Running a private online community for your association comes with its fair share of decisions"”from the daily steering of the community to quarterly strategic adjustment. In fact, managing your association's online member community is often viewed as a microcosm of overall association management. As an association executive, it's your job to make the choices that will keep your association members engaged and looking to your community as a valuable resource.
However, without the right information driving those decisions, the choices that come with managing an association (or an online member community) can seem overwhelming.
Together, they've created, "Getting to the 'Good Stuff': Evidenced-Based Decision Making for Associations." While their paper discusses how to make decisions using data for your association as a whole, their information applies almost directly to online community management.
When you develop a stronger understanding of how your members behave in your community and why, you can make the decisions that help to optimize their experience with your organization. Associations and other sophisticated membership organizations have traditionally used demographic data (who they are) and transactional data (what they purchased or registered for) to create predictive conclusions. However, this does not give you the complete picture.
By coupling these data elements with the social and behavioral data in your private online member community, you greatly increase your understanding of members' goals, interests, and situations. Associations that combine all three types of data have a greater likelihood of giving members exactly what they want when it comes to member benefits, events, and other engagement opportunities.
According to Houstler and Engel, the answer is BIG Data. To put this widely-used buzzword simply, Big Data attempts to tell a complete story of your target audience by collecting a wide range of data from multiple different sources.
Since your association's online member community draws data from every action your members take (or don't take), you're collecting a great deal of demographic, transactional, and behavioral data in hopes of drawing a more complete picture of their membership needs, challenges, and motivations.
As Houstler and Engel discuss on the second page of their document, Big Data is important because it achieves these five "Vs":
These elements mean that big data is abundant, quick, comes in many different formats, is easily proven truthful, and can have immense value to the experience of both your members and your association as a whole.
Using data from your private online community to make evidence-based decisions for your association or membership organization isn't just for your sake or for the sake of your members - everybody wins.
By using the data your members automatically provide you by their activity in your community, you can make more informed choices that reflect their preferences and needs - both online and offline.
When your online community is of greater value to your association members, they're more likely to be further engaged and active. You can then leverage that engagement to meet the larger goals of your association - whether it's increased attendance at events, higher member retention, or another type of revenue goal.
So, what do you need to know about leveraging data to make better decisions? Let's examine some of the big takeaways from the whitepaper.
When you use data from your online community software platform to help inform both strategic and tactical decisions, you can avoid wasting your time. By having a stronger understanding of how your members behave and how they will behave in the future, you can provide them with the type of member experience they seek, without having to rely as strongly on trial and error.
Houstler and Engel point to eight qualities that make data high quality:
By focusing your data collection on "clean" data, you can avoid making unnecessary mistakes, wasting time with rework, or going down the wrong path based on an incomplete representation of information.
Your data can tell you a lot, but it can't tell you everything. You know your audiences, goals, and business processes best. It is important to bring that experience into the analysis of your raw data.
In order to really understand what the data you collect is telling you and - to begin making critical evidence-based decisions - you're going to have to use your experience and intuition to interpret the larger picture your data is informing.
In this step, individual pieces of data can be interpreted to look for patterns and purpose. By integrating your subject matter expertise and institutional knowledge intuition into your data analysis processes, you can analyze what causes certain responses and what your data might mean on a larger scale.
Using online community data to make evidenced-based decisions isn't easy. There will likely be times where you're tempted to make a snap decision that doesn't involve collecting information, then analyzing and drawing conclusions from that information.
In these moments, it can be difficult to remember why you're doing what you're doing. Committing to an agreed-upon process for making data-backed decisions is the only way to consistently see quality results.
A big frustration for associations when it comes to data collection is getting it all in one place to see the complete picture. For instance, your association might store your data in different places depending on where it comes from. The data collected in your community might not be easily integrated with data collected internally or externally through various departments and systems.
However, by using data mining to collect your data in your association management software, CRM system, or a separate data warehouse, you can make interpreting it less intimidating, more efficient to help you to have a full, clear picture of your members.
Houstler and Engel cover even more helpful information on why making data-driven decisions is important for your association and how to do so in their whitepaper. We highly recommend checking it out. These are super-smart people and, at Socious, we have known and trusted their research and insight for a long time.
Your association's private online community collects a host of analytics that provide insight into the habits and behaviors of your members. By using that information to inform the decisions you make as you manage and grow your organization, you can create a content, resources, and programs that better serve that needs of your members.