by Tatiana Morand
Member engagement can mean different things to different folks. For-profit marketers and social media managers, for instance, often use the term “engagement” when referring to how an individual is engaging online – in terms of website visits, page views, email opens, social media mentions, “likes,” or “follows.”
While these are important metrics, they’re only part of the engagement equation you should be tracking for your membership organization. For example, you can also look at how members are engaging at events and out in the wild of your offline community.
Engaging your members involves using one or more touch points each day. It’s a tall order, but by using the right tactics, you’ll be able to succeed.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to set member engagement goals and how to gain member engagement tactics from real membership organizations so that you can try them out at your organization.
Now let’s dive in!
What is Member Engagement?
Before testing out new member engagement ideas, it’s helpful to know exactly what we mean by member engagement.
Member engagement is the frequency and style of how you connect with your members. From newsletters and other communications to event planning and networking opportunities, member engagement is about building and nurturing relationships with your target audience.
The ultimate goal is to gain and retain more members for your organization by demonstrating the value your membership offers them.
How to Create a Member Engagement Strategy
To create a member engagement strategy, you’ll need three main things:
1. Engagement Goals
2. Engagement Activities
3. Engagement Schedule
Your goals will help you determine which member engagement activities you want to focus on, such as social media or events.
Once you have your goals and have thought through the activities to help you reach them, that’s where the schedule comes in.
Let’s say, for example, you want to increase virtual interactions with members. If you’re creating a schedule for the year, you may want to plan a monthly social media campaign for members to participate in. Since you might also want to maintain in-person connections, you could also schedule a quarterly social event at your headquarters.
Your member engagement strategy will be unique to your organization. You know your members and their needs best. But we hope you can use the ideas below to help you get started or spice up your existing strategy!
How to Set Member Engagement Goals
If you aren’t keeping track of how you’re engaging members, how are you supposed to know if you’re succeeding or not?
To set goals around member engagement, consider these questions:
- How engaged are your members today? Answering this will help you get a baseline to work against. To determine this, you could send out a member satisfaction survey.
- What activities are engaged members performing? Maybe the more meetings members attend, the more likely they are to stick around… so in that case, a worthwhile goal to set may be to encourage members to attend more meetings.
- How can you track the impact of these activities? Using the SMART framework can help you ensure that your goals aren’t too vague and that you’re able to put them into practice.
You might also want to segment the goals you’re creating in the following ways:
- Member lifecycle stage. Someone who has just joined will face different challenges and want different value from your organization than someone who has been with you for years.
- Persona. Let’s say you’re a writing club. Maybe you’ve noticed that your members fall into two main groups: new writers who are just getting started on a novel and more experienced writers who tend to be in the editing stage. How can you ensure that both groups are participating and what touchpoints you need to incorporate for both? Being aware of the types of people you have in your organization and what they’re looking for can help you build goals that are tailored to each of them.
- Platform. For example, you may want to have one goal for events and a different one for your website. (We’ll be going over different tactics you can use on each one throughout the rest of this post.)
With all of these facets in mind, one potential goal formatted in the SMART way for our writing club might be: Get 50% of new writer members to attend one editing workshop each month for the next six months.
Once you’ve created these goals, the next step is deciding on the strategies you’ll use to build engagement and help work towards these goals.
Engaging Members Through Your Website
While building your online community is only part of the engagement equation, the reality is that your website is still your primary identity online.
Your website is where your members go for information and insight, where they can participate in your online community, where they can register for events, manage their membership profile and even their yearly renewal.
Because it’s so crucial to your members, you want to build the relationship and encourage action with every website visit and as often as possible to ensure you’re providing tangible member value.
The best way to do this is to build a membership website, and there’s easy-to-use software that will set up all the pages you need.
That software is called Membership Management Software, and the top membership organizations use it to create their website, host online resources, provide members unique logins, create online member directories, and more.
Plus, Membership Management Software provides more than just a website. It also automates most of the administrative tasks that come with running a membership organization. This type of software is a must for any organization looking to grow and engage its members because it also enables you to:
- Manage and update a contact database including members, donors, and sponsors
- Create online event registration and payments
- Accept and manage online donations
- Communicate with your members easily
- Use professionally designed newsletter templates
- Allow new members to join your organization through your website
- Create financial reports automatically
Wild Apricot is the number one rated membership management software used by over 20,000 membership organizations worldwide. The best part is that Wild Apricot has a free 30-day trial for anyone looking to use it. You can get your free trial here.
“We went from zero website to a functioning website with the specific things we needed in three days. It was amazing.”
– Tammy Anderson, Big Country Home Educators
Once you start your free trial, you can find full instructions on how to set up your membership website with Wild Apricot in this short guide.
Wondering what else you need to include on your website? Here are a few ideas:
This Type of Content Will Keep Members Coming Back
The critical goal for any membership website is to get members to the site and keep them coming back for more. Offering the right content – fresh, up-to-date, targeted to your audience, and easy to find – keeps them engaged and to ensure they experience membership value.
Content development is a lot like having a weekly meal prep.
When scheduling content for your website, think about what news you’d like to dish up each week or month and map that to your organization’s activities and information.
What content do you have on hand and what do you need to develop?
What ingredients do you need to shop for (develop, re-purpose, etc.)?
Start with a realistic and manageable time frame for planning – can you schedule one or two months of content?
In terms of the content you’re actually sharing on your site, here are a few ideas:
- Your organization’s calendar – what’s up in the next month or two?
- Events you have scheduled – you can create content with teasers about the event; then showcase the event details and finally report on and show images of the event afterwards.
- Issues you’re addressing or lobbying efforts – can you post an online petition? Are there weekly or monthly updates that you can post?
- Fundraising campaigns – what are your goals? Are there photos and/or stories of those impacted by these funds?
- Other members’ stories – to inspire other members or to inform potential members about your work.
For example, the Single Parent Provision has a blog series that describes the lives of its members.
In these posts, they ask their members to share the value they’ve gotten out of being part of their organization and inspire other members who may be going through the same struggles as they are.
Engaging Members Through Social Media
As mentioned, “engagement” often refers to how an individual engages online – in terms of website visits, page views, and social media mentions.
And while social media participation is only part of the member engagement equation, it’s still increasingly important to enable and promote two-way social media engagement with members — to create a dialogue with them rather than a monologue.
If that’s something you’re struggling with, or you want to turn more of your social media following into active members, here are some ideas to consider as you develop the social media component of your member engagement plan.
Pick only the channels where your followers and audience are most active. For example, the AFP Toronto Chapter, as a professional association, has over 7,000 LinkedIn followers — it makes sense that its members would be there because their work directly affects members’ careers. They can share relevant updates such as this one that their members would want to see during the workday.
So, before spending too much time on any social platform, ask yourself:
- What channels does your audience use the most?
- What kind of content are they looking for?
- What times of the day would they likely be on social media sites?
Show and tell. Share inspiring images that tell more about the work you do: your organization’s mission, behind the scenes, and secret previews that people who don’t follow you won’t get to see, like this example from the Arizona Evaluation Network. Including content that’s different across your social media channels gives a reason for people to follow you and engage with you on all of them and will make them feel like they’re getting special access by doing so.
Create interactive content. Tactics such as conducting polls on Facebook, mentioning your top followers in your Instagram stories, and asking questions on Twitter are ways to share more information about your organization’s activities while still giving members a chance to feel like they’re part of the conversation.
Ask your members for content. People love having the chance to share their stories! Quick social media posts are a great way to do so without devoting too much time to creating them. For example, you could ask members to send in a photo of themselves doing an activity related to your organization for a chance to be featured or feature something that one of your members is doing that other members would like to hear about. This post from the Clarksburg Wine Growers and Vintners Association is a great example.
Use social media software to help save you some time. Additionally, you can recruit volunteers who are active on social media to contribute links, articles, videos, and posts that they think other members would find interesting. This way, you’re collecting lots of content from diverse sources that you know will interest your audience without having to spend too much time on it yourself.
Additionally, remember that Google loves social media channels.
Social media channels (especially Facebook and Twitter accounts) rank very highly in search engine queries. Having a Facebook page or Twitter handle can be simple ways of helping folks find your organization online when they are conducting Google searches.
At the very least, complete your social media profile page with basic information about your organization (logo, mission, values, phone number, web address etc.) to help drive people your way.
How The Alliance for Women In Media (AWM) Engages Members Through Social Media
Want to build an engaged, committed following on social media?
Here’s how The Alliance for Women In Media – Southern California Affiliate (a professional organization that offers “empowering career development”) did it.
Veronica Avila, Co-chair of Social Media, offered many great examples of how they engage with members using social media — and with more than 3,000 likes on their Facebook page and over 900 followers on Twitter, clearly they’re doing something right!
Here are some of the things they’ve done to achieve such numbers:
- Appointed a dedicated Social Media Chair and Co-chair responsible for creating and following through on social media strategy.
- Put in place an integrated marketing campaign approach that coordinates their messaging over all communication channels (website, email blast and social media).
- Created a social media calendar that helps structure and plan for future content yet leaves room to be flexible for unforeseen circumstances.
Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Making members and stakeholders aware of your online presence can begin offline. Use your events, annual general meetings, luncheons, and gatherings as opportunities to let your audience know that they can “like,” “follow,” and find you online. Publicize the kind of content they can expect and urge them to extend their networking and bridge-building to your online platforms.
Additionally, you can integrate social media with other tools and marketing strategies to create a virtuous cycle and encourage them to join you offline. For example, don’t just post on Facebook: send an email blast with a link to a Facebook event. Use multiple channels to cover all your bases and make social media one part of an overall marketing strategy – not the strategy itself.
Engaging Members Through Your Community
Many people join membership organizations to meet other like-minded people with whom they have an interest, whether professional or personal, in common.
So, to continue engaging them, one of the most valuable things you can do is to help them build connections with other members, both online and offline.
Engaging Members Through an Online Community
Engaging members on your website starts with offering fresh, helpful content tailored to your audience.
But keeping them engaged and participating involves — at the very minimum — alerting them to fresh content and enabling two-way communications.
Alerting them to fresh or new content
You can keep your members informed of fresh content by including information in other channels, such as:
- Regular updates in your newsletter: be sure to include a regular section and/or news article with updates on new content with live links to the new web material. In the example below, the Great Smoky Mountains Association includes a regular “News You Can Use” section in their e-newsletter for members that links back to content on their website.
- Any publications you create and or send to members: for example, you can include an update to the bottom of any “member updates” or any regular email to members or add the link to your blog, member’s forum, or other news pages at the bottom of all outgoing emails.
- In face-to-face meetings: e.g., have the Chair of the Board and any meeting Chairs alert assembled members of new blog posts, articles, etc,. that might be pertinent to the discussion.
- Via social media: social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, are also great ways to keep members informed of new content. For example, we alert our followers when posting a new blog by posting on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Find ways to leverage and promote new online content to get and keep members actively involved.
Enabling two-way communication
Your website should be the “mothership” of your organization’s online community.
But information shouldn’t just flow out to members. You need to promote two-way communication opportunities as well by opening channels so members can also communicate with your administration and leadership.
Here are some ways to do this:
- Online forums: If you haven’t already, you may want to start an online forum so that members have an easy way to talk to each other and communicate with you regarding what they’re looking for from your organization.
- A blog: create a blog if you don’t have one and if you do, be sure you enable members to comment on your blog posts.
- Online surveys: you can conduct regular surveys to elicit member input or you can simply pose mini surveys, or questions on your website or Facebook page to get conversations started. And once you get some two-way conversations going, be sure to respond to and promote (and amortize) feedback and comments by noting these in blog posts, Twitter, and your newsletter, as well.
- Social media: e.g., encouraging communication via Twitter or Facebook; asking questions and listening to members’ comments; posting mini surveys and polls. You can also ask members to “take over” your social media for a day to share initiatives they’re running or simply show a day in their lives and how your organization relates to it!
- Reaching out to members directly: depending on your members’ demographic, a quick phone call to check in on them or a handwritten letter in the mail can go a long way to make them feel like they’re being listened to. You could also set up a phone or letter chain in which members reach out to each other.
- A member directory: creating a member directory can encourage members to reach out to each other and share resources and information directly with other members. It can also encourage them to meet up together. The screenshot below from the University of Oregon Alumni Association’s member newsletter reminds members to keep their online profile updated.
When members follow the link, they’re able to log in and connect with other alumni and see what’s on their profiles.
Engaging Members Through Your Offline Community
Although we live in an increasingly digital world, that doesn’t mean you can only engage your members on the Internet.
If you can get them to connect in person (or even just outside of your organization’s site and accounts specifically) you’re likely to build their engagement with your organization.
By strengthening members’ bonds with each other, you’ll improve their connection to your organization.
A few ways to do this are:
- Encourage them to meet up by setting up coffee chats with other members, in which they’re paired randomly with someone else in your group.
- Sharing volunteer opportunities that are relevant to your cause and encouraging members to meet up there.
- Sharing events that your members are hosting and encouraging other members to attend.
- Creating a referral program that encourages members to build your community with other people they already know. The example below from AIIP uses an incentive and frequently asked questions to promote referrals.
- Offer discounts to local brands and stores that they can visit or run a contest.
- Send them a happy birthday message and ask other members to do the same.
- Create a friendly competition of some kind — for example, a trivia night related to your organization — and get members to form teams to see who can be the victor! (This could also be held online.)
- And, of course, you can host events!
Engaging Members Through Events
As we mentioned in the section above, many people join organizations to build connections with other members.
Events are also a great way to provide additional value to members by tapping into their other reasons for joining your organization.
For example, if you’re a professional association, networking events that will provide a professional development opportunity for members are sure to be valuable.
Of course, these events will differ whether you’re a sailing club or an association of anesthesiologists, as well as whether you’re choosing to conduct them in person or virtually.
Some ideas for in-person event engagement are:
- Get all members to wear name tags and a fact about themselves that relates to your organization, so they have something to connect about.
- Reduce friction as much as possible. Make it easy for members to check in and be part of your event without having to worry about any logistical details.
- Give attendees a little thank-you gift for their participation. (This works for virtual events, too — you’ll just have to mail it!)
- If it’s a large event, create designated spaces for networking… as well as designated spots where attendees can be alone and get some quiet time!
- Provide refreshments. Even if you only have snacks, ensuring that attendees aren’t hungry or thirsty will go a long way to engaging them in your content!
Need some help planning your event? Our event planning checklist will walk you through all the steps.
And some ideas for virtual event engagement are:
- Host a breakout discussion before or after the event so that attendees have a chance to connect.
- Conduct a survey or polls throughout the event so that members also have to respond partway through the event.
- Allow attendees to ask questions either throughout or at the end of the event.
- Offer a class related to your mission (or partner with another organization to do so) so that attendees need to follow along.
- Ask attendees to do small activities at different points during the presentation or event so that they have a way to participate actively.
And regardless of the kind of event you’re running, don’t forget to send out a post-event survey so that you can make your next event even more engaging!
How to Track Member Engagement Goals
You’ll likely want to see how well your engagement activities have helped you reach your member engagement goals that we discussed earlier.
Each of the engagement activity types we covered above can be tracked in different ways to help with your assessment and future planning. We’ll give examples of how below!
To track engagement through your website activities, you could:
- Review data on how many people visited your blog posts and see which topics people enjoy engaging with the most.
- Analyze data on your website traffic, such as what time people are visiting it most frequently or whether they’re using desktop or mobile devices. Doing so helps inform when you post new content and how much effort you put into making it mobile-friendly.
- Look at what pages people review the most. Find out how people are using your website, whether to register for events, read blog posts, explore your member directory, or other activities.
To track engagement through your social media activities, you can
- See which posts get the most “likes” or “shares” to better understand how your audience interacts with different content types.
- Review your overall number of followers on various platforms to see how much your accounts have grown since you started working toward your engagement goal.
To track engagement within your community, you could:
- Send out a survey asking members how they’ve interacted with other members over the year and how frequently.
- Review discussion boards and comment sections on your website and blog to see whether members engage in meaningful dialogue on your topic.
- Check your notes to see how many members had received personal phone calls, emails, or handwritten notes compared to before you started working toward your goal.
Finally, to track engagement through your events, you can:
- Review attendance records to see how many RSVPs you received now compared to past events, as well as how many of those who said they would come showed up.
- Create surveys to gauge members’ satisfaction with the events.
- Have post-event conversations asking for feedback on the event.
- Look for how people shared about the event through their social media channels.
Re-Defining Engagement at Your Organization
We hope this article sparks some ideas to help your organization develop member engagement strategies that meet your specific needs.
By creating a framework, establishing routines for identifying and developing fresh content for your website, connecting with members through online communities and social media, and running various events, you can retain existing members and attract new members over time.
And remember: member engagement is an ongoing initiative.
Suppose you want to continue retaining members and ensuring that they’re getting the best experience possible as your organization grows, you’ll have to keep trying new tactics to keep up with trends and the unique needs that will arise.
If you’re not seeing results right away, no worries.
The more things you try, the more you’ll see what your members like, and the more successful you’ll be at engaging them going forward.
Best of luck engaging your members!