, including:

  • Public website content
  • Members-only content
  • Research, benchmarking and white papers
  • Website functionality
  • Upcoming live events
  • Certification programs
  • Value-adding communications such as newsletters
  • Non-digital services like helplines or consultations

Make a note of how easy it is to access each piece of content. For example, do you have to click on more than one link to arrive at a particular website page?

3. Create tailored offerings for each persona

Once you’ve got that, you need to start matching content to personas. Some of this will be obvious – for example, new members will probably want introductory training, older members will want more advanced materials.

Other items will be less obvious. You’ll have to look at the data behind your personas for some insight. Some may show a high interest in webinars, while others may show no interest in any kind of eLearning materials. Use your best approximation to match the persona with the item of content.

Now, take a step back and ask: is anyone being neglected? There may be a persona that doesn’t have a lot of relevant programming available to them. If so, they’re likely to experiencing low levels of member engagement. You may need to invest in new programming that relates directly to them.

4. Communicate your programs and services

Associations often put a lot of effort into the onboarding process. Members will receive a series of emails over the first few days, congratulating them for joining, telling them about the benefits of membership, and confirming the date of the next big annual conference.

And then, nothing.

To keep member engagement high, you need to keep the communication going for the duration of each person’s membership. When you add new content or launch a new service, you need to send an email to everyone in the relevant personas. They will be glad to hear from you – after all, you’re telling them about something that’s likely to have a high value for them, personally.

Other forms of communication should be personalized too. The newsletter is a great example of this. Association newsletters tend to have high open rates because they contain genuinely useful information.

You can improve open rates and click-throughs by using email automation tools to dynamically generate the newsletter. That way, instead of everyone getting exactly the same text, each member will receive a bespoke communication that’s specific to their interests. This can include special offers and information about the most recent and relevant programming available to them.

5. Don’t make assumptions

If you follow the steps above, will it result in improved engagement?

It’s best not to assume anything. Instead, rely on data to give you a picture of how your plans are progressing. Look at engagement metrics such as website activity, programming consumption and attendance at live events to see if the needle is moving on any of these dials.

While the digital side of things is vital here, there’s a lot to be said too for qualitative feedback – reaching out and talking to members directly. Whether you run online surveys or just chat to members at live events, make sure you ask for insights into their experience with the association.

Ask them about what programs they find interesting, what services they find useful, where they think you could improve. And always focus on that most important of questions: do you feel that you get value for money from your membership?

6. Get a fresh perspective

Sometimes, even with all the data and some qualitative feedback, you can’t quite put your finger on where things are going wrong. It seems like you have a terrific offering overall, but engagement is low and you’re worried it might hit membership levels.

Whatever you do, don’t keep throwing more content at the program. This goes back to the mistake that most associations are making. Member engagement is hardly ever due to a lack of content. Instead, it’s a problem of organizing those programs and services and presenting them to members in a personalized way.

It’s best to get some outside help before things reach that level. If you’re not sure how to process data or how to create a personalized experience, talk to an organization like HighRoad who understand associations and know how to get results.

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About Aimee Pagano

Aimee joins HighRoad Solution with 15+ years of integrated marketing and communications experience, primarily in client-facing roles within the association and SaaS space. Her specialties include persona development, content strategy/management, lead gen and awareness campaign development, and website development/optimization.