The truth is that there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to associations actively growing their membership numbers. Most membership organizations use three key indicators to measure trends in overall health: total memberships, new members acquired and members renewed. According to the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 46% of those surveyed reported an increase, compared to 53% in 2014. Aside from staffing and budgeting, the top challenges that associations are facing are the difficulty in communicating value (33%) and the difficulty in attracting and maintaining younger members (18%). The key to success in both of those areas is to understand that there is no stand-alone marketing channel that can fully support the organization’s goal of continuous growth. You cannot simply stop all traditional forms of acquisition. If door-to-door, direct mail and telephone sales work for your organization, then you should keep doing it, while also implementing a full-scale digital program. The integration of multiple marketing channels working together produces the best results in getting (and keeping) the numbers.
Here are the top 3 digital marketing channels that should be initiated right away to support a thriving membership program.
Content Marketing – Only mentioned by 5% of those surveyed in the benchmarking report, this channel presents a huge amount of opportunity for associations. It is one of the fastest growing marketing channels used today. Organizations should capitalize on the fact that they are the true subject matter experts with their target audience by utilizing existing channels to present online opportunities in the form of free content and special offers to their prospective members. This content can take many forms including whitepapers, case studies, webinars, video and blogs and should all be focused on educating. Content marketing offers this valuable content in exchange for the user agreeing to opt-in to receive future communications. It can be an effective means of driving new leads into your database that will hopefully find the content so compelling that it prompts them to become a paying member. It can also be an effective way to engage and renew current members, who may not respond to a direct mail piece, but will interact with an opportunity that they see from you via email or Facebook. Those who show interest can then be followed up with through traditional “push” marketing efforts and nurtured to take a specific action. This highly engaged audience who demonstrated an interest in your materials has been shown to respond at over 5x the average rate when presented with further marketing materials.
Email – In 2015, email and direct mail are cited as being the most effective ways that associations acquire new business and retain memberships. Once a prospect is added to the database, using content marketing as described above, email becomes the most commonly used marketing channel. It makes sense that email is the “go to” channel because it is fast, inexpensive, effective and measurable. With a properly designed and executed email plan, every behavior by the user can be tracked and analyzed, allowing for more refined and targeted messaging. However, it is important to state that it can be overused. When an association overuses email, it can seriously deteriorate the list and “turn off” your most engaged audience. There are many tips, techniques and best practices that should be followed with an email marketing program that will help optimize the campaign to achieve pre-established goals and the highest possible results.
Social Media – “Networking in the field” is considered by association executives to be the top reason for joining an association and the best way to network in today’s world is through social media. By 2015, 91% of individual membership associations have an official Facebook page, 87% use Twitter, 60% have a LinkedIn group, and 56% have a YouTube channel. By understanding the top challenges of 1.) Needing a vehicle to clearly communicate value and 2.) Reaching the younger audience, it is clear that social media should be completely integrated into every association’s marketing and communications mix. Use each of these channels in a highly strategic and disciplined way. No longer can you get away with an occasional post. There should be consistent messaging and interactions with everyone who engages with you. You should create an environment that keeps users coming back by mixing up the content. Use everything in your arsenal including advocacy, member benefits, outreach, fundraising and business resources. Use the channels to connect your members to each other, provide value in every post and encourage interactions and you will see the results.
Each channel that you are using to market your association has a place in its “tool belt.” It is just important to note that no individual channel can be fully effective without the support of the others. A fully integrated traditional and digital plan is the only way to gain new members, while engaging and retaining the existing membership. As you begin to plan for next year, think about not only what was in the plan last year, but also how the introduction of new channels can take your association to the next level.
Posted by Crissy Trus, an essential part of initiate-it’s digital team. initiate-it is a fully committed, fully prepared, full-service agency in Richmond, Virginia.