1-On-1 With Greg Damron – Part 2: Building Community

Lori Halley 10 September 2014 0 comments

In the second of our Advisory Series of 1-On-1 interviews, profiling members of Wild Apricot’s Small Membership Advisory Community, we talked with Greg Damron, President of ATD St. Louis. This volunteer-led organization currently has 250 members.

This is Part 2 in our 3-part series, offering highlights from our interview with Greg Damron, led by Shiv Narayanan (Magnetic Apricot).

In case you missed it here is a link to: Part 1: If you build it they may not come.

The value of networking with peers

Shiv Narayanan: Greg, what do you do in terms of trying to connect members with one another?  

Greg Damron: We are beginning to build different sub-groups that we use to help connect members. With the online social groups, we find that at times people are very active there and other times maybe not as active. Again, going back to the busy life and just so much bandwidth out there. To gather people together and get them to share ideas and network with people who do similar things, we’ve had some really good luck with creating special interest groups (SIGs) within our chapter and within our region.

And primarily, in our specific Chapter, we have e-learning developers, people who write and design training materials. They use different authoring tools, with tasks that can be very specific, and there wasn’t a lot of community around that in our region.  So we created special interest groups for people who do that professionally and we had a tremendous response.

Each of these groups, although they have some things in common, also have some very specific things about how they use their tools to get their end result, so some good synergies from both sides have come from that. The idea that there hadn’t been something like this out in our region, and that it was so complementary and similar to what as a Chapter we were wanting to do, in bringing learning professionals together.  It fit really well with our mission and it’s great to see it taking off.

It has had an excellent immediate benefit of creating that synergy with our members but is also then bringing people in from the community, who maybe weren’t part of our organization. We’ve seen a considerable number of new members come in from these two groups and we hope to see that continue.

How did you create these special interest groups?  Via a social media group, on your own online community or your website?  

Well, there are elements of each of those things. I think the key thing that has brought people in is the fact that we are having a physical meeting.  Our Chapter is sponsoring it and it’s at a location that they can get to ...and that we have online communities with our partners to support them as well.

It’s a great source of help if you go to an online group and post a question out there and several people can get back to you on it right away. But if you’re in a live interactive meeting where it’s really set up for members sharing with members, you might not even know what the guy next to you is going to ask, or what he might need help with, then the ensuing live conversation as several people add perspective is hard to get in another way. Once they’ve made the connection with the in-person group and know the people face-to-face, I think that’s a benefit to then being able to more easily connect in the online groups and networks.

Building Community

Are these special interest group sessions mostly made up of your current members or do a lot of prospective members also attend?  

I would say we’re probably 60/40 members and guests and we hope to see that go to 65/35. For those that are there as guests, we view them as potential members because this is a topic that is of high interest to them and there are few other ways they might be able to gather with this number of people and share ideas.

So we hope that by coming in and joining us for this meeting, that gives them experience with the Chapter and that they would wish to join us.  But if they don’t know if they can make it often enough or don’t feel they would get value, then we’ll look for ways to say, “There is a lot of value in the membership, here’s what the cost of that is, but here’s some of the other returns you might get.”  And particularly for a few subscriptions [Partner offers], it would be helpful to an e-learning developer and could save them three, four, five times the amount they might pay for a membership.  But if they want to just come in as a guest, we’re just as happy that way too.

It’s really about building a community and we’re a service organization. If we’re helping to do that and giving them that value, ...I think that’s giving them that positive impression of our organization that either they will decide it’s right for them or it might give us good word of mouth to others that they would work with.

So once they’ve showed up to the meeting, do you have a process to follow-up with [guests] to push out your messaging about your organization or a special offer so that they’re inclined to join?

Oh sure, definitely. We have them registered through our Wild Apricot site….And as the event ends and they go on their way and we plan for when the next one will be, the announcement for that goes out.  

Are you collecting data on member and prospective member engagement and do you have a process for follow-up?                 

Through the Wild Apricot site it’s very easy to track the members versus non-members when they register. But then from there, tracking what engagement do they have, do they come back for events, ...the analytics obviously are important to understand what’s going on and what’s working.

We have communication leading up to the meeting and then after that, even if they haven’t attended, or if they’ve attended one before, we send a recap out with resources from the meeting.

It’s important to get the direct feedback and following up with people that you think maybe had an interest but you didn’t see them. And throughout the year we’re also reaching out to our members with different types of offers or different type messages or members-only events. All those seem to fit well to keep them engaged and involved as part of our group.

So we’re definitely adding value and we’re continually, in that way, building this special interest group.  And I hope to see it continue to do that as we have our next few meetings roll around. It’s just been steady progress as we go forward and we’re getting some great positive feedback.

I noticed that you’re doing many free events.  So am I to assume that your goal here is not to drive revenue, just more creating value for the special interest groups and increasing engagement?

Yes, that’s exactly it. It started with us asking our members and listening to our members on what would benefit them, what would they have high value for and the answer that came back was to have groups like this.  And as we went to roll out the group and get it started, although we’re supporting it as the Chapter and we are providing some expenses to run it, we’re not charging anyone but we’re providing it as a member benefit.

We’re also allowing people who aren’t members, anyone’s welcome to come.  If you use the product, your input and your interactions are welcome. Of course, we would like them to become members but if you look at it as somewhat of the shareware concept of if we all benefit and we can all make better products. The idea is that some people know that they really value it and then decide to join, or perhaps get the “full version product”. I don’t know if I want to compare our Chapter exactly to that. But the concept works in that we have a group that has great synergies and as people come in and they become part of that group, they learn more about the Chapter, and many of them wish to join.

We’ve been working with Chapter partners to provide offers through our members so that as soon as you pay the membership fee, there are two or three offers that you might be able to immediately take advantage of and get more than your money back through the amount that you might save.

Creating value through “partner offers”

Can you explain a little bit about what “partner offers” are and how that works?

I can give you another example from the special interest groups.  By having one of those groups all with the same interests, we’ve taken a look at who might make sense to partner with them. By having that larger number of people, we look at “is there a form of discount plan that might work for them that could save some money?”  And one of those that we’ve set up just recently, if they buy a media plan, which many of them would have a good use for, say media template and things of that nature – it saves them around $150.00. That is about three times their membership rate, immediately back.

And from another point of view, we had another partner offer that saves roughly $65, about the cost of the membership.  From there we’ve got a few general offers for our entire Chapter that when they sign up, it’s either things that are no cost to them because of being a Chapter member, or we’ve made an arrangement that there’s a package they can get at one provider or another or a discount on services that we think that they would like to see.

And that’s worked out really well for giving our partners exposure but it’s also worked out really well for our members to be able to say, “Wow, as soon as I join, that will be really helpful.”  

To follow-up a little bit about creating more value for members, I noticed that you have member-only events. Can you explain what is different about these events, and how you go about channeling those benefits through to members or prospective members?

Well, we’ve done that in a few ways over the last two years.  It’s been one of those, I would have to say, evolving programs. And if I go back to 2013, I would say one of the highest response rates we’ve had as we’ve first put the initiative towards this, it’s about the member-only events but it’s also about just generally trying to communicate to your members you care they’re out there.

As we put the first big members-only event together for this, we sent an email out to tell them that. It was the highest open rate and return rate we’d seen from an event.  And we got the responses back from them that they thought it was really great that we were doing that and it was just very well received.  That moment in time was excellent, but then to sustain that once per quarter afterwards with that level of involvement, which is where we were maybe looking to take that program, we found as we got to the next quarter that it was no longer quite that fresh.  “Wow, they haven’t done this before.” And we had a lower member response.

So we’ve looked for other ways to do things like that, we still have the members-only events. We’re looking for special occasions where we can have members-only events, but we also want to be inclusive at the same time.  So we might have an event to where it’s for members only and allow them to bring a guest.  We want to see if it’s for members, what would they value most on how we might hold it?  And as we get those answers and what they might be today as well as what they might be in 2015 – I think that is what will continue to take us to good places.

That’s Part 2 of our 3-part series of interview highlights with Greg Damron of ATD St. Louis. Stay. You can also read Part 3 – which includes the full audio recording.

Image source:  Business-man-brainstorming - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 10 September 2014 at 8:30 AM

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