Member Communications and Information Overload - Finding Balance

Membership March 03, 2011

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

One of our readers asked some great questions in response to a recent post about getting started with social media:

What will people find interesting and useful?
I'm afraid supporters will find excessive messaging annoying.
How does an organization find a balance?

It occurred to me that many membership and non-profit organizations may be asking themselves these very questions. And even though the reader was referring to Twitter messaging, the questions about what and how much to share could apply to any type of member communications - email, direct mail or social media. Of course - as I told the reader -  the answers to these questions will depend on each organization's engagement and communications goals and the nature of their membership audience. But as I mentioned in a recent post, Member Engagement - Sharing Stories, it is important for membership and communications folks to find a balanced approach to sharing pertinent information through a variety of methods that suit their membership audience.

As Rebecca Leaman (our Curious Apricot) noted in a recent post, Cast a Wider Net for New Nonprofit Members, "ideally, you should be talking with other people in social media, not broadcasting to them. ... But sharing relevant links and information is a valid part of your online conversation, as the voice of a nonprofit organization."

Mining Your Member Data to Understand Your Audience

Understanding your member/volunteer/supporter audience is a critical step in determining what, how much, how and how often to communicate. You need to know who they are; what they are interested in; how they like to receive communications and how they filter the information they receive. If you are new to the job of member/volunteer communications, you may want to review your membership data and any current email or social media metrics available. You can also check out responses to recent member surveys to understand their needs and wants. Of course, if your organization is already active in social media, has a blog or a forum, you can gain valuable insights both into your members' media habits as well as their interests from comments, tweets, posts and through reviewing the blog or forum metrics. If your organization hasn't been capturing this type of information, you might consider initiating an online member survey to become familiar with your members and what, how much and how they want to receive communication from your organization.

Understanding How Your Members Filter Information

In a recent ReadWriteWeb blog post, The Battle Against Info-Overload: Is Relevance or Popularity the Best Filter, Edwin Khodabakchian (the creator of Feedly), suggests "there are different kinds of web users and they need different kinds of filtering." Here are the three categories of web users that he has defined:

  1. Facebookers - they spend hours in Facebook. They love to connect with friends and content is just an excuse to ineract, be cool, feel part of the tribe.
  2. Passionate Users - they care about topics, they have a specific connection with the author and brand they read. They love predictability.
  3. Twitter Uses and Bloggers - who live in information and crave for real time.


In a recent post, It's You, Not Them: 4 Email Relationship Problems, Mark Brownlow suggests that whether you are trying to engage, empower, create friends, fans or followers, it's always been and always will be about relationship-building. While his post offers up four problems specific to email marketing, they could also apply to non-profit and membership-based communications, both email and social media. For example, Brownlow notes that "the strength of any relationship largely depends on the benefits received by each side: you can't expect selfless love from your subscribers [or members] ... but if the email relationship is to really blossom, we perhaps should look to additional new ways of delivering value and increasing relevancy as well as increasing emotional value."  Just like in your personal relationships, the more you know about and understand your members, volunteers or supporters, the easier it will be to identify the type of information that is relevant, welcomed and engaging.

How Much is Too Much? - Guidelines for Email or Social Media Frequency

Of course, it's not just WHAT and HOW you communicate, you also need to figure out the frequency with which you email, post or tweet. If you are wondering the common practices for most non-profits, the 2011 Nonprofit Communications Trend Report (Kivi Leroux Miller - Nonprofit Marketing Guide) suggests that "three quarters of nonprofits (75%) plan to email their typical supporters at least monthly... followed by every other week at 17% and quarterly at 16%."

In terms of frequency of Facebook postings, Kivi Leroux Miller noted in a recent Social Media Q&A post that "as a default starting point, ...once a day is good. You could even get away with every other day. On the other end of the spectrum, I'd say more than two or three times a day might be too much, unless, again, there is a real strategy behind it. The culture of Twitter is quite different, where multiple updates during the day are the norm."  Of course, again, your social media strategy is dependent on the nature of your membership audience and their media habits and tolerance. Recent findings for brand marketing has confirmed that consumers often "unlike" a company due to excessive postings as well as boring or repetitive content.

Finding Balance

Once you have a solid understanding of your member, volunteer or supporter audience; you identify their media habits and match these to your available resources (e.g., staff/volunteer time available for social media; blog-writing and/or forum maintenance), you can then develop some specific and measurable communications goals that take a balanced approach to member communications. When you have identified the type of information your members are looking for, part of your communications planning could include the creation of a content strategy to capture, create and distribute any and all relevant content to attract, acquire and engage your now clearly defined member audience.

Is your organization struggling with information overload or finding balance?  Let us know in the comments below.

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