Member Engagement: The Most Important Metric for Associations
We want to improve our member engagement! How many members are engaged? How much more likely are engaged members to renew? Who isn’t engaged and should be? These are common questions our clients ask us when starting a business intelligence initiative. A survey report released by the accounting firm Tate & Tryon, titled “Membership Metrics: A Review of Current and Best Practices”, describes member engagement as the metric that is the least calculated yet also perceived as the most critical by association executives. The reality is that many associations are desperate to measure overall member engagement but are struggling to figure out how exactly to do it. The answer is use data!! Sure, data analytics is the solution, but how do you get there? Here are the challenges most of our clients face and how to overcome them:
Defining member engagement
Everyone seems to define member engagement differently or has a different ideas about what an engaged member looks like. Some think that being a member and coming to conferences constitutes an engaged member. Others think that serving on committees or purchasing publications is engaged. Still others may think that being active on social media or opening and responding to association emails counts as an engaged member.
An association must, from top to bottom and laterally across departments, decide on what metrics they want to measure to determine member engagement. Different activities can and should have different weights but make sure this definition aligns with your association’s strategic plan. It’s ok (and preferable if you have limited resources) to start small with a few key metrics and adjust your weights and metrics as you phase through analysis.
Missing or inaccurate data
Once you have determined what you want to measure, do you have all the information available? Is it all available from one location or more than one and is there a way to tie all the different sources to one individual?
Take steps now to ensure that there is a way to connect or relate your records in multiple sources. For example, if you use a third party event registration system, make sure it contains the customer ID from your AMS or CMS. Also be sure to use custom variables or custom dimensions in Google Analytics to track the primary key or ID. Set up some level of integration with your CMS and your email service and any other systems your members interact with.
A membership manager may have to constantly ask the marketing team for open rates, the events team for registration counts and the programs team for certification counts. Then they may have to compile all that information to figure out why their retention rates aren’t rising as expected. Make sure that your decision-makers have access to the information they need in real-time and that everyone is performing analysis on the same version of the truth.
When thinking about member engagement for your association, here are some concepts to consider.
- Think long-term. It is often helpful to take a long-term view and focus on the lifetime value of the member, not just short-term metrics, such as email response rates or page views. Depending on when you converted to your current systems and the approach you took, it may be difficult to get accurate data dating back more than a handful of years. Plan now to be able to use your data effectively in the future.
- Think outside the registration box. Think about all the ways your members interact with you that go beyond event registration and membership purchases. This may be inquiries (either in person or through your website) or advanced website metrics.
- Assign weighted values. Think about all the ways your members interact with you and what you would like to include in your member engagement metrics. Once you have all these behaviors in mind, you can assign each behavior a point value. These point values should be based on their importance to your association and its strategic mission.
- After you have collected engagement data you can correlate your engagement measures with various outcomes to see whether the behaviors you selected actually are predictive of the outcomes you desire. For example, you may discover that if a person gives generously to the foundation or PAC, they are more likely to renew their membership regardless of their product purchases. You may discover correlations you did not expect. You can adjust your point values based on the results of your analysis instead of gut feelings or low-response rate surveys. How cool is that?
So, if you are wanting to measure your members’ engagement, get started today, even if you have to take small precursor steps. There’s no magic wand you can wave to get a member engagement score, but thoughtful planning and analysis can be of significant value to your association.