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Want to Boost Member Engagement? Launch an Online Community - Part 1

This two part guest post was provided by Annette Balgord, Vice President at Equation Technologies.  Equation assists associations to implement Social CRM, private online communities, and association management systems (AMS).  Annette is on the CSAE Trillium Chapter Communications Committee and a board member at Information Technology Alliance.  You can visit Equation Technologies at the Avectra Booth (# 178) at the CSAE National Conference & Showcase this November in Ottawa.

Connecting with different groups
Imagine an energized community of members who are contributing time, resources, conversation, input and excitement to the opportunities and issues your association highlights.  This probably occurs at your events where people are able to interact face-to-face.  Now imagine this happening online.

Fueling the engine of renewals and recruitment

Increase the likelihood of renewals: increased participation of members serves to strengthen their commitment to the organization

Attract additional renewals: Their excitement is contagious and their contribution draws in more members to association discussions and activity

Improve recruitment effectiveness: The higher level of member engagement helps the association enhance existing member offerings (improved quality of conference sessions, better resources); and identify new ones

Using online collaboration to build the engine

With almost universal online access among members, the best association management systems provide an integrated online collaboration platform perfect for meeting, sharing, and commenting on the issues, events, and resources members wish to explore and utilize.

One type of online community that may work particularly well for associations with few staff is a peer-to-peer community.  A peer-to-peer community is characterized by highly motivated and involved members dedicated to populating the community with content.  The association can feature its member experts as a go to source.

Investing in a private online community

Will the investment of time and money in creating a private online member community be worth the effort and expense?  Why not simply use a free tool such as LinkedIn or Facebook?

With a private community, you can control the look, messaging, community and group access based on member data stored in your association management system database.  For example, setup custom demographics to gather attributes unique to members of your association.  Present them in your online membership directory along with the member’s profile.   This will enhance the member’s experience and accelerate member engagement.

The key is to ensure that the purpose of the private online community aligns with the mission of the association and the aspirations of the members (the reason they joined the association).  And that should not be left to chance; it needs to be a key component of your planning.

Sound planning leads to sound results

As you prepare to put technology to work for your association, plan, benchmark, educate and promote your online collaboration offering.

Ensure the success of your online collaboration by establishing SMART goals that support the purpose of the community.  SMART goals are:

Specific – to focus the members, groups, staff (community) and your resources
Measurable – to verify achievements and to identify which efforts are successful
Actionable – to empower your membership to take positive steps to achieve results
Relevant – to ensure that all stakeholders add and receive value
Trackable – to provide the data to maintain efforts long term and course correct when needed

How will you measure success?  How do you quantify the activities that are happening in the community?  Ideally your online community software will include built in analytics and reporting.   Some common metrics to track are:

Number of logins or page views
Number of new and total members
Number of member profiles created or edited
Number of discussions started and replies posted

Keep your association relevant and attractive to members by deploying and staying abreast of technology that allows your staff and community to perform at a much more effective and fulfilling level. Online collaboration helps you accomplish this by bringing together technology, people and purpose; providing a structure and venue for a greater member experience.

Greenfield Services to Exhibit at CSAE National Conference & Showcase

DOreen and Meagan Exhibiting at CSAE
For the second year in a row, Doreen Ashton Wagner, Chief Strategist and Meagan Rockett, Director, Client Solutions will be attending and exhibiting at the CSAE National Conference & Showcase.  This year, we are excited to see it come home November 1-3, 2012.

In looking at the educational lineup, there are several sessions we are looking forward to attending, and learning alongside Association Executives.

For more information on the conference, or to register, please click here.

If you are planning on attending, we invite you to stop by our booth (#153) during the Showcase on Friday, November 2nd – we will be offering to set up a free 2-hour social media assessment for conference participants.  If you would like to pre-book your appointment, please email us.

We look forward to re-connecting with old friends, and establishing new relationships!

Real Friends and Virtual Strangers: Building a Testimonial Strategy

Strategy Banner
We’ve been talking about testimonials as a crucial piece of the promotional puzzle that that can help your message stand out in a crowded field. Whether you’re planning a membership renewal drive or looking for new conference audiences, your campaign will be stronger with a great group of opinion leaders.

A few months ago, our hospitality blog encouraged clients to take a look at Testimonial Director, a company that offers a simple, templated process for collecting testimonials and making sure they contain the right information. Testimonial Director has come up with a seven-step “return on trust” strategy that rests on a crucial piece of data from the Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey: In Nielsen’s words, consumers (which means your members, sponsors, exhibitors, and participants) “trust real friends and virtual strangers the most.”

The 2009 survey of more than 25,000 Internet consumers in 50 countries found that 90% pay attention to recommendations from people they know, while 70% rely on consumer opinions posted online. Compare those figures with confidence levels of 37% for online video ads, 33% for online banners, and 24% for text ads on mobile phones.

Testimonial Director’s seven strategies [sign-up required] map out a coherent path to getting word of mouth working in your favour:

  1. Make testimonials pervasive by featuring them throughout your website, not on a single page. Just make sure the content on each page relates to the actual testimonial.
  2. Deliver the message in multiple ways, using a variety of presentation types to appeal to the widest range of tastes and interests among your website visitors.
  3. Don’t overlook the power of written testimonials in the rush to add video to your site. Use both formats to maximum effect.
  4. Make your video productions affordable. Testimonial Director comes down in favour of in-house production to get “good quality results for the web with relatively inexpensive equipment.”
  5. Use social media to build social proof. “The real power behind social media is how it can help transform you from being a complete stranger into a known quantity, even among groups of people you’ve not even met yet.”
  6. Reach out and ask. Asking members, participants, exhibitors, and sponsors for testimonials should be a standard step in your communications and outreach cycle.
  7. Take stock. Then take action. Testimonial Director offers an implementation worksheet to help you develop and execute a coherent strategy.

In Nielsen’s terms, do you know who your “real friends” are? By finding out and inviting them to tell their stories, you can kick-start a cycle that will bring you to the next tier of new and repeat revenue—and, from there, to your next group of new best friends.

The Power of Testimonials: Who Are You Going to Believe?

Testimonial Button on a Keyboard
It’s 5:40 PM. You’re 75 minutes into an urgent search request. Your director just followed up for the second time, reminding you again that she needs the information for an early meeting tomorrow morning. The request is in an area you know fairly well, but all you can find is online sales brochures.

You’re just about to cancel your evening plans when, suddenly, it appears: A promotional piece that combines product information with clear, succinct, specific testimonials. They come from several satisfied customers, and the customers are identified by name and organization. They tell a compelling story. Best of all, one of the testimonials comes from an association executive you saw (and liked) on a conference panel last month.

Who are you going to believe? Which potential vendor or information source earned your attention, your respect and, most likely, your business?

Testimonials are among the most powerful forms of promotional content, powerful enough that it’s astonishing to see associations that don’t use them, frequently and effectively. Testimonials work because they have the power of “social proof”: rather than relying on what you say about your own organization or service, a testimonial tells the story from the recipient’s point of view. That shift in perspective is often what it takes to cut through the clutter of competing messages—including your own, if it isn’t interspersed with independent voices.

Working through trusted intermediaries to deliver an effective message isn’t a new idea. Researchers first came up with the two-step flow theory of communication in a study of the 1944 federal election in the United States when they found that “opinion leaders,” not media messages, were most likely to influence voting behaviour.

What is new is the information overload—the overload on top of overload—that we all experience, at work and at home, every waking minute of the day. In 2008, one television blog reported that the average U.S. consumer is exposed to 5,000 brand messages per day. Last year, an Internet application provider proudly (but perversely?) reported that it had distributed a billion text messages in a single day. No wonder we all think we need to scramble for visibility and audience share!

A short testimonial will help you catch a reader’s eye, whether they see it on your website or blog or in a promotional email. If the message is credible, it might hold their attention long enough to set you apart from the competition (even if the competition is between working with your association or doing nothing at all).

That means a testimonial program could give you an edge that makes all the difference for your next membership, conference, or trade show promotion.