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Using Automation to Run Your Association More Efficiently

Your association can’t run on magic, but automation can sometimes seem like it.

In a recent episode of Higher Logic’s Member Engagement Show podcast, guest Devin Timbrook, Sales Enablement Manager at Higher Logic, discussed how associations can, should, and are using automation tools in their member engagement efforts. Devin has 7 years’ experience working with associations and nonprofits and specializes in scalable ways to engage members.

She’s teaching a session on Automation at Higher Logic’s upcoming Super Forum 2024, and shared a first look. She talked about ways you can leverage automation to enhance productivity and improve your segmentation and personalization, leaving more time for staff to focus on member connection, experience, and retention.

What Are Automation Tools?

Automation tools are software solutions designed to streamline mostly repetitive tasks. They can be used to expedite tedious, manual processes and often minimize errors. Automation within your marketing or community platform can help you use member data to create specific follow-ups to members based on almost any information you have about them (e.g. demographic information, behavior, etc.). That frees up valuable time for association professionals to focus on the things only they can do, like brainstorming and strategizing.  

Membership team saving time with community automation

Ways to Use Automation

Exploring the diverse applications of automation, Devin shared some of the strategic ways she’s seen associations harnessing it to increase efficiency, productivity, and member engagement.

“Saving time is, across the board, one of the most consistent themes I hear when working with associations and nonprofits to automate. Associations need to maximize the time they have and automation helps them not have to do everything manually. Whether it’s communicating to your members, inviting them to join conversations happening in your community, or getting them to register for an event, automation can help you save time and improve engagement.”

Online registration for Super Forum 2024 closes April 5. Don't miss out on Devin's session, CAE credits, and tons of conference content designed to spark association innovation.

Community Engagement

One key area where automation can drive positive impact is community engagement. Automation tools, like the Automation Rules in Higher Logic Thrive Community, can facilitate member onboarding, deliver personalized outreach to community members based on their activity (or lack thereof), and optimize community moderation – all of which fosters a continuously vibrant and inclusive environment for your members. 

“When we’re speaking with associations and nonprofits, one of their biggest areas of concern is how do I drive community engagement. With Higher Logic Thrive specifically, we have this amazing feature called Automation Rules – and I like to say it’s your virtual assistant. It’s doing work in the background for you so you don’t have to remember to do it.”

Community Automation Rules can be set up to send emails, add users to specific sub-communities, add users to security groups (which allow you to control what they have access to and what they don’t in your community), give ribbons and badges, or adjust demographics. These can be applied in a variety of ways to move, celebrate, and communicate with your members

For example:

  • You can automate a notification to new community users who haven’t posted in the community yet, telling them how to make their first post. 
  • You can set up an automated welcome/onboarding sequence for new members.
  • You can set up an email notification for staff that warns you when one of your members has posted a question in the community that hasn’t been answered yet, enabling you to seek an answer for them.
  • You can set up reminders for community users who haven’t logged in and highlight current conversations in the community that are relevant to them based on interests they’ve identified.

Automating tasks like these helps you build and reinforce community engagement while making the job of community management easier to handle – you no longer have to manually juggle an endless number of tasks or communications for every possible path a member might take.

Marketing and Communications

Marketing automation tools also hold tremendous potential from a marketing standpoint. Associations are better able to deliver targeted content to the right members at the right time, driving engagement and participation.

You can automate standard email campaigns like:

  • New member welcome campaigns
  • Membership renewal campaigns
  • Event promotion campaigns
  • Fundraising campaigns
  • Win-back campaigns

In fact, Higher Logic Thrive includes premade automated campaigns for all of the above to help associations get started.

Expanding on one of these examples, let’s say you run the marketing for your member events. With automation tools, you could automate a series of promotion emails to folks who still haven’t registered, while automatically filtering those who have registered into a separate attendee communication campaign. This frees up your time to focus on the things that can’t, or shouldn’t, be automated, like fostering relationships with vendors, coming up with new, clever ways to do presentations, and planning engaging and exclusive in-person networking opportunities. 

Not only does all this benefit your staff – it benefits your members! They receive communication that’s highly tailored to them and you’re often able to facilitate more member benefits and experiences because you don’t have to manually send out every email.

Integration Improves Automation

Devin also discussed how having your tech stack – like your AMS, community, and marketing – integrated or connected makes it that much easier to use your data to automate targeted member experiences. You can better personalize the member journey based on what you already know they registered for or engaged with – making your job easier and increasing ROI.

But she stressed that you can still automate some of your tasks even without integration: “It’s kind of a ‘good, better, best’ situation. Automation is good. Integrated automation is better. Having multiple tools integrated to drive automation is best. It’s definitely feasible to automate some of your marketing or community actions without having your tech stack integrated, but you get that top-notch member experience when all your tools are working together and automation is flowing from one to the next.”

Addressing Common Automation Concerns

Devin encourages associations to embrace automation tools with careful thought and with open arms. Don’t be afraid to experiment, test, and learn. These tools are here to stay, and they’re likely being used by companies competing for your members’ attention. Investing in the right automation solutions and tactics can help your association stay ahead of the curve.

Some associations may feel concern about letting technology “take over,” but Devin explains that the human factor is always there.

“Yes, you’re setting up these automated elements, but you’re controlling the narrative and who’s receiving what messages… and we like to say it’s not ‘set it and forget it; it’s set it and monitor it.’ After you set up your automation you can always make changes if you need to. You can and should always monitor for necessary updates, but just having the ability to set something up that you don’t have to create from scratch or send out manually every time is a huge time saver. And it eases your mind because you know you’re getting the right message out to the right people automatically.”

And for those who might worry about automation tools making a mistake, Devin and I laughed about how common human error is too: “Everyone can probably relate to this: how many times have you sent an email that’s supposed to include an attachment and you forgot to include the attachment, right? People make mistakes too – and they may even be more likely to make a mistake. So it’s all about doing your best when planning, having those checkpoints to make sure everything’s set up the way you want, and periodically reviewing and monitoring.”

Automation Doesn’t Replace Employees – It Empowers Them

Devin emphasized that automation should be viewed as a catalyst for productivity as opposed to a threat to association employees. Automating processes is not about reducing the number of employees. It’s about liberating each employee to be more strategic and effective in their roles.

Few association professionals pride themselves on their ability to do rote, mundane tasks that require little thought or expertise – automation tools can be leveraged to power through these tasks. Employees can then redirect their efforts towards creativity, critical thinking, and relationship-building—all essential components of a world-class member experience.

Automation is a Win-Win for You and Your Members

Automation tools hold immense promise for associations and their members. From enhancing productivity to delivering the content members are looking for, these tools can revolutionize the way associations operate.

By leveraging automation effectively and committing to innovation, associations can embrace the digital age with confidence, saving time and delivering more member value than ever.

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Kelly Whelan

Kelly Whelan is the Content Marketing Manager for Higher Logic. In this role, she develops content to support association professionals and advise them on member engagement and communication strategy. She also hosts Higher Logic’s podcast, The Member Engagement Show. She has ~10 years of experience working in marketing for associations and nonprofits.