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By: Jennifer Barrell

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May 15, 2017

How to Be Sticky: A Guide to Lasting Member Engagement

Member Engagement | member retention

New members are the lifeblood of associations, and you’ve likely worked your fingers to the bones to attain them. You probably have a list of tactics and costs associated with attracting new members, but what have you done specifically to retain them?Increase member engagement

Association member retention, however, usually isn’t discussed as frequently as new membership, but it should be!

Have you ever switched cable or telecoms companies and been treated like royalty during the transition? Deals, promotions, customer service representatives on the phone whenever you need them; but what happens when after you’ve been a loyal customer for a while? The deals and promotions are gone, and the only way you can talk to a human is to threaten to pull your business.

That’s an awful experience.

The last thing you want for your membership is for them to feel like you’re giving preference to new members only.

And from the perspective of the organization, don’t forget that the cost to acquire a new customer (or member) is seven times greater than the cost to retain an existing one.

Associations certainly don’t intend to turn their backs on their members. It happens because, unlike member acquisition, there usually isn’t a documented strategy for retention; there’s no plan or process to follow.

That changes today.

In this post we’re going to reveal a few strategies that you can use to keep your members engaged, motivated, and happy with their membership.

After all, you’ve worked so hard to gain new members for your association in the first place, now it’s time to focus on retention.


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Start Your Retention Program Immediately

There are few things as frustrating to an organization than trying to put together a member retention program with unreasonable expectations on a rushed deadline. And yet this is how so many associations market to their existing members.

For instance, if your organizational goal is to have a yearly 90% retention rate, but you don’t get that directive until four weeks before membership renewal, you’ll be scrambling to make it happen. This example can be compounded by the fact that you haven’t reached out to your members recently.

Picture it from the member's point of view: She doesn’t hear anything from you for a long time, and the first time you do make contact, it’s to ask for money. Not an ideal experience.

Association member engagementInstead, start your retention program from the first day and keep communicating at regular intervals.

Start their membership on the right foot by sending them a welcome email series, pointing out different benefits of the membership and establishing protocol, points of contact, etc. Schedule an automated email two weeks in just to ask how things are going, and make it personal!

These are just a few examples, but the key takeaway is to start your membership retention efforts early.

 

Provide a Community  

Human beings are encoded with a positive response to the feeling of community. We want to belong, to speak a common language, and have a shared symbolic system (think about sports).

Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together. (McMillan, 1976).

Community engagementThe psychology of community is well established—the only question is how do you build it at your association? 

As mentioned in the previous section, reaching out to your new members with a welcome email series is a great start. A warm welcome is the first step in inviting anybody into a new community. A well-executed welcome email series sets the tone for how they’re going to be treated moving forward.

Another great way to start building community within your association is through personalization.

As Dale Carnegie said:

A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.

Connect the data you have about each member with automation tools to make it feel like you’re addressing them personally. The effects on open and conversion rates can be surprising for a gesture that is so small and so simple. Don’t forget to collect that data in the first place with form fields, or by integrating with other systems that have already collected the particulars.  

Another thing you’ll want to do to establish a community is to solicit feedback on a regular basis. Your members need to know that you’re working and sacrificing for them in order to return the favor. It’s a great way to spark a conversation and gain a deeper understanding of your membership base.

Lastly, and this is important, you don’t have to do it alone! Your job is to provide the tools and motivation for the community to build organically. Your membership, when given the chance and circumstance to interact with one another, will begin adding to the sense of community within your organization.

Don’t underestimate the value of community. Make sure that you have enough resources allocated to plan and execute a strategy to build community within your organization.

 

Provide Opportunities for Engagement

There’s nothing like quality feedback from your members—it can help you in so many ways:

  • Makes your members feel engaged (hello!)
  • Provides insight into their needs
  • Raises your email sending reputation
  • Boosts morale for employees (they know they’re not talking to a wall)

OK, so member engagement is a good thing, and we can all agree on that. More importantly, how do you get it?

Member engagementShort answer: Ask for it!

Sounds simple, but what we often forget about digital channels is that many people are what’s known as lurkers. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a negative term—these are simply people who prefer to consume content as a spectator rather than actively participate. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable putting their thoughts into writing, or maybe they don’t understand how to use the digital communication channels effectively.

Either way, if you want to get those members off the bench and into the game, you need to prod them into action!

Here are a few ideas to get your members talking, clicking, and commenting:

Segment your messaging by persona: If you’re following inbound marketing best practices, you should have your membership segmented into different personas. Using this knowledge of your base, craft your communication strategy with content that’s specific to each audience. People are much more likely to engage when the content is top-of-mind.

Start with their problems: Yes, the membership you sold should ideally provide a solution to their problem or need, but that’s not where you start. Instead, start a conversation around known problem areas to provide more clarity into their situation—you would be surprised how often people don’t truly understand the root of their problem. Additionally, people who are hesitant to engage can be spurred into action by empathy. When your members feel that you can empathize with their problems, they’re more likely to open up.

Use a question-and-answer format: This one is as easy as it sounds—send them a question via email, provide the answer as a link to your blog. It helps your members as you're helping yourself by raising your email deliverability score. Hint: Clicks on links in your emails are great for overall email deliverability.

Go local: Even if your membership has a national level, try to keep your communications focused on the member’s individual location. This is especially true when it comes to events. Yes, the national events provide a better profit margin for your association, but members are more likely to engage with events and content that’s localized to them.

Offer training and education: Remember when we discussed how people tend to lurk (and not engage) online because they don’t feel comfortable? Break down those walls by offering free training via webinar, phone call, or in-person consultation—whichever works best for your budget.

Honorable mention: Check out this blog post over at Connectivity for more ideas for member engagement.

Lastly, you must capture and track the data that is created from member engagement. Clicks on emails, volunteer signups, webinar registrations, etc. Without measurement, your member engagement tactics will lose steam and take a backburner to all the other obligations of your association.

 

Provide Value

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been hinting at this throughout the entire blog post.

You must go out of your way to provide value in order to retain your members.

Yes, your members will inherently be getting value from the membership, but only if they’re aware of all the benefits and are using them to the full advantage. Members need to feel like you’ll be there for them for lifelong learning and education, and that requires you to step up your association marketing strategy.

Provide the value they’re seeking and solve the problems that drove them to your association in the first place. In that way, you’ll strengthen your membership retention.

People interpret value in different ways, but there are a few keywords that are universally understood as value-adds:

  • “Members-only”
  • “Exclusive content”
  • “Membership perks”
  • “Resources for our partners”

You get the idea.

The key is to label and to communicate the resources that your membership has access to that the general public does not. This is a signal to their brain that they are receiving something special, something valuable.

If you’re already providing these types of resources but they’re not clearly marked as exclusive to your membership base, consider adding language and design to communicate that.

If you’re not already providing these types of resources, here are two ideas of where to find that type of content:

Update and repurpose existing content: Can you add additional details or behind-the-scenes access to assets you’ve already published? By adding detail you’re adding value, therefore can use the content as a member retention tactic, as opposed to member acquisition.

Ask your partners to get involved: Use your existing partnerships to leverage cross-sell opportunities within your membership base. For example, when you buy a web-hosting service like Bluehost, it usually always comes with several relevant marketing offers like $150 in free Google AdWords credit. Do you have any partners that can offer services that complement your membership? Take advantage of them!


Membership retention is so vital to the continued success of your organization, but it’s not discussed nearly as often as member acquisition—which is why we've spent so much space on this post.

Remember, don’t be the cable company that only has consumer-friendly offers for new customers! Take care of your members from the first day of their membership for increased retention rates.

Don’t forget that it’s significantly less expensive to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one. Between the overall satisfaction of your members and the cost of acquisition, the case for strategizing and executing a retention strategy through member engagement should be top-of-mind for your organization.

If you’d like to see more details and a huge list of ideas, including real-world examples and tactics that associations are using to engage their members, please consider downloading our eBook. We've compiled a list of the top 50 ways your association can boost its membership, yours FREE by downloading below.

50 Ways to Boost Association Membership

About Jennifer Barrell

As the Director of Content, Branding & Buzz at Aptify, Jen oversees the strategy and execution of brand management and content production across the organization’s global offices. She thrives on bringing compelling content and useful information to associations to help them grow and engage their membership. She's also an avid fan of mid-century modern design and all things science fiction.

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