Measure Member Engagement, Not Participation

thumbs up August 7, 2017 By: Rita Santelli

Associations often focus on measuring activity to quantify member engagement. But this method is notoriously unreliable. There's a better way to measure engagement that provides a more accurate picture of your members' loyalty.

One of our main objectives as associations is to maximize member engagement, and for good reason. Highly engaged members are more likely to participate in activities, refer colleagues for membership, and renew their membership for years to come. Engagement metrics help us predict our members' future behavior. Measuring engagement, however, has proven to be a difficult endeavor. There are three popular methods:

  • Activity engagement: This method measures each time a member participates in an activity, such as attending webinars and conferences, buying publications, or liking social posts.
  • Touchpoint engagement: This technique adds interaction with staff, especially interactions initiated by the member, to a member's engagement score.
  • Pick-your-own engagement: This approach identifies a subset of activities determined to be the best indicators of engagement for a particular association.

The challenge with each of these methods is that they focus on transactions and participation, which are notoriously inaccurate indicators of engagement.

Engagement Is About Relationship

Engaged members—those who renew and refer other prospects—see their interaction with the association as much more than a series of transactions or events. The association is their indispensable partner. It provides critical information, education, and networking that allows them to find solutions and overcome challenges. Engaged members have an emotional connection with their association.

Accurate engagement metrics measure the extent of a member's emotional connection. This is the information that will provide insight into future referral and renewal behaviors. Participation levels and transaction frequency provide little insight into a member's emotional connection.

The key is to measure if members view the association as their partner and go-to resource for help with resolving challenges.

Social channels are an excellent example of the disconnect between participation and engagement. The faculty at Harvard Business School conducted 16 separate studies on people's activity with a brand online and their subsequent purchase behavior. They found "no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people's purchasing behavior." In other words, their participation provided no indication of their brand loyalty.

As KiKi L'Italien, CEO of Amplified Growth and a digital marketing expert, explains, "When a member likes a social post, it does not move you closer to your goal of engaging members. When you provide valued content, that is when you rise above the noise to create a level of trust." That is when you establish a relationship.

Does this mean we should stop tracking participation, purchases, likes, and downloads?

Absolutely not. Participation is critical information. It reveals members' level of interest in various subject areas, how they view authors and presenters, and whether new members are taking advantage of their benefits... These are important factors to understand and track. But measuring participation cannot serve as a proxy for engagement.

A Way Forward

How can you go beyond participation to get a sense of the emotional connection that your members have with your association? How can we truly understand their level of engagement? The key is to measure whether members view the association as their partner and go-to resource for help with resolving challenges.

Two metrics, when combined, provide an accurate picture of member engagement. First, measure how actively members use the information, education, and networking resources included in their membership. Second, measure how likely members are to turn to the association when a challenge arises.

For the first metric, routinely ask members about usage and action after they participate in an activity. Many associations already include such questions in post-webinar and event surveys. For example:

  • How likely are you to apply the information you learned in today's webinar?
  • Will the information you learned today directly help you in your work life?

However, fewer associations ask these questions about their social posts, online communities, or publications. Simple one-question surveys will collect this rapid feedback through triggered AMS emails, automated community messages, and social polls. These answers will move you from measuring participation to measuring value.

The second metric, which measures how likely members are to rely on their membership when a challenge arises, provides insight into the emotional connection members feel toward the association. Annual member surveys and other tracking mechanisms should include questions related to the members' view of the association as a go-to resource. Examples include:

  • When you have a professional question or challenge, how likely are you to utilize your membership to find a solution?
  • How often do you use the member resource center to help you overcome a challenge or solve a problem?
  • How often do you reach out to fellow association members to overcome a challenge or solve a problem?

Truly engaged members have an emotional connection to the association. As you develop mechanisms to track and measure engagement, ensure that your methods go beyond participation and transactions to provide insight into their emotional connection.

Rita Santelli

Rita Santelli, MBA, is CEO of The Savvy Org and an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University.