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Using Facebook to Drive Membership Engagement - 10/9/2012 -

Does awareness equal engagement? Can greater engagement translate into increased membership, more sales, registrations, or other revenue generation for the association?

By Margaret Maloney

How can associations monetize their social media? At the September 14th Association Media & Publishing’s Chicago Education Series, "Monetizing Social Media” panelist Jeremy Joseph, director, content management, American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) described the challenges and lessons learned when implementing AHIMA’s strategy to use its Facebook site to drive membership engagement.

Jeremy Joseph noted that in 2012, AHIMA’s 64,000-member association had a Facebook site with 18,000 member and non-member fans. The association believed that approximately half of the fans were members and half non-members. Obviously, there was an awareness of the AHIMA, but what did that mean? Does awareness equal engagement? Can greater engagement translate into increased membership, more sales, registrations, or other revenue generation for the association?

AHIMA decided to find out by making a strategic decision to shift the focus of its Facebook site away from promotion and toward engagement. Like many associations, the AHIMA Facebook site was used primarily as a one-way, outgoing communication tool for promoting AMIHA events, products, and services. The new emphasis would be on member engagement, requiring direct, two-way communication between the AHIMA staff and Facebook users. AHIIMA was ready to start the conversation with the fans. Would the fans respond?

The AHIMA staff began the conversation by posing a simple question to their 18,000 fans: "How did you get started in your health informatics career?” While only 46 people posted responses, 5,200 people read and commented on the 46 posts. AHIMA had its answer about whether fans were interested in greater engagement with AHIMA.

Staff began to talk with fans on a daily basis, but the conversation was directed by the fans as much as it was by AHIMA. While staff posted questions or polls to generate discussion and provided information of interest to their members, they also responded to all posts. They congratulated people who posted news of their latest professional accomplishments, pointed people seeking information to references and resources, and simply acknowledged general comments with a response that indicated staff at AHIMA was reading all the posts. Posts that were complaints or criticisms were not removed, but were addressed publicly on the Facebook site. "Allowing people to voice their concerns allowed us to respond with solutions,” says Joseph. While careful to avoid direct promotion or sales of products or services, subtle messaging, when appropriate, was included in the responses (for example: "More information can also be found in the members-only library.”)

What were the internal challenges of implementing this strategy?

  • Some board and executives do not see Facebook or other social media as business tools.
  • Major cultural shifts in organizational thinking and control are often necessary, eg., publicly acknowledging complaints or errors, allowing staff to monitor and post on Facebook daily.
  • Difficult to track ROI. Do more fans equate to more members, more purchasers of products, or more registrants at events?
  • Metrics are challenging. "Likes” are nice but fluctuate, and more posts do not necessarily translate into more engagement. Other options include considering the number of comments per post and checking to see if the topic is being discussed on their own Facebooks, Twitter, and elsewhere and also checking the number of likes per posts.

Joseph shared a healthy list of lessons learned, including:

  • Focus on building community.
  • Provide solutions. Don’t "over-respond” by selling or promoting products and services in every post.
  • Establish guidelines for staff participation.
  • Create a posting policy and make it publicly available. Include what is and is not allowed in posts from the public and from the staff. Include a clear post deletion policy. Inform people when you are deleting their post and tell them why.
  • Website vs. social media: Identify what information goes where on your sites.

  • Integration: The more integration between your social media and your website the better because you can provide more links to other activities.
  • All discussions should be in one place, not in multiple sites; it’s more powerful than in fragmented locations.

  • Social media is more informal and immediate, while websites are more formal and for items with longevity.
  • Purchases or registrations often are not made immediately. Don’t be discouraged if you do not see an immediate response to a special product or service promotion.
  • Change Facebook Timeline covers once a month and have about five versions, with some for special events as long as they do not appear to be overly marketing something.

  • Incorporate apps for Facebook pages. Facebook can display up to four apps at a time, such as Job Bank app, Membership Benefit app, Calendar of Events, and Twitter app.

  • Research and monitor competitors’ web and social media, as well as those of organizations not related to your field to keep up with what’s going on and how social media is being used.

  • Can you offer something that the other group is not doing? Are you missing something that you should be providing? Has another organization found an effective way to use social media to engage its members, promote products, services, discuss advocacy issues, and generate non-dues revenue?

  • Develop relationships with competitors by sharing content with each other. This may get push-back initially. Make this case to your board or executives: If our organization wants to be the source, then we need to link to other organizations’ sites as it’s unlikely we have the resources or capacity to be the definitive resource on all aspects of our field. If we don’t link, then we need to create.

Margaret Maloney is the publications manager at the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE).


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