Submitted by ronja on Wed, 01/05/2022 - 00:24

How to Guarantee Your Membership Site Will Be Loved by Your Members

By Farhad Khan, BEng & CEO on January 5, 2022

This blog comes with a helpful tool to help you get started: 10 User Acceptance Strategies for Your New Membership Site Project & Worksheet.

Your Membership Site Needs a Change
Thinking about a new membership site for your association is a promising sign that you are in tune with the evolving needs of your membership.

A new membership site will help modernize your association, connect your members with member benefits and improve member experience. They are important goals for scaling your association, but how can you make sure you don’t make a change that will be rejected by members?

Creating a new membership site that members will accept and use is not a guarantee. The best way to ensure a successful launch and role out with member acceptance, is the wisdom and strategy of change management throughout the development process.

Thoughtful Change
This blog is about how to incorporate change management best practices into your membership site building process to ensure that your users — being your members and your internal staff — adopt and celebrate your new membership site. It sure would be disappointing if you build and launch a website that your members don’t want to use. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen!

The following questions and answers reveal how associations can use change management principles to help navigate a membership site project. The suggestions and strategy shared here have been culled from our podcast interview with Change Management Consultant and Educator, Betsy Bond, President and Founder of Bonding Change and Prosci Change Management Instructor.

Let’s start with some information about what change management is and the impact it can make on the successful integration of your membership site into your members’ user experience.

What is Change Management?
Change management is about getting people prepared for a change that is to come. It’s not about technology choices or training. It’s about all the people who will be involved in the change, such as the users, the members, the staff, and the senior leaders.

The change management process in a nutshell: Think about how and what your members want, and how members want to interact. Ask your members! They will tell you. Give them the information they need when they want to receive it in the method they want. This article will flesh out more details and strategies to make this happen!

We are all familiar with project management. Where does change management fit in?
Change management is complementary to project management. It helps ensure that users — namely your members — accept and embrace the new tools you create for them.

Project management is about delivering a solution. The project managers work out the schedule, the budget and manage risks through the process of making the solution. But they usually take off on launch.

Change management, on the other hand, focuses on how to get members to use the solution (or tool) your association has provided for them. The solution can be the most beautiful, advanced tool, but when members reject it, no one wins.

It’s easy to produce the product in a vacuum. The challenge is introducing a change that will be accepted.

When do we start the change management process and when does it end?

The Solution Brainstorming Stage
It starts as soon as possible. We need to explore if your members will want the solution your association has in mind. Start with exploring members’ willingness for a change.

Even before your decision to make the change gets the green light by the higher ups (your executive and your board), we have to consult the stakeholders who will be impacted by the change. We have to ask members what their problems are, what their goals are, and brainstorm solutions together.

This isn’t just a lip-service exercise to “make members feel included.” It is good business to make sure we clearly understand the problems before investing in a solution. (A good developer will not take on a project or even offer a quote without a detailed understanding of the goals of a project, and an association shouldn’t move forward without this research either.)

The Design Stage
Too often, though, the decision to pursue a specific solution has already been made and the strategy has been decided before members are consulted. When the decision has already been made, change management comes in at this time: namely, the design process.

The Ninth Hour Stage
The sad reality is that many organizations wait until the final hour. This creates a mad rush to prepare all parties for the change. In that rush, things are missed.

In terms of when it ends, you should expect the change management team to stick around a lot longer than the project management team. It is common that once the project has been delivered, there is heavy lifting to be done for the change management team. We have to make sure that the new tool is integrated into regular use by members. Change management continues until the change has been integrated into your association’s culture.

When building a membership site, we typically work with three teams at an association: the membership management team, the marketing team and the financial team. What is the process of getting each team involved?
Each team has its own unique responsibilities, viewpoint and contribution to make to the conversation. We would start with a stakeholder analysis and involve everyone who will be affected by the change. Go beyond the technology in this analysis stage.

When done well, it takes into account the people over the tech: what are their attitudes to overcome, skills that need to be developed, will relationships be impacted, etc. Usually, the how-tos for the tech (i.e. the processes and procedures) are easier than changes to relationships and winner over attitudes.

Speak to everyone. A survey may seem like the easiest way, but nothing will replace the insights that will be revealed through a conversation. Hearing your stakeholders express themselves will allow you to ask follow-up questions and identify what are the actual problems you are trying to solve.

Look at each unique group in detail that considers the technical aspects, process and the people impacted. The best way to do this is to talk to them. Have a conversation designed as a workshop. Members generally know what they need, so ask them! You’ll get some incredibly deep insights. 

You don’t need to bring in everyone. Representatives from each level that understand their department is sufficient. Ask them how they want to be supported, how do they want to receive information, how do they want to be trained, how do they want access to updates and quick references, what do they need from the leadership?

With this information, your focus changes from the information gathering stage to how to resolve the issues that will come up for your members and the people involved.

What do you think of a day-in-the-life-of interviews with stakeholders?
They are useful to document processes, but the blindspot of the day-in-the-life-of exploration is it doesn’t give a full picture of the interactions between different people. For example, what happens when an association staff member interacts with their superior, their subordinate, their coworker, or a member.

Take as an example moving to a new location, or the membership website crashing or an annual important fundraiser or association conference. A day-in-the-life interview doesn’t address changes outside of that myopic view of the activities of a typical day.

Which stakeholders should be brought in and when?
Start early with the leadership. Early days are not time to bring everyone on board because we aren’t sure of the direction your association will go in. You have to be selective of who you start early with. Start with a group of members that will be honest with you and tell you what your users are going to like, want, not want, be excited about and be concerned about.

As you get closer and closer to training and launch, bring more and more members in. Don’t wait until you launch a live course only to find that members want a self-learning program, for instance.

What are the chances of missing key things with a limited number of people who are part of the early conversation?
Yes, absolutely, things will be missed. But design by committee doesn’t work either. We do our best to pick informed, key people and continue with an iterative process, inviting more members as we go.

We are creatures of habit. Even throughout the process of envisioning change, we can unconsciously start creating a solution that is very similar to the tools we currently use! It is best to have some creative people and experienced strategists involved in the design process.

Make sure your developers can offer experience and strategy rather than just carrying out a proscribed vision. Your developers should be empowered to question your assumptions and offer practical advice.

Change Management Throughout the Development Process
Agile design is a collaborative interactive approach to web design that lends itself perfectly to change management. Agile design is based on the idea that team members work together rather than in silos. Work is built in phases and work — even partially completed work — is demoed often for review. Every time you get to a release, you have to demo the delivered features to the member community to get feedback in a structured way.

Do not fall prey to the mindset that you are in a rush and there isn’t time for this. It will be much worse to launch a completed product that is not well received by the member community. Build into your web development timeline this demo and feedback collection process to make sure the product being build is on track.

Circle back to reconsult with your stakeholders regularly throughout the development process. 

Demo any features that have been created. Getting their feedback on each piece of development will help inform and improve each subsequent phase of development. This will help troubleshoot issues your users and members will have with the product before your formal launch.

For every development sprint, we get feedback to incorporate into the design. We review the sprint ahead that the work is done. Would you recommend we do this even earlier than one sprint ahead? Is this realistic?
This is the nature of work: we are short of time. Plan and schedule for exploration and feedback. Avoid making last-minute demands and last-minute meetings. Be realistic about the time it will take. Make the most time to get feedback from members that will find the change the most uncomfortable. You will learn the most from the people who are most resistant. 

Can we overcome people’s resistance to change?
It is a common idea that people don’t like change. People are not really resistant to change. Rather, they are addicted to comfort. By including your members in the development process they become familiar with the tool before it is even launched. Their involvement creates the familiarity and confidence to successfully use and embrace the new membership site.

Presumably, your association is introducing the new membership site because a new membership platform is needed. Your association is likely not making this change on a creative whim. You likely did your research on different membership sites on the market.

Big advice: don’t pick a tool on any other metrics other than your data. Use your member engagement data to make your decisions around changes. What are you hearing from your members? What are you hearing from your staff? Are your member retention and member engagement rates slipping because the membership site you currently have isn’t serving them? From this standpoint, you are only making a change that will appease your members’ hunger for an improved user experience.

What about the people who are most resistant to change? Can we win them over?
One of the best ways to figure out what is driving the resistance is a conversation. Make the time to hear them and give them a voice. More often than not, we make assumptions and we stand to learn a lot about how to launch a product that is a real solution by listening to them.

The second tactic is to make them as familiar with the product as possible. Get them involved, give them a task, ask them to review features along the way. This way, on go-live day, they are familiar with it.

Recruiting Members for Feedback
It’s much harder for your association to get the attention of your members than your employees. Employees have to participate, but for members, their time and membership is discretionary.

When reaching out to recruit members to participate in the change management process, some members are keenly interested in contributing while others are reticent or disinterested.

Involve expert communicators that can help reach as many members as possible. Make the communications far more focused on the member than the solution. Focus on the benefit to the member, not the perks of the new tool.

When communicating with members about the new membership site, make it clear what type of information you are sharing and for what goal. Is this communication sharing information for keeners who want all the details, or truly an important update with required action items for the members. For example, “We need members to log in just once to confirm your password” versus “Here is a detailed update of what we have been up to behind the scenes.” Not all members want to get lost in that second option and will be turned off and miss the first one if they don’t know what to expect.

Also recognize that when your association has information to communicate to members, it doesn't mean the members are ready to listen. Member-based associations are on a timeline, but most of our members are not on our timeline. With this in mind, associations cannot expect blasts of information to suffice.

Associations have to design a membership site solution and the communications around using the solution has to be easy to access when the member is ready to receive it. Keep micro-learning and onboarding videos accessible and on demand for members who are checking in for the first time — even if it’s nine months after your launch!

Track your members' participation and provide “welcome” content for their first time joining, even if it’s a year later.

Are training videos effective for members?
It depends on your audience. Is your membership very dependant on your association and will eagerly consume the training videos? Some types of training are better for live instruction, others are suited for a recorded video. Some training is mandatory, others are not. Some require some back-and-forth with the members.

What advice do you have for supporting a member who is exploring the membership site for the first time?
Provide on-demand, on-screen support for members, and that support should be on specific features. A 17-minute video that contains instructions on 12 features isn’t user-friendly for a member who just wants to know how to use one feature.

Part of the change management process is talking to your members and finding out which features need more explanation and support instructions. Have the support right there on the web page. Not in the print manual, not in an email, but right where the member will use the feature.

Can you share some common change management challenges you have seen when rolling out a membership site?
User acceptance problems happen when a beautiful membership site or feature is created without the end-user and use case in mind. It can be built with the smartest, most well-intentioned people, but without really understanding your client persona and getting feedback on feature demos throughout an interactive process, you end up with a tool that your members don’t want to use because it doesn’t solve their problems.

The second common problem is making sure that on-demand support is available on the web page so that they can find help when they need it.

The third suggestion is to ask each member about their communication preferences. Do they want emails or not, do they want mailings or not. Do your members like chatbots? Ask them what they want and communicate it the way they prefer for the best results.

Take the time to do research as to how your members want to receive the training on the new platform. Allocate your training budget to meet the preferences of your members. On-demand training on the web page is preferable to a one-time live training session with a live association staff member. Members won’t remember everything from the live session and the built-in help text in the membership site is evergreen.

Your association needs to be prepared to update the help text as needed. Keep track of the FAQs that come up from members who are confused by the membership site and how to use member benefits. Add help text for FAQs right on the membership site webpages.

It is common that a membership manager doesn’t have “ownership” of the association’s website and can’t make the changes they feel their membership needs. How would you resolve this situation?
Every team member at an association is focused on their part — it’s normal. No one wants someone to come in and tell them what to do. The best way to bring everyone on board with a solution that best serves the members is to have a conversation and give everyone a voice. Allow the people who are responsible for the website — perhaps the marketing department — to express their reticence to the changes that the membership managers want. Allow them to hear how the membership team is expressing the needs and wants of the membership. Let the conversation guide your association.

Would you suggest annual surveys?
Yes — but they have to be designed well. Putting together the survey is the easy part, but consider the experience of the member who has to take the survey. We make it very hard on members with long survey with questions that don’t have an obvious application to improve member experience. For example, asking members “how many times have you logged into the membership site?” is frustrating for members when your website can and should track when they interact with the website.

Keep surveys really short and pertinent. Ask information that your Google Analytics cannot tell you that will clearly help you make improvements to the member experience. Make it as easy as possible for members to fill it out.

A one-question survey will get more responses than a 30-minute survey. 

How long does it take for members to get used to a new membership site?
It depends on the complexity of the membership site. In general terms, three months seems to be the magic number where members adopt and accept a new solution. For a very sophisticated membership site with a lot of features and seasonal offerings, it may take a long time. 

Onboarding Members to New Features
It goes without saying that the feature should be easy to use. It goes without saying that your association has tested the feature and it's obvious to members how to engage and benefit from it.

Include instructions and help text as needed. A good practice is to have a way for the user to get on-demand help. Have a button or icon members can click on for more help. Short video recordings of how to use features are helpful.

What is your biggest take-away for member-based associations?

Adoption of the new membership site is not about the tech, it’s about the people. Getting your members involved is key. Getting members to take the time to share their opinions is harder since you are not an employer requiring an employee to participate. Have focus groups and demos that are organized and focused and respect your members’ time. If the member doesn’t feel it’s a good use of time, they won’t come back for the second round of demos.

Feedback, Feedback, Feedback, Launch, Then More Feedback
By including your members and staff in the process of testing each feature as they are developed, your association will end up with a product that will be accepted and embraced by them.

Combine Strategies and Execution
You don’t have to fumble through a membership site transition alone. Our full-service agency can guide you through the planning process and include your stakeholders and membership through the design and development process.

Get All the Tips from this Blog in one Document for Your Reference
Download the 10 User Acceptance Strategies for Your New Membership Site Project & Worksheet to share with your team, help organize your thoughts and plan your next steps.

Learn More About Membership Management, Engagement and Retention
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Author information

farhad khan Grype CEOFarhad Khan, BEng, CEO

A tech entrepreneur specialized in creating membership websites for professional associations to increase member engagement. My background is as an engineer for Nortel and Ericsson. I started my own tech company in 2009 to help associations and nonprofits solve their challenges with my digital technology skills.