Remember when I wrote about how journalism was scrambling to find a sustainable path forward as brands continue to shift their ad spend to digital giants Facebook and Google? And how that path forward is the same one that associations have always relied on: membership?
Well, it’s been about 18 months and the Membership Puzzle Project is well underway, and a lot of the takeaways so far are also really relevant to associations–especially when it comes to community and engagement. This recent update summarizes what the project team learned from their latest member research; this post goes into why they did it and this helpful guide details how they did it. Gotta love these people for their thoroughness and transparency!
In terms of the why, I love this quote: “There’s a great untapped resource in journalism, and it’s available to journalists right now. It’s the experience and expertise of your readers.” Just substitute “members” for “readers” and the same holds true for associations…but I wonder how many have lost sight of the truth of this statement. The experience and expertise of readers–or in the case of associations, members–is rightfully seen as extremely important to journalists, but how many associations feel the same way? I’m not talking about just BOD members and other volunteer leaders; I’m talking about MEMBERS as in all members. How many associations that you or I belong to take this attitude and value all members? And not just lip-service but genuinely value?
Anyway, I’ll save the rest of this line of thought for a future post, but in case you don’t want to click those links and read them, here are some of the takeaways for associations:
- Community matters and the value lies in actually engaging with members. You know the intersection of associations and community is my obsession…or if you don’t know, it is and has been for a decade now. And sadly a decade later, there are so many examples of associations failing at this. But that’s yet another future post. But here’s a tip: if you see community as just another push channel, or a way to collect data so you can better target content…that’s not engagement.
- If you want to learn what members value, ask them and then listen. You don’t need to hire a survey consultant or firm or get into internal turf battles about which departments are allowed to add a question to the coveted annual membership survey that most members ignore. Do roadshows. Do virtual town halls or member feedback sessions. Participate in your online community. Pick up the phone. Don’t just dismiss complainers as headaches. If they’re complaining they care.
- Value member feedback like it’s your job (..because it is, isn’t it?) Journalism is doubling down on the membership model because they know that their legacy monetization model won’t sustain publications going forward. Associations are in sort of a reverse position–they take for granted that members will continue to pay dues and attend conferences out of loyalty or just because they’ve always done it, but the cracks in that belief are starting to show (yep, have another post about that in the works as well…and here you thought I’d just abandoned blogging altogether!). Maybe it’s time associations took a page from journalists’ books and started re-valuing member feedback like it’s the thing that holds the key to associations’ future success? Because it kind of is, isn’t it?
- This is a great example that associations should consider: The Correspondent announced in this post that they’re “stepping up [their] game and introducing a new role: the Conversation Editor.” The five goals for the position (which sounds a lot like a super-empowered community manager to me) are:
- Invite members to take part in discussions they’re knowledgeable about.
- Help our correspondents to enrich their reporting with the knowledge and experience of our members.
- Make our comment section more diverse.
- Organize critical dissent. “When everyone seems to disagree in a discussion, the Conversation Editor wants to steer away from group think by organizing dissent.” Steer away from group think? Organize dissent? Said no association ever…ok, maybe not no association but group think and dissent aren’t exactly encouraged by most associations. To put it mildly.
Membership isn’t the only thing journalists are tackling; they’re also diving deep into that other association stable: engagement. The article I linked to is really worth reading, particularly as it speaks to the fact that there’s no universal definition of engagement and it gives specific examples of the ways newsrooms around the world are fostering engagement with readers/members. And here’s another really good article:The journalism industry knows engagement is necessary to survive. But this study shows formidable barriers stand in the way. Namely, themselves. Sound like any other industry we know? Really don’t want to click or read? Ok–here are a few highlights:
- Engagement expands available knowledge: Staff and leadership simply don’t (and can’t) know what the experience of other people and communities is really like. Public participation fills gaps in the knowledge.
- Engagement establishes trust: Asking for input and being transparent about processes builds trust with community members, which contributes to ongoing support and receptivity to future work.
- Engagement saves resources: Building programs, content or services with the participation of community members helps make sure they’re built correctly the first time, saving money and resources that would have otherwise been spent on building something with a lower likelihood of success.
- Engagement improves conversion and retention: Building something that people actually need means they keep showing up, helping you remain competitive in a landscape defined by increasing alternatives and options.
- Engagement empowers communities: Including community members in your creation process demonstrates that their voice is valuable and helps to empower those communities in ways that benefit them and society as a whole.
I’ll close with this quote, which I know sure resonates with me in terms of the association I was a member of until recently:
“Barrier: Leadership does not fully understand the value of listening and engagement, or refuses to support these efforts. Leadership do not see the problem or believe in the solution.
Leadership and management do not recognize when services fail to meet the needs of some community members, or they believe that it is impossible to address these failures or not their job. There is a prevailing mentality that “if it’s still working for someone, there is no need to change anything” or “this group of people is never going to support us, so we’ll just have to pursue a different group instead.”
Ok, actually I lied–I’ll close with THIS:
What Happens When Institutions Don’t Invite Participation & Listen
After having read in detail the barriers to engagement, solving for these barriers may seem overwhelming, too big to solve for. But not solving for them has dire consequences. Our study found the following consequences to not engaging the public in their work:
- They lose relevance and support — when institutions create things that people don’t actually want or need those people will go looking for alternatives that better suit them. This can lead to active protest at an institution or passive protest in the form of non-participation, affecting both retention and conversion rates.
- They waste time and money — institutions waste tons of time and money building things based on assumptions about what community members want or need, only to find out later that their assumptions are incorrect.
- They disempower and disenfranchise communities — by choosing not to include community members in the creation process, institutions reinforce the narrative that the voices of the public or marginalized groups aren’t important and that their participation isn’t efficacious, which can have effects far beyond any individual institution.