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The 5 Most Common Mistakes of Association Onboarding Programs

Written by Christina Green | on July 18, 2016 at 8:30 AM

The most common, and damaging, new member onboarding mistakes associations make.

Ah, the honeymoon stage. White sand beaches, a gentle breeze, drinks with the little tiny umbrellas. It's great, until someone makes a mistake and overbooks your hotel or cancels your flight.

Mistakes can ruin the honeymoon stage of any relationship, including the one between your association and its newest members. For associations, this is the onboarding stage It's a great time to solidify the new relationship between you and your members. Unfortunately, it's also be the perfect time to fail at making a good first impression.

When new members feel like you don't care or don't provide tangible value, the honeymoon phase their membership may be short lived.

Your Members Don't Live in a Bubble

Most associations don't ignore new members. They have a whole onboarding program mapped out, but the problem isn't so much having or not having a program. It's that with everyday member expectations increase.

Your members don't live in a bubble, and their expectations of your onboarding program are influenced by the welcome campaigns of other companies they're working with. Think of software companies with high budgets and the latest technology, retailers' email marketing, the hospitality industry's loyalty programs, and dozens of others that have sophisticated, tailored programs. These programs provide a lot for customers, making them feel special and valued.

While you're not directly competing with these large marketing efforts, you are being held to the same standard by your members. So to keep up with the competition and develop a memorable onboarding program, avoid the following mistakes.

5 Common New Member Onboarding Mistakes that Associations Make

Mistake #1) The One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Today's member appreciates a customized approach that targets their needs and interests. This begins with the perfect welcome email, but goes far beyond that. It means communications are personalized, and so is content.

If the new member showed interest in something during one of your first conversations, such as your association's mentor program, you should provide that information in a follow-up email. This will show that you were paying attention and that you care about your members' interests.

Mistake #2) Overwhelming Email Campaigns

When someone first joins an association or online community, they are often clobbered with information, invitations, and to-dos. Too many emails at once means members will miss a lot of important information, and they may even decide you send emails too frequently and end up unsubscribing.

Instead of bombarding your members, spread out the information, invitations, features to explore, and things to do over a few weeks or even months in an email drip campaign. If you touch base once a week for the first few weeks with valuable information, the new member will be more likely to read your emails, and get more from them. Plus, you're taking the opportunity to stay in touch over a course of weeks and not just once. This increases the likelihood that interacting with you becomes part of their Internet habit.

Mistake #3) Not Getting Them Set Up Immediately

In today's instant gratification word, members who recently signed to join your organization want value immediately. You shouldn't give new members information about the online community or website if they can't log-in yet. So if there's anything you need to do to set up member permissions in your online community, do it as soon as they join.

This applies to groups, chapters, and private online community sections as well. If members show interest in a group or require special access, give it to them as soon as you're able. If there's a reason they can't have immediate access, let them know what the holdup is and give them a timeline for when the problem will be resolved.

Mistake #4) Not Asking About Their Preferred Communication Channel

Don't make the assumption that everyone loves a welcome phone call. Calls can be disruptive and take much longer to communicate what can be said succinctly in an email. But my bias against calls is not shared by everyone, some people love that personal touch. The best way to find out what they would like is to ask them; then honor their requests.

If there are times you might need to contact your members in a way they don't perfer, let them know. For instance, if your online community has a new feature rolling out and it's your policy to let everyone know of the feature, what it does, and how to use it, tell members to expect those messages in advance. Setting the expectation will help members understand why they're receiving additional messages and how important those emails are to open.

You also need to allow members to opt out of communications. However, keep a close eye on members who do because that often means they no longer find value in the correspondence. For these members, you have an opportunity to reevaluate needs, preferences, and what information would be most relevant in order to provide more valuable offers in the future.

Mistake #5) Not Giving Them Something to Do

When someone is new to an organization, they're often very excited about their membership. Many associations send a welcome email, follow it up with a phone call, and leave the onus on the new member by asking: "Do you have any questions?" The problem with this method is that many times the new member doesn't know enough about what to expect and what's in store to know what to ask.

Like a good party host, one of the most critical things a membership chair or a community manager can do, alongside the initial welcome, is point the new member in the direction of an activity they'll enjoy.

Reading a few popular blog posts, checking out discussion forums, or setting up their member profile are a few options to suggest, as is a mentor program. Some great onboarding programs have mentors set up to help incoming members get acclimated, which has the added bonus of helping new members network right away.

Bonus Tip: Go Above and Beyond

Never before have associations had as much power to personally delight members as they do today. Your AMS software's engagement, transaction, and demographic data along with insight from public social networks, gives you insight into everything from your members' favorite foods to the sports teams they root for.

Use that information not just to personalize the content your members expect, but to go above and beyond. Give them an extra benefit that revolves around something you know your member loves, like sports, but would never expect. It will surprise and delight them, building loyalty, and motivating members to share their positive experience with family and friends. For example, you could try something like this:

Onboarding Mistakes Takeaway

A barrage of emails, blanketing everyone with the same content, and a lack of activities to get members involved after joining are some of the most common mistakes of association onboarding programs. Fortunately, they're also some of the most easily fixed.

Today's technology, including membership management software that collects demographic, transactional, and behavioral data on your members, will help your association overcome these issues. It gives you all the insight you need to personalize communication and content, send out hyper-relevant emails, and ensure that your members always have ways to engage.

Just remember, your members aren't static. Their needs change with time, technology, and their job industry. It is important that you consistently reevaluate your onboarding program to ensure you are meeting your members' standards, and starting your relationship off on the right foot.

The most successful membership managers practice these 11 habits.

Topics: Associations, Member Experience, Member Engagement, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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