Understanding Member Engagement

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Member engagement directly impacts an association’s ability
to survive and flourish. Associations that report higher rates of engaged members also report higher renewal rates. The industry lacks a standard definition or measurement method for member engagement, putting the burden on individual associations to develop their own internal definitions and scoring methods.

Thankfully, this can be easier than first thought might indicate and is a worthwhile undertaking.

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Understanding Member Engagement

  1. 1. www.affinitycenter.com@2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved.WHITEPAPERUnderstandingMember EngagementExecutive SummaryMember engagement directly impacts an association’s abilityto survive and flourish. Associations that report higher rates ofengaged members also report higher renewal rates. The industrylacks a standard definition or measurement method for memberengagement, putting the burden on individual associations todevelop their own internal definitions and scoring methods.Thankfully, this can be easier than first thought might indicate andis a worthwhile undertaking.Every association can and should define member engagementinternally and measure against that definition to understandits engagement status. Accurate measurement eliminates theguessing and allows associations to enact programs that bringmember engagement results and scrap programs that siphonvaluable resources without delivering value. By understandingwhere its members stand, an association can build up its levels ofengaged members and move a larger percentage of them up thescale from “check-book” or “engaged” to “loyal advocate” andultimately to “brand ambassador”.
  2. 2. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 2Defining, Measuring and Maximizing Member ActivityMember engagement is a big topic of discussion among associationexecutives. When searching the phrase “member engagement” Googlereturns roughly 219,000,000 results. There are LinkedIn Groups, YouTubevideos and entire blogs dedicated to the topic. With all this discussion, itshould be clear what exactly member engagement means. But it’s not. Thedefinition of member engagement is nebulous and the ways associationsmeasure it—if they do at all—are numerous.What is clear, however, is that member engagement directly impacts anassociation’s membership renewal rates—studies show that involvedmembers are much more likely to renew than passive or “check-writing”members. It builds loyal members and brand ambassadors—those thatrenew automatically, see the value of membership, are involved in theassociation and carry the message to their colleagues on behalf of theassociation. Ultimately, member engagement impacts the association’sability to work toward its mission.Therefore, it’s safe to assume that associations should put priority onengaging their members in order to build or maintain high renewal rates.According to the MGI 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report,associations that report an increase in overall membership growth arestatistically more likely to report having higher levels of engagement. It goeson to note that associations who have higher proportions of membersengaging in the following three activities are significantly more likely to reporthaving a renewal rate of 80% or higher than those reporting a renewal rate ofless than 80%:• Purchasing or maintaining insurance through the organization• Attending annual conference/trade show• Upgrading membership1How does the association know if its efforts are working? The key is tocreate a clear picture of member engagement among the association’s staffby establishing an internal definition that is measurable. This definition ofmember engagement will help the association engage its members on regularbasis with programs they want and cultivate loyal members.Attend at least one professionaldevelopment course or meeting23%23%22%17%17%Attend the annualconference/trade showAcquire or maintain acertification with the associationAttend at least one webinarPurchase a non-dues productTop 5 MemberEngaging ActivitiesSOURCE: MGI 2012 Membership MarketingBenchmarking Report
  3. 3. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 3The Member Engagement SpectrumEach association has an engagement scale on which its members sit—from potential member to brand ambassador. Once engagement has beendefined and measurement plan implemented, the association can gauge thepercentages of members it has in each area and work to move them towardthe ultimate level of engagement, brand ambassador.The Importance of Creating Brand AmbassadorsThe highest two tiers of member engagement are key to an association’s longterm health. At these levels, the most highly engaged members see the valuethe association delivers and share it with others. They become steadfast, loyalconsumers of the association brand and increasing their numbers is important.The more engaged members are in an association, the more likely they areto attend the meetings and events, buy products, volunteer and renew theirmembership automatically. These characteristics simultaneously earn theassociation revenue and save the association operational expenses allowing itto spend on its true mission.In its 2012 benchmarking report, MGI found that “associations with renewalrates of 80% or higher are significantly more likely to report that greater than50% of their members have attended at least one professional developmentmeeting and/or acquired or maintained a certification with their organization.This finding suggests that opportunities for professional development andthe promise of an earned designation to possibly improve career options is ameaningful member offering to increase member engagement.”2Types of Association MembersPotentialMemberCheck-bookMemberSporadicMemberEngagedMemberLoyalAdvocateBrandAmbassadorNew to theindustry, may lackresources or time,or not a “joiner”.Needs tounderstand valueof associationmembership.Writes duescheck, but doesn’tactively participatein associationprograms.Renewal is notguaranteed.Occasionallyattends meetingsor participatesonline.Renewal is notguaranteed.Gets involvedin associationprograms on aregular basis.Renewal is likely.Gets involvedin associationprograms,volunteers forcommittees,appreciatesthe value ofmembership.Renewal is highlylikely.Champions theassociation’smission.Renewal isautomatic.
  4. 4. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 4Defining Member Engagement Across the IndustryWhile there is no industry-wide standard definition, industry veterans haveput forth their definitions. C. David Gammel, CAE, executive director of theEntomological Society of America defines member engagement on his blog,High Context, this way: “Member engagement is the result of a memberinvesting time and/or money with the association in exchange for value. Themore of these precious resources they invest, the more engaged they are.”3Anna Caraveli PhD., Managing Partner, Connection Strategist, Co-founder,The Demand Perspective describes another approach on her blog, “Oneway membership organizations define it is by numbers: the number of eventsattended and benefits utilized by a member; the amount of time volunteeredand degree of interest in the association’s causes and initiatives.”4Defining Member Engagement InternallyExpert definitions are a useful guide, but the reason there is not one accepteddefinition is that the concept of member engagement is specific to anindividual association. Therefore, it falls to each association to develop its owninternal definition.The definition must be measurable so that the association knows if theactivities and benefits it is offering are perceived as valuable to the membersand thus having a positive impact on renewal rates and member loyalty.Developing a definition starts with picturing the end result first. Based onwhat the association knows about its membership and its own mission andgoals, it should paint a picture of the ideal member. Then establish criteria thatdescribe how the association views successful member engagement. Criteriafor the illustrating an engaged member could include identifying the following:• What we want members to do – does the association value one orsome of its benefits over the others?• Where we want members to engage – does the association valuein‑person over online engagement or vice versa and why?• When we want members to engage – how much activity over what periodof time? Is it enough for a member to attend one conference per year, ordoes a member need interaction with the association more often to beconsidered engaged?Based on the answers to this criteria an association can then define whatmember engagement means. For example, one association might determinethat attending a webinar is a behavior it values more highly than reading itsblog, whereas another association would rather see daily interaction on itssocial media.
  5. 5. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 5Measuring Member EngagementOnce the definition of member engagement is clear, the challenge is tomeasure it. There is no standard formula within the association industryin which to measure engagement. Recently, however, MeetingsNet.cominterviewed Aptify chairman and chief executive officer, Amith Nagarajin, abouthis formula for engagement scoring. He outlines it in five steps:• Step 1: Identify Key Performance IndicatorsKey performance indicators (KPI) are activities that members engage in thatare most aligned with the strategic objectives of the association such asthe number of meetings and events attended over a given time period, totalrevenue generated from the member or years as a member. [It could alsoinclude how active members are on the association’s knowledge sharingtools like email lists, intranet topic rooms and even social media activities.]It’s critical to pick the three to five most important KPIs so the focus is notdiluted. The KPIs should be selected by looking at the strategic objectivesof the association and choosing the activities that most support those goals.They differ from association to association [and industry to industry].• Step 2: Weight the KPIsThe KPIs are then weighted for importance and assigned a point total so thatall add up to 100. If there are five KPIs and all are equal in importance, theneach would be assigned 20 points. If they are not equal, then event attendancemight be assigned 40 points, while advocacy is 20, years as a member is 15,revenue generated for the association is 15, and volunteering is 10.• Step 3: Assign Points for ActivitiesNext, points are assigned for activities within each KPI. So, for eventattendance, points would be assigned based on how many meetings amember attended within a given time period. If the member attended oneassociation meeting in the past three years, he might earn 10 points withinthat 40 allocated to the KPI. If he attended two to three meetings in the lastthree years, he might receive 20 points. If he went to more than four andvolunteered or sat on a panel, then he might get all 40 points.• Step 4: Tally Up the ScoresAfter point totals for each of the KPIs are added together, the memberwill have a Composite Engagement Score that quantifies his level ofengagement.• Step 5: Use the Data to EngageAn association can aggregate the data to arrive at an average engagementscore, which provides the organization with a benchmark on which toimprove. It can also drill down into each of the KPIs to identify strengths andweaknesses. For example, if the average engagement score for meetingattendance is lower than the others, then leadership knows that steps mustbe taken to get more people to the meetings.5
  6. 6. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 6Nicole Rawski, analytics manager at Digitaria shared four tips for measuringengagement in a blog post on imediaconnection.com. While she is measuringengagement on websites, her tips (excerpted here) can easily be applied tointeractions with association members:• Goals and objectivesIn order to translate analytics into engagement, it’s important to interpretthem in light of the purpose of the site [association]: Who are you servingand what do they need or want? At the end of the day, your engagementanalytics should help you make informed decisions on what and how toimprove your site [association].• User experienceAlways think about your users [members]. Understanding your users’ goalswill help you deliver a better user experience in addition to understandingwhich actions are most valuable to measuring engagement.• Segment appropriatelyCreating KPIs and custom measurements is a good first step tounderstanding engagement, but in order to get to the core of what yourusers [members] are doing, make sure you group those users accordingly.Which users are you targeting? Who do you want to know more about?Some metrics have built in segments, but sub-segments and geo-segmentsmay provide more insight into your overall goals.• Get socialSocial sharing by your users broadcast to their massive social networks isincredibly important for word-of-mouth marketing. But even more importantthan that, integrating social sharing provides key engagement insights.Which content motivated your users to share and how did they reach thatcontent? Understanding this about your users could be potentially moresignificant than the social networks they reach.6Another option is to automate the measurement. Many associationmanagement software firms now integrate engagement measurement toolsinto their software. The association can also conduct surveys to learn whichactivities and benefits are driving engagement and where changes need to bemade to increase participation.To determine where your membership stands on the scale, is to workbackwards and gauge how many renew without any effort from association.Those are the loyal members. Use word of mouth statistics to begin tomeasure to measure the percentage of brand ambassadors within theassociation. On the other hand, those members that must be reminder five,six, or seven times to renew are less engaged with the association. One the“check-book” or “engaged” members are identified, focus on other categoriesof engagement the association has identified as important, such as conferenceattendance, and build a subset of that group to determine the “low hangingfruit.” This subset has the most potential to move up the ladder and will requiremore analysis and attention to deliver the programs they value.
  7. 7. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 7Gammel offers a tool in his book, Maximum Engagement: Moving Members,Donors, and Customers to Ever-Increasing Levels of Participation, whichhelps an association plot its activities on a continuum engagement valuewhere more people are involved in lower value activities and less people areinvolved in higher value activities. This chart helps the association identifygaps in engagement. He points out, “Perhaps you engage a lot of people withyour content and social media, but it costs $3,000 for people to attend yourconference. That’s going to stop a lot of people from engaging further.”7Increasing Engagement through MeasurementDefining member engagement, understanding where it stands within theassociation and learning what members need to increase their engagement ispowerful. It allows the association to segment its membership, take a portionof the less committed and shift them a little bit forward to the more highlyengaged group. The top performing and active members (brand ambassadorsand loyal members) will always attend and support—it is the 15 to 25 percentright behind them that need more communication. They are engaged, butnot yet “automatic” in their loyalty. Getting a portion of the second group tobecome more active and loyal will drive positive financial and advocacy resultsand overall mission fulfillment.Measuring engagement will yield concrete data from which to work andlimit the number of assumptions staff must make when creating programs.Accurate measurement will also give the association the power to dumpprograms that are not being utilized and are merely taking its resources toproduce. The focus can then shift to identifying reasons why other programsare successful and capitalize on those features to produce a higher level ofmembership value.The association can explore adding a new benefit, like a loyalty program,for example, that is designed to entice the second group (the engaged) tointeract more often with the association. Loyalty programs are a new conceptfor associations. They change the concept of member engagement fromalways asking members to do something or give something to rewardingthem for their participation. They give the association an outlet for connectingwith member on a regular basis and a creative way to incentivize them toparticipate in other association programs.
  8. 8. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 8Moving from Analysis to ActionWith a clearer understanding of what member engagement means andhow to measure it in a particular association, it’s time to move from analysisto action. The following four steps are a path toward activating yourmembership and driving more member engagement.First, define success. Determine how the association will defineengagement for itself. What things are most important to the association, tothe financial and business success and especially to the members? Eachassociation is different and hence what is important to one will be differentfrom what is important to another, hence the definition of engagement willbe different for each association. Determine how success will be measured.Will one of the methods previously described work or should the associationdevelop its own formula?Second, ask and communicate. Listen to members, via surveys, focusgroups or informal feedback. Conduct a member benefit audit to seewhich ones are really delivering value. Create continuous feedback loop.Understand how the association’s members want to be communicated withboth with the association and between each other (e.g. social media, emails,forums, or face‑to-face).Third, deliver extraordinary experiences. Develop activities that are bothbusiness and social. Don’t forego the networking/fun activities that maybe of importance to members. Always think of new ways to bring value tomembers, to their businesses and their personal lives. It is not only aboutthem paying membership dues, but it is truly about what the associationgives them in return.Fourth, reward members for their engagement. Saying thank you goes along way in ensuring future renewals. ACI’s white paper, “The Neuroscienceof Member Loyalty”, covers the impact positive emotions and positivememories have on member loyalty.8Finally, focus on building community. People join associations primarilybecause they are wired to be social. Give members ways to connect witheach other, share their advice, questions, or daily activities. Give them avariety of ways to interact with or become a part of your leadership. Their levelof commitment will depend on their perceived value of the project or goal.1 Define Success2 Ask and Communicate3 Deliver ExtraordinaryExperiences4 Reward Loyalty5 Build Community5 Stepsto IncreasingMember Engagement
  9. 9. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 9Positive Engagement Activities Generate Longer Term ValueWhile things like conferences, certification classes, or other standardmember actives are key to building a well-rounded member engagementportfolio, it is important to also make sure fun, creative programs are part ofthe mix. Engagement activities should have some level of positive emotionalvalue as well.Recent examples of these types of activities include:• Crab Boil – a 100% member focused, fun activity that allowed members tocome and socialize while eating crab and drinking beer. No other goals andobjectives beyond the three-hour window of down time and interaction. Oneconstruction-industry association has used a crab boil over the years and ithas grown to a well-attended and supported activity.• Wine Tasting – one financial-industry association did not realize that thisyearly event was their best way to get existing members to invite onepotential new member until they started thinking of it less as an event to beendured and instead as a key part of member engagement. Each year thissocial event is sold out within one week of offering.• Industry Thank You Dinner – one organization holds a yearly thank youand rewards dinner to highlight those in the state and/or industry that havehelped others beyond their jobs. This has ranged from individuals in onecompany that helped a competitor who felt ill, or a team of people whohelped at great personal cost of time and money to help support a charityeffort. The attendance in this group has grown from a handful a few yearsback to well over a thousand.• Golf Tournament – one association in the educational industry uses a yearlygolf event to drive support of the three non-profits they support.Many associations have these types of social and fun activities. They are a keypart of driving positive member engagement and should be embraced.Open the Door for Loyal MembersDefining member engagement opens the door to establishing a higher levelof member value, driving engagement and increasing the number of loyalmembers. Today, with thousands leaving the workforce and many more facingstiff budget constraints, every member counts. No association can afford notto improve their numbers of loyal members. It is only with the backing of afiercely loyal membership base that an association can work toward achievingits mission.
  10. 10. @2013 Affinity Center International LLC, All Rights Reserved. www.affinitycenter.com | 10References1. Erik Schonher et al. “2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Study,” Marketing GeneralIncorporated, Alexandria, 2012, p. 9.2. Tony Rossel “Product and Service Engagement Drives Member Retention and Growth,”Membership Marketing Blog, http://membershipmarketing.blogspot.com/2012/04/product-and-service-engagement-drives.html3. C. David Gammel, CAE “Definition of Member Engagement for Associations,” High Context,December 28, 2009 http://highcontext.com/2009/12/28/definition-of-member-engagement-for-associations/4. Anna Caraveli “Myths about Member Engagement” Tactical Engagement or Countingthe Numbers,” The Demand Perspective, November 8, 2011, http://demandperspective.com/2011/11/08/myths-about-member-engagement-1-tactical-engagement-or-counting-the-numbers/5. Dave Kovaleski, “How to Measure Member Engagement,” MeetingsNet, October 3, 2012,http://meetingsnet.com/association-meetings-resources/how-score-association-member-engagement6. Nicole Rawski “How to Really Measure Engagement,” iMedia Connection, June 15, 2012,http://www.imediaconnection.com/article_full.aspx?id=320657. C. David Gammel, CAE Maximum Engagement: Moving Members, Donors, and Customersto Ever-Increasing Levels of Participation, ASAE Press, Washington, 20118. “The Neuroscience of Member Loyalty,” Affinity Center International, Reston, 2011.

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