Building a Community: 5 Tips for Digital Member Engagement

December 6, 2019
Group of people collaborating around a computer
Association membership is one of the most enriching experiences—particularly when you’re part of an association that prioritizes engaging its members. Whether the association is made up of people in the same professional field or just those with common interests, members appreciate an association that offers a variety of events and learning opportunities. Many members are aiming to network or advance in their career, and being a part of an association can provide them with many of these experiences.

Associations should support lifelong employability and encourage members to advance in their field, so it’s important to actively engage your members. As your association evolves and increases its membership, your engagement strategy should evolve as well. Start thinking about digital engagement strategies, as these can attract the younger employed crowd and streamline your internal operations.

According to the Pew Research Center, 9 in 10 American adults use the internet. Therefore,  it makes sense to meet your members where they already are. Check out these strategies to help improve your digital operations as well as increase member engagement:

  1. Optimize your website.
  2. Offer an accessible online member directory.
  3. Take advantage of event software.
  4. Provide eLearning opportunities.
  5. Invest in reporting features.

There’s no need for your staff to spend time manually performing functions that can be easily be automated with a comprehensive association management software (AMS) solution or with certain association management tools. Let’s get started.

1. Optimize your website.

These days, your association’s website is likely the place where potential members can find applications and learn about your cause. It also serves as a resource for current members to browse upcoming events or contact a staff member with concerns. Your website should host general information and present it in an aesthetically pleasing and easily accessible way.

Whether you’ve decided to improve your website or build it from scratch, you should review your website platform or content management system (CMS). Think about a website builder that considers associations’ needs or one that might even be designed for associations specifically.

Which association-relevant features should you be looking out for? Your website builder or CMS should encourage association membership growth, as well as actively work to increase engagement. Here are a couple of other features to consider:

  • Fully customizable templates. Look for website builders that offer templates in case your team isn’t well-versed in code. Make sure they can still be customized to your association’s brand and any other options you might want.
  • Drag-and-drop elements. Website builders with drag-and-drop functionality enables  you to create new pages, copy old pages, and change layouts with a simple click.
  • Responsive design. If your team doesn’t have much experience in web design, a website builder with responsive design features is best. This way, your staff can make updates from various devices and see their changes in real-time.

Your website should be working to increase your online presence, and you need to pick the right site builder to make that happen.

2. Offer an accessible online member directory.

One of the best digital tools to help grow your association is an online member directory that can be accessed through your website. While it’s important that your staff and management team has a database that they can use for pertinent information, there should also be an online portal for your members to browse.

With the right membership tools, you can create one of the most engaging places for association members, following in-person programs or other events. Many members join associations simply to interact with like-minded people, and an accessible online member directory can provide this opportunity.

Here are some features to look for:

  • Your member directory on your website. To promote community collaboration, it makes sense to include your directory on the site that your members are already frequently visiting. Sending them to a third-party site can also throw them off guard.
  • Searchable directory. Allow your members to look into the directory and search for names in the database. This way, they can contact others and understand who else is a part of the association.
  • Self-service options. Your members will love the option to easily update their profiles with information such as contact details, financial details, and dues payment status. This way, your team won’t send out communications with outdated information and have to deal with manually changing it themselves.
  • Message board. Allow your members to communicate seamlessly through a messaging system, as well as more public forums that they can contribute to.

Give your members the power to take control of their association experience with this interactive online member directory. Watch your member engagement rise with this added portal. For more resources, Double the Donation has a great guide of top membership management tools.

3. Take advantage of event software.

The leading way that associations engage with their members is through events. Whether you’re hosting a conference with multiple panels or presenting an educational opportunity for accreditation, many members will attend your events based on the experiences you offer. However, there are also ways to digitally engage members at an in-person event by taking advantage of event management software.

The best AMS system will also have event management capabilities. This allows you to oversee the entire event lifecycle, from planning the event to the actual launch day. With the right tools and event tech, you get the most out of your association’s event and engage your members fully.

Find a solution that meets your association’s specific needs and includes these valuable features:

  • Customizable registration forms. Make sure your registration form is asking the right questions that your association really requires from attendees. You can also provide multiple registration options like group registrations, early registrations, or member discounts.
  • Speaker, sponsor, vendor, and venue management. With the right event management software, you can easily stay on top of various aspects. This can help you ensure that speakers and vendors are on time, and alert your event team when something isn’t going as planned.
  • Secure payment processor. Your attendees’ finances should be safe when they pay for registration and make other purchases. Make sure your event management software works well with trusted payment processors.

You never know what will happen on the day of your event. Investing in capable event management software ensures that you and your team are as prepared as possible. For a comprehensive list of options, Fonteva has a great resource for event management software.

4. Provide eLearning opportunities.

Members often join associations purely to advance in their professional field and take advantage of various educational opportunities. While it’s great to provide in-person classes and events that offer accreditation to attendees, that is not the only way to present learning opportunities.

Exploring a learning management system (LMS) or improving your existing one can dramatically boost member engagement. Many people want to attend your educational programs, but some may not be able to make it for a variety of reasons. This can be due to time conflicts or other personal reasons, and you can’t predict what might come up.

Investing in an LMS lets your association offer classes online. This means you can deliver educational courses and training programs to your members from the comfort of their own homes, while also managing and organizing these classes from your own portal.

Every association has different needs, depending on the field your members are in. However, there are some important factors to look out for when researching LMS prospects:

  • Member experience. Make sure your LMS is easily navigable. Members should be able to seamlessly browse through classes and add the proper accreditations to their profile as they complete them.
  • Restricted audience for classes. If you’re offering training to certain staff members or classes to people who are at a specific job level, you should be able to restrict access to certain courses.
  • User management.  The right LMS makes your staff’s lives easier, as they can oversee members and students right from the LMS interface. You can also easily switch people into different classes or track a group of students’ progress.
  • Provide community forums for eLearning programs. Let your association members interact with each other on specific forums made for your various eLearning courses. This is also a great networking opportunity for those pursuing similar goals and paves the way for community learning.

Your members will thank you when they find out they can take classes and finish courses from wherever they want. Meet your members where they are by offering digital educational opportunities.

5. Invest in reporting features.

Ensuring that your association management system and other tools have reporting features might not seem like an obvious strategy to increase member engagement. However, tools with capable reporting features help your team develop better future engagement strategies.

Compiling robust and relevant data analytics improves member success and provides your association’s team with the right tools and context to better interact and communicate with members.

What kind of reports should your association be looking to produce? Here are some common examples:

  • Post-event reports. Make sure your event management software can identify certain event trends so your team can evaluate what went well or wrong. For example, how many people completed early registration versus how many people were walk-in attendees?
  • Drag-and-drop reports. Customize which metrics your software tracks, and compile reports based on your association’s specific needs.
  • Member engagement reports. Track and report where your members are interacting with your association the most. You can offer benefits to members who are extremely active (like discounted event tickets) or focus more time on the association areas that are already popular.

There is an abundance of membership software that you may come across in your research. Make sure the one you pick has effective reporting capabilities, as this will dictate how you can improve for the future. Click here for a list of software comparisons.

Get ready to enrich your association community with these digital strategies. Technology and software can seem really daunting when you don’t know how best to leverage it, but this guide can serve as an effective starting point. Good luck!

About the Author
Jake Fabbri is the Chief Marketing Officer at Fonteva with over 18 years of experience working in marketing management. He has experience with lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events.

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