It’s no secret that the pandemic took its toll on professional associations. Only 38% of associations experienced member growth in 2021. That means nearly two out of every three associations have stagnant member rates or declining membership. The No. 1 reason members do not renew their membership? Lack of engagement with your organization, according to Marketing General’s 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.
So, how does a member-driven organization foster and grow engagement with its members?
Traditionally, associations have relied on in-person events as the primary driver of member engagement. And that makes perfect sense — a member attending your event experiences networking opportunities, education, and professional development — all within a few days.
The problem is, even though many associations have returned to in-person events in the past year, the majority report “sizeable declines” in attendance. And this trend is likely to continue, given that business travel is not likely to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2026 — two years later than previously forecast, thanks to factors like inflation and labor shortages.
Still, even if normal attendance levels were not years away, an event-driven engagement model may no longer be a viable solution for growing membership. After all, your members need access to information that facilitates and enhances their professional effectiveness and growth throughout the entire year. Not just during the week when your event takes place. The industry you serve, the companies your members are employed by — even your members’ professional roles — are impacted by an unprecedented rate of change.
For associations interested in providing value to members in a sustained way, a robust content strategy may offer a new and more effective model for building member engagement than many associations’ event-first strategy. But the days of occasionally posting on social media or publishing a new article on your website are long gone. Associations must have an innovative and well-planned content strategy to create engaging, cohesive, meaningful, trustworthy, and sustainable content to attract and retain members.
Below, we share three unique and easy-to-implement content ideas to help your organization boost member engagement.
A podcast is a collection of digital audio files made available for downloading or listening via the internet, and the medium continues to grow rapidly in popularity. In fact, many of your members are likely among the estimated 209 million people in this country over age 12 who have listed to online audio in the past month.
One of the reasons for the widespread adoption is that podcasts are easy to access. Anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or computer can access a wide variety of podcasts with just a few taps. They’re also convenient to listen to while walking the dog, commuting to work, or exercising at the gym. Best of all, they build intimacy. Listening to a podcast feels like you’re listening in on a conversation about a topic that interests you. For these reasons, they can be a great tool to build engagement among members.
“Podcasting offers a portable, convenient way to promote an association's mission and vision, providing consistent member engagement opportunities,” says Colby Horton, CEO of Association Briefings, which helps associations produce podcasts.
“The conversational, non-scripted format allows for authenticity to really come through, humanizing the association's brand more than any other communication effort you have, in my opinion,” continues Horton. “It's this authenticity that drives a loyal audience of members and non-members alike to engage with the association on a regular basis.”
Despite the opportunity podcasts represent, only 19.7% of associations have a podcast, according to the 2022 Association Benchmarking Report. So, not only can a podcast foster member engagement, but it can also help you differentiate your organization.
For examples of well-executed association podcasts, check out:
Roughly one-third of associations do not incorporate video into their strategy. Of those that do, the primary usage is for continuing education. But there is an additional opportunity to use video to build a sense of community.
Video is human. It allows people to see one another despite not being in the same room and can resonate in ways other media cannot. It’s an effective way to build an emotional connection with your members. With members located around the country and globe, associations can use video to educate, advocate, tell stories, and unify their members to build a stronger sense of community. And, video is an increasingly popular way for people to consume content.
According to Michael Hoffman, CEO of Gather Voices, which helps organizations collect and share user-generated videos, “Membership organizations are in a great position to benefit from this video trend. Simply getting members to share their own stories using video can have a major impact on engagement.”
Hoffman says the associations he works with get, on average, 88% more time on web pages with video and that using video thumbnails in emails generates between two and three times as many click-throughs.
Some examples of associations using video to boost member engagement include:
One of the challenges of executing a robust content strategy is that many associations simply lack the resource bandwidth to produce more content. According to a study by Association Adviser, for example, nearly half of member engagement teams feel understaffed. An online Resource Library can solve for this challenge.
A Resource Library (aka “Knowledge Hub,” “Resource Center,” or “Knowledge Center”) can be an indispensable tool in your member engagement strategy because it requires no investment in new technology or staff. A tech-enabled Resource Library, like the kind offered by Lead Marvels, curates select third-party content and promotes it to your members on an ongoing basis.
The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Partner Knowledge Center, for example, features more than 150 resources, including eBooks, white papers, how-to guides, reports, and webinars. The resources are developed and provided by third-party vendors and solution providers in the legal industry with subject-matter expertise to share with the ACC’s more than 45,000 members.
According to Moustafa Abdel-Kader, Senior Director of Business Development at ACC, the organization’s Partner Knowledge Center has proven to be an effective way to provide in-house counsel members with a steady stream of new and timely resources. And because the materials are provided by sponsors, the Partner Knowledge Center allows ACC to engage its wider community of members and sponsors, who are looking for new avenues for business development while also promoting their brand and expertise.
“Our members can select among a wide variety of topics that are important to them — from AI to intellectual property to contract management — and access high-quality resources to help them professionally,” says Moustafa. “The platform is a great way for us to increase engagement with our community of members and sponsors without having to invest in additional staffing resources.”
A Resource Library also functions as a distribution mechanism for your association’s own content, including articles, event-generated content, or the videos and podcasts described above. This enables your organization to get as much member exposure as possible.
The Nebraska State Bar Association (NSBA), for example, uses its Resource Library to promote its own content in addition to a wide variety of resources provided by experts and thought leaders within its industry. NSBA members can find on-demand webinars, guides, reports, and more developed by the association.
Here are some additional association Resource Libraries to check out:
A unique aspect of Lead Marvels’ no-cost Resource Library program is that it allows association partners to build year-round member engagement, while also increasing non-dues revenue. Whenever a member opts in to access content within a Resource Library, they become a lead for the sponsor providing the content. The association then shares in the incremental revenue generated by each lead.
In other words, members get access to high-quality content resources, sponsors get business leads for business development, and associations increase member engagement and revenue. It’s a win-win-win scenario.
To learn more about Lead Marvels’ unique Resource Library partnership program for associations, request a demo.