7 Online Member Acquisition Strategies to Grow Your Base

June 27, 2023
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Your membership base is the heart of your association. Without a dedicated membership community, your organization wouldn’t be able to provide valuable professional and educational opportunities.

Your association should strive to engage and retain existing members to build a loyal community of long-term members. However, it’s inevitable that your association will need to acquire new members. Whether you’re looking to grow your organization or replace members who leave, it’s important to leverage the online world as a crucial part of your outreach strategy.

While this process can seem intimidating, technology makes it easier than ever to reach new members (and keep them engaged). With online outreach, your association can expand beyond local areas, extending its reach to prospective members across the country (or even the world). You can also create multiple touchpoints with donors across various communication channels and automate tasks like welcome emails.

So, what are the best ways that your organization can step up its online strategy in order to acquire more members? Here are seven strategies to consider:

  1. Prioritize social media engagement.
  2. Create online partnerships with similar organizations.
  3. Use visual storytelling tactics in your outreach.
  4. Optimize your email campaign to non-members.
  5. Provide “teaser content” to encourage increased engagement.
  6. Offer perks to your existing base in exchange for recommendations.
  7. Make online registration as easy as possible.

Using these tips, you can capture (and keep) prospective members’ attention in the bustling online landscape. If you’re ready to learn more, let’s get started!

Learn how social media can help you reach more prospective members.

Prioritize social media engagement.

Because social media allows you to capitalize on the social networks of your existing members, it’s one of your association’s most important resources. And the best part is that it’s low-cost and right at your fingertips.

To make the most of this idea, determine where your potential members spend their time online. You might perform research based on demographic data or reference how popular each of your association’s social media accounts is. The most popular social media platforms for associations include:

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • TikTok

Once you know whether your target audience prefers to spend their evenings scrolling Facebook or checking out their peers’ profiles on LinkedIn, plan a course of action that allows you to take advantage of the unique strengths of each platform.

For example, leverage Instagram’s focus on images or TikTok’s algorithmically-targeted video feed to advertise how fun and engaging your member events or conferences are. On Facebook, you might reach out to existing groups and communities of people working in your field to promote your association.

Don’t forget to ask your existing members for help—they likely have a few friends on Facebook who would be interested in joining your organization. Offer perks to those registered in your association management system in return for them sharing your posts and images amongst their friends for increased online visibility.

Discover ways to leverage partnerships with other organizations as a part of your association’s acquisition strategy.

Create online partnerships with similar organizations.

Take advantage of the work that like-minded individuals or organizations have done to increase your field’s online visibility. Reach out to other associations or even nonprofit organizations with similar focal points, missions, or target audiences to see if there’s a way to collaborate. Make sure to highlight that the partnership has the potential to benefit both parties.

For example, your organizations can offer each other:

  • Advertising space in emails or newsletters.
  • Discounts on membership dues or branded merchandise for members of partner organizations.  
  • Cross promotions to members on each organization’s website.
  • Collaboration on exclusive eLearning content like webinars.  

When you partner with organizations with a similar target audience, you can increase your levels of online engagement and visibility by gaining exposure to their audience. Because the two organizations effectively share a pool of engaged online users, it benefits both of you. As your member populations increase, your symbiotic relationship will only grow to benefit both of you more.

Use visual storytelling in digital communications to communicate more effectively with potential members.

Use visual storytelling tactics in your outreach.

When you reach out to potential members online, you have to keep in mind that they are bombarded with information every day. They likely sift through bytes and bytes of useless or irrelevant information each time they log on. Remember that you only have seconds to make a good impression with interesting, relevant, or helpful resources before they determine whether or not they’re interested.

To capture members’ attention and keep them engaged, use visual storytelling to grab their attention. Don’t forget to include photos and videos in your posts to make them more engaging for readers.

To have the biggest possible impact with your visual storytelling, use techniques like:

  • Using high-quality pictures and images of people, rather than places and things.
  • Building a narrative around the people in images to build an emotional connection.
  • Enhancing pictures or videos with brief, engaging captions or voice-overs that communicate what the images don’t.

Using visual storytelling can help you engage your potential members online. Showcasing real, authentic stories about your association and its members helps interested individuals learn more about how membership could benefit them.

Learn how to maximize the success of your email campaigns.

Optimize your email campaign to non-members.

Your association might have a list of people that aren’t members but have interacted with your organization before. Maybe they subscribed to your newsletter, attended an event once, or purchased an item from your e-commerce shop for a friend.

Capitalize on this fledgling relationship and convert these individuals into full-blown members through email outreach. Leveraging email is an effective outreach strategy because it allows you to connect directly with the audience. Plus, most people check their email one to three times per day, so they’re likely to see your message. 

So, how can you make sure that your emails actually get opened and read? Here are some strategies that can boost your email open and click-through rates:

  • Write an engaging subject line. If your subject line seems boring, irrelevant, or unclear, your email could get ignored. Keep your subject line clear and concise, limiting it to around 40 characters. Consider using emojis to convey more emotion and context with fewer characters. If you feel stuck, try using different approaches like inducing curiosity or a fear of missing out.

  • Personalize your greeting. If you have the name of your recipient, use a software solution that plugs the name of the recipient directly into the email. Then, greet the recipient like, “Dear Jasmine” rather than “Dear Reader.”

  • Get right to the point. Convey the email’s purpose by explaining why you are reaching out to the reader within the first two lines. Hook them in with your main point, and then increase their interest through storytelling.

  • Include a clear call to action. Include just one, extremely clear call to action per email, like urging the recipient to register for membership. The call to action should be the first thing to catch your readers’ eyes when they look at the email, so make it stand out with graphics or bolded text. To make it as easy as possible for readers to take action, include links that take the recipients to your registration page or other relevant page based on the intended next step.

Email scheduling, personalization, and distribution are key to a strong communication strategy, and your organization needs a membership management software solution that can streamline this process. According to this guide from Fonteva, other essential features to look for in your AMS include member profiles, automatic renewal reminders, event management, payment processing, analytics and reporting, self-service member portals, and full database customization.

When leveraged together, these tools not only strengthen your outreach efforts for member acquisition but also help you create a more positive experience for current members.

Find out more about using teaser content to get potential new members interested in signing up.

Provide “teaser content” to encourage increased engagement.

When reaching out online, your association should have two tiers of content available. The first type is free “teaser” content for non-members. The second type is more valuable content that individuals can receive in return for becoming members or engaging in another way (like signing up for your newsletter).

Let’s say John, who is interested in joining an association in your field, finds your association on social media. There, he sees a post promoting livestream access to a Q&A with an industry expert if he signs up for your newsletter. Once John begins receiving your newsletter, he receives occasional messages prompting him to engage more deeply in exchange for additional access. Eventually, John wants to unlock all of the content your association has to offer and decides to become a member.

What other types of content could your organization offer in exchange for engagement? Here are a few ideas:

  • A webinar in return for an email address.
  • An e-book in return for a newsletter subscription.
  • A one-on-one chat with a member relations staffer in return for a LinkedIn follow.

Make sure to have a few pieces of content that draw in potential members or subscribers. This content will vary based on the characteristics of your organization, but common ideas include educational articles or exclusive interviews with relevant experts.

Advertise this content wherever your organization has an online presence to create an effective lead-capture technique that provides real value to new readers. Once you’ve converted these casual readers of your website into more dedicated community members, you’ll find it easier to convince them to increase their engagement even further. Their interest in membership depends on the value that you provide them, so make sure to show your potential members what you have to offer.

Offer perks to your existing base in return for recommendations.

Ask your current members to share your posts or articles about your membership program or association on their Twitter feeds, Facebook timelines, or LinkedIn profiles, and to add their own experiences with your organization to the post as a personal touch! Prospective members will likely be more willing to learn about your organization if trusted friends recommend it.

You can also encourage members to spread awareness for your organization by word of mouth or by creating a formal referral program that will earn them discounts on anything from their membership rate to tickets for your next event.

To get members motivated to recommend your association, add some fun perks for those who help you gain new members. Some incentives you might try include:

  • A discount on their next membership renewal.
  • An upgrade to the next tier of membership.
  • A discount or free shipping on their next merchandise purchase.
  • Free or discounted continuing education opportunities through your learning management system.

Keep in mind that providing incentives does not have to be costly or involve expensive prizes. Remember that your association’s offerings hold inherent value, and many of your members would be happy to have them at a free or discounted price.

Read over these tips for improving your online registration process.

Make online registration as easy as possible.

All of these acquisition strategies should culminate in your prospective members signing up to join your association. To ensure that all of your outreach pays off, make online registration as easy as possible.

Streamline your member registration process with these tips:

  • Only include the most essential prompts on your member registration form, so that they can register quickly after feeling inspired. While you don’t want to exhaust them with dozens of questions, asking for details like their full name and email address can help you gather member data you can use later on. 
  • Brand your registration page to your organization so that it matches the rest of your website. You don’t want people to hesitate to register because they don’t trust your payment processing page.
  • Mobile-optimize your online registration so people can sign up on the fly at events or similar engagement opportunities.

If you need help strengthening your website or your online registration portal, check out membership website builders that can help you. Morweb recommends choosing a website builder that integrates with your membership management system to streamline the web development process.

While these strategies are highly effective for acquiring new members, remember that you can apply many of these principles to stewarding your existing members. For example, you’ll need to keep email marketing best practices in mind when you send updates and/or event announcements to members to ensure they open and read your messages. Then, when it comes time to send renewal letters, you’ll have a community of engaged, loyal members who are eager for their next year of membership.

About the Author

Erin Lemons, Senior Director of Marketing at
Erin Lemons joins Togetherwork Association Solutions with over 15 years serving as a marketing director, event producer, and project manager creating robust marketing campaigns and initiatives that focus on the growing and ever-changing technology needs of the association industry. She leads the marketing teams and strategy at Fonteva and Protech.

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