The COVID pandemic has thrown a big spanner in the works of many an association and non-profit. After years of running on a tried and tested system, all meetings were brought to a halt and associations had to find alternative ways to keep members engaged and participating… and very importantly, also contributing financially.
Problems can always be turned into opportunities, and this is the perfect opportunity for you to start taking advantage of the many powerful digital tools available for expanding and deepening your organization’s relationship with your members.
Online communities in the United States and abroad have proven to be fiercely loyal, highly engaged, and motivated, and have even been mobilized to achieve great results.
A silly example would be the fact that fans of Sonic the Hedgehog persuaded a film studio to redesign the characters for an upcoming film.
A more serious example can be found in the many cases in which people have been brought to justice after massive online movements and petitions.
Before you start your migration to an online model, make sure to do the following:
- Ensure your organization’s goals are up to date and crystal clear
- Get all your stakeholders on board and clarify everyone’s roles
- Make a list of your priorities
With your basics clear, it’s time to start transitioning your member base into an online community.
Communication is Key
When you transition online, some of your loyal members may be cautious at first, and feel they are missing out on personal connection and communication both with you and fellow members. Show them all the ways in which social media and other online engagements can actually work towards improving member contact and engagement.
For example, many membership organizations have private Facebook groups, in which they share information and make announcements, but also allow the members to start discussions on shared interests and “build community”.
Some popular platforms to encourage member engagement are:
- Facebook or other platforms, where your members are already spending time, that allow for discussion forums, member interaction, and collaboration.
- Zoom or another web conferencing technology, where you can host meetings, deliver training, and discuss and debate in real-time with your community. An added plus of this is that you can record the sessions and make them available on-demand to members, or even use them to recruit new members through training. These online training videos might even become a new source of revenue.
- A blog can also be an excellent way to create content and attract new members while keeping current members engaged with quality content. A good blog post will spark discussion and debate, which you can then take to any of the platforms mentioned above.
Remember your members can also contribute with any of these methods, by creating content, writing blogs, and even delivering lessons themselves.
Interact and Learn
Technology has forced us to define engagement, teaching, and learning all over again. Forget about a blackboard and print-outs - online learning experiences are fully interactive, and can even feel like a game. Learning can be a lot of fun for everyone involved!
For example, these are just a few of the methods used by online learning tools to keep learners engaged and excited about their progress, which you can also apply to a lively online community to encourage interaction:
- Progress markers like badges or visual representations of a path traveled.
- Healthy competition can be encouraged via leaderboards and awards, which are virtual and cost nothing to issue, yet provide great satisfaction to users. Issue awards for answering other members’ questions, creating new content, attending live sessions, and more.
- Certificates of completion for various lessons and courses, which can be displayed as badges, making it easy for you to know each member’s progress.
Make it Personal
For large enough organizations it can be challenging, if not impossible, to keep an eye on every individual member’s attendance, engagement, and desire to renew their membership. Technology makes it super easy to not only have insight into these aspects, but also to use them to personalize your interactions with members depending on their preferences, personality, and history with your association.
Leverage the tools at your hand to send personalized messages and guide members through their journey. Some ways in which you can do this are:
- Automating chat responses to deal with the most frequent questions, and using the questions asked to glean info you can use to better serve your members.
- Setting up automated emails and messages when members reach a certain stage, or when they haven’t interacted in a while, or when their membership renewal is approaching. By directly addressing them at important moments, you help them move along the path to progress.
- Setting up alerts to help you determine which topics are more important to your members, whether anything is a hot topic that requires your attention, and which videos or lessons are more or less popular with which crowd.
Keep Your Options Open
One of the most beautiful things about working online is how flexible everything is. An online member engagement plan does not have to be a one-size-fits-all affair - you can tweak, adjust, and tailor the many available options to keep your members happy and active.
If something doesn’t work, it’s quick and easy to roll it back and test something else without worrying about a venue, catering, mailing flyers, or many of the other concerns you used to have when you were engaging members offline.
Your members don’t like social media? Try sending an email newsletter. They don’t respond to video conferencing? Try a podcast!
An online member engagement plan does not have to be a one-size-fits-all affair.
Embrace all the possibilities that online tools have to offer you, your organization, and most importantly, your members. Don’t be afraid to change your strategies if they are not giving you the results you want, and double down on the ones that resonate with your members and attract new ones.
Moving into an online setting can only help improve and increase your members’ participation and engagement if you use the many tools available to you. Let us help you navigate the technology so you can focus on your loyal members and achieving your and their goals.