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What does member engagement mean to you?

"Engagement" has become a bit of a buzzword for companies, non-profits and membership organizations alike. And lately, I’ve seen a number of posts that have made me realize that the term “engagement” certainly means different things to different folks.     

Different interpretations on this theme

Increasingly, when we hear the term, it is referring to how an individual is engaging online. Looking at this type of engagement involves tracking website visits, page views, email opens, and social media mentions,“likes” or “follows.” But while building a robust online community is increasingly important, that is only part of the engagement equation. 

In the for-profit marketing world, Jonathan Crowe (OpenView blog) suggests there are many “engagement points in the customer relationship", including “Linking, bookmarking, blogging, referring, clicking, friending, connecting, subscribing, submitting inquiry forms, and buying.”

On the other hand, in the non-profit and charity sector, they often refer to a “ladder of engagement” or “pyramid of engagement.”   As Michael J. Brennan suggests in his post, Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 7: Engagement Pyramid and Cycle,This pyramid or ladder starts with an individual “following” or “observing,” and at “the peak point of the pyramid is leading.” In the post Brennan offers a simple way of looking at engagement:

Engagement = Relationship + Action

But what about member engagement?

For membership organizations, engagement is about more than just connecting via social media. Members are their reason for being, so getting and keeping members truly engaged in the organization is critical to its survival.

In a recent post on the Demand Perspective Blog - The New Membership Engagement: Every Little Thing You Do - Andrea Pellegrino reminds us: 


It’s All Engagement...
Complaining about the association on message board is engagement! So is every customer service inquiry, complaint, voicemail, email or other message. Every website visit, page click, email open and click-through…is engagement. Every online search that turns up your association or one of its products or services or initiatives…is engagement. Every forum where the issues that concern your members and industry are discussed (even if they are not yours) is engagement. Every email members, customers, or prospects open, every Facebook post they read (or “like” or share), every Twitter or RSS feed they follow, every phone call they make to the association or to another member is engagement.

Best practices in member engagement

So with so many potential engagement touch points how does your small membership organization maintain and grow membership engagement? In a follow-up post on the Demand Perspective blog -  Anna Caravelli explains that “[e]ngaging is not a mechanical process. You have to simply become an engaging, motivating organization by recasting your business around people rather than products and processes. All the time! Day in and day out!”   

In her post, Caravelli offers an example of “one organization truly member-focused organization whose members consider it essential to their success, ... VIN (Veterinary Information Network” and outlines 7 “Best Practices” for True Member Engagement.

Applying engagement best practices at small membership organizations 

While the 7 best practices Anna Caravelli outlines were developed for a full-staff organization, many could also be implemented through volunteers at small membership organizations.  For example, in the first best practice - "Change the Conversation: three new weekly routines for connecting you with your members" - Caravelli notes that the VIN ensure members remain the central priority through topics of daily discussions and brainstorming at meetings.  A volunteer-led organization, by its very nature, should have its finger on the member pulse. But structuring formal meeting or administrative procedures to regularly check website, email and mail feedback from members would offer the opportunity for real-time engagement tracking and analysis.

Best practice number 3 - "Participate in and inhabit the communities you create for members" -  could also be applied to any online community that your organization offers members - such as an online forum or a blog. While it’s great to establish online communities, it’s critical, as Caravelli suggests, to ensure someone at the organization “actively participates in conversations—“listening,” offering advice, answering questions or conducting research on a member question.” In the absence of staff resources for this, you could consider assigning forum or blog management to a specific board member or the communications or membership committee chair. For those just getting started with an online forum, you can check out our article - How to Start a Forum - in our Membership Knowledge Hub.

Stay tuned to (or engaged with) the Wild Apricot blog for more ideas on member engagement this month.

Image Source:  Paper chain people holding hands, courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Published Monday, 05 November 2012 at 8:30 AM
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