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Onboarding for Retention: How to Engage New Members for the Long Term

Engagement during the first year of association membership is crucial. Connect your members and continue to engage them at strategic touchpoints.

Onboarding new members is a critical step for associations, and often one that is missed or under-emphasized. That first year of membership has a big influence on whether that member will renew with you.

If you’re onboarding with the goal of member retention (and you should be), it’s all about connecting your members and continuing to engage them at strategic touchpoints. Engagement during their first year of membership, and every year after, is how you keep members around.

When evaluating how your onboarding program is doing, ask yourselves if these three things are true about your program:

1. Are members quickly introduced your association’s benefits, like your member network and key resources?

2. Are members drawn in so much that they want to remain and participate?

3. Are staff able to introduce members to these benefits on a large scale and in a personalized way?

If the answer to any of these was no, don’t worry. We’ve got the resources you need to get your onboarding program where you want it to be.

The Big Picture: Why Rethink Your Onboarding Strategy

In the past, association onboarding processes were about time, effort, and energy—all in high demand and short supply for any member-facing department. Time, effort, and energy-heavy processes that require lots of hands-on, manual labor don’t scale well or get a high volume of renewals, especially for those who are new to the organization. In this digital era, these strategies are just not practical for associations who want to stay relevant.

So how are organizations evolving?

Many membership departments are shifting their focus to member loyalty and retention, starting with onboarding. They’re building automated processes with new tools to:

  • Cut out clunky processes + reduce extra effort during onboarding
  • Draw new members into conversations with seasoned members in their online community
  • Introduce members to the wealth of resources available as part of their membership, especially on topics relevant to them

For example, the Florida Association of Insurance Agents (FAIA) launched four automated campaigns to cover new members, membership renewal, re-engagement, and past member recruitment.

Former Communications Director at FAIA, Sue Ray, described the change to their process: “We used to send out one big email with tons of details when a member joined. Now, we split it up by topic over three emails spaced evenly apart; this has increased the number of opens and clicks significantly.” Automating these tasks has saved FAIA staff two to three hours every day.

Read more: The Member Journey Has Changed: Are You Changing With It?

You’re starting to see why onboarding needs to a big focus of your retention strategy, right?

It’s like making an outsider feel welcome at a party. You welcome your guests at the door, show them where the snacks and drinks are, chat them up for a bit, and then draw them into conversation with someone else who has something in common with them. If they’re looking a little lonely later on, you draw them into an activity, like playing a game with you and a couple other friends. The more comfortable they feel, the longer they’ll stay, and the more connected they’ll become.

Getting your new members involved in your online community from the start is a good way to build future engagement and retention. Plus, thanks to complementary tools like marketing automation, it makes the work of your membership staff less labor-intensive. You can communicate all the benefits of your association in a layered way that doesn’t overwhelm them, encouraging them toward deeper participation in your community, where members are already networking, connecting, and collaborating.

Read more: How to Improve First-Year Member Retention

Let’s Get Practical: Create a Retention-Focused Onboarding Program with These 3 Steps

Next, let’s get more tactical: It’s possible to provide members with a deeper, more meaningful experience by focusing on specific campaigns and using appropriate KPIs to gauge success.

1. Map Existing Processes

Start by identifying every interaction between the member and the association during the first year of membership. You could think of this as “member journey mapping.”

Tools: Group activities into “campaigns,” and identify every element of that campaign. Measure both the importance of the campaign and each element within it against the perceived member value. By going through this process, you’ll have a quantifiable method for prioritizing the respective member experience.

Tip: Create a “Welcome Campaign.” This could be one email or a series of automated emails that welcome members when they join, and continues to draw them in by sharing benefits and including a call to action (CTA).

2. Create Calls to Action

CTAs are measurable and a core opportunity to get your members engaged.

Tools: Include key CTAs in your different campaigns. Be clear and direct about the action you want your members to take. For example:

  • Complete your member profile in our online community (with a link asking them to import their profile from LinkedIn or simply upload a bio and photo)
  • Introduce yourself to our online community by answering two simple questions, such as: How did you get into this industry? Can you provide one fun fact about yourself others may find interesting?
    • Data shows that 69% of first-time posters continued posting messages throughout the year – so if you can get over that initial barrier to entry, you’ll have an engaged member on your hands (Higher Logic).

To automate your reminder communications, tie the information stored in your member online community into your marketing automation system, so you’re reaching out with the right info at the right time.

Tip: Customize your online community home page. Show an onboarding widget that only new members can see, so that they can track where they are in the onboarding process. This creates a personal, customized experience for each member, improving engagement.

3. Nurture Further Engagement

One common, key objective for associations is to get members more engaged, because there is often a strong correlation among engagement, satisfaction and ultimately, retention.

Tools: Make your engagement goal more measurable by weaving in these concrete CTAs into the first-year member experience. This way, you can gradually nurture them up your organization’s engagement ladder, resulting in higher engagement, more satisfied members, and significantly improved first-year retention.

Tip: Use engagement to breed engagement. One example of this type of nurturing is through action-triggered automation, which is designed to leverage one piece of engagement to encourage another.

  • If a member posts an industry question to your online community and received four responses quickly, then you could automate a message congratulating them on the responses and inviting them to select one of the responses as the “Best Answer.”
  • If/when they do finally select the best answer, another email is triggered to the author of that best answer congratulating them and thanking them for their contribution as well.

Improve Member Retention + Reduce Staff Effort with Automation + Engagement

Use these tips to create an onboarding program that helps members find the connections and resources they’re looking for, while making the process easier and more efficient for staff. Your goal should be to craft an onboarding process that is organized, measurable, and focused on the long-term, so that your onboarding process can result in the desired effect: member retention.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Andy Steggles in July 2015 and has since been refreshed to make sure we’re bringing you the latest and greatest.

Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell is the former Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.