7 Reasons Online Member Communities Have Become Associations’ #1 Benefit

Online expert communities come with many benefits for associations. Understanding these can help you make the case for an expert community in your association.
7 Reasons Online Member Communities Have Become Associations’ #1 Benefit

What would make someone join an association today? That’s a question many association leaders are asking themselves, particularly as tightening budgets have many members scrutinizing the value they’re getting from their associations. Make no mistake, there’s a lot behind the decision to join (and remain) with an association. Tapping into this desire is the key to retaining members and growing your membership.

Foremost, people join membership organizations for other members. They want to make connections and grow professionally by swapping knowledge with their peers. That’s where expert communities can make all the difference to your member experience, providing a dedicated space for them to network with others and build knowledge. It offers them the right connections and resources, that they can access anytime, from anywhere. 

Therefore, online expert communities come with many benefits for associations. Understanding these can help you make the case for an expert community in your association, plus it’s good to know what to aim for when you’re setting up goals as part of your community strategy. 

Benefit 1: Delivering consistent value

Members want to get value from their membership year-round. Having a host of resources that they can discover and engage with 365/24/7, makes it more likely that they will renew when that critical time comes around. It will distinguish your association from competitors that don’t have an expert community when members are weighing up who to stick with and which associations don’t offer enough value to warrant paying the membership fees. 

An online community gives you an edge and can help you scale your association’s value without having to scale your team. It creates a one-to-many engagement. This rings especially true when you have user-generated content, which often happens as your community matures. In this scenario, members will post their own thoughts to the community and answer each other’s questions. Taking the pressure off of your team to answer everything and consistently think of new content. You can even re-purpose user-generated content for other marketing efforts. 

Benefit 2: Building trust

Organizations are stuck in a cycle of distrust that has been fuelled by fake news (according to the latest Trust Barometer). Associations can use expert communities to break this cycle and create a trusted space that members want to actively engage with because it’s a source of vetted, reliable information. How can they achieve this? By only allowing members to join an association-owned space, as opposed to a public forum like a social media group. 

Take Wilmington Healthcare, for example. The OnMedica community it set up using the Zapnito platform, is focused on providing UK-based doctors with a trusted, independent environment to discover the latest clinical reference material and expertise. To do this, as part of the sign-up process, members have to provide their GMC registration details to validate their expertise.

It was vital to create a peer-to-peer environment for doctors. Our members know that they can get trusted information, and engage in conversation.

Simon Grime, Executive Director at Wilmington Healthcare

Benefit 3: Improve retention and renewals

Attrition is the bane of every association. If you don’t keep enough of your members, you won’t grow a thriving membership base. Plus, before churn comes disengagement, so if you have many members thinking of leaving, the overall environment for your other members will likely be impacted. 

Retention comes when your members cannot imagine life without your association. That happens when your association is an integral part of their everyday lives. Communities can achieve this because they are extremely habit-forming. If someone logs into a community to network and interact with content, on a daily or weekly basis, over time that becomes a habit and suddenly they cannot imagine their work day without you. You can push this along by creating nudges along the way, especially when a member first joins your community. Send them personalized suggestions for community discussions and content they’ll find interesting, and do this often enough that they begin engaging with you on a regular basis. 

The community has helped us to drive 90% customer retention and net growth across our customer base!

Laura Bineviciute, Head of Content and Community at Data Leaders

To discover more about online communities and membership organizations, download our new ebook “Members for Life”. 

Benefit 4: Showcase your innovation

Did you know that associations that are seen as more innovative tend to attract and retain more new members? Innovation and communities go hand-in-hand. They can be a breeding ground for new ideas and inspiration, as you have an insider’s view of the topics and challenges your audience is facing. In that way, it can be worth having some members of your product and customer service teams embedded in your community — having organic conversations with members, and listening to discussions — so a brainwave can strike. 

Likewise, your community members can be tapped into for their feedback on any new products and services you’re thinking of introducing. You can set up an exclusive beta testing group, or a panel of your most engaged members, to bounce ideas off of. 

Benefit 5: Increase upsell opportunities

Once you have a new product or service, you’ll want to market and sell it. Again, your community will be invaluable. If your members are happy with what they’re getting from your association, they will be more likely to consider buying add-ons. On the flip side, if they aren’t then it isn’t a good time to try upselling them. Your community can offer an early indication of how satisfied a member is, based on if they’ve recently posted any questions or concerns to the community. 

Communities are a wealth of data (more on this later!) and you can segment members based on their interests and painpoints. This allows you to target them with the right upsells, making conversion more likely. Someone’s community behavior might put them squarely in the “likely to attend events” box, while another might be better suited to being sold some premium content access. You can also create paid private rooms to meet a specific audience segment’s needs.

Benefit 6: Create customer advocacy moments

A staggering 67% of associations report that word-of-mouth referrals get them the highest number of new members. People trust other people, more than advertising or sales patter. An expert community lends itself naturally to word-of-mouth recommendations as people are united in a shared space, talking about what matters to them, and solving each others’ challenges. At some point in the conversation, your products and services are likely to crop up. Particularly when it’s your association that has put everyone together.

Customer advocacy can be as simple as someone asking another if they are going to one of your events, this might encourage the other member to sign up. Or it can be formalized, through you highlighting the great work and results of members based on something your association offered them. 

Benefit 7: Generate first-party data

For a truly personal experience, associations need to know what makes their members tick. Unfortunately, the likes of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and others, all make their data extremely inaccessible. That’s because this data is exceptionally valuable, and the social media giants want to use it to sell you, their customers, more products and services (namely advertising). 

With your own community, you don’t have this tricky dynamic. You get first-party data ownership so you can make better decisions when reaching your members. You own your community data, and that leads to all sorts of wonderful things like better content development, informing products and services, boosting sponsorship value, and more. 

A huge range of benefits

Offering your members an expert community comes with a huge range of benefits that will extend beyond your team to impact your operations, sales, product, and even your business strategy. It’s the kind of groundbreaking innovation that many associations are crying out for in the wake of the pandemic (and declining membership numbers). 

To discover more about online communities and membership organizations, download our new ebook “Members for Life”. 

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