When I was in high school I was invited to one of those coveted boy-girl parties. It was a friend's birthday and she was making a big deal of everything, renting out an entire church hall for the event.
I was so excited.
But when I got there, everyone was clustered in small groups, barely talking. No one danced. No one laughed. No one engaged with one another. I went home after only an hour.
That party was a letdown, an important lesson that applies to member-based organizations.
If your members aren't interacting with your organization, then there's no reason for them to stay with you.
Engagement is critical. The time spent on social media and online communities is only effective if you're engaging your members and they are deriving value from it. But engagement is about more than getting members to interact with you and your staff. You also want them to interact with each other, network, post content, comment on content, share opinions, and create discussions. That's a tall order for any organization, especially if you already know you have engagement problems.
The easy answer is to take on one small task at a time to increase participation. These small tasks should build up to correct your existing problems, which usually come in two forms.
There are two types of engagement problems that you may notice in your member base.
True to their names, the difference between these two sets of problems is how large, or serious, they are.
Micro engagement problems are the small issues that you see at first glance when looking at events or your website, online community, social media posts, blog posts, and other content. Often, these micro problems are not serious and are easy to remedy. A few examples are low attendance at an event or a lack of participation in your community.
Macro engagement problems, on the other hand, are serious issues with the potential to affect multiple areas of your association, including renewals, referrals, and overall member satisfaction. Benefits that are no longer relevant, and thus not being used, are one example of a macro engagement problem with effects that can trickle down through all areas of your association.
Macro engagement problems may be systemic and fixing them often requires bigger changes over a longer period of time.
As industries, technology, and people change, chances are your association will run into both micro and macro engagement problems. If you have a macro problem, you may even find that it's causing micro problems as well. Regardless, try to identify problems and their causes as soon as possible so you can take steps to resolve the issue quickly.
Here are a few common examples of micro- and macro-engagement problems and how to fix them.
The most common places for micro engagement problems to come up are in your private online community, events, and on social media. If there's no platform for discussion between your members and all you hear are the proverbial crickets when you post to any of your profiles, you may have a micro engagement problem.
Your association should have an internet presence that includes a website, private member community, and social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. If you have all of these and are actively sharing content but not receiving any interaction, then you have a micro engagement problem.
Solution: Though community management is a complex subject, addressing a lack of interaction with your content starts with making sure you understand your members or customers: who they are, what they want, and what concerns them. Based on that information you should be sharing content that educates, inspires, or entertains on those topics. Every piece of content you create should provide value.
Track member activity data to determine what types of content gets your biggest shares and what flounders. Try experimenting with the days and times that you post. Change your schedule according to what you find is most effective.
If you don't have share buttons on your blog, if you've disabled comments, or created any other challenges to sharing, you can expect people will do less of it. It should be easy to share your content, express opinions through liking, and other social interaction.
Solution: Include social sharing buttons every time you create a piece of content that's available to the public. Your online community software should make it easy for you to control when and where you place these options, so that exclusive, members-only content can't be freely given to nonmembers.
One of the most common reasons people don't get engaged is because they don't know how to go about doing it. So they joined your association or bought your product. What then?
For most people, the chain of action stops at this point and it's your job to keep it going. You have to tell your members that there are more actions they can take, and that you have built out engagement opportunities in the forms of benefits, events, and online community discussions.
Solution: Remind people of how they can interact with you and make sure all of your members know how to best enjoy membership. Sometimes that involves giving direct assignments or using gamification or an activity passport to ensure members complete certain activities. You should also welcome all new members with an email campaign that contains direct calls-to-action to visit your community or register for your annual conference. The best calls-to-action will speak directly to your members' interests, and compel them to get involved.
Occasionally, member engagement issues stem from something much larger than a lack of knowing how to participate. They're based on something harder to repair. In these cases, the problem is more systemic that takes a bigger remedy. Here are three of examples of macro engagement
Sometimes your members just don't think your association is worth the investment anymore and they're simply waiting for the year to be up. If you have a lot of disengaged members, then your association may have a value proposition problem. You are no longer providing value to current and possibly future members, which may require an organizational shift including the creation of new, more relevant benefits.
Solution: Speak with your disengaged members directly and try to find out why they no longer see the value in your association. Is there anything you can do to improve their experience and give them more value?
While you can have a conversation with these members, often they're past that point of being able to make membership a good experience for them again. They are, however, valuable resources. Before you gently let these members go, ask them why membership has lost its luster. You can use that information to adapt, create more relevant benefits, and deliver more value in the future. The information you get from your disengaged members may even save other members.
Most associations offer fantastic programming but some have been conducting the same learning opportunities for years and they're no longer effective or interesting for members. This program disconnect may have caused members to check out and become uninterested. Ineffective programming is considered a macro engagement problem because it can often lead to disengagement and members no longer seeing value in your offers.
Solution: Keep your programming and educational courses up to date. Your association should be the first place members go to find updates on legislation, new technology, and emerging techniques in your field. The more relevant and updated your programming is, the more likely members are to recognize its value engage with it.
At one time, years ago, no one noticed if an organization was always talking about itself and providing content and information it wanted you to know. Now when someone does that, it becomes painfully obvious because it's no longer the norm.
Member expectations have changed. They no longer want to be talked to. They didn't join so it would be all about you. They want to be part of a two-way discussion.
Solution: Every interaction you have with a member should involve them. It should be focused on their concerns, interests, and needs. Your association will come into play when you communicate with members, but do so through the view of your members. Explain how your association solves their problems and meets their needs. These are much more member-centric conversations that showcase your value.
Improving member engagement is about spending more time providing what members want in a way that is appealing to them. But you can't do any of that if you don't know who your members are. Creating member profiles, evaluating their current engagement levels, and taking the time to clarify your members' needs will help you better understand how to interact with your audience.
Don't be afraid to make small changes to your engagement tactics to resolve micro engagement problems and take the time to make organizational shifts if you notice maco issues popping up. Adjusting your entire communication model or updating your full suite of programming is time and labor intensive, but it's one of the best ways to increase your relevancy.
As members see the value in your offers and connect with your association, they'll be more likely to respond to your engagement efforts.