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How to Use Your Online Community to Better Understand Your Chapters

Written by Julie Dietz on October 24, 2017 at 8:30 AM

5 steps for using your online community to understand your association's chapters

Less than half of associations measure key financial or programming metrics for their chapters, according to Mariner Management’s 2016 Chapter Benchmarking Report.

Despite making up such a large part of organizations – the median number of chapters in an association is 51 – that means organizations know very little about their chapters. How are chapter members interacting? What are their priorities? How well are chapters performing?

It’s easy to understand the reason for this knowledge gap. Chapters and other association groups often act independently of headquarters, disconnecting you from what they are doing and how well they’re doing it. Fortunately, by leveraging your online community, it’s easy to reconnect and learn about your chapters’ interests and activities.

Here are five steps for using your online community to get to know your chapters, as well as how you can use that information to forge stronger relationships with them.

5 Steps to Learn about Your Chapters

1. Create Communities for Chapters and Committees

The first step to learning about your chapters is to stop lumping them in with your larger association all the time. Give chapters a dedicated space of their own where they can focus on their members and their priorities. Online community software makes this easy by giving you the ability to create private communities for different groups. Chapters, committees, volunteers, events, and special projects can all have their own communities with content and activities that are customized to their needs.

Create communities for each of your chapters, allowing them to personalize their homepages with different activities, ads, and content that’s relevant for their members. Interactions and data that happen in these communities will naturally be filtered by chapters, letting you get to know each group individually.

Expert Tip: You can set up multiple communities immediately, but if you’re new to the online community sphere, we often recommend starting with just one community and open discussion forum. This concentrates engagement in one area and helps your members get used to the community. As members and volunteer leaders become more comfortable, you can start adding private communities for groups.

2. Establish Local Leaders and Community Administrators

Chapter leaders are used to taking charge of their members, so empower them to do the same with their private chapter community. If they feel that one topic in your association is more important than another, let them focus on that topic. Chapter leaders should drive discussions and priorities in the community in the same way they do their offline events and activities, choosing the subjects that their members are most interested in.

By giving chapter leaders the reigns, you lessen the workload on your headquarters staff while showing chapters you trust them. You’re providing the tools they need to succeed, not micromanaging. It’s this level of freedom that will allow your association to learn about chapters. After all, you can’t understand your chapters if all they do is follow your instructions.

3. Listen and Gather Data

Once chapters have taken charge, watch where they take their communities. They may go in different directions than what your association expected – that’s okay. As long as each chapter’s overarching goals align with your association’s mission, let them pursue their own priorities.

As your chapters move forward with their own agendas in their communities, they’ll generate activity data including information on members, volunteering, event participation, discussions, file uploads, and more that can be shown in reports, helping you learn what’s important to each group.

The best online community software will automatically collect this data for you, displaying it in customizable dashboards. Some of the most common community dashboard information includes:

  • Members who have joined and left
  • Retention
  • Membership growth
  • Volunteering (such as dollars contributed)
  • Event participation

4. Analyze Data and Identify Trends

Use the data from chapter communities to learn about each individual group, including how they’re performing and which programs or member benefits are most important to them. Reports on membership growth and retention will help you see which groups are keeping their members and attracting new ones. Reports on volunteering and event participation, as well as discussion posts and topics, will help you learn how active each chapter is. The most popular topics also indicate subjects that chapter members find important.

When you understand groups individually, compare them to identify major patterns. If all your chapters are discussing professional education, for instance, then that may be something that members of your association as a whole find valuable. It may be worth devoting more resources to professional development.

Chapters will likely focus on slightly different things and have different participation levels, however, so note differences as well. These will help you personalize communication with chapters in the future.

5. Personalize Communication and Resources to Build Better Relationships

Just giving chapters the tools to engage their members, communicate online, and track results on their own is a good start to building stronger relationships with your groups. This may even be the first time that many chapters have detailed reporting tools dedicated to just their members. That’s a major step forward.

You can take this farther by using what you learn from chapter data to provide additional support, such as content and interactive tools, for each chapter based on what their members have shown interest in. You can also engage chapter members and leaders in conversations about what they’ve been doing lately and how successful they’ve been. Whether they happen over email, via phone, or at your annual conference, these conversations will show chapter leaders that you’re paying attention. You understand what’s important to them and are there to help.

Make Your Chapters a Priority

Your chapters make up a major part of your association. Don’t let their critical member and organizational data slip through the cracks. Use the tools in your online community software to automatically collect and organize chapter data into easily-consumable formats that you can act upon. As you learn about chapters and provide a better experience for them, you’ll also improve your organization’s overall performance.

The most successful membership managers practice these 11 habits.

Topics: Associations, Online Community Software, Member Experience

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