If you're involved in community management, you've likely heard of the 90-9-1 principle. The numbers represent speculated percentages of online engagement, with 90 percent of participants only viewing content, 9 percent responding to content, and 1 percent actively participating in the creation of new content.
These numbers 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 association as a whole.
Member engagement isn’t an easy, snap-your-fingers kind of thing, but when you have an engaged member base, the work is totally worth it. Achieving great engagement requires a commitment to a great member engagement strategy.
Why is a Member Engagement Strategy So Important?
If your membership organization were a car, engagement would be the gasoline. For organizations like associations and user groups, member engagement fuels your core objectives.
By consistently keeping members 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 its 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 your organization, 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.
Want to know more about engagement? In a recent webinar, one of our VPs, Mitch Eisen, discusses the engagement economy and how to master it. You can access the webinar below.
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 compiled the best components of the successful strategies we’ve seen at numerous companies and membership organizations.
Use this framework to build out, validate, and measure your organization's member engagement strategy.
In order to know if your strategy is working, you need to begin with clearly developed and easily measurable goals. Most important? Make sure your goals are aligned with the goals of your organization. (Engagement, at its core, will benefit all aspects of your association – retention, event registrations, member satisfaction – but it’s up to you to clearly define those connections).
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?
Try this: “Engagement” is a pretty nebulous idea already. Pin down that cloud by making your goals concrete with numbers and by outlining specific actions you will take to get there.
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?
Try this: Delve into your data to refine your personas. If you have engagement tools like a private online community or marketing automation software, your members are generating valuable behavioral data ready for you to use in your personas.
If your association 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 is each persona's most urgent and pervasive challenges? How can your membership organization and community help to solve them?
Try this: If you want to understand your members’ pain points, start with research. Using engagement tools like online community and marketing automation, gather the behavioral data that reveals their problems, what they value, and how you can help them.
The value your organization 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 to stay engaged.
Ask yourself: What can I offer to solve my members' problems? What information, collaboration, or networking opportunities do they need?
Try this: From the research you did in steps two and three, you should have a good handle on what your members need. Match their needs with the benefits you can offer.
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, through other various tools (or all of the above).
Ask yourself: Which methods of delivery would be most convenient for your members? Fewer barriers to consuming the value that you provide means more people will receive that value and come back for seconds and thirds.
Try this: If any or all of your benefits live online, make sure the platforms are integrated. This way, you can create a single sign-on (SSO) for your members so that they can easily log into your website and all the associated benefits, like your learning management system, your online community, or your mentoring program.
Member engagement doesn't go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds. 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 increasing their engagement. (If we’re thinking about the 90-90-1 principle, you’re hoping to ease them into that top percent).
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
- Adding content
To get started on thinking through the membership funnel,
- Ask yourself: How does my membership organization define stages of the engagement funnel? What can we do to move members down the funnel?
- Try this: It’s all about nurturing. Set up an automated email campaign that doesn’t overwhelm, but instead, nurtures members.
- Read this: Blog Post - 5 Smart Tips to Strengthen Your Automated Emails And Increase Conversions
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 areas 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. Measuring these ratios will give you a bigger and clearer picture to work with as you tweak and refine your system.
- Ask yourself: What metrics should I use to track my member engagement strategy? How do my metrics relate to the goals I’ve set for my strategy?
- Try this: You’ve set up overall goals for your member engagement strategy, but set little goals that you can track and measure for the smaller projects within your strategy.
- Read this: Blog Post - How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Association's Member Engagement Tactics
Bonus: For this one, if you need a little more help, check out these additional resources.
- 5 Myths About Measuring Member Engagement
- 6 Steps to Pinpoint Your Most Engaged Members in 5 Minutes Or Less and Why You Need To
8. Communication Plan & Tools
Next, it’s time to decide how you will engage your members throughout each phase of the funnel. The right software tools are essential for executing your member engagement strategy.
Ask yourself: How will you engage with your target audience and make them aware of opportunities? Will you use marketing automation, snail mail, online community, word of mouth, search engines, social media, or a combination of tools? How often will you communicate?
Try this: Nobody wants to be bombarded by irrelevant emails, but nobody wants to miss out on an opportunity or content that’s relevant to them. The best approach? Send the right communication to the right people at the right time using engagement tools like marketing automation and online community.
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?
Try this: Schedule time every quarter to review your metrics and your strategy. If you invested in tools, utilize their analytics reports to see how much progress you’ve made toward your goals.
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?
Try this: Since this aspect of your member engagement strategy will live across departments, it will take some interdepartmental coordination. Consider setting up an “engagement task force” in your organization, or at least, making sure you have a lead contact from every department.
Your plan is complete. You’ve got goals, metrics, staff. Now it’s time to take this to your leadership (whether it’s your boss, board, or executive team) and show them why engagement is a priority and why your plan will work. Their buy-in is crucial for your success and will ensure you get the funding and time you need to execute the plan.
Ask yourself: How can I align our member engagement strategy with our organization’s business objectives? Do I have any member stories or quotes that will help drive the point home? What’s the business impact of our member engagement strategy? (Start with the blog post below to help you formulate the concept of your argument).
Try this: If you’ve successfully recruited someone from another department to help execute your member engagement strategy, see if they’ll co-present with you. Hearing it from two departments is even more convincing than one (and helps drive the point home that it’s an organizational need).
Member Engagement Strategy Takeaway
Improving your member engagement performance is a big challenge with very little universal processes and tactics.
As important is strong member engagement is to the success of your membership organization, developing an overall member engagement strategy is well worth your time.
Though the above eleven 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.
Need some more ideas on member engagement that won't break the bank? Check out our eBook with eight member engagement strategies for associations.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published on August 28, 2014 by Joshua Paul. It has since been refreshed to make sure we’re giving you the latest and greatest.