Which Member Engagement Metrics Should Your Association Monitor?
Why do some members leave an association while others go on to become board members? Why are some people passionate, vocal advocates for association membership, while others don’t even bother to open emails?
It all comes down to one thing: member engagement.
Highly engaged members care a lot about the association. Educational programming helps to keep their skills sharp, live events help them network, and they understand how they benefit from the lobbying work done on their behalf.
Members with low engagement are the opposite. The association newsletter goes straight to their spam folder, they only obtain educational credits if they absolutely have to, and when it’s time to renew their membership, they ask themselves if it’s really worth it.
Member engagement is therefore of the utmost importance. But how do you measure it?
Which Member Engagement Metrics Should You Measure?
In the world of for-profit businesses, measuring engagement is easy. You can count returning customers, look at the likes on your social media site, or get people to fill out a customer satisfaction survey.
In association management, it’s much trickier. Engagement is related to member expectations, and those expectations vary a lot depending on the work the association does, the services provided and the size of the member base.
You can measure pretty much anything. What you should measure depends on what’s relevant to your members. Some of the key metrics are:
Retention is obviously an essential member engagement metric – if you’re seeing severe membership decay, then you know you’re in trouble.
But retention doesn’t always give a clear picture of what’s going on. You’ll need to look at other sources of information to understand why people are leaving, such as:
- Demographic data
Available from your AMS, this can help you to identify members who are lapsing because of retirement rather than low engagement.
- Length of membership
Some new members quit within a year, before their first renewal. This is a sure sign of low member engagement – they tried the association and didn’t find anything of value for them. For longer memberships, the root cause can be less obvious. Some members may have moved on in their careers or relocated to a new area, for example.
- Exit survey data
If possible, try asking departing members why they left. You can use this data to help identify potential issues with engagement, or to see if people are moving on for some other reason, such as change in the industry.
What does it tell you if a member pays their annual fees in advance? What if they wait until the last possible moment to renew?
You can learn a lot from the way people pay their fees, especially if you have an automated sequence of email reminders. For example, you may send an email at 90 days out, again at 30, and with increasingly urgent reminders as the deadline approaches. If people are opening these emails but not renewing until the deadline, there may be a member engagement issue.
Certification programs and other educational materials are an excellent source of member engagement data, especially when delivered online. You can track things like:
- How long it takes them to complete each unit
- Whether they look at non-mandatory materials
- How often the member logs in to review reference materials
- Sign-up rates for mock tests, seminars, livestreams and similar offerings
- User ratings of materials (where there is an option to give a rating)
You may need to segment this data to get a meaningful picture, as members with less industry experience may spend more time on education than their more senior counterparts.
Usage of digital tools is also an important metric. This depends on the kind of tools you offer, but you’ll generally measure things like:
- How many users complete their profile?
- How many users upload a photo?
- How often do they log in?
- Who regularly posts on forums?
- Are there tools that the member seems to be ignoring (which may indicate a lack of awareness)?
Within an association, engaged members often go on to play a role in the organization. This can involve attending meetings, sitting on committees, and joining the board.
Most of this activity is tracked in the AMS – committees and subcommittees are logged here, for example.
Social media interactions can be handled by your marketing automation platform, which uses such data to generate leads. These leads can give you a lot of information about the overall popularity of your association, and the kind of demand for programming that exists in the wider world.
If your AMS and marketing automation platforms are integrated, you can use this data to track social media interactions with your existing members too.
If you have a separate Event Management System (EMS), it can help you capture a lot of data about members, such as:
- How many are attending the annual conference?
- Are they attending the full event or just a part?
- Which seminars and breakout sessions are most popular?
Remember, you can also capture data at events the old-fashioned way: by talking to people, or by leaving survey cards at the entrance.
There are lots of things you can look at, and many ways in which you can measure them. Think about which approach to member engagement metrics best suits your needs. For example, you can look at:
- Absolute values
These are things you can put a definite figure on, such as total number of attendees at an event or income from e-commerce.
- Historical trends
This involves comparing current data to historical data and measuring the differences. How does recruitment in Q1 of this year compare to Q1 of the previous five years, for example.
- Weighted historical trends
As above, but you include your industry knowledge to get a more accurate picture. Trends may have been influenced by some kind of one-off external event, like a change in legislation, disruption to the economy or the launch of a new technology.
- Segmented values
Sometimes you may need to break datasets into smaller groupings. For example, you may have data on the average hours per member spent watching educational videos, but newer members will probably watch more of this material than more established members. It’s more informative to segment that data and work out the average for each sub-group.
How to Measure Member Engagement
It’s not enough to just have engagement data. You need to create actionable insights based on that information. Three ways to do that include:
1. Use member personas to define engagement
Personas are based on data from the Association Management Software (AMS) and can tell you a great deal about the kind of members that you have. You may see a lot of variety – for example, some members might mainly focus on programming and certification, while others are focused on live events.
Using these personas, you can start to get a picture of what engagement really looks like. Look for common patterns, such as members who visit the website regularly, or who make frequent phone calls. These patterns will give you an idea of the things you should be measuring.
2. Select meaningful member engagement metrics
When choosing metrics to focus on, remember to ask yourself:
- What can we measure about our members?
- How accurate are these measurements?
- What will this metric tell us?
- Will this metric reveal something that will help guide future decisions?
Measuring too much can be as bad as measuring too little. Focus on metrics that are accurate, relevant, and that can support your strategy.
3. Implement a system for processing member engagement data
Once you’ve defined your metrics, you need to put a system in place to handle membership engagement data.
First, it needs to be collated and processed. This can be handled in an Excel spreadsheet if needs be, although your AMS and marketing automation tools may have some functionality that’s directly related to engagement scoring.
Next, you need processes to respond to different engagement scores. For example:
- Member engagement trending upward
You’ll need to ensure that all services can scale up in order to meet demand. This could also represent a marketing opportunity – now might be the time to launch a major recruitment drive.
- Member engagement trending downwards
You can use data to identify problems, such as low engagement with educational materials or falling attendance at live events. Respond to these issues before they become a problem.
- Underperforming tools or materials
While overall engagement may be good, you may identify some weak spots in the overall offering. For example, there may be some programming with an unusually low completion rate. You can act on this information to make improvements and replace underperforming content with more relevant materials. The same is true in reverse – the data can reveal things which are more popular than anticipated.
- Individual engagement problems
With the right marketing automation platform, you can start sending messages to individuals who don’t appear to be engaged as other members. For example, if a new member isn’t using any of your digital tools, you can send them sequenced messages with friendly "Getting Started" messages.
Associations exist for the benefit of the members, so if member engagement is low then there’s something fundamentally wrong. Find out what the problem is and act on it, so that everyone can see the value of being part of your association.
About Maneesha Manges
Maneesha Manges is a seasoned digital marketing professional with over 15 years of experience working in multiple markets and global companies. She currently leads HighRoad's Client Services team after having spent three years helping to develop and launch ExxonMobil’s Next Generation digital marketing properties in the US, Russia and China markets. 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.