In a recent strategic discussion about how to improve member and customer engagement, the CEO of a very large individual membership association said something that blew our minds.
He told us that his staff actively discourages him from reading the association’s online forum posts because “it will only upset” him to see the negative or “trivial” comments and questions sometimes posted by the association’s members. His staff felt that it wasn’t the CEO’s role to know members on this granular level.
Wisely (there’s a reason he’s the CEO), he overrides his staff and regularly monitors the forums to see for himself what’s keeping his members up at night. What struck us, though, was that although this very capable leader understands the importance of knowing what members are saying, he didn’t understand that, while he and his organization are wrestling to develop engagement strategies, they are overlooking the very real engagement going on between the association and its members every single day.
It’s All Engagement
Guess what? Complaining about the association on message board is engagement! So is every customer service inquiry, complaint, voicemail, email or other message. Every website visit, page click, email open and click-through…is engagement. Every online search that turns up your association or one of its products or services or initiatives…is engagement. Every forum where the issues that concern your members and industry are discussed (even if they are not yours) is engagement. Every email members, customers, or prospects open, every Facebook post they read (or “like” or share), every Twitter or RSS feed they follow, every phone call they make to the association or to another member is engagement.
If members, prospects, customers and thought leaders came to your association’s website every day, if they asked and answered questions and participated in discussions on your forums, if they added to your wiki, commented on blog posts, downloaded a free app, or just read and found value in the information your association provides…wouldn’t they be “engaged?”
If members couldn’t imagine doing their jobs (or pursuing their avocations) without the resources your organization provides, wouldn’t that make them engaged? Wouldn’t they be finding value and engaging—as they define it—and joining and renewing in increased numbers because of it—even if they never set foot in your board room or at a conference?
Most associations, even today, would say “no.” While most associations “talk the talk” about member services, most still see engagement and member services as two totally different things. “Engagement,” to most associations, is volunteerism or some type of monetary transaction (preferably multiples). “Member Services” is actually dealing with those pesky members who take up the CEO’s time on message boards.
These outmoded definitions miss the crucial point that, today, engagement is interaction (whether or not money or volunteer hours are involved). Globalization and the internet have blown up the old concepts of engagement. Instead of being defined by the association and bestowed like a benefice on its members, the new engagement is directly driven by the wider market (members and non-members alike) and cherry-picked by consumers, according to their needs.
And, getting the new engagement right or wrong can make or break an organization in record time. So, if your association is struggling to increase engagement, it must understand and embrace the idea that engagement is now everything your association does that involves member or market interaction.