Membership organizations are locked in a constant battle to keep members focused and engaged in a world filled with distractions and competing priorities. How do you earn loyal members? You need loyal, long-term relationships with your members to grow and thrive, so you’ll need to devote a lot of effort and creativity into nurturing them and to move them toward perpetual membership.
Improving Member Retention is All About Engagement
You need a membership engagement strategy. Everyone talks about engagement, but what is it? It’s definitely nuanced, but in simple terms, member engagement is the ongoing interaction between a member and an organization in exchange for meaningful value.
This means keeping in touch with your membership, posting often on social media, creating meaningful content, and inviting their participation, among other tactics.
It means getting their attention and reminding them of how you add value to their lives. It means building relationships to keep members happy. You have many opportunities to do this during the membership lifecycle, including:
Onboarding: Make Your First Contact Count
As they say, there’s only one chance to make a first impression, so when you’re onboarding members, go the extra mile to reassure them they’ve made the right decision in joining your organization. And follow this rule to make onboarding personal to the new member: First talk about what’s important to them, then about your mission, then about the organization. They want to know how membership is going to benefit them.
It’s all about experiences today, so make your onboarding experience memorable by doing things like:
- Develop a new-member kit. National Public Radio does a great job of this, giving away t-shirts and other freebies with membership. Add a personal letter to foster feelings not only of goodwill but that the member is important. Make it an event that they’ll share through word-of-mouth, and even an “unboxing” video on YouTube to show their friends their cool gifts.
- Ask new members what they want to achieve through membership. And keep a record of it; you’ll use it to personalize your approach when it comes time to renew their membership.
- Encourage new members to follow you on social media and join your website forums and online communities.
- If you don’t have a mobile app, get one.
Post-Onboarding Engagement: It’s Personal
It’s important to connect with your member base on a personal level to keep them engaged in the organization long-term, build member retention, increase event registration, and other conversions. You have all sorts of information about them, so make your member communications personal.
But make sure to personalize with a purpose:
- What do you want to achieve? It’s likely new members, member renewals, event registrations, certifications, and member education, as well as advocacy and action.
- What do your members want?
- They want value; the feeling that they're getting something from the relationship.
- They want meaningful communication, not fluff. Create content that increases member loyalty and reinforces the reasons they joined.
- They want easily accessible benefits – so make sure members know what they are and how to get them.
- They want professional development and continuing education opportunities. Set up classes, trainings, or webinars for members to take advantage of to keep their skills relevant and marketable.
- They want recognition of individuality with targeted information – use what you know about them to send them information that is specific to them.
You Need a Member Engagement Plan
Your first step is to stop talking and take action. Measure and use data for both marketing and programming and boost member engagement: Create engagement scores and connect engagement levels to specific marketing segments, ensuring members get blog posts and that are of real value to them.
There are a lot a great (and essential) reasons your organization must create a member engagement system including:
- Strong engagement correlates with reduced attrition. If members are taking advantage of the products and services you offer, they are receiving value that goes beyond their dues, and they’re more likely to continue membership year after year.
- You have the data you need to drive your decisions. You’ll be able to evaluate the numbers: data on what people buy, webinars they view and what sessions of an event they attend. Use an engagement scoring tool for maximum benefit.
- Use engagement scoring to guide members to other programs, products, services and events that will help with their professional growth.
- Groom future association leaders by using engagement scores to identify people who are enthusiastic and ready to move into leadership roles.
- Identify those who might be ready to move into a higher tier of participation. By scoring and categorizing the engagement levels, you can target prime candidates.
Most organizations track these activities:
- Event attendance
- Product purchases
- Volunteer hours
- Community subscriptions
- Professional development opportunities
- Number of donations
- Recent logins
- Committee attendance
But, your first step should be making a list of your own set of activities that go into creating member engagement.
The next step is refining your system, by weighting the relative value of each of these activities. Give them a unique multiplier, and assign a points system. You’ll then group the scores and define related categories.
With an engagement score, you’ll have the ability to make data-driven decisions that increase engagement.
You Need a Mobile App, and Not Just For Engagement
Mobile apps are essential for effective engagement today. Young professionals and millennials often don’t even own a desktop computer and depend on tablets and phones instead. Your mobile app is a place not only for members to engage with you but with fellow members.
And think about your mobile app as a way to not only engage members but also to drive new revenue. You can do this via advertising, sponsored content and by sharing data with your advertisers and sponsors.
AI is Another Valuable Tool for Engagement
Artificial Intelligence is a relatively new tool and a developing technology, but there are ways you can use it right now that don’t require a huge amount of resources.
- Intelligent connections. You can use what are basically personal assistants to schedule meetings, all over email just by sharing your calendars with the use of an AI tool. And it’s a very lifelike, seamless solution.
- Interaction between people and organizations. These are basically chatbots that can answer questions and guide people. This can be used internally within your organization or externally with your members.
- Organizing and curating information. This helps you bring high-quality, relevant content to your members by making intelligent content recommendations from internal and external sources.
More Ideas to Boost Member Engagement
You might create some valuable blogs, you’re active on social media, and the click and open rates on your emails are great, but what other things can you do to make current members happy, increase member renewals and attract new members? Here are some additional ideas to add to your member engagement strategy:
1. Offer different membership levels, including a free level.
This makes high-level members feel they’re an important part of your organization and a free level removes all obstacles to membership.
2. Develop a mission awareness week.
Send emails, post on social media, invite people to participate in a challenge, invite sponsors and advertisers to participate and offer prizes, host an event and invite local media–spread your message everywhere and make your members proud.
3. Create a discount program.
Work with your sponsors and advertisers to offer special discounts or other benefits, like free shipping. Make them happy with increased revenue, and do something your members will appreciate it, too.
4. Start a scholarship program.
Maybe your organization is a plumbers union. Create a scholarship program to encourage young people to enter your profession, and you’ll create lifelong loyalty.
5. How about an earned-media campaign?
This means getting people to talk about you. Have members tell their own compelling stories that people would want to share and send out press releases for old-school publicity.
6. Create an awesome member portal.
This would include email subscription options, donation/payment buttons and a feed with the latest news that affects your members, as well as links to all of your social media accounts.
7. Don’t just depend on email. Use snail mail as well.
This ties back to onboarding, but can be used to increase post-onboarding engagement as well. Send them a little something, even if it’s just “a penny for your thoughts,” with a survey.
8. Use celebrities.
They can give a larger voice to your brand and your members. Identify a celebrity that you could advocate with, or celebrities who share an interest in and talk about your mission message and reshare/retweet. You could also try Cameo.com for light-hearted one-to-one messages.
9. Set up a feedback/survey system.
Ask your members how you’re doing for them. This will help inform all of your content, from emails to blogs to events.
10. Set up a member of the month/year program.
Draw up your criteria before the year or month and offer incentives throughout the contest period.
11. Set up automated messages for special occasions.
Send personal messages for occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, membership anniversaries or even “remember when you attended this event.”
12. Add a job center on your website.
Members can post job openings and certification and advancement opportunities.
13. Form partnerships with like-minded companies.
This adds value to your memberships with partnership/association discounts, but it’s also good for job opportunities.
14. How about setting up a volunteer center.
that has not only opportunities, but success stories. There could even be a “bloopers” section about things that didn’t work that can help inform your membership.
15. Set up a challenge for new members.
This could be something simple like a quiz or even an “ice bucket challenge” sort of thing that makes them feel part of the organization and helps them connect with other members.
16. Retarget your members.
Sync your member list to Facebook and Linkedin and serve them ads; these ads are usually less expensive than other ad types.
17. Set up a weekly touchpoint.
This can mean an email, a survey, a flash sale, or a social media post that promotes some sort of interaction with your organization.
18. Take advantage of live events on social media.
Utilize Facebook Live, Instagram Live and/or YouTube to develop a podcast, a branded quote of the day, or focus of the week.
19. Set up a member referral program.
Offer something to members such as a free promo item like a piece of swag or a discount.
20. Start a mission meter on your website.
This would be a dashboard where people can see the difference you’re making in real-time.
21. Start social networking groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Invite your followers, professional friends, and connections and ask them to invite theirs.
22. Start a surprise & delight program
This offers unexpected rewards and can be especially effective when they serve as early renewal reminders.
23. Create a”Members Playlist.”
Invite members to contribute songs that reflect your mission.
24. Come together for another cause.
Partner with another member organization that reflects your values and mission. This is an excellent way to gain new members.
Engagement = Loyalty = Perpetual Membership
Perpetual memberships are the holy grail for all member organizations.
A perpetual membership program requires a bit of a rethink of your membership model, but if you look at the model developed by companies like Amazon and streaming services, among others, you’ll have your plans moving in the right direction. And look at all those other membership services for ideas, like monthly subscription boxes for cosmetics, coffee, shaving items, fruit, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
This all involves installment billing, which is part of perpetual memberships. Members can pay a smaller amount on a more frequent basis. The philosophy is that it’s just a little bit of money that hardly hurts.
Perpetual Membership Tactics
There are some proven methods for managing an perpetual membership program:
- Automatic membership renewal.
- Offer an installment plan. This means a member would have to opt-out to end their membership.
- Options for membership tiers. This ties back into the concept of membership levels.
Tips to Build Perpetual Memberships
Some members will leap at the chance for an installment plan or a perpetual membership, but some will need a bit of encouragement.
- Make sure your site security and payment gateway are secure. You’re going to be taking member’s credit card or banking information. Make sure you have not only strong security, but a strong written security statement on your website.
- Be completely transparent. Members will feel more confident if you communicate often about the program, like reminding them you’re debiting their account or charging their credit card.
- Offer perpetual relationships from the get-go with new members. Offer an installment plan. This can make a big difference for those who don’t have the entire membership fee at their disposal.
- Target at-risk renewing members, and do it in advance of their renewal date. Highlight the convenience, and offer an incentive for enrollment like an educational module or a book.
- Target your data to your most engaged members–they’re most likely to enroll