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Making Connections, Expanding Reach, Improving Data: A Trade Association’s Community Story [Case Study]

Written by Elizabeth Bell on January 8, 2019 at 9:15 AM

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Staying relevant, providing value, connecting with members and customers – do these challenges sound familiar to you and your organization? Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) was thinking through these goals.

Leadership had sensed that PPAI’s relationship with members wasn’t very “sticky.” Members might pay dues so they could gain education at tradeshows or access a search tool, but the connection didn’t go much deeper.

PPAI wanted to find a way to show members the real value of their membership.

Promo Connect: Reaching More Members with New Value

In its role as the leading trade association for the promotional products industry (think conference swag, company pens, branded gear), PPAI brings suppliers and distributors together.

But to truly provide these members with the value PPAI felt it could offer, PPAI decided to create an online community, Promo Connect, powered by Higher Logic.

Extended Reach

PPAI knew of about 200 to 300 dedicated members who participated in volunteer opportunities. For the rest of the trade association’s 15,000+ company member base (which includes around 60,000 individual members), PPAI encountered members at tradeshows and in learning platforms, but PPAI didn’t have a way to learn more. With Promo Connect, PPAI could reach its less visible members.

Richer Membership

Rather than seeing membership simply as access to a tool, PPAI wanted members to see it as a valuable relationship with unique benefits. With Promo Connect, PPAI hoped to offer them benefits like collaboration with like minds in the industry, direct access to the association, and a place to provide feedback.

Peer-to-Peer Connections

Before Promo Connect, members interacted in dispersed social media groups that PPAI didn’t own or manage. PPAI wanted to incorporate that value into membership. And with community, it could provide a safer and more secure platform than social media for peer-to-peer learning.

Improved Knowledge of Members/Member Data

Another goal of drawing members from social media into the community was to gain insight. PPAI could hear members’ needs and get more data from their activity using a channel PPAI owned and managed. Also, PPAI was well-connected on social media with members at the executive level but felt a gap when it came to those actually doing the work.

Relevance in the Field

Any organization has relevance on its mind, and PPAI was also looking to the future. Along with giving members a place to connect, Promo Connect would be a valuable indicator of industry trends.

Laying the Foundation for Promo Connect

Through Higher Logic’s community management services, PPAI hired Will Machin, senior community manager, to provide strategic expertise during implementation. With his guidance, PPAI created a strategy to prepare Promo Connect for energetic participation and growth.

As part of the plan, PPAI conducted outreach to promote the community before launch:

  • Email drip campaign
    • Using Higher Logic’s marketing automation software (Real Magnet), PPAI ran an email drip campaign to build awareness and excitement prior to launch and to prepare members for the community’s arrival.
  • Seed questions for each major community
    • PPAI sent a Google form (instead of sending individual emails) to members with the question, “What’s one thing you’d want to ask other members?” Will and the staff gathered these seed questions to spark interest in case engagement started out slow on the community.
  • Early-access testers
    • PPAI brought its working groups (part of that original group of volunteers) into the community as early-access testers. This way, it could ease those dedicated volunteers into the community, encouraging them to test it out and provide feedback.

Launching a community can be a scary prospect, especially if you've never done it before. We created the Community Engagement Blueprint to help you along this journey, with tips for building, launching, and growing a community. 

Nurturing the Community

Before Promo Connect launched, Will helped transition the role of community manager to Melissa Weber, professional development manager at PPAI, who leads community efforts now.   

PPAI was willing to pivot and listen to its members, and that’s what’s made the community really successful.” – Will Machin

After the launch, Melissa and Will continued to strategize ways to promote Promo Connect and draw members in.

  • Focus groups
    • Four months post-launch, Melissa held structured focus groups at The PPAI Expo (their tradeshow) to hear in-person feedback from members; and the team implemented changes they suggested.
  • Direct mail campaign
    • Since PPAI is all about promotional products, the marketing team thought a direct mail campaign would catch members’ attention. The association sent out mailers to members, promoting PPAI and inviting them to participate in the new community.
  • Rewards for community users
    • At The PPAI Expo, PPAI rewarded dedicated community users with private, catered breaks, a dedicated lounge space, and branded gear to thank them for being part of Promo Connect.
  • Live event promotion
    • At The PPAI Expo, PPAI also created branded merchandise and signage to attract members to the membership booth to learn more about Promo Connect.

PPAI-Promo-Connect-Promotional-Image

Promotional imagery for Promo Connect at The PPAI Expo

Organic Growth

PPAI has seen incredible growth in engagement on Promo Connect, as a result of Will and Melissa’s dedicated efforts:

  • 93% of members who regularly post were previously unknown to PPAI
  • Since launch, Promo Connect has had an average of 20 posts per day (that’s over 8,500 posts from the year)
  • Each active member has logged into the community at least 9 times in a year, on average
  • Over 25% of members that have logged in have posted a discussion

"It’s been amazing seeing our members take to the community. People we’ve never seen before are suddenly out there using the community, asking really good questions, and getting thoughtful responses from people they’ve never met.” – Melissa Weber

Members can now connect on a level they never could before. Melissa put it this way:

Through Promo Connect, the best of the conversations that our members have when they’re on site at The PPAI Expo get to happen year-round, and they get to happen with a much larger group.

Along with reaching less visible members more broadly, PPAI has found that the most involved members are also seeing value in the community.

PPAI’s board members are using private communities to have candid conversations, instead of holding discussions in messy, unsecured email threads. Now, committees and task forces also have a private place to engage, and thanks to the early-access testing, they’re already making the most of the community.

Looking to the Future: Improved Value for PPAI and Members

PPAI has exceeded its original expectations for starting Promo Connect. The trade association now has a window into the needs, interests, and feedback of more members than ever before, well beyond its original 200 to 300 volunteers. PPAI has found that members are eager to connect, and engagement and growth are booming, allowing it to understand members better and provide them with the resources they need for success.

PPAI has injected new life into its membership by introducing an online community. It plans to move forward by incorporating Activity Sync to transfer data from community to the AMS to further enhance understanding of its membership data.

"The depth we’ve gained in such a short period of time is mind-blowing for us and for our board.” - Melissa Weber

PPAI has developed a plan to stay relevant year-round. Want to learn its secrets? Join us for a webinar where Melissa and Will will share more.

Listen to the Webinar

About PPAI: Promotional Products Association International is the world’s largest and oldest international not-for-profit promotional products association, with a 115-year history of serving a membership that has grown to more than 15,000+ corporate members. PPAI is the trusted leader in the promotional products industry, delivering essential knowledge, resources and community to ensure the success of its members, those who manufacture, import and resell promotional products, and the promotional products industry itself.

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

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