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What Are They Telling You? Using Online Community Data to Create Experiences Your Members Will Love

Written by Julie Dietz on April 29, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Types of online community insights, and how to use online community activity data to improve the customer experience.

I may be dating myself, but see if you can place these lyrics:

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,

and they're always glad you came.

If you said it's a line from the Cheers theme song, you're right. If you didn't know it, hey, at least you're young.

This desire to be somewhere where people understand you, recognize you, and appreciate you, is intoxicating. It creates the notion of a place where you can let your guard down and be who you are.

While you may not want your members to feel that comfortable (who knows what would be shared on your online community if that happened), you do want them to feel like you understand their needs and are providing a personalized experience for them.

Why You Need to Personalize Your Online Community Experience for Customers or Members

Blame Amazon.

Large-scale retailers and e-commerce shopping experiences, Amazon especially, are setting the tone for your members' online expectations. They have so many personalized offers, workflows, and communication messages that cater to consumers' individual needs that people are starting to expect the same treatment from everyone, including you.

Download Your Free Report with 9 Low-Cost Member Engagement Strategies to Try Today

To keep up with your members' expectations, you need to tailor your offerings to each member. By customizing member experiences in your online community, on your website, and in your marketing and sales communication you help members feel appreciated and understood.

Before you can even think about personalizing your communication, however, you have to get to know your members so you really do understand their needs. Leverage activity data from your online community to gain insight into your members' pain points, interests, and intents, and use those insights to personalize your member experience.

You can begin your personalization efforts in two ways, through active and passive insights.

What Kind of Insights Can You Get from Your Online Community Data?

Active Insights

This information is derived from actively asking someone about their preferences. You can get active insights using surveys, exit polls, and findings from member advisory groups.

 If you're thinking about implementing new offers, programs, events, or revamping the member experience or membership tiers, begin with active insights so your members can tell you exactly what they think about the idea.

The downside of active insights is that they are limited to what members are aware of. Innovation isn't always explicitly stated, and just because your members don't ask for something directly, doesn't mean they don't need or want it. As Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.â€

So while active insights can help generate ideas, focus primarily on using active insights to gauge reactions after you have a vision or at least some market data to validate.

Passive Insights

Passive insights are the real magic of an online community. These are insights that are not explicitly spelled out, but can be found by looking at the activity data and analyzing patterns. Think of passive insights as market problems or opportunities that you can find through your online activity data without having to explicitly ask members any questions.

People react to problems and opportunities in their activity, such as searching for blog posts on how to use complex products. A piece of software with many different tools is one example.

Members searching for information on how to use software or software tools are not explicitly saying anything, but they're expressing a problem: the software is difficult to use. You now have the opportunity to provide helpful information on the best ways to use the software, or even to develop a more intuitive version of the software. All this can be learned just by evaluating daily community activity.

Analyze community data to learn about challenges and opportunities your members don't put into words. Use that information to anticipate needs and roll out improvements that will delight members.

How to Use What You Learn From Online Community Behavioral Data

Use #1) Effectively Engage Members

Both active and passive insights should be part of your online community engagement strategy. Use this information to find out what members explicitly enjoy from survey feedback, as well as what they implicitly enjoy, such as blogs that members don't talk about but have sky-high views or are the hottest discussion topics.

When you know what your members engage with, you can incorporate those features or content types into your engagement strategy to boost participate in the future. Take opposite steps for content that is not engaging members.

Use #2) Personalize Communication

Data allows you to know what no guru can tell you. Activity data in your community gives you insights into what your members want, including what types communication they want. Some of your members may enjoy weekly emails, others will hit delete without opening them. Some love events, others prefer online interaction.

Download Your Free Report with 9 Low-Cost Member Engagement Strategies to Try Today

Use your community members' activity data to personalize communication and content. For the member who loves events, send an email with information on upcoming registration periods or links to event speaker blogs. For those that prefer online interaction, give them information about ways that they can get involved and share their ideas in your online community.

Use #3) Create Custom Content and Programs

You can also employ data to give members more of the content and programs they like. If passive insights show that members love event wrap-up blogs, write more of them. If active insights contain requests for more professional development options, institute more training opportunities or mentoring programs.

Act on the insights your community's activity data provides, and give members custom content and programs that are hyper-relevant.

Use #4) Pinpoint and Nurture Ideal and At-Risk Customers or Members

With data you can recognize your “ideal†customer or member. From there, you can spend more of your recruiting efforts targeting people you know will be successful additions to your community.

For instance, you could analyze your renewals each year and isolate what activities the renewing members have in common. Do they come to your conference and write blogs about it? Do they participate in your online community every day? These are things data can tell you, and if you know what community activity correlates with renewals you can create a strategy to get more members to perform that activity. 

The ability to identify ideal community members, such as those who renew and engage, also means you can isolate disengaged members before they choose not to renew. Track patterns in your data to pinpoint at-risk members and reach out to them while there's still time to retain them.

Online Community Activity Data Takeaway

Personalized engagement will improve the member experience faster than generic programs will, and effective engagement is highly personalized. Until you start analyzing your own members and their online activity, you can't optimize your engagement tactics.

Analyzing your online community activity data is not a quick process, but it is worth it. Invest time to create systems to gather and analyze activity data now so that it can be effectively used for personalized communication and member engagement strategies in the future.

Create a place for your members where everybody knows their name (and what they like) and you'll see them returning over and over.

Nine low-cost member engagement strategies for associations.

Topics: Member Communities, Associations, Online Community Software, Member Experience

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