If you’re a membership geek like me, you eagerly anticipate the annual release of MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmark Report. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I shared my favorite trends and tidbits from the report. But I’m not doing that again just yet. While we wait for the report’s release on June 17, I have related research findings to share from the recent digitalNow conference in Nashville.

MGI vice president Erik Schonher and Higher Logic president Andy Steggles shared results from their joint study on member engagement and satisfaction. MGI provided member satisfaction data from their forthcoming report and Higher Logic provided engagement data from their client associations’ online communities. ASAE CIO Reggie Henry joined them to share data from the ASAE research department’s analysis of Collaborate, ASAE’s online community.

There was talk of variables, ratios, correlation analysis and a Composite Engagement Score, but I’m verbal, not mathematic, so I’m not equipped to discuss that. Ok, you got me. I spaced out a bit during that part of the session. I snapped back into it when Andy shared some of the joint study’s findings.

Surprising facts about online communities

Profile bios and photos increase engagement. But, bios are more important from an engagement perspective than photos.

Profile completeness levels don’t always have an impact unless your members are the type of people who feel compelled to complete their profile so they can achieve a 100 percent completed bar.

The smaller the organization, the more successful they are engaging members. It’s much easier to get 50 percent of 400 members to participate in a community than to get 50 percent of 40,000 members to participate. Set appropriate engagement expectations based on your organization’s size.

Open rates for discussion digest emails are higher (27 percent) than for regular marketing emails, perhaps because they are messages from peers.

Auto-subscribe members to relevant discussion groups. I know that might feel wrong, and Reggie originally felt the same way, but now he’s glad he followed Andy’s advice. Don’t worry — only 10 percent of members will probably opt out. Have the right communication plan in place and a one-click opt-out process.

Everyone emphasized that you need someone on staff to make a community work. It’s cliché but worth repeating: don’t expect to build it and think they will come. 

Preview of MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmark Report

This year, 894 associations participated in MGI’s survey. That’s a 28 percent increase over last year’s 691 participants. Membership trends look good:

  • 53 Percent of participating associations reported a growth in membership.

  • 58 Percent of them acquired more members last year than the year before.

  • 31 Percent of them had a better retention rate.

  • The average retention rate was 85 percent for trade associations and 76 percent for individual membership organizations (IMO).

However, for associations with online communities the retention rates were even higher — 92 percent for trades and 79 percent for IMOs. A 5 percent improved retention rate was correlated with online community engagement. Erik said the top reason for not renewing is no longer simply a question of ROI, it’s now a lack of engagement — that’s why communities play such a key role.

Lessons from ASAE’s Collaborate community

About 62 percent of ASAE members are Collaborate users. ASAE used a net promoter methodology to survey its members, i.e., on a scale of 1-10 how likely would you recommend membership to someone else. Members who don’t use Collaborate had a net promoter score (NPS) of 0.1, Collaborate users had an NPS of 22 — yes, you read that correctly. Wow! Another sign of increased engagement among community users — 82 percent of survey respondents were Collaborate users.

Members who had a bio, photo, or both on their Collaborate profile had twice as high an NPS as others.
 
Members who reply to community posts have a higher NPS than members who initiate posts. Members who do both have the highest NPS of all.

Collaborate’s most successful groups are the Executive Management and CEO groups — debunking the myth that those types of members aren’t interested in online communities. If you create value, they’ll participate.

Forget what your organization has done in the past. Reggie suggests listening to the advice of association peers and consultants who have launched successful communities.

Your goal is to get the right level of engagement, not necessarily maximum engagement. Someone in the audience reported the results of a three-year survey they did: more of their passive community members self-identified as active members than their traditionally defined active members. What members perceive as engagement is what matters, not what you perceive.

Stay tuned for the release of MGI’s 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report on June 17 — the opening day of ASAE’s Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference. You can find the session PowerPoint with more numbers and findings on the digitalNow website.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and membership geek who highly recommends the digitalNow conference for association executives.