When you host a golf tournament for different skill levels it's important for you include activities that fit everyone in attendance. If you don't, long-time golfers will grow bored from lack of a challenge. However, if you cater only to those with advanced skills, you likely frustrate those who are less experienced. It's a fine line to ensure everyone is comfortable and accommodated.
The same is true of your association's online community engagement plan. You need to create opportunities and features within the community that interest all stages in the member lifecycle.
Stages of the Member Lifecycle
Most associations have members in every lifecycle stage. An association's online member community platform provides the opportunity for you to engage your members, for them to connect with one another despite differences in membership stage or geographic location, and showcases features that meet their changing needs.
The following are common member lifecycle stages.
Stage 1) New Members
Members are onboarded in different ways due to their status or tier. A full-fledged member may come in differently than a student or junior member, but they will still be new and looking for ways to learn and get involved.
New members can start by creating their own profile in the community and then begin connecting with other members by using the search tool. To foster more lasting connections, consider creating a mentor program that might be of interest to this membership demographic.
Reading an association's content and historic conversations in an online community is also a good way to get to know the organization and the people who are involved in it. Content and conversations might be housed in a blog or digital library that allows new members get the resources they need to grow professionally. This content will help them better understand your mission and how they can be a part of it.
With a private online community, your newbies don't have to wait for the next meeting or conference to get involved and begin connecting. To encourage this engagement to continue, the organization should also stay in touch using a new member email drip campaign.
Stage 2) Regulars
Through ongoing engagement, a new member will become a regular who knows the ropes and has renewed their membership at least once. Regulars are the lifeblood of your association and probably your largest demographic, but they may also be your most at-risk. They're out of the honeymoon phase and still not fully established in their careers, so if you're not offering them value you're likely to see them leave.
Regulars are interested in different types of value such as continuing education credits or being able to build their personal brand by showcasing their knowledge. They make excellent guest posters and wiki page managers, so consider individual page ownership and participation in content committee advisory groups as outlets.
This group will also begin to take on leadership roles within your online community. Hopefully, they already joined the ranks of your volunteers or started serving on committees or task forces. To strengthen this active participation, incorporate referral programs into your community. The referral programs should maximize current connections between members and also provide opportunities for rising stars to be recommended for new advisory boards and to assume additional responsibility.
Understand that the desire to take on leadership roles at this stage may be about more than just helping the mission. Regulars may be looking for ways to improve their professional reputation and position themselves as thought leaders. Create opportunities for them to shine or risk losing them.
Stage 3) Veterans
As the regulars become more established and recognized in the association, some of them will ascend into specialty leadership, educational, or oversight roles. This group of senior members has a wealth of knowledge to contribute and are perfect leaders for elite online groups or discussion forums. Approach them about contributing content in the form of guest posts, educational documents, or webinars. Not only will your members benefit from their knowledge, the veterans will enjoy the spotlight and be flattered by your interest in them.
Parts of this group may also be interested in reverse mentoring opportunities or ambassadorships to help newbies get acclimated. Make sure your online community provides ways for these veterans to get in touch with new members who are interested in learning more.
Stage 4) Ex-Officio and Retired Members
The final membership stage is an ex-officio member, which occurs as members retire from their chosen profession. Over the course of their member lifecycle, they (ideally) will have become more engaged and committed to your association and achieved some level of leadership.
When members retire from their jobs many of them want to stay connected. Your association's online community software helps them remain involved and up-to-date with what's going on in your association whenever they'd like.
Email notifications and newsletters can keep them in touch even when they're not signing in every day. Plus, having access to your association's information anywhere they have an Internet connection keeps them in touch regardless of where their travels take them.
They can also still be a part of shaping the association's future through voting or polls. In the case of non-voting or ex-officio members, you needn't worry about them seeing a poll or vote they're ineligible to participate in. You can use your online community software to control their permissions access accordingly.
Member Lifecycle Takeaway
Not only does your online community platform help you stay connected, it provides a member experience that's specifically tailored to the unique needs of each member's place in the lifecycle.
During each phase, your online community generates personalized data and reports that will help your association identify more of members' needs and what they enjoy. Data from their continuing activity will help you understand how you can better serve, involve, and engage them as they move through the member lifecycle.