Engagement and providing value are the keys to increasing member loyalty. Member retention not only has significant revenue consequences, but it is also a clear indicator of how closely the association’s offerings track with the member’s expectations. It’s good to remember that there are always competing entities ready to fill the gap if you leave one between expectations and delivery. If your members are going to express surprise – even if they do not actually articulate it – you want that surprise to be about how much you offer, not how little. In solving the member loyalty puzzle, a puzzle itself is an apt metaphor. What follows are six pieces to that puzzle.
How Digital Transformation Comes Into Play
The defining extended experience of our time is the pandemic, which is not over. It has accelerated certain trends, primary among them the reality behind digital transformation. Whatever words may be used in the future to describe this development, what we are calling digital transformation means for associations the mandate to deliver services and experiences digitally. Maintaining and increasing member loyalty requires this facility. The puzzle pieces all have this in common.
The Six Member Loyalty Maxims
Ok, let’s put the pieces out on the table before we describe each in depth:
1. Recognize your members for their achievements and in the process reinforce your standing as the arbiter of excellence.
2. Continuous learning is the heart of your mission. Deliver transformative education.
3. Connect people to people. Be the gathering place for meaningful communities.
4. Maintain a mobile first mindset. The mobile phone is much more than a phone.
5. Turn every interaction into a dynamic web experience.
6. Understand that you are a media organization and use it to the advantage of your members.
1) Recognize Members for Their Achievements through the Online Management of Awards Programs and Abstracts
A vigorous facility for accepting, judging, and rewarding submissions achieves the dual objectives of engaging members in a way that builds loyalty while reinforcing the association’s standing as an arbiter of excellence not only for members but also for media vehicles that report the news and other public records. These recognitions reflect back, furthering member loyalty.
“By taking the time to honor members of your organization, you are building loyalty to your organization. Being recognized in an organization makes members feel more invested in the organization and the role they play there.
"Awards programs also garner a lot of attention and give people something to get excited about. Preparing for and publicizing the event gives your organization numerous opportunities to share information on various social media platforms: photos, awards galleries, calls for nominations, event reminders, videos and most importantly, winner announcements, which get rapidly shared by winners and those close to them across platforms.”
- Timothy Spell, Co-founder, OpenWater
2) Deliver Transformative Education through Online Learning Management
Continuous learning is the heart of your mission. Make it happen at all hours of the day wherever your members happen to be. Nothing advances a member like learning something new that sheds light and opens doors. And nothing creates greater loyalty than adherence to the source of that learning.
“Your members need to continue learning if they want to remain employable, promotable, and successful. Learning opportunities create actively loyal members. Actively loyal members will pursue more of your learning products and even pay more for them. They talk about and refer your courses to others. They feel good about aligning themselves and their reputation with your brand. They trust in your integrity and mission.
"Loyal e-learning customers are more likely to deepen their engagement with your association. Identify and track the learning behaviour of your members using reports available in your learning management system (LMS) to gain deeper insight into your data, to better understand purchase history, and popularity of courses. Use this data to review the effectiveness of training programs and inform learner recruitment and retention strategies.
"Using your LMS to bring together and deliver all education resources including courses, certification programs, learning resources, virtual conferences and events increases familiarity and ease of access to your association’s professional development offerings, resulting in more loyal learners.”
- Michelle Brien, VP, Marketing & Product Strategy, TopClass LMS
3) Build Communities that Connect People to People
Associations are built around a single industry or focus. An association is made up of its members and their interests. By enabling people to interact with each other in the most modern ways, wherever they happen to be, pursuits unfold, new areas of interest multiply and new avenues of meaning become the order of the day, every day.
“One of the best ways to keep your members coming back is to make sure you reach them wherever they are with a message that keeps you front and center. With so many ways to communicate, associations need to use every tool at their disposal to bring members back into the fold on a regular basis.
"For example, if you have a community that offers an RSS feed, use that feed to syndicate your community posts wherever your members go. You can put the most recent posts on various social media platforms, from Discord to GroupMe, so members see them and click through to come back to the posts. You can also use the more traditional routes, like adding the RSS feed to email newsletters and your website, to reach members that way.”
- Beth Arritt, Association Evangelist, Higher Logic
4) Maintain a Mobile First Mindset. A Smartphone is More than a Phone
You need dedicated membership apps to reach the population that makes up your organization. Everyone is carrying a mobile phone all the time. Increasingly, that’s what members use to interact with everyone and everything that matters to them. Make it easy for them to reach you and all you have to offer.
“When it comes to building stronger loyalty among your community stakeholders, convenient access to your organization and its benefits should be at the top of your engagement strategy. Dedicated membership apps that serve as private social networks for communities offer the quickest access to news, resources, messaging, events and more by placing these features inside an on-hand tool.
"Engagement suffers when processes are inefficient or outdated. Websites and email alone aren’t enough. Convenient access created from a mobile app experience directly translates to membership value. Value translates to long-term loyalty.”
-Katie Argueta, Director of Communications, Clowder
5) Turn Every Interaction into a Dynamic Web Experience
The greatest expression of digital transformation is to turn every interaction into a dynamic and personalized web experience by narrowing the distance between your business system and your websites. Ideally, they should be one and the same, so that members constantly feel that you know who they are. This builds familiarity, which leads to loyalty.
“By investing in a design where business system and websites come from the same source you can automate and personalize the user experience. Interacting with the business system becomes a dynamic web experience for members as you strengthen your relationships. When members arrive at the website, the system knows who they are, including their entire history with your organization. When they make a request or a change, the system is updated instantly and automatically.
"The overwhelming impression is that the association knows who the member is, strengthening those vital relationships. It’s easy to see how this kind of connection is especially valuable in a time when many of the previous ways of interacting were shut down. With such a design, member loyalty only increases.”
- Jeff Spring, Senior Product Manager, Advanced Solutions International
6) Embrace Your Status as a Media Organization to Your Members’ Advantage
Associations are content publishers, in many different formats. Down through the ages, the position of a publisher is one of authority. That’s no different today. If anything, reach is more widespread and more immediate than ever. In vehicles with advertising, you have the opportunity to bring vendors of products of value to your members’ attention, forging connections that benefit both parties and generate non-dues revenue that allows you to offer wider and greater services to your constituents.
“Media is more prevalent and more influential than ever. By making your content digitally available you make it both immediate and timeless. Publish in as many formats as you can and publicize what you publish. This adds prestige and standing to your organization, increasing the value of membership.
"When possible, spotlight the work and opinions of your members. From your website itself through print magazines, newsletters, e-newsletters, journals, blogs, email blasts and a myriad of other formats, the more sophisticated and insightful content you deliver, the greater sense of belonging you will engender in your members.”
- Raphael Badagliacca, Media Specialist, Advanced Solutions International
Retention is the Ultimate Measure of Loyalty
Once you have the loyalty pieces of the puzzle in place — fully recognizing that keeping them in place is an ongoing, everyday activity — be sure to make membership renewal an easy, straightforward process. Retention is really the crowning measure of member loyalty.
The surest process is to institute automatic renewal. That makes renewal the default; members have to take an action not to renew.
If you are not depending on automatic renewal, then use every kind of reminder, notification and alert as the member’s renewal date approaches. Whether they arrive in email or as pop-ups from an app, time them so they appear in a mix of messages that reinforce the value you offer. No one wants to feel taken for granted. Remind your members of what you mean to their professional lives, and they will respond positively when you remind to renew.