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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.