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The Two Secrets of Member Engagement From An Engaged Member

“You can learn to be a great public speaker!” That’s all I needed to see to know that I had to find out more. Throughout my career I have done a fair amount of public speaking usually to teams of about 15 people and a few times at company-wide events with an audience in the hundreds. I mastered the basics: organization, preparation and effective slides.  The piece that was missing for me, the skill that I needed to learn to be a truly effective speaker, was to learn how to be not so boring. Boring? Yep! The speaking I had done was boring. The topics and the material were informational but not all that interesting.

I’m putting boring behind me. I know that I have an important story to tell and to do that I need be a better storyteller. I have found a place to learn and practice my public speaking skills in my local Toastmasters club. I’ve been a member for one year and I believe I will still be a member ten years from now. I’m engaged and this is why…

The secret to member engagement is… connecting in those first critical interactions.

Our Toastmasters group encourages anyone to attend a meeting or two for free to see what it is all about. I didn’t need the second meeting because I was hooked at the first.
  • I was welcomed – As I walked through the door a couple of members welcomed me and introduced themselves.  A few talked to me longer to find out what my goals were and told me how Toastmasters helped them. My impression from the start was the group exuded a warm, friendly, collegial feeling. How about appointing a welcoming committee to every event in-person and online. Are you wondering how to do this online? See how @kikilitalien does it at the #AssnChat on Twitter Tuesdays at 2PM.
  • I could see the way to solve my problem – During my first visit I saw speakers addressing the same issues I wanted to solve. I watched members practicing, trying, failing and succeeding. I noticed that the members were at all levels of expertise. I heard speakers getting encouragement and feedback so they knew precisely how to improve. I could feel the supportive environment. Know what your new member’s biggest problem to solve is and simply communicate to them, even demonstrate to them, how you solve their problem. 
Toastmasters connected with me and I connected with Toastmasters. How can you foster a connection like this with prospective members? What ways can you make them feel welcome? How can you tell them the story they need to hear about how you can help them solve their problem?

The secret to member engagement is… making it easy to engage.
  • There is a clear path to follow – New members get a guidebook that outlines the goals and requirements of their first 10 speeches. While the topic selection is all mine I have a structure that allows me to play with the different elements of public speaking – organization, body language, strong openings, etc. Reaching the achievable but substantial goal of completing my first 10 speeches keeps me moving forward. Give your members a path to follow through your benefits based on their current need. For example, new-to-the-profession? Here are the top 5 association resources that members like you get the most value from. 
  • I see benefits beyond those that I came for – When I joined I was singularly focused on improving my public speaking. At one meeting another member told us that she noticed that not only has her public speaking improved but her communication skills in one-on-one conversations became better as well. Recently I started noticing the same. I’m getting more value from Toastmasters than I originally thought.  As new members try the more basic benefits introduce them to a few more benefits that will solve their newest problems. 
Once members join give them a clear path to follow. They will avoid engaging if they are presented with all 25 of your member benefits. They only want to know about those few benefits that will help them solve their most pressing problem. As your member samples the basics slowly introduce them to another benefit that helps them solve their newest problem.

What are the two secrets to member engagement? First understand your potential member’s problem and then deliver a series of first impressions that establish a connection with them. Second keep helping your members solve their newest problem.

Amanda Kaiser helps associations understand their member’s most critical problems. You can find Amanda writing on her blog on association marketing, innovation and engagement and on Twitter @SmoothThePath.

The Secret to Member Engagement Is…Acting!

Member Engagement is SUCH a hot topic – we all want it, know that the association needs it to survive, but don’t know what to do about it.

XYZ University has defined Member Engagement as “the emotional commitment the member has to the association and its mission”.  Great definition.  So, now we know what it is, but how do we get it?  By acting!  Here are 6 ways that you can achieve engagement, if done properly:

  1. Member Surveys:  Outreach via survey can provide any organization with the feedback that they are looking for.  Most organizations offer surveys via an online only model, and are satisfied with 15-25% response rates.  But what you are getting are those who are already really engaged with your association, and those who are not satisfied with their membership and want to express it.  What can (and, should) be done with surveys is outline in your message why you are asking for this information, and what the association will do with the results.  Follow up with members by phone to get the maximum response rate (I have seen this go as high as 50%).  Then, ACT on the feedback you receive, and make the changes – quickly if you can.
  2. Interactive websites are a must.  You should have a website that is easy to search, with clean lines of information.  It should not take a member 10 minutes to find what they are looking for, and it should be a modern design, not something that is outdated.  Follow website trends, and make updates and changes to the design annually.
  3. Email marketing is very popular with associations, and if done right, can truly engage your members.  It is important for an organization not to operate in silos to make this work; instead, understand what every department needs to achieve through email marketing, and streamline the messages.  I know of one organization that operates in silos, and as a result, members can get up to 10 emails per week from the association.  They (members) as a result have tuned out and are missing important stuff. Don’t be that guy.
  4. Social Media can truly engage a significant portion of your membership.  We highly recommend an 80/20 split of posts (80% information sharing, 20% promotion), and that you have a person dedicated to checking back in often so that messages are returned, and conversations are fluid.
  5. Segment Your Membership!  Some of your members want to know and hear everything about you, others don’t.  If you cannot (or simply don’t want to at this time) change your membership model to customize membership, then the least you can do is customize communication.  Determine interests and communication preferences, and only send them the information they want and need.
  6. Get on the content train:  Content can be very powerful for an association.  Managing a blog, posting more whitepapers and research (either produced by you or by your members and stakeholders) will ensure that your members continue to feel that you are the first point of reference for the industry.  Don’t let other organizations steal your members’ attention away because they provide information that you don’t.

Have you implemented any of the above to create and maintain engagement?  

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Is "Engagement" Just Another Buzzword for Your Association?

Our team has been hard at work organizing The Engaging Association Summit, "consuming" any article or research paper about engagement and how to create it in a business and association setting.

But my heart sank when I saw the latest cover of The Meetings Professional, MPI's monthly magazine.  When I read the headline, "How molecular gastronomy can breed engagement at your events," I feared that engagement is in danger of becoming just another buzzword.

Let's be clear: I love food, and this is a great article about getting people to interact at events. But does getting people talking about food really constitute engagement?

What is engagement anyway?  Google pulls up many definitions of the word including, "a formal agreement to get married" and even "a fight or battle between armed forces".  No wonder there's confusion!

The origin of the word that caught my eye.  Apparently somewhere in the 17th century the French verb engager (which still means "to pledge" today) was adopted into the English language.  The noun engagement began to refer to a "legal or moral obligation." We might be getting closer...

In the workplace engaged employees are thought to be "fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work, taking positive action to further the organization's reputation and interests."  There's lots of research linking employee engagement and business performance.

But it's often "easier said than done."  A few years ago we had a problem with employee engagement in our company.  People were at work, but they seemed "checked out" in many ways.  I knew there was a problem but things didn't get better until I, as the owner of the company, became more engaged with our employees.  I soon realized then that engagement is not something you "fix" and then move onto the next thing. It's something you have to practice every day and that's not easy.

So we're back to engagement as a pledge, a commitment, or a practice.  What does this mean in the context of associations? As association leaders, how do we engage staff?  What can staff do when their own boards aren't engaged?  And how can associations foster engagement with their members, sponsors and exhibitors?

These are some of the issues I hope we can explore together on July 24-25, and through ongoing posts in this blog.  Look for the tag "What is engagement?"

P.S.  We can't promise you molecular gastronomy, but I promise we'll make sure you get food you can talk and rave about!

Managing through the Marketing Sea Change

Meredith Low provided this guest post.  She is a management consultant, focusing on helping organizations and companies understand how, when, and where to grow in the context of fast-changing environments. Her work with associations includes leading strategic and tactical planning, performing assessments to position conferences and meetings for growth and durability, and assessing the needs of members and other stakeholders.

Marketing is undergoing a radical shift, from qualitative to quantitative. The characters from Mad Men would be completely befuddled in a modern marketing department, and not just because of the computers, but because of the fundamental approach to marketing has changed.

But we don’t even have to go that far back. I have a good friend who got through her entire marketing MBA, in the early years of the 21st century, without ever once opening Excel.

These days, that doesn’t sound remotely feasible, nor would it be at all smart. (It wasn’t then, either.)

It’s projected that within the next few years marketers will drive more technology spending than the IT department. Companies like SAP (an enterprise software company) and IBM are shifting their focus to sell to the Chief Marketing Officers, as the CMOs grapple with both their information generation and demand.  Notice in this video series that not only is SAP the sponsor, but the CMOs are focusing on the impact of new technologies and social changes not just on their target market but on their own operations as well.

Associations are facing the same fundamental shift in membership marketing and engagement, but on a different timeline. Because many associations are addressing relatively constrained markets within specific industries or professional designations, they’ve been relatively insulated from the speed of change in the marketing world.

This may turn out to be an advantage, since associations then have more time to see the changes coming and adapt intelligently. However, this change is so radical, this still means a rapid and possibly difficult transition.

So, how can we be effective in managing membership marketing and engagement in this new context?

Are we asking the right questions?  
We should be figuring out our priorities at the marketing level based on our fundamental strategies. Do we want more members, a deeper relationship with our members, or both, or something else entirely?

New technologies can make different things possible (e.g. scaling up an intense member engagement model with fewer resources), so those innovations should be uncovered and understood in the strategy-setting process. But innovation can’t take place in a vacuum, either. Without understanding what’s desirable, we just get lost in what’s possible and run the risk of pursuing the latest shiny object.

Are we getting all the answers we can?  
There are myriad sources of data that associations aren’t taking full advantage of already. As Associations Now points out, building member tracking into design means we can understand how they engage with us and what they think of us without having to survey them.

Are we keeping track?
As marketing gets more data-driven, this raises the question of reporting. Consider whether a comprehensive dashboard would be a useful task, so that people can see how things are going on one page or screen. Often we’re going to one source for one piece of information, and another source for another, which can be time-consuming and makes comparison very difficult. A dashboard can free up time and mindshare for bigger-picture items. It takes time to pull together, but is often worth the investment.

Are we buying too many black boxes?  
As with anything we’re unsure of, it’s tempting to let others – employees, but especially vendors – take care of the problem for us, without delving too deeply into the guts. There are those who believe that everyone should learn to code. This may be going a bit far, but given that many of the new marketing tools involve new platforms, new technologies, new ways of working, it’s important for those making decisions about them to at least take a look at them.

If we find ourselves getting a bit vague about something that’s taking on increasing strategic importance, it’s time to get our own Twitter account, or have the vendor really walk us through how the database really works, or ask our analyst exactly how they decide who gets which email. A vendor or employee who can’t explain what they’re up to can create huge issues down the road. 

    The no-new-normal new normal 
    The marketing revolution is far from over. For all of the changes that have happened in the broader world of marketing in the past decade, the next decade shows no signs of being any less turbulent. It’s a challenge for organizations but also for individuals to keep adapting and learning. What’s exciting about it is the broader scope of opportunity to make marketing more effective, relevant, and integral to the success of the organization.

    Canadian #Association Execs: #Marketing & Engagement Study Now Open (2014 Pulse Report)

    Mini Greenfield
    Greenfield Services Inc, in collaboration with Advanced Solutions International and Smarter Shift, is pleased to announce that the 3rd Annual Benchmarking Study of Membership Marketing & Engagement Practices in Canada is officially underway! Our 2013 Pulse Report had over 170 responses to the initial survey, with an additional 100 downloads of association executives interested in the results!

    We have launched the survey now to ensure that results are ready in time for Greenfield's inaugural association event, the Engaging Association Summit.

    Many of my conversations with Association Executives still focus on concerns with engagement, and how recruitment, e-communication and social media strategies can help move the needle of success. We would like to benchmark where your organization currently stands with membership practices in general, so that we can compare this year’s results with past reports, and see what other issues can be addressed.

    Last year, the survey produced a lot of blog content on Education and Networking, Disconnects on Member Retention, and how Associations are Scrambling to Do More With Less.  We also started producing infographics on Association Goals and Objectives, Member Relationships, Membership Growth, and Social Media.

    I invite you to join your industry peers by providing your input by following the link below. The study takes approximately 35 minutes to complete. Your input is very important and it will be kept strictly confidential. Results will be reported in aggregate and will not identify any specific response or respondent. 

    The survey is open until Friday, June 6, 2014, with results being available in July 2014. All respondents will receive a copy of the report, once available. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly, I would be happy to chat further!

    Meagan Rockett
    Director, Client Solutions
    Greenfield Services Inc.
    866-488-4474 ext 4517

    Engaging the Passive Learner

    Why is engaging the passive learner important? Just as learning can be contagious, one passive learner can spread their apathetical outlook on to peers, colleagues, and friends. Your organization may have thousands of members, or maybe only a few hundred, regardless you cannot hunt down every single member that is not actively participating in your online education programs.

    What you can do is create an engaging environment where members will want to return, time and time again, for continuing education and professional development.

    Here are some ways to foster engagement in your online learning:

    Create a learning community. As an association, you already know a thing or two about what it means to be a community.  Bring some of the elements that encourage networking in your association into your online education. Integrate discussion boards and social media into your learning management system (LMS) or course assignments to help create a social atmosphere, and a place where members want to visit and participate in the discussions.

    Stand-up learners should standout. Be sure to recognize and reward those members that regularly participate in your learning community and demonstrate the types of behaviors you want others to mimic. One way to recognize top contributors is to create a weekly spotlight for the member that logged in the most or contributed valuable information. Recognition and rewards brings me to my next tip, competition.

    Create friendly competition.  Personally, I strive on competition and rewards, and if there is a contest, I am usually the first in line. At the same time, I also catch myself slacking off or putting off an assignment from time to time. That’s right folks, the “competitive lazy member” does exist and there are probably several in your association.  Here is a tip for enticing those learners who may need an extra push – create a contest which rewards the member with the highest “pulse” score or the member who recruits the most friends to join the learning community. Gamification has been proven to increase engagement and loyalty for business and programs of all types, gamify your eLearning and watch as members compete to earn their place on your “Leaderboard.”

    Be supportive and responsive.  Make a conscious effort to open yourself up for members to voice their  questions or concerns. I know what you are thinking, “I do not have the time to take that many phone calls.” Instead, utilize the messaging center in your LMS or association management system (AMS). Usually a short and sweet response will satisfy the member, and it demonstrates that your association cares about its members. Just be sure you are consistent and quick to respond. This will give learners the reassurance that they are not in it alone and create a deeper attachment with your association and its online learning programs.

    Provide self-paced learning opportunities.  The most important thing you can do for a member is let them learn at their own pace. Everyone learns differently, and while this can be hard to manage, it can mean a world of difference for the success of your online learning program. Something as simple as turning a live webinar into a recorded webinar allows busy learners to pause and come back to the information as they wish. This can be especially important for the learners that need extra time to absorb dense content or who like reviewing materials at a later date.

    For even more tips on how to increase awareness of your association’s education products, check out “Five Ways to Market Your eLearning on a Budget”,  just one of the many helpful posts in Digitec’s Association eLearning Blog.

    This post was provided by Sarah Lugo, the Digital Marketing Coordinator for Digitec Interactive. She comes from the nonprofit sector and has worked in communications for several associations in the past. Sarah loves working with eLearning since it allows her to express her passion for technology and enjoys of learning.

    Image provided by cuteimage /