Member engagement is harder than ever. Follow this roadmap to drive deeper connections with members on your association’s social media channels.
For too many associations, member engagement is on the decline. New members are harder to attract, renewals are declining and, in many cases, overall participation is stagnant or worse.
Could it be that we’re just living in a noisier world, and members are harder to reach? Perhaps. According to Naylor’s 2023 Association Benchmarking Report, nearly half of associations (48%) cite “combating information overload/cutting through the clutter” as their top communication challenge. Or maybe associations are losing the battle for their members’ attention because they need more tools in their arsenal.
According to the same study, more than nine in 10 associations (92%) rank traditional conferences as their top engagement tool. Event attendance levels, however, depend on business travel. And with corporate budgets being slashed and business travel down, relying on face-to-face events as the primary driver of member engagement is a precarious strategy at best. Even when business travel does fully recover, it is still forecast to be smaller than it was prior to the pandemic, according to Deloitte’s 2023 Corporate Travel Study.
Amanda Kaiser, keynote speaker and author of Elevating Engagement, finds that “Engagement is harder than it has ever been for associations. And the reason why it is so hard is because people have a lot less time.” Kaiser points out that people are busier at work, they’re busier at home, and with more and more people working from home now, the line between the two is increasingly blurred creating even more distraction.
But this also presents an opportunity for associations that are willing to double down on their digital channels to connect with members in our seemingly always-on world.
Get more social
“Members increasingly need trusted sources of information that bring relevance and expertise to emerging trends and topics,” says Ben Matthews, co-founder and director of Empower, a digital communications agency for nonprofits. “Professional associations are in the perfect position to leverage their social channels to capitalize on this, as they already have the trusted brands and depth of expertise.”
Although no one would argue that associations should stop relying on their events to build member engagement, the same ingredients that go into creating a successful live event can be redeployed in an online ecosystem.
“The real value of an in-person meeting is the connections and content,” says Kaiser, who explains that those same benefits can translate to online communities as well. “People can no longer afford to wait until the next meeting to ask a question or find the information they need, so building a robust online community is a great way for associations to engage their members 24-7, 265 days per year,” explains Kaiser.
Too often, however, associations treat their social media channels merely as one-way distribution platforms to post their latest content or announcements. But that approach is not likely to move the needle on member engagement. Instead, to build a real sense of community and connection online, follow these five steps to boost your organization's social media engagement.
5 steps to increased social engagement
1. Define your strategy
To grow and engage with your online community, the first step is to develop a social media strategy. If you currently lack a documented social media strategy, take heart — you’re in good company. Though 32% of associations acknowledge social media as a high priority, only 12% have a well-defined social media strategy.
But creating a sound social media strategy does not have to be a laborious undertaking. Think of your strategy as a simple roadmap for where you want to go. A sound strategy should include these basic elements, according to ClickUp:
Identify your target audience
Set your goals
Choose the right platforms
Plan your content
Analyze and optimize
Engage with your audience
When it comes to selecting your platform, avoid trying to be on every channel. Hubspot advises to “Focus your effort on building, nurturing, and sustaining a community on the social channels where your target audience spends most of their time before moving on to another channel.”
In other words, TikTok may not be the best channel to nurture a professional community. Matthews recommends that “LinkedIn is where professional associations’ thought leadership content needs to live on social media.” He points out that LinkedIn is becoming an increasingly important source of information for professionals given the rise of content featured in its news feed.
2. Engage directly
One of the best ways to build engagement with your followers on social media is to highlight your members’ stories, says Neal Schaffer, author, speaker, and fractional CMO. Schaffer advises the associations he works with to use their social media channels to “raise awareness about the amazing things their members are doing.”
Too often, organizations use their social channels as a broadcasting medium to talk about themselves. Schaffer says that a more effective way to grow engagement is to shine a light on your members: “When you talk about what your members are doing and tag them in the process, they’re likely to share that with their network as well. That’s the recipe for getting more exposure and growing your network.”
According to Matthews, another effective tactic to grow your following is to tap the networks of your communications team and senior leadership. “They will likely have a larger collective reach than your company profile,” says Matthews. “Plus, since the posts are coming from humans rather than an organization, they’ll likely have higher engagement and, ultimately, that engagement will extend to your association profile as well.”
Another, often overlooked lever to grow engagement is not just what you say, but how you say it. Kaiser points out that many associations use a very polished, professional tone in their posts that too often comes across as “institutional.”
“This doesn’t play well in a social media environment when an association is trying to build a sense of connection,” says Kaiser, who suggests that associations look at how consumer brands are using a warmer, more welcoming tone on their social channels.
And be sure to foster connections with your online community by replying to comments, messages, and mentions. Follow your followers as well, and engage with them on their channels.
Although associations are often described as “the voice” of their respective industries, that doesn’t mean they have to be the only one talking or even the one with the loudest voice.
Growing engagement is as much about listening as it is about posting. If you’re like many associations, you’re navigating an industry undergoing rapid transformation if not outright disruption. Your members’ needs are evolving at roughly the same pace their professions are changing. The best way to keep track of those needs is by listening to what they’re saying on their social channels.
Associations should join social media groups, and start some of their own to foster an environment where members can interact, ask questions, and discuss ideas and challenges.
Kaiser compares an online community to a live event. “In the same way an association books a ballroom, invites attendees, and lines up speakers for a live event, they can use their social channels to prompt and foster interesting and productive conversations,” says Kaiser. “Associations have always been really good at creating a physical space where meaningful conversation can take place. Applying those same competencies to an online community presents a very interesting opportunity if managed the right way.”
When an association gains a deeper understanding of the needs of its members, it can post relevant and useful content targeted to those needs and, in the process, drive deeper engagement and more meaningful connections.
4. Leverage your status as a thought leader
Your association enjoys a unique status as one of the most trusted voices in the industry you represent. That privileged status can ensure your voice is heard amid the cacophony of chatter on social media. Take advantage of that by partnering with other influential individuals or organizations in your industry for joint content, webinars, or interviews. Cross-promotion can help you reach a broader audience.
Schaffer advises associations to embrace their role as thought leaders on social media. “Don’t be shy about demonstrating your leadership by sharing case studies, success stories, and testimonials that illustrate the real-world impact of your expertise or the work you do,” he says.
Make sure to keep your channel up to date with industry trends, news, and research. Share your insights, opinions, and analysis on current topics, demonstrating your knowledge and expertise.
Kaiser says that associations can offer a lot of value to members by sorting through the glut of information their members are contending with to identify important trends and turn their members on to smart new voices.
“It’s hard for members to take in all of the information out there,” she says. “I think there’s an amazing opportunity for them to digest the onslaught of content, identify what’s most relevant and important, and offer it to members in a way that’s more manageable for them.”
5. Post relevant and useful content frequently
When it comes to posting content, consistency is critical. Stick to your strategy, and maintain a consistent posting schedule. Regular, well-timed updates help keep your followers engaged and reinforce your thought leadership.
Share valuable, informative, and well-researched content that demonstrates your expertise. Use a variety of content formats, including articles, infographics, videos, webinars, and podcasts to cater to different preferences and the social media channel you’re posting on.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything you post on your social media channel needs to be original content. Many associations simply don’t have the resources to populate their social channels with a consistent volume of high-quality content. As Naylor’s 2023 Benchmarking Report highlights, many associations feel understaffed: “The marketing department appeared to be suffering more than other areas, with only 50% indicating it is appropriately staffed.”
To drive the deepest engagement on your social media channel, you should also look to other sources that offer high-value content targeted to your members’ informational needs.
How to overcome resource limitations with a digital Resource Library
To deepen member engagement on your social channels, you need high-quality, relevant content. But that doesn’t mean your association needs to be the source for all content. An interactive Resource Library platform aggregates content from third-parties, such as vendors and solution providers, and makes them available on your website.
The content resources featured in your association Resource Library include ebooks, reports, guides, white papers, videos, and more produced by third-parties with subject-matter expertise to share with your members. These resources, then, can be promoted on your social media channels, providing members with a steady stream of relevant and timely content targeted to their professional needs.
More than 100 associations currently license Lead Marvels’ Resource Library platform for these additional benefits:
Fully managed: The digital platform is hosted and fully managed by Lead Marvels, requiring no new investments in technology or staff.
No cost to you: We make the platform available to our association partners at no cost at all — ever!
Non-dues revenue: The vendors and solution providers that want to syndicate their thought leadership content within an association Resource Library pay a fee to do so, providing a significant source of non-dues revenue for your association.
To ensure that the platform is completely turnkey for our association partners, Lead Marvels can even manage the sales process. Many of our partners use the revenue generated by their Resource Library to fund new member initiatives.
To learn more about how Lead Marvels Resource Library platform and how it can be used to drive deeper social media engagement with your members, request a demo.
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