With the global pandemic shifting the way groups of people meet, connect, and communicate, many association professionals feel as if they’re fighting an uphill battle just to keep their members engaged.
After all, there’s no novelty left in hosting meet-ups on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, with many members already struggling with digital burnout in a year that feels as if it’s been entirely online.
Luckily, there are a few essential techniques that can turn the weaknesses of online engagement into your greatest strengths. While virtual programming has been a difficult adjustment for many, this new medium is filled with unique opportunities to not only minimize member attrition, but engage members in fresh new ways and even raise your recruitment rates.
In this short guide, we’ll explore some of the most effective marketing techniques to boost digital event attendance, encourage member involvement, and raise virtual engagement:
- Use Segmentation and Personas
- Personalize Communications
- Diversify Event Programming
This virtual dilemma can be a challenge for any association professional. However, with these tips and tricks, you should be able to brave the digital medium with confidence and engage your members like never before.
Use Segmentation and Personas
Marketing to your members as one homogeneous entity is going to make engaging them seem like an impossible task. This will not only overwhelm you with unnecessary frustrations and weaken your engagement strategies, but it will also irritate your members as their inboxes are flooded with all of your communications.
To efficiently tackle the engagement challenge, you first need to break your member base up by key characteristics. This is known as segmentation, and your organization should be mindful to arrange and organize members by some of the following data sets:
- Geography and location. Use the data collected in the sign-up and payment process to figure out such important metrics like where your members live. Are they based in a rural or urban area? What time zone are they located in, and what hours would be best to send them communications and host your events? This data may seem trivial in relation to virtual programming, but depending on the services, products, and content offered by your organization, these metrics could greatly influence what you offer members and how you go about promoting your own brand.
- Demographics. While you shouldn’t rely too heavily on this data, knowing basic demographic information such as member age, income range, gender, and education level can help you optimize your communications. Add an extra level of familiarity and empathy in your marketing strategies with appeals specifically tailored to your members’ personal identities.
- Behavior and interests. This is one of the most important points of segmentation, and it’s a data set that should be informed by the overall activity of your members’ throughout their time with your association. For example, the type of events that they have attended and their inclination towards certain rewards and special offers are some major behavioral indicators. Isolating this information can then help you launch KPI-driven strategies and promote similar content, opportunities, and services that they might enjoy.
Furthermore, once you’ve effectively segmented your constituents, a particularly powerful follow-up strategy is to create personas.
Personas are composite identities of your major members groups constructed using your collected data. These amalgamated identities have names, interests, and tangible motivations, and they can greatly boost the success of your outreach techniques by giving you a more detailed, compact sample of your real members and what might appeal to them.
By organizing precious member data into these digestible segments and personas, your membership team can begin to create targeted actionable techniques to curate and promote opportunities that will genuinely interest members and secure their participation.
One of the biggest headaches for members is sitting through messages that are irrelevant or uninteresting to them. This makes their attention towards your messaging dwindle, and could quickly lead to more of your emails and marketing materials winding up as non-openers. Eventually, you might receive unsubscriptions and possibly even experience member attrition.
Luckily, personalizing your communications is a simple and effective way to ensure that members don’t lose interest and carefully read the content that you’ve customized for them.
Here are some of the most popular methods of personalization employed by organizations to hook their supporters’ attention:
- Address members by name. This one may seem a little obvious, but showing your members this basic level of individuation is the fundamental first step to making them feel valued and acknowledged by your organization. Rather than the bland and general “dear member,” try to address each recipient by name to initiate their sense of personal engagement with your membership program. With an integrated association management system, your communication tools should be able to pull member names straight from your database automatically.
- Separate by New vs Longtime Members. While all members should feel comfortable and equally valued in all of your communications, the way that you speak to newer members might be a bit different. For one thing, the opportunities you offer and how you explain and break down particular programs should address their unfamiliarity with your association’s benefits. Shower some extra attention on these new members, and ensure that they feel like valued additions to the organization rather than just visitors.
- Dispense with cold language. Your members are your most dedicated supporters, and as such, they should be shown a certain level of familiarity and personality in your organization’s communications. While you should always remain professional, you’re more apt to create a lasting, human connection between yourself and your members with empathetic marketing techniques and warmer, more tactile language.
- Include surveys. Surveys and polls are a great way to collect helpful data on the quality of your membership program and show members that you value their opinions and experiences. Include these questionnaires every so often in your email messaging, especially after important events, at the end of the year, and during special milestones in each individual’s membership.
Given how disconnected members must feel in light of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to leverage your communication strategies to convey a sense of genuine closeness, recognition, and interpersonal connection.
Diversify Event Programming
While some organizations feel as the virtual format is a crippling medium, the reality is that digital engagement can offer a wealth of events and activities that are unique to the digital sphere. With a bit of creativity and open-mindedness, your association program can take advantage of the expanded possibilities of the digital world to diversify your own virtual event programming.
For example, you might consider promoting some of the following special opportunities and online offerings in your virtual event marketing:
- Discounts and prizes. Whether your event is a virtual fundraiser or an online auction, one way to make every virtual engagement feel more “real” is to advertise tangible rewards for participating in these events. Discounts, mailed prizes, and other special offers will not only incentivize members to participate, but they will also make the experience of your events all the more immersive with lasting mementos from your organization.
- Digital badges and rankings. Infuse an element of healthy competition into your virtual event marketing by teasing some of these digital titles. Badges and accolades like “Event MVP” or engagement “streaks” should be available to add to personal member profiles, encouraging participants to “go for the gold” and collect as many engagement titles as they can. Award these badges and rankings for specific digital event participation actions, like asking a question or posting a photo on social media.
- Custom e-learning and lectures. During in-person programming, you may have struggled to host certain development programs or secure high-demand lecturers. Capitalize on your virtual medium by inviting guests and bringing together individuals that it would have been impossible to physically host. Be sure to promote these high-value opportunities to your members, emphasizing the benefits of your virtual resources.
- Promote member community networking. While the relationship between your membership programs and members is essential, don’t forget about the relationships between members. With everyone able to instantaneously “meet” and participate in event programming, take a moment to advertise opportunities to meet with other members and engage in their shared passions. Show that you have paid attention to their interests and preferences by inviting the relevant members to opt into community-specific newsletters and online discussion groups.
To streamline your virtual member event strategies, you may also consider investing in an association management system. This powerful software can take the heavy lifting off of your team’s shoulders by automatically tracking and organizing member data, and then launching informed strategies to aid in every step of the event lifecycle.
Check out this Fonteva article on AMS systems and top AMS software to learn more about what these tools are capable of and what available services your organization might want to invest in.
Rather than apologizing for the switch to digital events, make the most of this opportunity for global, immediate connection with the many tools and devices of the internet and your own membership platform.
Our current crisis has forever changed the way in which we live, work, and play. That being said, while individuals have struggled to remain connected, your organization and its members shouldn’t have to struggle any longer.
With these intuitive marketing techniques and tools, we hope that we’ve helped you get back on your feet in our new digital landscape and engage your members like never before in all of the unique and refreshing ways offered by a virtual medium.
Guest author: Jake Fabbri, Chief Marketing Officer, Fonteva.
With over two decades of experience marketing association technology, Fonteva CMO Jake Fabbri has developed a deep understanding of the unique needs of associations and the challenges technology can solve. Jake’s marketing expertise has been honed by demonstrated excellence in the areas of lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events.