Developing a growth strategy for your association takes time. It takes hours of debating the best methods to use to reach prospective members, and days of content creation and campaign management. It's stressful. And it could all boil down to nothing if you don't use tactics that are effective.
But what tactics are effective? Member retention? Member acquisition? A balanced, comprehensive growth strategy will include a mix of both. Today, we're going to focus on member acquisition and how associations can effectively reach potential members and convince them to join.
Unfortunately, attracting and converting new members can be challenging, especially when there are so many ways you could be reaching them.
- Should you contact prospects by email?
- Send out advertisements or traditional mail?
- What about promotional events?
It's difficult to know which of these channels is most effective.
Competition is also steep. The networking opportunities and content that, traditionally, were only available through your association are now accessible through other online channels.
However, the outlook isn't all bleak and you don't have to test every communication channel to find out the best way to reach your prospects. Instead of testing things out yourself, you can learn from fellow associations. The member acquisition strategies and outreach methods that worked for your peers may work for you as well.
Information on the tactics other associations are using is readily available in the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General. Let's take a look at the top methods other associations are using to get new members.
The Top 3 Ways Associations Recruit New Members
The Membership Marketing Report is built on survey responses from more than a thousand associations. In the survey, associations were asked to select the communication channels that brought in the most new members. Here are the three that worked best for both trade and individual associations.
Way #1) Increase Peer Recommendations
People trust their peers, which is why it shouldn't be surprising that the most effective channel for increasing member acquisition was recommendations. 69% of associations reported that word of mouth and recommendations brought in the largest amount of new members.
Your association can use word of mouth to increase member acquisition through a combination of in-person and virtual referral programs. In-person programs might include traditional refer-a-friend rewards, while online efforts could make use of your association's community or private social networking site.
Private social networking sites and online communities may be particularly effective for increasing recommendations. 63% of the associations who use digital marketing also listed association sponsored social networking sites as a top member acquisition channel.
To follow in the footsteps of your digital marketing peers, create a public section in your online community where current members can connect with interested prospects. Encourage your members to share positive experiences, make content recommendations, and talk about the benefits of membership to prospects. Their discussions could have a noticeable impact on your member acquisition efforts.
Way #2) Focus on Email
Email came in as the second best way to improve member acquisition, with 56% listing it as an effective member recruitment channel. According to the survey, email is effective in bringing in domestic and international members, so it may be a good choice for associations with chapters around the world.
To make the most of email recruitment, create targeted email campaigns that include offers relevant to your prospects. To find the right offers, however, you have to know what your prospects are interested in, so start by gathering data. The public or prospect sections of your website and online community will likely have most of the information you need, such as page visits, content consumption, and online store purchases.
The activity data will give you valuable insight into your prospects' interests, and what benefits may appeal to them most. Based on their interests, send your prospective members emails with the content and offers that are most relevant for them. For example, if you have a prospect who regularly visits your professional certification pages, you can email them two blog posts on how the certification process works. To encourage your prospect to join, make sure they know that members have full access to even more details on certification, as well as the certification program itself.
Way #3) Promotion at Conferences and Events
In the membership marketing report, associations reported that effectively explaining their value to members and prospects is a top challenge. That may be one reason that almost a third of associations also reported taking advantage of their own conferences and events to recruit new members.
At first, using what are traditionally seen as member-focused events to convert prospects may seem a little backward, but your association's events are a prime recruitment tool. Why? Because they clearly articulate your value. Events highlight your association's knowledge and relevance with expert advice, professional development sessions, and networking opportunities, giving prospects plenty of reasons to join.
You can use your events to promote membership by emailing your prospect list and encouraging them to attend your events. Place a teaser in the public section of your website to nudge prospects toward your event as well. As always, make sure your events feature sessions with top experts and your best content in order to clearly communicate value to prospects once they arrive.
Expert Tip: Don't stop with events. Consider how you can effectively communicate your value in other member acquisition campaigns as well. You could highlight your best content through emails or encourage your current members to recommend the most popular blogs to prospects, for example. By improving how well you communicate value, you could increase the efficacy of all your member acquisition campaigns.
Member Acquisition Strategy Takeaway
The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights positive and negative trends in the association space, and one of the most positive takeaways is that associations are growing. There's a market for the benefits and connections that associations offer, you just need to find the best way to promote your organization.
Encouraging recommendations, focusing on email recruitment campaigns, and promoting your association during events are a few of the most effective tactics that organizations are using to promote themselves and recruit new members.
Consider incorporating these tactics into your growth strategy, and to make them even more effective, focus on value. The clearer your value is to prospective members, the more likely it is that they will join your association.