by Sarah Maloney
What do you say when people ask, “Why should I pay for a membership?”
Making connections and growing professionally is most likely one of your members’ top reasons for joining your association. You can maximize their membership value by providing members with the connections and resources they care about the most, year-round.
The best way to do this? An online member community.
Create a digital space for them to engage, and then use intentional, targeted communication to build a personalized experience for each and every member. If your competitors don’t have online communities, this will be a distinguishing member benefit as potential members weigh their options of which association(s) to join and which don’t offer enough to warrant paying for dues. If your competitors do have online communities already, then it’s time to catch up!
This doesn’t have to be an impossible or manual task. Online communities offer immediate value to your members — but they also give you a scalable, efficient way to engage members. In fact, online communities often make your life easier by offering a one-to-many way to address member questions, giving you more time to focus on larger initiatives.
ONLINE MEMBER COMMUNITIES UNLOCK ENGAGEMENT
The secret behind every successful association? Consistent, personalized member engagement.
Although “engaging members” might not seem like the most groundbreaking approach to strengthening your value proposition, it’s a simple idea that has wide-reaching effects. What engagement does is create a sense of connection and a sense of community that takes members from, “Why do I pay these dues every year?” to, “I can’t imagine life without this. These are my people.”
It’s easy to think of all the engaged members that come to mind: your volunteers, conference speakers, testimonials. But what about your disengaged members? Listening to what your members are saying, or rather, what they are not saying, is incredibly important. When you look back on your members who didn’t renew, was it really a surprise? More likely, there was a pattern of disengagement.
The Return on Engagement (ROE) from communities creates things like higher retention, member loyalty, increased member satisfaction, and a larger membership. If you’re struggling with retaining or recruiting members, staying relevant in an increasingly digital landscape, or adding value for your members, it’s time to consider a new kind of member engagement strategy — one with an online community at the foundation.
Online member communities create the vital engagement your members are looking for, digitally.
7 BENEFITS OF ONLINE MEMBER COMMUNITIES
Online member communities benefit associations across almost every department, from membership and event planning to programming and volunteers. Here’s why your society, association, or institute should create a member-only space for online connection:
1. Peer-to-Peer Member Connection
Why do your members join your association in the first place?
It’s probably not for free swag. They’re there to meet like-minded individuals who may be struggling with the same challenges or pursuing the same career, get resources, and grow professionally. Giving your members a space to connect — especially when it can be difficult or challenging to meet in person due to current events, geographical distance, or budget concerns — can make all the difference in someone’s life. Job opportunities, a-ha moments, asking questions…that’s magic you can create if you choose to lean in.
“We need to recreate association online. So that’s really at the center of everything we’re doing.”
– Randy Glick, Executive Director, Southern Medical Association
2. Personalized Engagement
With online member communities, you can enable focused, relevant content and discussions. Rather than sifting through tons of noise on a more public social media channel, a targeted community gives your members exactly what they need, when they need it. Add a layer of personalization on top and your community becomes an indispensable online resource for your members.
Your members want a personalized experience that feels like Netflix or Amazon – with an online community platform like Higher Logic’s, you can engage each segment in a personalized way. Whether that’s with tailored communications or sub-communities designed to focus attention on specific topics, you can deliver a high-quality experience at scale.
Often, there can be resistance to moving to an online community because an association’s members are engaging on social media already. Of course, social media has its place, but the two tools often serve different purposes. Your association needs to offer a professional, organization-sponsored platform for members to really feel like they have a safe space for sensitive conversations pertinent to their work.
Higher Logic’s built-in automation rules give you the ability to send personalized nudges at scale based on certain user criteria, like their role, when they joined your association, their location, and more. This comes in handy when you’re trying to do something like email your most engaged users, welcome all new community users, or invite all members in a similar role to a virtual networking event.
3. More Member Data and Member Trends
Bringing your members together in one online community adds fuel to all of your programs, not just your member outreach. That’s because an online member community provides a wealth of data, right at your fingertips.
Every conversation, activity, like, search, and login can tell you valuable information about what programming resonates with them and what additional resources or information they want to see. While Facebook or LinkedIn might seem like a good place for your community, you’ll miss out on all of the behind-the-scenes information that makes the community a strategy that can achieve your membership, retention, and revenue goals.
The more community conversations, the more insight you have into trends and the issues their entire member base faces, so your members’ needs can truly drive your work. Even smaller communities are successful – they even have more conversations per active user than larger communities do. You get to listen into tons of conversations, observe the topics that interest them, hear their concerns and feedback, and act on that data.
For example, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), found that members who engaged in at least one activity per month in the community generated five times the revenue than those who didn’t. But they also saw different topics coming up than they expected — GDPR quickly became a hot topic, causing the team to create more content and resources much more quickly than they had on their original roadmap, which led to even more engagement.
4. Identify Volunteers
Volunteers are integral to any organization’s success. Every volunteer program’s goal should include various opportunity types and simpler processes for engaging volunteers. Starting with small tasks and virtual participation encourages them to work all the way up to committees and leadership positions.
Your organization may have multiple volunteer programs running for task-based projects, events and conferences, board appointments, and committees on a variety of industry issues and interests. Or you might need to muster up volunteers at the last minute for events or fundraisers.
An online member community can not only help you identify volunteers based on participation and activity but can be a quick and powerful way to drive sign-ups for upcoming events, applicants for committee positions, and more.
Higher Logic’s volunteering management software includes comprehensive tracking and performance dashboards. Compare volunteer types and activities using a volunteer scorecard, where functions such as time, experience level, and dollar rate/value per opportunity can be adjusted to show value levels for different volunteers and programs. This type of volunteer program tracking will prove ROI produced for your programs.
5. More Engaging Virtual Events
Your members are looking for education and connection, and an online community – a community surrounding your event – can help you create that sense of connection and engagement that you miss by not being in person. Creating a specific channel or discussion space for your event within your community can help you make sure members continue to find value in the event even after it’s over. They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, download additional resources, and network virtually.
“The Council on Undergraduate Research had to pivot to a virtual conference in 6 weeks. Key to our success was leveraging a trusted partner Higher Logic. CUR utilized their event community to bring both content and engagement to our community. While nothing replaces that face-to-face connection, the flexibility of the platform, which was already familiar to our members, allowed our community to get more out of our first virtual event. Many members expressed their gratitude for going virtual; they wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise.”
– Lindsay Currie, Executive Officer at the Council on Undergraduate Research
6. Increased Non-Dues Revenue
When you own an online member community, that’s real estate you can use for revenue generation beyond dues. Why send members and prospects somewhere else when you could be bringing that traffic – and potential ad revenue – to your own site?
Ads are a great way to increase your organization’s revenue if you have control of the platform. For example, the Massachusetts Society of CPAs (MSCPA) offers advertising space on its online member community and weekly newsletters and uses an advertising kit to promote the space and the engagement rates. They generated nearly $14,000 in non-dues revenue in a year. Plus, they now consistently hear from members that it’s their number one member benefit.
7. Membership Growth
67% of associations report that word-of-mouth recommendations get their organization the most new members (Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 2020). That’s because people trust reviews and their peers. Think of your online member community as the virtual channel for word-of-mouth.
“When somebody calls me and says, ‘Why do I want to pay for membership?’, the first thing I mention is our member community. It’s a dedicated, professional community where you can connect with likeminded individuals, ask questions, and learn from your peers. Members find so much value in being able to talk directly with their peers.”
– Ryan Couch, Systems Manager, North Carolina Dental Society
An online community platform can be particularly effective for member acquisition. Why? Your most loyal members are right there, discussing your industry – and if you leave some aspects or all of your online member community public, interested potential members can browse and participate in discussions. You can choose to restrict full access to members only or leave it open to everyone. Cracking the door open just enough can pique potential members’ interest and leave them wanting more.
When you take this approach, you can also boost your organization in Google search results. The Educational Theatre Association took this approach and saw a huge boost from their community in SEO, including new organic keywords, monthly clicks, and rankings, all of which help you get in front of new members and become an industry thought leader.
You can also take the opposite approach and make your community a member’s only benefit – that’s what the North Carolina Dental Society did, and thanks to the community and other benefits, they increased member acquisition by 200%.
Here’s one tactic that works well in this situation. When you host an event in your online member community, it’s not uncommon for your event speakers or experts to share like crazy on their social media. Not only are they improving their personal brand, but they’re drawing attention to your organization and one of the exclusive member benefits of being in your online community. As soon as a non-member is drawn in and tries to access the event, they can’t and are prompted to apply for membership.
COMMUNITIES DRIVE GROWTH FOR YOUR MEMBERS AND YOUR ASSOCIATION
Online member communities will impact far more than just one aspect of your association – they grow your entire organization. Building a member community can create a seamless member experience, provide rich member data that drives better programming and membership growth, and build a stronger connection between members.Sara Maloney
Online Community Manager
Sara is an online community manager at Higher Logic. She works with 5-6 customers at a time to maximize their success. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in Marketing and Psychology. In her free time, Sara enjoys reading and spending time in Washington, DC.
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