Member engagement is a fragile aspect of any professional organization. It requires time, effort, and consideration. And unfortunately, it can be easy to get wrong. There are a handful of practices that organizations can pick up as habits, thinking that they will benefit member engagement—or at least not harm it. The good news is that by knowing what these behaviors are and understanding why they work against member engagement, organizations can avoid falling into them and ensure that their work maintains a strong and steady course.
1. A Lack Of Definition
Membership engagement is subjective and vague. Different individuals leading the association could view it differently. And if there is not a shared vision of what engagement is, it is impossible to achieve it. Individuals will be working towards different goals and some may believe they have already reached the membership engagement goal when they haven’t.
The first step in correcting this is agreeing on what membership engagement looks like. The definition could include how many members actively participate in the online community and what exactly active participation entails. It could simply be how many members renew every year. It could have to do with how many members open their monthly email and click on the links or how many participate at association functions. It’s up to the organization to decide what membership engagement is, but everyone needs to be on the same page.
2. One-Way Communication
Many professional organizations pride themselves on having a regular and reliable newsletter. They update members on any events, changes in the industry, or highlights that should be noted. Other organizations provide exclusive content that is created by professionals in the industry and would likely need to be paid for by those who are not members. And then there are a few that will even send out personal thank-you notes or customized information. This is great, and strong content is likely a reason that many members joined initially.
But these forms of communication are simply not enough to keep members engaged. Organizations need to reach out to members and open up a dialogue. They should encourage them to participate in online communities. Members should have easy access to organizational leadership. They should be asked for feedback:
- The ultimate way of accomplishing this is by hosting in-person events. Even if an organization is spread across the country, it is possible to have regional conferences, meetings, or just get-togethers. Leadership should always be there with a goal of getting to know individual members on a personal level.
- Regular surveys are also a good idea. If these are crafted effectively, they can assist an organization in getting valuable insight into what members want and don’t want. This information should be stored, organized, and analyzed, which is easiest to do on a member management platform. And most importantly, the feedback should be acted on.
- Finally, create a strong social media presence that interacts with members and encourages them to engage, both with the organization and with each other.
3. Unbalanced Approach To Member Engagement
Member engagement takes balance, especially in regards to the engagement buttons organizations push and methods they use. Some organizations are more traditional. They have always used certain events and forms of communication. These methods work well enough so the association is against changing things up. This is a mistake. Members are going to get bored, especially in a world that is quickly advancing in terms of technology. Organizations should aim to add new programs, systems, or forms of communication. Some approaches won’t work. Members just won’t care for them. But other will and members will get excited about how these programs and offerings could grow in the future.
This does not mean, however, that organizations should jump on every trend. When professional organizations do this, it can make them look confused or lost. Members never know what to expect—and not in a good way. The association’s schedule should be reliable. Members should know that a specific event will take place on a regular basis or that certain information will be released every so often. Organizations should maintain several regular features alongside any new programs that they choose to try out.
And before deciding on any new program, event, or project, organizations need to make sure that it fits two criteria. The first is that there is enough time and talent to make it a success. The second is ensuring that the project itself, as well as any end product that it will produce, is aligned with the organization’s mission and vision.
4. Being Myopic About Recruitment
Recruitment is important. There is no way around that fact. It keeps fresh ideas and faces flowing into an association. This is why many organizations put much of their money and time towards membership drives and enhancing the joining experience. However, sometimes they are a little too concentrated on recruitment and neglect to foster membership retention. Doing this is like trying to carry water in a bucket that is full of holes.
Most associations should reduce their recruitment efforts. This newfound time and money can instead go to current member programs and projects. Association leadership can spend time addressing members’ concerns and building a stronger community. They may bring in fewer members annually, but member attrition will decrease significantly.
The most effective way to get association leadership on board with reducing concentration on recruitment is by framing retention as an aspect of recruitment and creating a few actionable principles, including:
- Offer membership incentives. Members should know that the association recognizes their loyalty and appreciates it. This might be achieved through special recognition of long-time members or offering reduced membership renewal prices for each and every year that a member sticks around.
- Don’t be loud about recruitment. When an association puts too much emphasis on recruitment members can begin to feel like the organization doesn’t see value in its current membership base. Additionally, in joining an association, the current member’s goal was not to be a part of new member recruitment drive but to network with current members and be more immersed in the industry. Because of this, organizations should not advertize membership drives to current members—especially if the drive offers special benefits that those members did not receive when they joined.
- Show gratitude. Associations need to make it clear to members that they are a valued aspect of the organization. This can be done through personal notes, events, and benefits for membership renewal.