Writer and programmer, Daniel Keys Moran, summed up one of the key dilemmas facing associations today when he said 'you cannot have information without data.'
Associations need information about their members so they can provide them with the best benefits and the most value. To make market-driven decisions, they need data on their members and which subjects they're interested in. What are their priorities, challenges, and motivations? What industry changes impact and concern them?
One of the most common ways to get that data is through market research, but studies can be time-consuming and expensive. So how do you know what your members want without putting time, energy, and resources into market research?
The answer is simple. Don't do a study. There are plenty of other professionals and organizations that have already done the market research, and are willing to give you their data for free. That information, along with the data that you already have, can tell you everything you need to know about your members.
To get the information you need to learn about your members, try using these three easy-to-access sources of market data.
The internet has vastly improved our access to information, and there are now dozens of free tools that you can use to find data relevant to your members. Here are three of our favorites.
Google Almanac - Google Almanac is a free tool that shows you how public behavior changes in response to seasons, events, and holidays. It's a great tool to use to find out how your members' needs may shift throughout the year, so you can give them the information they need at the time they need it.
American Fact Finder - As a source of US census data, American Fact Finder provides an easy way to sort through free census information to quickly find what you need. It's ideal for getting demographic information on your current and potential members, as well as changes in the overall population that may affect your association. For example, you could find out if your industry is growing or shrinking, and where in the country workers are concentrating.
FedStats - Another source of government data, FedStats puts statistics and data released from several federal agencies at your fingertips. The information is categorized in specific fields, including agriculture and energy, so this is a great resource for trade associations to use to find trends in their industries.
The most useful market data will be the information that's specific to your association and its members, and much of that information already lives in your AMS and online community software.
Your AMS is consistently collecting information about your members from the interactions they have with your association. Much of that information comes from your online community, online store, and membership tiers.
Online Community - Your online community provides some of the most comprehensive data on what types of subjects, content, and discussions your members are interested in. Look at blog views, file downloads, and discussion forums to see what members are prioritizing and interacting with the most. Content that gets the most views and comments likely focuses on the subjects your members see the most value in.
You can also look at prospect section of the community to find out what your potential members are interested in.
Online Store - What are your members willing to invest in further? Anything your members are willing to purchase for an additional fee is something that they feel strongly about. It might be an educational course, or an in-depth ebook on industry standards. If they're buying it, then it's important, and it may be worthwhile for you to create more content on similar subjects.
Membership - Your most popular membership types, or tiers, are where members find the most value. Are your members investing in virtual memberships or community-only options? Are they upgrading to your full yearly membership? Review the benefits included in your most popular membership options to find out what your members see the most value in and want access to.
Access or discounts to meetings are a popular benefit for association members. They also provide a wealth of information about member engagement and preferences. Who registered for and attended your events? Which sessions were the most crowded?
Start with broad questions to find out which members are interested in events, and what topics they want to hear about, then go deeper. Was a certain demographic represented more than others? Are events in certain areas more popular?
Don't limit yourself to only your association's events. Competitors, for-profit industry conferences, and popular business events are also valuable sources of data. What topics are these other events covering? Are they the same or different from your event? Which event is most popular?
To ensure you get the most information possible from industry events, consider monitoring social media with social listening tools. Attendees will post the conference and session information they found most useful on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which you can use as direct feedback about what they found most useful.
If you have questions about any of the market data you find using free tools, your AMS, or events, it may be worth your time to take a brief, easy foray into market research using surveys and polls.
Surveys and polls are tools that are included in the best membership management software, and make it easy for you to ask your members questions directly. Both surveys and polls are customizable so you can ask the exact questions you want answers to.
Surveys give you more in-depth options that are ideal for learning detailed member opinions on new initiatives, industry events, and content. For brief, concise feedback, use a multiple choice poll that member can complete in seconds.
The burden of market research doesn't have to fall on your association. There are many different companies and federal institutions that do market research consistently that you can take advantage of. You might even have a boatload of data right under your nose.
Information from your AMS software and association events is often high quality, and even more relevant than generalized market data. Using these sources of market data will save you time and money in conducting your own study, providing data that's reliable, and often tailored to your specific members.