If you're involved in community management, you've likely heard of the 90-9-1 principle. The numbers represent speculated percentages of engagement in online communities, with 90% of participants only viewing content, 9% responding to content, and 1% actively participating in the creation of new content.
Even though these numbers are meant to guess at online participation as a whole and not specifically address engagement in online customer or member communities, they still seem pretty dismal. It's difficult not to get discouraged by such speculation when your member engagement is so critical to the success of your online community and association as a whole.
Why is Member Engagement So Important?
If your membership organization were a car, engagement would be the gasoline. For organizations like associations and user groups, member engagement fuels the core objectives.
By consistently keeping member engaged, you won't just attract and keep more members, you'll have leverage to push through legislative wins, the ability to promote your advocacy agenda, and an increase in event attendance and other types of revenue.
Despite it's importance, member engagement is a fairly elusive concept. It's only been a focus for the past few decades and, unlike more traditional disciplines like marketing and finance, you can't go to school and major in it. Part of the reason that member engagement is such a big challenge is that there isn't a clear-cut process.
Now, let's go back to that 90-9-1 principle for a minute. Regardless of whether it holds true for private member communities, one thing we know for sure is that you can do better. And the first step to improving member engagement is creating a winning member engagement strategy.
How Do You Create an Effective Member Engagement Strategy?
Since every organization is different, there isn't a magical "one size fits all" method to increase and maintain member engagement. Instead, we've used our 11+ years experience providing member engagement tools to companies and nonprofit membership organizations to give you the most important components of a successful strategy.
Use this framework to build out, validate, and measure your organization's member engagement strategy.
Element #1) Goals
In order to know if your strategy is working, you need to begin with clearly developed and easily measurable goals.
Ask yourself: How would you like your relationship with your members to change through this plan? What will you measure to know if you've achieved your goal?
Element #2) Personas
Creating well-developed personas for your target members and their behaviors helps you to know what your members need and what you're in competing against for their attention.
Ask yourself: Who are you targeting? What are the composite characteristics and behaviors for each group?
Element #3) Problems
If your community can't help to solve your members' most important problems, then they won't have a reason to engage or maintain their membership status.
Ask yourself: What are each persona's most urgent and pervasive challenges? How can your membership organization and community help to solve them?
Element #4) Value
The value your organization and online community offers is how you will help to solve the problems and challenges your members face. Whether through quality content, connections with experts, webinar series, or networking opportunities, the value of your organization and community will give your members a reason stay engaged.
Ask yourself: What can I offer to solve my members' problems? What is the information, collaboration, or networking opportunities they need?
Element #5) Delivery
Next, you need to decide what format you will distribute your value to your community members. You have several options: online, at a live event, in a publication, or through other various tools.
Ask yourself: What method of delivery would be most convenient for your members? Fewer barriers to consuming the value that you are proving means that more people will receive that value and come back for seconds"¦..and thirds, etc.
Element #6) Funnel
Member engagement doesn't just go from zero to 60. There are several stages within the engagement funnel that allow you to create content and offers based on the stage your members are in, with hopes of moving them down the funnel.
In the case of an online member community, common steps in the engagement funnel include awareness of the community, visiting the community, returning frequently, asking a question, responding to a discussion, and adding content.
Ask yourself: How does my membership organization define stages of the engagement funnel? What can we do to move members down the funnel?
Element #7) Measurement
Since there are different degrees of engagement, you need different metrics to track your success and identify your weaknesses. Then, you can make adjustments to specific aspects of your engagement plan without having to waste your time on area that are working well.
For instance, let's say you're hosting a webinar series. Rather than measuring how many members attended versus how many members didn't attend, look at the smaller steps toward full engagement.
Ask yourself: How many people opened the invitation email? What percentage of those people clicked through? Then, how many people registered for the webinar? Finally, how many showed up for the webinar? Measuring those ratios will give you a bigger and clearer picture to work with as you tweak and refine your system.
Element #8) Communication Plan
Now that you know the stages of engagement for your members and your organization, it's time to decide how you will communicate the opportunities for engagement to your members throughout each phase of the funnel.
Ask yourself: How will your target audience be made aware of the engagement opportunities available to them? Emails, snail mail, word of mouth, search engines, social media, etc.
Element #9) Consistent Action
A member engagement strategy is an ongoing initiative. A successful engagement strategy includes ongoing opportunities for members to engage. This takes consistent effort on the part of your organization to deliver ongoing value to your members while making adjustments to your plan.
Ask yourself: How will this strategy result in members staying engaged and continuing to get value from our organization in the long term? How is that going to be maintained and who will be responsible for maintaining it?
Element #10) Staffing
It's important to have a clear outline of who among your staff is responsible for each aspect of your member engagement strategy so everyone knows for what they'll be held accountable.
Ask yourself: Who will do the work? Who will monitor progress? Who is ultimately responsible for the goals being met?
Member Engagement Strategy Takeaway
Improving your member engagement performance is a big challenge with very little universal processes and tactics.
With as important as strong member engagement is to the success of your company or membership organization, developing an overall member engagement strategy is well worth your time.
Though the above ten elements aren't a standard prescription for all organizations, they should give you an idea of how to get started in developing and implementing your own member engagement strategy.