What Engaged Associations Know That You
IPWEA, NASS, and ASA are great examples of associations with successful
engagement strategies, offering diversity of activity and resources on their
community sites. Here are the steps you need to boost your community engagement
When it comes right down to it, the
function of an online community is all about giving people a place to engage,
no matter their interests or industries. There are a number of cases that point
to the bottom-line results of having an engaged community.
The American Society of Association
Executives found that members who are engaged in their online community,
Collaborate, are 30 percent more likely to renew. Further, they found that
these engaged members are 23 percent more likely to recommend ASAE to their
grew dramatically for ASAE’s Collaborate right away. The
number of messages posted to discussion groups within the community increased
in activity by 30 percent over the previous listservs. ASAE’s Reggie Henry,
CAE, summed up the change well: "The best thing we’ve done in the last 15 years
is launch Collaborate.”
Another great example of an association
leveraging its online community for member engagement — and ultimately
retention — is The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia. "IPWEA’s
integrated approach to our community has increased new member prospects by more
than 25 percent,” says CEO Chris Champion, "with a net increase in membership
in 2014 of 11 percent, which has improved outreach effectiveness to people
interested in our services.”
Responses to IPWEA’s community site have
been overwhelmingly positive, and growth has been rapid. Before the online
community, its old site averaged 3,800 visits per month. Since launch, visits
have increased exponentially, from around 5,000 in July 2012 to nearly 20,000
per month as of September 2014. In the first three months, the community
boasted 30,214 total logins.
Advantage of Your Members’ — and Your Industry’s — Strengths
Success is never overnight; the right
engagement strategies for the right organizations often entail a lot of
testing. But the best engagement plans follow the strategic goals of the organization
and understand the top needs of members.
North American Spine Society was focused on choosing a community platform that
was both effective for its members in the medical profession and optimized for
users on different devices around the world. A global multidisciplinary medical
society, NASS has more than 8,000 members in 72 countries.
has had particular success with its community discussions. "The
community discussion on SpineConnect is probably the best and most helpful
dialogue available to our profession today,” says Dr. Kim J. Garges, MD, a
SpineConnect Member from the Nassau Spine Institute. Shortly after launching
SpineConnect, there were over 700 discussion posts and nearly 300 unique
authors contributing questions, answers, and valuable content.
case discussion threads are more than a chatting tool for physicians — it’s a
useful Q&A arena for real cases. A lot of members wanted and needed a place
to network with colleagues, discuss what is happening within their practices,
and exchange ideas. It goes beyond convention for communicating within the
spine care community.
A great perk of an engaged community is
a complete view of your membership and their activities. The American Staffing
Association has more than 22,000 members in its online community, and currently
boasts over 3,000 ongoing discussion posts.
ASA Central at a critical time for our industry,” says Diana Mertz, director,
sections and member engagement for ASA. "The Affordable Care Act and its impact
on our industry was a topic our members had many questions about and needed a
lot of direction.”
ASA’s members turned to ASA Central to ask those questions and assist one
another with the intricacies of the legislation. "Not only were staffing firm
colleagues helping each other out, it also allowed ASA legal team members the
opportunity to provide their expertise on the issue,” she says.
digest emails to community events like celebrating ASA Central’s birthday,
there’s no shortage of creative ways to engage members. This engagement can be
more organized and targeted to certain groups if you track member activity
through your database.
Higher Logic’s Activity Sync module, which writes back community activity to
the association management software. "When we speak with members, we are able
to look at their member record in our database and see what they have done in
discussion, etc.), which provides us a quick snapshot of engagement in our
community,” says Mertz.
Better Community Engagement Strategy
These associations are great examples of
successful engagement strategies and the diversity of activity and resources
you can have on your community site. But what are the next steps if you need to
improve your own strategy?
Whether your community is years in the
making or brand new, here is engagement broken down into three primary goals. In
other words, make sure your community site(s) pass these three tests:
Step 1 — Make it easy.
In a recent survey, Google found mobile
users are five times more likely to abandon the task they are trying to
complete if the site is not optimized for mobile use. So making it easier for
your members and customers to engage across multiple platforms can have a
significant impact on their level of engagement and how much value they get out
of it. This focus on the usability and accessibility of your community site
will go a long way toward keeping members interested in the community activity
and coming back for more.
Step 2 — Make it often.
Provide as many opportunities for
engagement as possible. Does this mean add more features to the platform,
notifications and prompts to bring people back, or entirely new engagement
programs? The answer is all of the above. Make sure people can engage the way
they want to engage, whether it's on mobile devices, email, smart watches, or a
desktop. This is called frictionless
Step 3 — Make it fun.
You want users to have a more
enthusiastic response to your community than "it’s usable” or "it’s
straightforward.” Rather, the community should feel good to use and give people
what they want. They should enjoy finding answers to their questions and being
recognized for contributions. It's fun to be a part of a community they were searching
for all along.
Worried your association’s
engagement tactics aren’t as effective as you’d like? Here’s how you can do a
quick-check on best practices and refresh your engagement strategy:
- Let your members do the talking. Whether it’s direct feedback, getting to
know them better, or learning how they interact with each other on the
community, you want to hear from your members, so collect and collate online
activity in one place by providing a trustworthy community for members to speak
their minds and crowd-source useful content. Opinions, discussions, blogs, and
more will be the most useful and popular communications.
- Get your message out there. Online communities can bridge the
communication gaps among members and between groups. For example, when it comes
to an industry question or event, the community’s discussions and library
resources can be easily accessed and shared. This mode of communicating and
sending messages becomes a reliable source to help spread the word.
- Be creative with non-dues revenue
streams. More than the
go-to hubs for members to interact and share knowledge, communities are also
great platforms for generating new revenue streams. It’s a valuable resource
for improving both member satisfaction and returns on investment. Any community
can use advertising, vendors, events, and other unique revenue streams to help
its organization to flourish.
If your association includes special interest groups (SIGs),
offer devoted communities for an additional fee to increase and retain membership.
Consider tying together your community and events’ registration and details to
help educate attendees and prospects, learn more about recent efforts, and
upcoming issues or talk about what needs improvement.
- Use gamification to improve retention
and satisfaction. Gamification
is another strong tactic to increase your engagement success. Reward your
members for contributing to community content with digital recognition such as
points, ribbons, or profile badges. You’ll have the opportunity to acknowledge
and thank members while also nurturing them to continue interacting on the
- Encourage leadership participation. Association leaders and their online
communities should mix together. Executive participation affects the success of
an online community, and leaders should be both champions of the platform and
creators or cross-pollinators of useful industry content. According to 2014
findings from The Community Roundtable, 58 percent of best-in-class communities
had active CEO participation. We can use the analogy of an annual meeting — in
what scenario would it be acceptable for an organization’s CEO not to attend
the annual meeting and other important face-to-face events?
engagement means more content. If
your community addresses these engagement tactics, the activity of engagement
will produce great content. One association has produced almost 150,000 pieces
of content in its community over the last six years. This is all produced by
the members, for the members. Not only is that an impressive amount — taken
together, it's a great resource and true knowledge base for all members.
In this case, it's also open to the
public and available for anyone to read, browse, and download. This isn’t
always an option for organizations, but use this open concept as a benchmark
for how easy and accessible content is for your members in the first place. In
turn, it will produce new members, more registrations at events, and interest
in new programs. It's encompassing enough to forward a mission to educate the
industry and the world on what you do, and open enough to encourage organic
conversations among people who simply want to connect.
Whether an association wants to sell
something (memberships, event registrations, e-books, etc.) or just wants to facilitate
discussion around a common interest, it can’t succeed without engagement.
Caitlin McDonnell Struhs is a copywriter at Higher Logic, a
leading provider of cloud-based community platforms.