“You can never go wrong by investing in communities and the human beings within them.” – Pam Moore, CEO and Founder of Marketing Nutz
As an association, you can never go wrong investing in your members, which is part of what makes your private member community so powerful. It’s an exclusive space where members connect with peers and your organization as well as enjoy the myriad of benefits your association offers.
But like any investment, online communities take dedication and work, which is often where community managers come in. Community managers take on the everyday moderation and posting tasks that communities need to thrive. They also develop and implement long-term engagement strategies that increase member satisfaction, renewals, and referrals. Community managers make sure the community continues to grow and thrive after the initial purchase.
Sounds like a great setup, doesn’t it? But it’s here that many associations drop the ball. Their investment ends with a solid online community platform and a talented community manager. They unknowingly walk away from valuable feedback, innovation, and relationship-building opportunities.
The community fails to reach its potential.
Why does this happen? Because the only staff member who’s active in your community is the community manager. That’s a problem.
To get the most out of your association’s community, your community manager can’t be the only one interacting with your members. You should get everyone, from your board chair to your meetings coordinator, to consistently contribute. There are two reasons for this.
Why Your Online Community Takes a Village
The first reason that your entire association should be involved in your community is simple: what if your community manager quits?
Something so important shouldn’t be in the hands of only one person. At any time, you could be two weeks away from your community manager walking out the door. Even if your community manager doesn’t leave, at some point they'll go on vacation or get sick. If no one else is involved, then you’ll have weeks of catch-up work just to keep your community running smoothly, not to mention the effort you’ll have to put in to smooth over the transition for your members.
Expertise and Value
Remember: each and every one of your employees has something valuable to contribute to the community. For instance, your IT girl could easily answer tech questions that baffle your community manager, and your board chair could use their decades of industry experience to help educate new members.
Your employees and board members are a major asset to your association and its members. They need to be involved in your online community so they make the most of their skills and members get the most value possible. At the same time, your staff will get to know your members, which will make them more effective at solving member problems and delivering value.
Benefits of Getting Everyone Involved
Getting staff from all areas of your association involved in your community benefits not only your members, but the employees involved as well. Here are four examples of how different association staffers can contribute to your online community, providing a better experience for members and improving their own work in the process.
1. Management and Board Members
Members often see management or board involvement in your online community as a major stamp of approval. It signals that your community is an important, long-term initiative that’s worth their time and can have a real impact on the association.
Regular executive involvement also brings members closer to leadership. They now have direct access to your CEO and board chair, which makes them feel like they’re part of something important – which they are. That access to management allows members to build stronger relationships with your team and your association.
If you’re looking for feedback and member engagement, getting management involved in your online community is an easy way to get it. Members will be more likely to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas if they believe their contributions could truly have an impact.
By clearly demonstrating that management is active in the community, you encourage members to participate more by showing them that they’re not talking to an empty room. That feedback can help you improve your association and its offers.
2. Developers and Designers
If you have a developer, webmaster, or graphic designer on staff, bring them into the community to help answer some of your members’ technical questions. They’ll be able to provide depth and expertise that your full-time community manager may lack.
Developers and designers typically have a greater appreciation for member needs after interacting in your community.These back-of-the-house employees are typically removed from members, but your community can give a different perspective through firsthand interaction with members and exposure to their challenges. This could inspire your staff to implement changes in your software or website design to better meet member needs.
3. Meeting Coordinators
Like community managers, many people see event planning as an exciting career – even if the truth is closer to stumbling off a plane with no sleep and jumping into a 12-hour shift.
Regardless, events are exciting, so get your meeting planners involved in your community to build on that excitement. Members will enjoy having meeting coordinators participate because they can get a behind-the-scenes look at what the industry is really about. Event staff can also provide exclusive tidbits and first looks at things like your conference’s site selection or preview pictures of the delectable meals attendees will be treated to. Both are fun, engaging types of content that members love.
When event staff is part of the online community, they have opportunities to build enthusiasm with members and vendors, which can increase attendance and sponsorship. Meeting coordinators can also send out community surveys to learn about your members’ preferences. The results may help them find out what types of sessions and speakers members are most interested in, allowing them to create a more valuable event.
4. Program Managers
Members love having program managers involved in the community for several reasons. First, your program manager is a direct line to your association’s benefits and activities, so members can ask detailed questions and get answers straight from the source.
Second, members can give the program director feedback into past and current programs, as well as help shape future initiatives with their suggestions. If you don’t involve your members in this sort of engagement, you’re missing a major opportunity since people often support things they've contributed to. It comes from being “invested.” In other words, getting your program manager involved in your online community could help you increase member engagement with little extra effort.
Like your meeting coordinator, your program manager is interested in member preferences. They want to know what members find value in so they can build programs around them. Your community provides easy access for discovering preferences through data analysis, surveys, and polls.
To get more from your get more data and feedback, make sure your online community is integrated with your membership management software. That will ensure that behavioral data and feedback are housed in the same location as demographic and transactional information, giving you a more complete view of your members.
Make It Easy for Staff to Participate in Your Community
It’s important for multiple departments to be active in your online community, but don’t stress about getting every employee involved every day. Let the expert, your community manager, develop a schedule that keeps people involved on a consistent basis without overwhelming them. In the end, you want to make online community a habit for your staff, just as you want it to be a habit for your members.
To ensure your staff is ready and willing to participate, clearly communicate your goal for involving them. Present each employee’s role in the community as an opportunity to share their expertise and get to know members. Your staff should know that they have expert information that your members need, making them uniquely qualified to serve members in a way you can’t. Just remember to highlight the value they will get out of the community, as well, such as performing better in their jobs by getting to know your members better.
With such a valuable pitch and enough scheduling accomodation, most people won't hesitate to contribute. Your community manager can send reminders to the staff and help them with any questions or content brainstorming they need. Above all, give your staff the resources they need to be successful in your member community. When they're successful, they'll continue contributing.