Higher Logic Blog

Where Do Associations Get the Most ROI from Private Online Communities?

Written by Joshua Paul | April 30, 2014 at 5:35 PM

Building community and generating member engagement fuel almost every business objective for your association. This includes producing research and content, advocating for your members, and continuing to provide education, support, and networking opportunities for your industry.

Without engaged members, your association has more difficulty efficiently serving its mission. In a way, your members define you. Members' interests, participation, and support (in the form of time and revenue) make what your association does possible. The degree to which members are engaged affects everything from legislative wins to event attendance to member retention rates.

How Does Building Community Impact Organization-Level Goals

Even if you're familiar with private online communities and their potential to increase member engagement in your association, convincing your executive team and board members to invest in such a broad platform can be a hard sell.

There are certainly other options to boost member engagement that you can invest in that would also have a strong return on investment (ROI), so why should you choose a private online community?

Well, we can't tell you absolutely that you should.

Online communities aren't always the right fit for every association. However, since the platform is so flexible, the potential is vast. Private social networks offer membership organizations so many options to address specific strategies and objectives, it's worth investigating.

Is a Private Online Community Right for Your Association?

In determining if a private social network is a wise investment for your association at this time, there are two important factors to keep in mind.

  1. Will creating a member community solve my most important challenges?
  2. How can I clearly explain my strategy to my association's leadership?

While the many different uses for online communities are a strong selling point, they can also make the process of determining the best path for your association even more confusing. The last thing you want when pitching a private online community for your association is to overwhelm your board members with all the different goals that the platform can help your organization achieve.

To help you determine if a private online member community aligns with your association's top priorities, we've laid out specific areas to focus on when you're making your plans and selling the concept of a private online community internally. To help make your pitch, we've identified the top three areas where associations have found the most return of their investment in private online communities.

ROI Area #1) Increased Member Value.

Back in 2011, we reported on a study that found the number one reason members don't renew their membership is a perceived lack of value. You never want your members to ask themselves, "Why am I a member?"

Just as your association is determining the ROI of creating a private online community, your members are also questioning the ROI of their membership.

Learn 9 Low-Cost Member Engagement Strategies

Each year that their membership comes up for renewal, they're questioning whether the benefits your association has to offer are worth the membership dues.

Alignment With the Things Members Want

Online communities align with what many members say that they value. They create opportunities for networking, grant access to exclusive content, and provide educational opportunities your members might not be able to get elsewhere.

The Power of Metcalfe's Law

Private social networks and communities also have a secret superpower. As your members receive value from your community, they'll also bring value to your community in how they network and interact with each other. The connections members make and the discussion they have are often the most uniquely valued aspect of a private online community. Bonding with other members creates a sense of loyalty and responsibility to a community, which can also positively affect retention.

The value and flexibility your private online community brings to associations is the reason many members need to continue their membership from year to year.

ROI Area #2) Member Engagement.

Without member engagement, your association won't get the revenue and retention rates you need. If your members aren't engaged, they won't even bother utilizing the value you're providing.

Ongoing Engagement

A private online community allows you to cater value to your members' specific needs, which encourages them to be more engaged than ever. Rather than a conference that happens just once a year, an online community provides a year round opportunity for members to connect with your association and each other.

Momentum from Social Engagement

Engagement works as a domino effect"”as more members become more involved in your online community and your association, they'll inspire other members to do the same, creating a slow wave of engagement that brings added value.

Higher Conversion Rates

Consistent member engagement also allows your organization to maintain strong relationships with your members, so they'll be more likely to convert when you need them to. Let's say you're promoting an event you want members to sign up for or conducting a survey where you need their feedback. Your private online community provides a platform that makes it easy to access your members. Since they're already engaged with the exclusive value you've been providing for them, more members are poised to participate and convert on calls-to-action.

ROI Area #3) Non-Dues Revenue.

Beyond simply increasing engagement and offering more value, a private member community can also generate significant non-dues revenue for your association. In addition to standard advertising, there are several other ways your membership organization can generate revenue through your private online community.

Event Attendance

Online communities help raise awareness and excitement for your events. For instance, we often see conference and event attendance increase as a result of more members being engaged year-round. Your members will also look forward to attending and meeting the other members they've networked with through your online community.

Learn 9 Low-Cost Member Engagement Strategies

New Sponsorship Opportunities

With an online community, your sponsorships won't have to be limited to traditional offline event sponsorship. Instead, you'll have new opportunities for online sponsorship through your community.

Online Vendor Programs

Many membership organizations also create vendor programs that give access to your online community to companies in your industry. Partnering with vendors provides added value to your members while also generating more revenue for your organization.

Virtual Membership Programs

Creating a virtual community for your members also opens the door to an option for virtual membership. If you have international members who know they'll likely never be able to take advantage of in-person events, you can offer a discounted virtual membership and extend your reach of your organization.

Association Private Online Community ROI Takeaway

Your association thrives at the hands of the community you've built and the level of engagement your members enjoy. Your organization has a lot of options for providing value to members and keep them engaged.

At this time, creating an online community for members may or may not be the right strategic decision for your association. When evaluating your options and setting your plan, keep in mind the primary strategies that private online communities support - creating meaningful value, maintain high levels of engagement, and open new revenue streams. These areas help deliver a ROI for your association that can affect nearly every business objective you have.