"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." - John F. Kennedy
Never has been change been as ubiquitous as it is today. In a digitally connected, global marketplace, we've all grown increasingly used to change shifting our lives, jobs, and companies. If you're like me, there are times when you even embrace change instead of fighting it. Today's organizations are living entities that should grow and adapt as their industries, products, and members shift. Those organizations that don't change with their audience fail (think Kodak), but those that do often face substantial challenges, including a reliance on short-term tactics to engage their members.
This reliance stems from the fact that, for organizations that adapt, short-term strategies feel less risky when you're trying to be relevant for current market conditions. They can be changed when the organization changes.
When it comes to your members or customers, short-term thinking comes with many hidden risks and costs. Every time a short-term strategy or tactical campaign comes to a close, you have to go through the entire planning process again. You need to create a new engagement strategy and implement it from scratch. It's a labor intensive process, and it's not the most effective method to use.
Instead of relying on short-term strategies, you need a plan that you can stick to for an extended period (and still make adjustments) that yields results. That way you're not going through the strategy process every two weeks and running around with your hair on fire trying to increase engagement.
To avoid reinventing the wheel with successive short-term tactics, develop a long-term engagement strategy that's flexible enough to adapt as your organization and its members grow and change over time.
7 Steps to Create a Long-Term Engagement Strategy
To develop a long-term member engagement plan that shifts with your organization, follow these seven steps.
Step 1) Research Members
An important part of setting your strategy up for success, researching your members includes everything from member preferences to your past engagement efforts.
Start your research by looking into what communication channels, frequency, and tone your members prefer. Look for areas where members see value in your organization as well. What were their reasons for joining and renewing? Why did members choose to leave?
Your marketing data, including past strategies, is also an area you should dig into. Go over your past campaigns and how effective they were, then review member surveys.
As you gather marketing data, you'll get a more comprehensive picture of how your organization has succeeded and failed at engaging members in the past.
You can use members' communication preferences, how they responded to your specific member benefits, and information on past campaigns to inform your future engagement strategies. Don't plan to use campaigns similar to ones that failed in the past, for example, or send your members physical mail if they've already told you that they don't open it.
Step 2) Evaluate Your Starting Point
No member engagement strategy will be useful if you don't know where you're starting off.
- How engaged are your members currently?
- Where are they engaging? In live events? Your online community? Through emails?
- What content, products, or benefits are members engaging with?
Gather data on your customers or members to find the answers to these questions. You may be able to get a good view of organization-wide interaction using engagement levels in your online community platform or membership software.
Often, engagement levels will show you a graph detailing how engaged members are. More detailed information on what activities members are engaging in, and how often, is typically shown in engagement dashboards and individual activity counts.
Step 3) Set Measurable, Attainable, and Revisable Goals
Once you know where your organization and its members are now, you should set measurable, attainable goals that you can easily revise in the future.
Measurable - A measurable goal is based on your metrics and will usually include numbers. You may want to increase the number of blog views on your website by 5%, for example.
Attainable - Attainability indicates that something is not astronomical. If you have a new member community, a goal to have every member post a blog is unattainable. It would be nearly impossible to make that happen, so don't set yourself up for failure by making that your goal. Be realistic.
Revisable - A revisable goal can be easily changed to fit future circumstances. You met your goal? Increase the number. You're no longer focusing on blogs? Change that goal to 'increase file downloads by 5%.'
The idea behind measurable, attainable, and revisable goals is to make it easy for you to be able to change just a few words or numbers and have a whole new target to shoot for. You shouldn't need to come up with new goals from scratch any time you meet your target or your organization's priorities shift.
To better focus your goals, identify your core calls-to-action, including offers, programs, events, and other engagement opportunities. There are all areas you can base your goals around to produce noticeable results.
Step 4) Develop Targeted Content and Communication Plans
Your content is the material that you create to engage your members, such as blog posts, files, professional development courses, live events, or other engagement materials. Your communication is any message you use to inform members about your content, products, or organization as a whole.
Content and communication go hand in hand and both should consistently deliver value.
Create a Content Schedule - Determine what types of content you will create, how often you will create them, and who will be responsible for each piece. Map out your content schedule and ensure that your entire team knows their responsibilities and how each piece of content will provide value to members.
Select Your Communication Channels - All your communication shouldn't come from a single source. Consider email, public social media posts, on-screen ticklers on your website, updates in your online community, and even physical mail as channels for member communication. Use the channels your members prefer, with the frequency that gets your messages the most attention.
Target Your Plans - Personalize both your communication and content based on your members and their needs. You may have an organization-wide communication and content plan that keeps all your members updated on urgent news in your organization or industry, for instance. At the same time, you could also have targeted content and email newsletters based on chapters, groups, and other member segments.
Personas - Consider developing personas to improve your targeting. Your personas will describe your members, who they are, and what they care about. Create relevant content and communication that matches each persona's needs to more effectively engage your members.
When you have your plans mapped out, set up systems to publish content and communication consistently so you're not reinventing the wheel each month. Make sure your entire team is clear about who is responsible for each piece of content and communication message. All of the following should be included and well documented in your plans and the systems you put in place to carry them out:
- Due dates and release dates
- Channels and tools
- Messages and sources
Step 5) Measure Success with Regular Metrics and Analytics
If you already had metrics in place to analyze current engagement levels in your organization, then this step should be easy. If you didn't have engagement levels and member activity metrics in place before, then you should implement them now.
Make sure your online community platform will automatically record your members' activities, demographic information, and financial transactions like renewals. Your technology should gather as much data about members and how they interact with your organization as possible so you know what members do during the course of your strategy.
Set up regular reports to keep track of your strategy every step of the way. If your community software or membership database lets you schedule reports in advance, then take advantage of that tool. Usually, you can schedule reports to run daily, weekly, or monthly, and you can email those reports to all staff and volunteers that need the information. By scheduling your reports to run automatically, you'll save time and help ensure that you're consistently evaluating your strategy and its effects.
Step 6) Create a Scalable Staffing Plan
Your staff should be able to handle your content, engagement tactics, communication channels, and analytics. Since an effective long-term engagement strategy will bring results over time, however, staff size and roles may change as your strategy progresses.
A scalable staffing plan will help meet your needs as your strategy increases member engagement. You might need more people to create content at the start of your engagement plan while members are still getting used to participating on their own, for example. You'll still need content later, but once members are actively contributing you may also need more moderation for your website and online community.
Your entire staff should be familiar with your engagement strategy, including the aspects they're responsible for. If an employee's role will change over time, try to anticipate the shifts so they will be prepared to take on new roles and responsibilities.
Step 7) Review, Optimize, and Reapply
To make this engagement strategy viable over extended periods of time, you need to review it, optimize your tactics, and apply the changes periodically. Every change you make should help your strategy fit your organization and its members' current needs.
Use your metrics to determine which parts of your communication and content plans are having an impact and which are not. Revise those that are doing poorly so that results improve in the future. Apply the changes and continue with engagement tactics that are doing well. You will know if your overall strategy is working if you see members moving up to higher engagement levels over time.
Review, optimization, and applying changes is crucial in making a long-term strategy mesh well with your organization's adaptability. If your association, business, or member needs change, you should be able to tweak your strategy to fit those changes. Shift your engagement efforts to match your new priorities.
Developing Lasting Member Engagement Strategies Takeaway
The most effective long-term engagement strategy will be a framework that's flexible enough to adapt to changes. These steps will help you create that framework and also set up your organization with consistent metrics to pinpoint tactics that worked, as well as those that didn't.
Your metrics should also allow you to notice trends in engagement levels and industry changes that affect your members' participation. Dips and spikes in your members' engagement levels are great ways to quickly spot these changes along with more gradual, long-term trends. Use the information your metrics provide to continually improve your strategies to better serve your members.
Build out your strategy with these metrics, and future changes, in mind. The right strategy will ensure that you can make the adjustments you need without having to do the bulk of the work over again.