Engagement strategy is the difference between success and struggle for member based organizations.
Interesting, then, that so many member-based organizations go without a formal engagement strategy, or even an informal one in many cases.
An engagement strategy gives your organization a measuring stick to evaluate engagement. A formal engagement strategy does too, but also provides your team a priceless lens through which to interpret the needs, preferences, and behaviors of your members. Valuable insight that you can leverage to grow your membership, and deliver more value to your members.
Taking the first steps to formalizing an engagement strategy isn’t difficult
1. Get clear on what ‘Engagement’ means:
A solid understanding of your organizational goals – shared by every team-member – is the basic foundation to success in member management.
To membership managers, this goal is known as ‘Engagement’.
Despite being the ultimate goal of their day-to-day work, you might be surprised to discover that most of your team members don’t have a confident understanding of what engagement really means!
Here’s a test you can try. Casually ask your member-management team members, one at a time (and privately), what “Member Engagement” means.
What did you learn?
If you actually asked around, chances are you found out that there is a surprising lack of consensus and/or confidence around the meaning of this word.
Fixing that is step one. Here’s how:
Define your goal in measurable terms
Building an engagement strategy starts with defining your central term, ‘Engagement’.
Defining Engagement might seem like a trivial thing, but this step is arguably the most important. Like the seed that sprouts a tree, the term you’re defining will ultimately produce your entire strategy, so it’s important to be careful!
To make sure we’re being careful, what we want to do is define our goal in measurable terms.
If Engagement is every time a member participates with their membership, what are the ways in which your members can participate with their membership?
Consider some of these common engagement channels:
- Event attendance and participation.
- Membership renewals.
- Email campaign click-throughs.
- Volunteer participation.
- Member portal use.
Grab a pen and paper and start brainstorming the engagement channels relevant to your organization. If convenient, get the team involved! The more you can think of, the better your picture of member engagement will be!
Now that you have a list of channels that your members use to engage with your organization, you have a solid understanding of what Engagement means for your organization.
Now it’s time to use it. Here’s what to do:
2. Start measuring
Every time a member uses any of the engagement channels you’ve listed, you should know about it, and document it.
Wondering how you’re supposed to do that? Chances your membership management relies heavily on spreadsheets. If this is the case, there’s simply no feasible way for you to manually track the behavior of each and every one of your members.
The solution to this problem is to stop relying on spreadsheets, and to automate engagement tracking by adopting a membership-management software platform that supports it. Of course – Member365 is one – but this article isn’t meant to sell our software. Pick whatever platform that works for you, just make sure you can track engagement across the channels you’ve listed!
Establish baseline engagement
You’ve listed your engagement channels, and adopted software that allows you to track as members use them. Before you start attempting to stimulate engagement, it’s important that you first establish your ‘baseline’ data.
Baseline engagement is the degree to which members organically use an engagement channel without interference. It is critical that you know how well each channel is doing before you attempt to stimulate engagement. Without this data, you’ll be unable to know how well future efforts to stimulate engagement work!
So, with tools in place to measure engagement, devote a period of time to business as usual. You’ll want to aim for at least a week, but we wouldn’t recommend longer than a month.
With your baseline engagement data recorded, now it’s time for the fun stuff. Here’s where your engagement strategy starts producing value:
3. Set some goals. Document them.
With the knowledge of how your engagement channels are doing without any attempt to stimulate, you’ve probably already identified a few that you’d like to boost.
Most would go about investing some time and money into stimulating them. But before you do that, it’s important that you document what you would like to do, and how you expect to do it!
This step is critical to not only keeping yourself focused, but keeping your whole team up-to-date on what you’re doing, and it also allows you to (going forward) produce a comprehensive history of what efforts have worked and which have not.
If you’ve chosen to try and stimulate better engagement out of an email campaigns by attempting to optimize open rates on an email, you could pick an email, change it’s subject line, send it out, and hope for the best.
You could write down that you’d like to optimize open rates on an email, and that you’d like to do so by editing an existing one.
Then, you create create a copy of your email (most platforms allow this with the click of a button), and store the original content and engagement data for reference.
Then you can make even more copies – and edit them all to be distinct. Maybe one has an ultra-professional tone, whereas another starts with a joke, maybe a third is written purely with emoji’s. Take the list of contacts you’d like to email this list to, and separate these contacts at random into 3 separate lists (or however many different emails you’d like to test).
Then you send them out, collect feedback, and can know which one is best by tracking open rates!
Moving forward, you can take what you’ve learned (in this case, that your members love emoji’s), and incorporate it into all your other emails and content you’d like them to engage with.
4. Fail forward.
Documenting the impact of your efforts to stimulate engagement isn’t about driving numbers up. It’s about learning what works, and what doesn’t.
Often, membership managers (and their bosses!) get stuck in the trap of focusing on what works and dismissing what doesn’t, leading to missed opportunities for major growth.
We can learn just as much, if not more, from our failures if we understand how to interpret and incorporate lessons learned. So take care to document the efforts that don’t work just as much as those that do. With luck and over time, you might just stumble onto a pattern yielding a major ‘ah-ha!‘ moment for your organization.
By analyzing your engagement campaign failures, over time you might reveal a distinct group of members that seem to not respond to any of your engagement efforts. Make a list of these members, and create custom efforts just for them. In a single stroke, this effort could have a huge impact on reducing this years churn rate!