Developing a growth strategy for your association takes time. It takes hours of debating the best methods to use to reach prospective members, and days of content creation and campaign management. It's stressful. And, it could all result in nothing if you don't use effective tactics to drive meaningful growth.
A balanced, comprehensive growth strategy will include a mix of focus on both member retention and member acquisition.
In this post, we’ll focus on member acquisition strategy and how associations can effectively reach potential members and convince them to join.
However, the outlook isn't all bleak. You don't have to test every communication channel to find out the best way to reach your prospects, thanks to data from fellow associations.
The Top 3 Ways Associations Recruit New Members: Insights From the 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report
The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Inc. reports which recruitment marketing channels have performed the best for associations (trade and professional). The report is built on survey responses from over 800 associations. In the survey, associations were asked to select “Which recruitment marketing channels get your organization the most new members?”
Here are the three member acquisition tactics that worked best for both trade and individual associations.
1. Word-of-Mouth Recommendations
69% of associations report that word-of-mouth recommendations get their organization the most new members (Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 2019).
People trust reviews, which is why it shouldn't be surprising that the most effective channel for increasing member acquisition is recommendations.
Your association can use word-of-mouth to increase member acquisition through a combination of in-person and virtual advocacy programs. In-person programs might include traditional refer-a-friend rewards, while online efforts could make use of your association's online community.
An online community can be particularly effective for increasing recommendations. Try creating a public section in your online community where interested prospects can browse and participate in discussions, but restrict full access to members only.
Plus, a community is a great way to showcase networking opportunities to potential members. In the same report, 57 percent of associations rank “networking with others in the field” as the top reason members join their organizations.
Want to learn more about communities in general? Check out The State of Community Management Report for industry trends, below.
62% of associations report that email gets their organization the most new members (Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 2019).
Email came in as the second-best way to improve member acquisition. To make the most of email recruitment, create targeted email campaigns that include offers relevant to your prospects.
To find the right offers, however, you have to know what your prospects are interested in. Get started by gathering data, either through web tracking or by browsing the public/prospect sections of your online community. You’ll want to know what kinds of content interest them and where they spend the most time on your website.
This behavioral data will give you valuable insight into your prospects' interests, and what benefits may appeal to them most. Based on their interests, create automated email campaigns for prospective members with the content and offers that are most relevant for them.
For example, if you have a prospect who regularly visits your professional certification pages, you could add them to a campaign that nurtures those interests. To encourage your prospect to join, make sure they know that members have full access to even more details on certification, as well as the certification program itself.
3. Local Events/Meetings
34% of associations report that local events/meetings get their organization the most new members (Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 2019).
At first, using what are traditionally seen as member-focused events to convert prospects may seem a little backwards, but your association's events are a prime recruitment tool. Why? Because they clearly articulate your value.
Events highlight your association's knowledge and relevance with expert advice, professional development sessions, and networking opportunities, offering prospects plenty of incentive to join your association.
You can use your events to promote membership by emailing your prospect list and encouraging them to attend your events. Place a teaser in the public section of your website to nudge prospects toward your event as well. As always, make sure your events feature sessions with top experts and your best content in order to clearly communicate value to prospects once they arrive. By improving how well you communicate value, you could increase the efficacy of all your member acquisition campaigns.
And in a separate question in MGI’s report, 54 percent of associations said that giving a discount for a conference or convention was an effective way to recruit new members, so consider pairing registration information with a discount to improve your acquisition results.
Member Acquisition Strategy Takeaway
The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights positive and negative trends in the association space, and one of the most positive takeaways is that association membership is growing.
There's a market for the benefits and connections that associations offer: you just need to find the best way to promote your organization.
Encouraging recommendations, focusing on email recruitment campaigns, and promoting your association during events are a few of the most effective tactics that organizations are using to promote themselves and recruit new members.
Consider incorporating these membership acquisition tactics into your growth strategy, and to make them even more effective, focus on value. Remember, the clearer you are with prospective members about the value your association is offering, the more likely they are to join.
Before you go, check out our free Member Acquisition Success Kit. The kit compiles our best resources on member acquisition in one place.
Editor's note: This post was originally published by Julie Dietz in July 2016 and has since been refreshed to make sure we're bringing you the latest and greatest.