This post provides a simple introduction to membership engagement and a range of practical ways to improve membership engagement that you can start to implement today.
What is member engagement?
Just because your organisation has members does not mean that they are engaged. If you want to understand the health of your membership organisation beyond the number of members, member engagement is a great concept to focus on.
Members ‘engage’ in all sorts of ways such as:
- Opening emails
- Reading newsletters or articles
- Accessing member-only web-pages
- Completing surveys
- Participating in forums or discussion groups with other members
- Contributing ideas or written content
- Purchasing products
- Attending webinars
- Attending conferences or other in-person events
- Making referrals or recommendations
The list goes on…
To understand the health of your member engagement you should be clear about what sort of activities you are expecting/hoping your members to participate in. These naturally have different weightings. Attending a conference clearly scores more ‘engagement points’ than opening an email.
What affects member engagement?
Almost everything you do has the potential to affect member engagement. Probably the most fundamental component that affects engagement is your value proposition. This is about the sector you operate in, the core of your offering and benefits, and your ability to target the right audience. We discuss these fundamentals in our post on how to create an association but in the current post we assume you have the fundamentals in good shape.
The main activities you do also have a big impact on engagement. For example, most membership organisations run some kind of event or webinar program and this is a major part of what drives member engagement. But the right activities for your membership organisation will vary depending on your particular mission and ideal member profile. It’s good to reconsider your activities periodically but these are significant decisions that can take a long time to implement. For this reason, reviewing activities is also not the focus of this post.
In this post we assume you have a robust value proposition and appropriate range of activities for members to participate in. This post focuses on the other big area that affects member engagement: execution. Execution is about how you do what you do. When it comes to improving membership engagement, this is where you find the low hanging fruit. This post will focus on the large number of things you can do to improve membership engagement that relate to execution and will therefore not require major strategic shifts, long strategy documents or full board level approvals.
Measuring membership engagement
All membership organisations measure engagement to some extent. When someone joins or renews, that is a basic form of engagement. But most membership managers want to go further than this and measure engagement in a more nuanced manner.
You can enhance the way you measure engagement by finding things that are easy to count and then tracking them consistently over time. Consistent measurement will set a foundation or benchmark on which you can then seek to improve. By tweaking one thing at a time you should be able to see the impact of your changes.
If you don’t currently measure engagement, here are some ideas of metrics that are easy to count:
- Event attendance
- Opening emails or clicking on email links
- Pageviews of member-only website content
Simple statistics like this will only give you a limited sense of member engagement. Here are some trickier areas that you may wish to tackle as your organisation grows:
- Self reported engagement, measured through surveys
- Participation in forums or other group discussions
- Social media engagement
Accurately measuring engagement is hard. It is rarely possible to get all the information you want from the data sources you have available.
In the world of data gathering and analysis, there is always more you could do but without the right expertise, you could waste a lot of time and even reach incorrect conclusions. Be realistic about what you can measure with the time and expertise you have available to interpret data.
Our top-line advice on this is to stick to what you can confidently measure right now and seek to increase this slowly as you gain experience. Don’t get overwhelmed and don’t try to reach too far outside your comfort zone.
Quick wins to improve member engagement
1. Improve your joining process
The joining process is unlikely to be the member’s first interaction with your organisation but it is where the member relationship formally starts. When someone joins you have a unique opportunity to set the culture for the future.
Make it smooth
Before anything else, ensure the joining process is simple and smooth. Test it thoroughly and have empathy for your prospective members. Consider these specific questions:
- Are you asking too many questions? This can be off putting.
- Is your confirmation message clear, unambiguous and friendly?
- What next action do you prompt on your confirmation screen?
- Can new members log-in to your website straight away?
Send a great welcome email
Your welcome email should reassure the member that the joining process has gone smoothly. But for member engagement the more important question is ‘what will the member do next?’.
It can be tempting to add a lot of text to your welcome email because you are keen to tell them everything you offer! Try to resist this urge because the welcome email is already serving a few purposes so it can quickly become overwhelming. The longer your welcome email is, the less likely people are to read it. After confirming the transaction it is best to focus on one next action.
Consider these examples of next steps that can set a good engagement trajectory:
- Encourage booking onto your next event, perhaps with an introductory discount code.
- Promote one of your most compelling member-only resources. This will prompt them to use their new found access privileges to explore your restricted content.
- Invite members to introduce themselves to their peers in the forum.
2. Deliver personalised content through segmentation
Segmentation is all about differentiating some types of members from others based on their attributes. When done well, segmentation can enable you to be much more targeted with your communications, send messages that feel more personalised and, you guessed it, result in better engagement.
Segmentation requires data about your members which you can collect either during the joining process or during subsequent interactions. Examples of attributes that can form the basis of great segmentation include:
- Industry sector
- Professional interests
- Ability level
- Date of birth
Notice that all these will have discrete response options as opposed to free text. This makes it much easier for you to filter your contacts.
Over time you may also be able to make segmentation judgements based on member behaviour. For example members who attend a large number of events are more likely to respond to future event promotions.
Most membership management software offers tools to send emails to groups of members based on their interests or past interactions. Increasingly there are also tools available that automate this process to some extent by delivering relevant content and messages to members without requiring the manual action of an administrator.
3. Promote your members through an online directory
With relatively little effort you may be able to dramatically increase member engagement by building a member directory. You already have a list of your members and with the right technology you can expose this as a searchable directory on your website.
Public directories can provide publicity or lead generation opportunities for your members that will deliver value to them. The more they derive value from your online directory the more they will actively maintain their listing and this will generally drive broader engagement with the organisation.
Private members-only directories can also be a powerful member engagement tool. They provide transparency which will build trust in the organisation but they will also give members an awareness of other members that can lead to more member to member interactions.
4. Run a job or opportunity board
Engaging members is often about understanding their needs and being there to assist at the right time. One common need among membership organisations of all types is recruiting people for specific job roles and temporary or volunteer opportunities. This is where the simple addition of a job board to your membership website can have a big impact.
At a basic level, providing your members with a platform to promote their opportunities makes members feel included and valued. And as you build the profile of your job board the chances will increase that you direct high quality candidates to your members.
But job boards are particularly useful for member engagement because those opportunities can often be filled from within the membership body. While helping one member to fill a vacancy you may simultaneously be helping another member to find a new opening. Active market places like this can quickly become self-sustaining once a critical momentum has been achieved.
5. Promote discussion in an online forum
One of the best forms of member engagement is peer to peer interactions between members. When this works well it can deliver huge value to members without needing a large amount of input from paid staff of volunteers working for the central organisation. In some cases you may already have the demand for a forum and then you just need to enable the discussion through appropriate forum software. But more often a forum will require work to start up and maintain - it is not always a quick win!
Getting an online forum off the ground will typically require the following foundations:
- A user-friendly interface that members can access easily, ideally alongside all other member resources.
- Proactive generation of discussion by administrators.
- A handful of power users that contribute widely and keep discussions going.
- A thoughtful set of discussion channels so that discussions can be appropriately grouped for easy discovery.
6. Build more and better online content
For some members, their engagement may be quite passive. A member may not have time to attend events, comment in the forum or get involved in networking opportunities. But they can still feel fully engaged in the organisation through their reliance on and contribution to online resources. This is the power of an up-to-date and well managed resource bank of online content.
Here are our top tips for keeping on top of your online content:
- Restrict the best content to members.
- Make it easy for members to log in and get access to restricted content.
- Allow members to make suggestions about content through a suggestions form that is prominent alongside your online resources.
- Spend as much time refreshing old content as writing new content. Often your time will go further improving old resources.