Associations pros frequently cite member engagement as a top challenge, and many of the most effective ways to make easier connections with members are in the digital realm. Here are three items to add to your online engagement plan in the new year.
If January is for making new year’s resolutions, then association professionals might want to spend some quality time thinking about boosting member engagement in the coming year. Most associations have a good set of digital tools available, but it might be time to take a look at ways you could use them better to make the member experience feel more relevant and real.
In a GrowthZone survey, association professionals ranked member engagement as the top challenge of 2019, higher than recruitment and retention or challenges with communicating member value, attracting young members, or funding.
Shaun O’Reilly, vice president of marketing at MemberSuite, thinks member engagement will remain the top challenge in 2020. He argues that association professionals need to start thinking strategically if they want to succeed in making routine touchpoints with time-strapped members. “What we advocate is that associations should engage online through a continuous and segmented approach,” O’Reilly says.
He suggests three areas where associations can focus on digital engagement this year:
Member portals. An association’s online community is where members go for information, resources, and connections. O’Reilly believes that many member portals are underutilized or overlooked as engagement opportunities. To get better results this year, he says it helps to think like a community manager.
You might already have a community manager on staff, but you could cross-train other staff members and member volunteers to serve as community ambassadors. This creates champions who know how to cultivate and encourage community conversations online. “With the right functionality and people, [a member portal] can transform into a dynamic place for online engagement,” he says.
Social media diversification. This could be the year you break out of business as usual on social media. O’Reilly says associations should go beyond pushing social posts to followers and embrace social media as a customer service interface, as many brands do. “Look at all the different channels you’re on and think about how you might use them differently to deliver messaging and support,” he says.
Also consider new platforms for engagement. For instance, Fast Company recently reported that Facebook engagement is declining, whereas TikTok engagement is growing quickly, especially with millennials and members of Gen Z. How might you use TikTok to engage members?
Sponsored content. Too often, O’Reilly says, sponsored content is viewed purely as a nondues revenue opportunity. “However, I think associations need to get more creative if they want to find digital content opportunities that can serve revenue goals and member engagement,” he says. “Sponsored content is not just about getting in front of people; it’s about building a connection.”
A strong sponsored content program provides valuable knowledge and information to readers from sponsors with expertise to share. In turn, it gives sponsors a platform to create a meaningful connection to the community. In the new year, O’Reilly says, associations should look for opportunities to start or grow a sponsored content program as a way to drive engagement as well as revenue.
Have you found member engagement to be a challenge at your association? How are you addressing the issue through digital engagement? Post your comments below.
Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues.