Here are three fresh strategies for associations focused on driving more members to their websites.
By Marlene L. Hendrickson
So, of course, we’re not really talking about exploiting your members—per se. But rather, building on their online behaviors and preferences to get them to your association’s website—today. Sounds like a cheap car sales tactic, but valuable nonetheless to offer up three quick and effective strategies that are reaping results throughout cyberspace. Here they are:
1. Create the Cheers experience for your members.
If you’re a seasoned association publishing professional, then you’re not too young to remember the crowd cry, "Norm!” when George Wendt’s character entered the bar in this successful television sitcom. Associations that create engaging, content-rich, online environments and then invite members to their own cozy, online barstools will drive traffic to their websites.
When the Association Forum of Chicagoland relaunched its website late last year, it introduced a network of online communities. An easy-to-spot tab on the newly designed home page takes members directly to their "MyForum” login page—and from there they begin a customized experience (based on their online profile) that links them to the online communities with which they’ve chosen to engage. Communities focus on topics and disciplines such as communications, governance, marketing, and membership. The relaunched website won an Association Media & Publishing EXCEL Award this year.
The online communities allow members to connect and share best practices in a secure environment, says Susan Urbanczyk, CAE, Association Forum’s director of marketing and communications. The organization reached out to member volunteers to create an online communications taskforce which, in turn, played an integral role in the new look and organization of the website—as well as the creation of the online communities.
2. Draw them in with quizzes, polls, and contests.
At first blush, this strategy may seem a bit crass, but the long and short of it is, it works. And while most of the evidence right now lives on the consumer side of publishing, the argument can be made that association members are—at some level—consumers of all kinds of content.
According to a recent white paper on boosting website revenues (published by the makers of SnapApp, a commercial marketing platform for websites), interactive trivia quizzes generate an average of 1:46 additional minutes online and are shared 11 times more often than static pages. Cisco Systems, for example, saw a boost in website engagement when it started embedding interactive quizzes on the pages of its PCworld.com site.
3. Integrate everything, including social media, and keep it up. Think a moment about your favorite restaurant. More than likely, it’s not just the food that’s great. The ambiance, customer service, location, even the crowd the restaurant attracts creates an experience that you’re inclined to keep repeating.
By the same token, an association website can’t just serve up great content and stop there. We have to make coming back again and again an easy, natural decision to make—and we have to actively suck members in on a regular basis.
Even after a successful relaunch and jump in member engagement, the team at the Association Forum of Chicagoland continues to hone its strategies to keep the site enticing. Jessica Mean, the organization’s interactive marketing manager, has a host of strategies to share—some as easy as integrating online content in all other communication vehicles (lots of links) and others as innovative as introducing a "badges program” for the MyForum platform.
Similar to Foursquare—a mobile platform that lets users share their location experiences and earn badges based on participation—MyForum will soon allow online community members to earn points—and badges—for participation. They might earn, for example, two points for creating a discussion and one point for commenting.
"Once you hit a certain level, you’ll earn a certain badge,” Mean explains, "and we’ll be incorporating a leader board display that showcases the most active members.” This strategy harkens back to the old-school premise that members like to see themselves in their publications—but with a new school twist that will keep them coming back.
Marlene L. Hendrickson is director of publications for the American Staffing Association and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.