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July 10, 2024

Growing Your Association with Your Online Community

On this episode of the Member Engagement Show, I chatted with Diana Mertz, Senior Director of Membership and Engagement at American Staffing Association (ASA). Diana has over 15 years of experience in association management, and ASA’s Community (which is built with Higher Logic) has been around since 2013. Diana shared insights into how your community strategies can and should evolve alongside the community, and how communities, in turn, help your association grow

Continue reading for some of the highlights. or listen to the entire episode!

Creating a Solid Foundation for Your Online Community

Meeting Association Members Where They Are

At the core of creating an engaging and valuable community experience is understanding and addressing the wants and needs of your members. There may be strategies or best practices that work well for other organizations that just aren’t a good fit for you, or vise versa.

Diana shared how, after observing how one community engagement tactic didn’t really work with their members, they decided to meet members where they are: “Our industry is the recruiting and staffing industry – finding people jobs, making connections. So it’s actually one of the things we talk about in community management is that what we have found over 10 years of managing OUR community, is that some of the best practices maybe aren’t the best practices for OUR members… Our members spend a lot of time on LinkedIn for their work. If they want to connect, they want those connections on LinkedIn. So when we would try to encourage them to send connection requests on our community, it would fall flat…So connection requests weren’t the best way for us to drive engagement. But we found, for example, that our virtual programs and networking calls helped them FIND new connections. And even if they were then sending a follow-up connection request on LinkedIn instead of in the community, we were still creating member value, getting members engaged, and building community for our members.”

Getting the Whole Organization Involved in Your Online Community

Achieving community buy-in across your organization is also vital. When everyone in your organization understands the value of the community and actively supports its growth, success becomes more attainable. This means involving different departments, such as membership, marketing, education, and conference teams in the community-building process – and showing them how the community also benefits them.

“I have a fun story about why our membership team meets with our education team every other week,” said Diana. “It started as a conversation about ‘who do you know that could speak on this topic, which came up in the community and on one of my volunteer calls.’ Someone had posted about the topic in the community and it had a ton of replies. We decided to do a webinar on this super-specific topic, and it had a really strong turnout. And our webinar manager said ‘I had no idea that topic would bring in that level of attendees.’ And I was like, ‘Well I did because we saw how popular the conversation was in the community.’”

Keeping Things Fresh in Established Online Communities

As ASA celebrates its 10-year milestone, Diana also discussed the association’s evolution and growth. Their online community (and their online community strategy) has evolved alongside their members, continuously adapting to meet changing needs and trends.

“We’re coming up on 11 years with our community and I think about how much it’s changed since we launched. And our members’ understanding of community has also changed – they understand better how to interact with it and the purpose of it. So they’ve come to see it as a real benefit… I think there is also a lot more motivation to participate in online communities than there was 10 years ago. People are more comfortable and willing to share. So, there are some community strategies we’ve stopped using and others we’ve started again to keep testing what will engage members.”

Associations should always be aware of the ways their members are changing and adapt to those kinds of transitions. Trying new strategies – or revisiting ones you tried in the past – can keep engagement levels high, let you know what your members want, and ensure your community remains dynamic and relevant.

Special Interest Groups Within Communities

Recognizing and catering to diverse interests within your association is key to a personalized member experience that creates longevity. Special interest groups within communities serve as vital channels for members to connect, collaborate, and thrive. Providing these types of diverse engagement options for your members enables you to meet them where they are and increase your association’s value in the process.

Tapping Into What Association Members Want

Speaking of knowing what members want, data-driven decision-making lies at the heart of effective community engagement. By utilizing community data to identify trends and member needs, your association can ensure your initiatives are relevant and impactful. From webinars to community discussions, regular data analysis allows associations to adapt engagement strategies effectively.

This data collection isn’t just a one-and-done process. Do frequent and regular pulse checks throughout your association to stay on top of those changing needs and get ahead of them before your members get antsy.

Nurture a Culture of Volunteerism

Empowering members to drive initiatives and create a culture of engagement and volunteerism is central to association development strategy. Members and volunteers create the heartbeat of an association, so showing them appreciation and recognition on an individual basis is crucial to keeping things moving.

Your online community presents a great way to manage and nurture your volunteers – ASA, for example, uses Higher Logic’s Volunteering and Mentoring Add-On to make their volunteer process easier for staff and members. When you can automate and streamline things like the volunteer application process, tracking, and communication, it leaves your staff more time to really know and recognize volunteers. Not only does this give your staff more time, it makes for a rewarding volunteer experience, which can ultimately encourage them to stay involved in the long run.

Recognizing Your Most Valuable Contributors

Don’t forget to showcase your most active volunteers with ribbons and badges, other gamification tactics, email shoutouts, or even social posts. In addition, show valuable contributors extra ways they can remain involved, whether that’s asking them to lead a special interest group or encouraging them to innovate and implement new processes to the workflow. It’s important to let your volunteers know that they’re valued and integral to the health of the association.

Community Growth Helps Your Organization Grow

The increased engagement and involvement of members in the online community has fostered ASA’s growth as an organization too. They’ve identified educational opportunities, cultivated a culture of volunteerism, fostered their highly successful Women in Leadership program, and relaunched their ASA foundation – all through community!

ASA’s commitment to nurturing special interest groups, empowering volunteers, and embracing innovation can serve as a guiding light to associations that aim to increase member engagement and foster richer communities. Listen to the episode to hear more about it in Diana’s own words!

And for more insight into the world of association management and engagement, be sure to subscribe to the Member Engagement Show.

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.