Member engagement and the modern membership community

A look at the challenges facing membership organisations and where online communities fit into the modern member journey.
Member engagement and the modern membership community

According to a recent report by The Membership Organisation, lack of engagement with a membership body is the most commonly cited reason for non-renewal.

It’s therefore not surprising that the report goes on to cite that ‘member engagement is the top priority for membership organisations for the third year running with 60% of such organisations having either a formal or informal member engagement strategy’.

Meanwhile, in Marketing General’s Membership Marketing 2018 benchmarking report, over half of individual membership associations report increases in participation and engagement in the following areas: their public social media (73%), private social networks (59%), in their young professional programs (54%), and in attendance of their webinars (52%).

The same report also found that members were most likely to join ‘to network with others in their field’ (58%), and ‘learn best practices in their profession’ (26%). This is a big shift from their 2009 report, in which networking and learning best practices were seen as secondary to ‘access to specialist information’.

What are the issues membership organisations are facing?

The research chimes with a few discussions I’ve been having recently - both with prospective clients and with some of our Advisors in the membership/society space. The problems that have been raised again and again are these:

  • What members want from membership organisations  - and particularly what younger members want - has changed, but those organisations are struggling to keep up with that change.

  • Many associations, societies and professional membership bodies are fighting against siloed ways of working - membership, events, marketing, training, and in some cases publishing, all need to be more joined up.

  • There are lots of new initiatives and increasing adoption of digital technology, but this has the potential to create a disjointed experience for members, with no central place to access everything offered.

The right community can deliver a more joined up member experience

The idea of membership organisations, societies or associations having an online community is certainly not new. Many already run communities for members - as demonstrated by the statistic that 59% of membership associations have seen an increase in participation in ‘private social networks’.

So the problem isn’t so much about not having a community, as about having the right community.

To create an experience that fulfils members’ wish to network and learn best practices, a community needs to have features which cater to both, namely: content publishing, expert directories, private and open discussion spaces, the ability to host videos, online training and facilitate pre-, post- and concurrent discussion around events.

In other words, it can’t just be a noisy forum. It needs to have depth and showcase genuine expertise.

The modern membership community ought to create a seamless member journey by bringing together an organisation’s offering into one place. This means that marketing content, membership content, email communications, networking, events, training and even publishing content can be linked together to deliver a coherent, joined-up brand.

Doing this makes it easier for members to engage, because they know where to engage, who to engage with and how to find their fellow members - all in one place. Rather than through multiple social media channels, emails, list servs, and so on. It’s about making their lives easier and making engagement straightforward.

Does this work in practice?

You only have to read Community Roundtable’s latest ‘State of Community Management’ report to see how communities can bring a whole range of benefits to membership organisations. One of the key takeouts this year was that “communities propel engagement”. Community by Association recently wrote this analysis, which is a really helpful read if you’re short on time.

We also have direct evidence from our own clients. Our most recent membership case study with the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) is a pretty good place to start.

FEBS launched the FEBS Network on our platform. It’s an innovative initiative to bring together FEBS’ many activities and deliver new value to the molecular life sciences community it serves. It’s publicly accessible, but with private ‘rooms’ used for certain audiences, programs and events.

A year in, the results are incredibly promising. Not only has the FEBS Network hit the targets set by FEBS and their partners Wiley, but in some areas they have exceeded them by as much as 300%. Just a few highlights included: 87% above target on number of visits, 13% above target on time engaged and 62% above target for content shares. (You can find full details in the case study).

Continuing the discussion at Society Street

We’re going to be presenting the FEBS case study at Society Street tomorrow, and hosting a discussion table afterwards to continue the conversation. I hope to have more to report following the event and if you’re there, make sure to come and say hello.