Younger millennials and Gen Z spend more time on social media than anyone else. Here’s how to capture their attention and grow membership among these rising generations.
For many associations, older members are aging out faster than new members can (or want to) join. Around 10,000 baby boomers have been reaching retirement age daily since 2011. And, while previous times of upheaval, like the Great Recession, saw more boomers choose to remain in the workplace, the COVID-19 pandemic led to more older workers retiring.
This is a problem for associations, where more than 60% of members are either baby boomers (32%) or Gen X (31%). In just six years, the first Gen X-ers will reach age 65, starting yet another wave of retirement. While millennials constitute 21% of association members, Gen Z represents a mere 9%. However, these younger generations also represent a significant opportunity for membership growth.
However, if associations can’t capture the attention of younger generations, membership numbers will continue to drop — and so will revenue. Of course, associations are not blind to the issue. Engaging young professionals is the third-highest priority among association leaders, according to Association Adviser’s 2023 Association Benchmarking Report. But, progress in attracting this demographic has been slow and fragmented.
One of the best ways for associations to target the younger demographic? Social media. Nearly 73% of Gen Z report spending up to 5 hours on social media daily. Here's why younger generations have been slow to commit to association membership and several ways associations can use social media to attract new members.
Gen Z and millennials are on track to occupy roughly 58% of the workforce by 2030. However, these young professionals are proving difficult for associations to reach. Associations are competing within a crowded space of alternative sources for professional development. These include:
Free and paid online courses
Free online university courses
Industry-specific groups on LinkedIn and Facebook
YouTube channels devoted to professional development
While a significant number of association members (64%) say they joined to network with their peers, today's generations are less reliant on associations and tend to find online communities that fill that need, often within paid membership communities on social platforms. They attend online events, network with peers, and complete certifications within their virtual groups.
Gen Z and millennial workers are finding each other on social media and following seasoned professionals who offer more personalized coaching and mentoring and an ever-increasing array of readily available content that addresses their professional needs and interests.
Is social media a missed opportunity for new member engagement?
Gen Z and younger millennials are digital natives; they grew up with a plethora of internet-connected devices readily available to them and consume most of their news, advertising, and other media online.
Associations need to up their social media game to attract and engage the next generation of members, but so far, efforts are falling flat:
Only 32% of association leaders say social media is a high priority for their association, and only 12% have a well-defined social strategy.
The perceived value of social media as a member engagement tool is down 5% from last year.
LinkedIn is the only social media app listed in the Top 10 most-valued member engagement tools, at No. 7, used by 69% of associations.
Social media, of course, cannot be the sole method for new member recruitment, but it’s clearly an underleveraged tool. So, how can your association use social media to attract and engage with younger generations and reduce the risk of decreasing membership and revenues?
5 ways to attract new members using social media
Meeting younger potential members where they are is the best way to encourage them to join an association. Still, it takes more than the occasional post to move the needle on new member engagement through social media. Here are five ways to strengthen your association’s social media recruitment efforts.
1. Promote your purpose frequently and intentionally
Younger generations are still open to joining professional associations but don't necessarily perceive the value. As many as 1 in 3 young association members don't know the benefits their association provides. As a result, nearly half feel that association membership will deliver a low return on investment. Social media outreach must clearly communicate how new members will benefit from association membership to have the most impact.
2. Be cognizant of your audience’s core values
Support causes younger generations are passionate about. Millennials and Gen Z are socially, environmentally, and politically conscious and want to be actively involved in improving the world. In addition to posting about how becoming a member helps their professional development and provides networking options, share how members can contribute to your association's charitable initiatives and help shape the future.
3. Embrace diversity across all mediums
The language and imagery you use on social media should be fully inclusive. Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet, and they are passionate about diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging (DEIB). Social media posts that reflect the diversity of your target audience and language will show your commitment to a positive organizational culture.
4. Personalize your tone for a younger audience
Millennials and Gen Z may shy away from professional organizations as too stuffy or intimidating. Amanda Kaiser, author of Elevating Engagement, cautions associations about coming across as too “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 use a warmer, more welcoming tone on their social channels.
Relax the tone of social communications without becoming unprofessional. Ensure that those entrusted with social media outreach can engage in the voice of younger generations to avoid disconnect.
5. Offer high-value content that targets professional needs
Most Gen Z employees (76%) view learning and development as essential to their workplace engagement. If an employer doesn't provide professional development, Gen Z isn't averse to looking for support and direction independently, making them prime targets for your association's educational outreach.
An abundance of always-on digital content can be the ideal solution for younger workers trying to take their careers further along the path to success and stability. However, creating and managing the content volume required to satisfy Gen Z professionals with a wide variety of niches and interests can be a challenge for association communication teams.
Offer more useful social media content without burdening your resources
Nearly half (47%) of associations feel their marketing-related departments are understaffed. This reality, low bandwidth, and limited resources are top barriers, not just to supplying GenZ and millennials with content that targets their professional needs, but to increasing non-dues revenues as well.
An online Resource Library platform is an ideal way to grow your association’s body of professional content for posting and linking to on social media — without over-tasking existing resources. Aggregating high-value, third-party content via an interactive digital platform, white-labeled for your association, lets you efficiently gather and present materials targeted to the wide variety of professional interests of younger demographics. When shared on your social channels, such content can be a powerful tool to attract the interest of young professionals.
The Association of Corporate Counsel’s Resource Library features more than 100 professional resources
Sharing authoritative thought leadership from third-party industry experts relieves the need for a massive budget for internal content creation. Introducing a digital Resource Library platform — at no cost to your association — can be a highly effective way to give potential new members a peek at the professional value your association provides, while significantly growing your non-dues revenue stream.
When you partner with Lead Marvels, you gain access to our proprietary technology, fully branded for your organization — and at no cost whatsoever to your association. In fact, many of our partners have used our platform to generate a 6-figure non-dues revenue stream, while simultaneously aggregating high-value content that can be promoted on social media channels to attract the next generation of members.
Association membership is naturally declining as baby boomers — the largest membership cohort — age out of the workforce. So, where can associations turn to attract new members? Younger demographics spend a significant amount of time on social media. Here’s how to use it to your association’s advantage.
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