Looking to create a membership communication plan but not sure where to start? This blog will guide you through everything you need to know to create a membership communication approach that will not overload your members!
Wanted vs Unwanted Communication
One of the most common questions we receive from associations is, “How much communication is the right amount of communication?”, “How can we stay in touch without being a nuisance?”, “How can we contact members without turning them off?”
Let’s start with a question of our own: How do your members decide what communications are wanted and which are unwanted?
It’s safe to assume that your members don’t want to be spammed with communication that does not relate to them or interest them. A healthy communication strategy requires being mindful of what relates to each member and what interests them.
Finding the right communication cadence is about understanding your members. We do this by building a relationship with members.
We have to first understand what their expectations are from being a member of your association. What are their goals? What are their problems? From understanding their pains, we can then tell them how they gain through their membership.
From this base of understanding their problems and providing solutions, can create the content they want to hear about. As for how often they want to hear from you and through what channels, we have to get to know what they like.
Talk to Your Members
The best place to start establishing your membership communication plan is by speaking to your members.
There are many ways to connect with members. Surveys are the obvious one that comes readily to mind. There is room for surveys when planned well, but more importantly, surveys are a creative time and space to talk with members. Inviting members to a one-on-one to ask them how they feel about their membership, whether they are enjoying it, what they like and don’t like — all those are important questions to get inside their head, to find out what is motivating and inspiring them.
There is also the option of hosting regular focus groups with members. This allows you to speak with more members at once, but be mindful that the results will not be the same as a one-on-one meeting with a member.
People are less likely to share what their real insecurities are, that are holding them back in a group setting. It is also common for people to be influenced by opinions shared by others when they may not feel particularly strongly about the issue, had the first person not mentioned it.
For readers who think this is obvious advice, I can tell you that we work closely with hundreds of associations who are looking to reengage their members, and the member interview process is often overlooked or done ineffectively. Check out our Know Your Membership Quick Guide & Worksheet.
Pick Your Survey Questions Well
For example, we sent a client to interview their members to get to know them better. This client is an international accreditation institute with tens of thousands of members, with a shocking 40% member retention rate! Their member experience was lacking, membership was high and financially they were successful, their high member churn rate was indicative of a poor member experience.
We sent this client to interview members. We told them to interview about 10. They went for the moon and interviewed a whopping 70 members!
This association spent hundreds of hours with its members, tracked their answers, and made charts and graphs. When they showed us the data, however, we didn’t know more about the members than when we started.
How could this be possible??
The association asked simple yes/no questions such as “Have you logged into the member portal?” and “Have you checked the job board?”. They heard back that 80% of their members logged into the portal and checked the job board. They were happy with the results of the survey.
This association missed the goal of the exercise, which was to get to know its members. They didn’t ask their members about their experience as a member and if they were satisfied with their membership. The association didn’t ask the members if they liked what they found in the members-only area and if they benefitted from the virtual job board. They didn’t ask what parts of the user experience they liked, and what areas they would want to see improved. What functionality is lacking for them and what is turning them off was not explored.
When interacting with clients, craft open-ended questions that do not leave room for nuanced answers. Since it’s a live one-on-one and not a status survey, take the opportunity to invite them to explain more about each answer they share. By probing deeper, you will learn more about what is turning them off or drawing them in.
Listen with your Eyes: Track Member Engagement
While what your members tell you they want is important, be mindful that members don’t always know what they want. Psychology 101 teachers say that people have many wants, while not really being in touch with what they need. We need to attract members by offering what they want but impress them by giving them what they need.
Even in those one-on-one interviews with members — without the pressure and judgment of a focus group — and with an empathetic ear asking them to share their experience, they may still not be self-aware enough or even want to share what really motivates them.
To solve this real communication challenge, we have to look at the member engagement data. Once a member enters your association’s word and membership site, you can see how they engage and what interests them.
We call this listening with your eyes, where you tune into what your members want using their habits and choices to see what they really want to do, rather than what they say they may want to do. Listen to our Explosive Growth for Associations Through Better Membership Management podcast to understand what is that your members really want.
Popular Wishlist Feature = Unused Launched Featured
A common scenario for associations is that they make changes to their tech based on requests from their staff and members. Alas, they end up sorely disappointed because they end up launching features for members on their membership site, or made programming for members based on what members said they wanted. When the feature was launched, it was a flop. Interest was low and participation even worse.
Why does this happen??
This goes back to people generally not being in touch with what they want and need. Perhaps they made feature requests based on an idealized vision of who they wanted to be or what they hoped the feature or benefit could be. Members are not trying to work us over. Members are not group psychologists or user experience experts! Read our How to Strategically Prioritize Your Features Wishlist For Your Website blog to understand what your members are looking for in your membership site.
The Engaged Discussion Board Dream
One of the most common features that is requested and then fails to take off after launch is a discussion board. The dream of a lively, creative, supportive, and impactful discussion board is alive and well. Association staff have a dream, and members do as well. But the dream doesn’t always become reality.
The Sleepy Discussion Forum
One of our clients created a custom discussion forum on their membership site because it was consistently and enthusiastically requested by members. When the discussion forum went live…. Crickets. No posts. No discussions. Radio silence. The association tried to kick off the discussion culture by making dummy member accounts to plant discussion topics and questions in the discussion forum. Real members never joined in.
Why? How could this happen when they requested the feature?
When the membership manager circled back to ask the members why they weren’t posting, they said they weren’t the posting types, but they sure do want to check up on other member’s posts!
The Fighters’ Discussion Forum
With another client, we had the opposite result! Their membership was so vocal, opinionated, and fearless that their discussion forum was a hostile environment. The discussion forum has regressed into a sea of empowered trolls, slinging mud that could not be managed by establishing rules of content! The association dismantled the discussion forum and pivoted to a member directory model. This allowed members to directly contact one another privately, and fight, if need be, away from the view!
What did these clients have in common? Both of these clients served educated, technologically savvy professionals. Yet the culture within each group and the personality of the members was different.
Two takeaway messages:
- Know your members, and
- Launching a new tool is fun, but change management is real.
Once you get a sense of how they operate, only send communications that will appeal to them via appropriate communication channels for your membership’s culture.
Best case scenario: your membership size is at a scale where creating personal relationships with members seems unrealistic — this is a good place to be!
While it’s true that every person is unique, it is still reasonable to group members into “types” — or segments, buckets, or tracks! — to send communication that is pertinent to the group as a whole.
The key to grouping members is to be strategic about the segments you create. Grouping people by age, gender, geography or other demographics is not indicative of similarities in interests or goals. Even grouping members by number of years of active membership with your association (i.e., first-year members, second-year members, etc.) will not create groups of like-minded members. Listen to our Targeted Marketing and Audience Segmentation for Associations podcast to understand how to segment your members and communicate with each segment.
Segment Using Interests and Engagement
A good place to start with member segmentation is to ask members which topics interest them and what their goals are.
This will kick off early communication. Having an email marketing tool such as Drip, MailChimp or Constant Contact can help you create multiple email communication automation.
From your early communications, your email marketing tool will track whether your members are opening the emails and clicking on the content you send them on the topics they expressed interest in
When members don’t engage with the emails or the content, they might not be as interested in those topics as they claimed. It’s possible they are just busy and you can try again, but we have to try to hit new notes until we find what motivates them. This is the science of member marketing!
Segment Using Member Engagement Activity
Use your CMS to create smart groups for members based on their levels of engagement. There are members that come to almost everything and try anything. There are members to come to nothing and try nothing. Then there are those in between.
For members who attend everything, they excel at staying informed about what’s new and available to them. Provide them with a way to browse benefits and upcoming events through means like a regular newsletter and an updated calendar, and they’ll take care of themselves.
For members that come to nothing but renew, accept that this is how they operate. They may enjoy being a card-holding member, enjoy supporting your cause, or benefit in a way that you aren’t currently measuring. It is not a failing on the part of the association that they are not engaging. These members may just want a once-a-year run down and membership renewal reminders.
For the members that come to some things but not others, this is where more time is needed to create a communication strategy.
The Sometimes Engaged Members
Set up your membership site to track what your members engage with. Track their clicks, downloads, and event registration to create a picture of what motivates them. There may be seasonal impacts, personal lifecycle considerations, or genres of content they like. Consider it all — and don’t be shy to ask your members along the way!
While as an association we are looking to diversify our catalogue of benefits, know that people often like more of the same. People commonly order the same menu items at restaurants and watch the same kinds of movies.
When you identify the types of content that your members like and what motivates them to engage, feel comfortable sending them information on similar content. They are telling you they like this, so go for it!
Too Much Communication
Unless your members are asking you to stop, don’t worry about communication being too much for members. It’s like that friend that calls you way more than you call them. If you like the friend, you like their calls. Even if you don’t have time to answer each call, it’s wanted!
Every association has a percentage of members who complain about the communication from the association. Offer your members a way to opt in or out of certain types of communications so they feel you are listening to their preferences.
Learn from Your Critics
Membership is the lifeblood of your organization. It’s what keeps you going and moving forward. But how can you make sure that your members stay engaged?
Communication is the key to keeping your members informed and interested. Every organization needs to do well on this front if they want to thrive. Member Lounge has created a comprehensive membership communication plan. It will help you connect with members in ways that are targeted, effective, and easy to implement.
When members tell you they don’t want the communications you are sending, seize the moment! Ask them what they don’t like and what they want to hear about. Take every rejection as a real opportunity to understand your members and improve your member communication overall.
The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease
The loudest voices are not necessarily representative of the majority. Managing cantankerous members is par for the course. Avoid making big changes based on the voices of a vocal minority.
For instance, some members may vocalize that a certain instructor isn’t their preference. However, this instructor may work well for another segment of your members. Instead of losing the baby with the bathwater, collaborate with dissatisfied members to ensure they also get what they need.
Learn More about Engaging Members
Join an upcoming webinar about engaging members, welcoming members, and creating user journeys with your membership site!