“When it is used well, data is a guaranteed disruptor.”

     ~Marius Moscovici, founder and CEO of Metric Insights, a business intelligence software company

Being a disruptor can pay off. Brands like Amazon, Netflix, Spotify and LinkedIn use data to provide a personalized experience to their users. In return, their users visit more often, stay on their sites longer and provide these companies the loyalty needed to make even more revenue.

Moscovici says every company is now a data company because of “the Spotify Effect.” The new standard of business success is based on how well a company uses “personalization, coupled with built-in social capabilities” to find and retain users.

data handshakeThis approach to the user experience “compels users to interact with the company’s software. A network effect takes place, and the company finds itself with tens of millions of (subscribing) users.” He puts “subscribing” in parentheses, but it’s key. It connotes a loyal, deeper relationship, not quite membership, but getting close.

Build and nurture your online community.

I wonder if CompTIA, an association profiled in a recent Associations Now article, is feeling the Spotify Effect. They’re redesigning their website after moving in March to an open-access membership model. “The new model will allow anyone, in or out of the IT industry, to register for access to the organization’s content, including educational resources, industry research and news, and a selection of business tools, at no-cost.” 

Steven Ostrowski, director of corporate communications at CompTIA, told Associations Now, “We’re hoping that once they get a taste of the free stuff and see that it’s good-quality material that can help them run their business better that they’ll find value in becoming dues-paying members of the organization.”

An open-access membership model, like CompTIA’s, helps an association increase their community of users – future purchasers, attendees and/or members – while collecting data about those users. That data can then be used to provide a personalized online experience for registered users (or subscribers) who get partial access and members who get full access.

People increasingly expect a personalized online experience. In a national survey last year, 74 percent of consumers expressed frustration with websites that don’t recognize them and adapt to their interests. Does your website recognize members and provide a personalized experience for them? What about other repeat visitors?

For members who don’t volunteer or go to events, your website is the association. Imagine if your website combined personalized content with a social community — it could become a regular fixture in your members’ lives.

Get down and dirty with your data.

How do you take your website from static membership brochure to dynamic membership experience? It helps to have an expert by your side, someone who can guide you through the strategy (digital/content) and technology (AMS, CMS) involved, but you can lay the groundwork on your own.

Think about your goals. What types of activities do you want to help different segments of your membership and audience do? What do you need to learn about them in order to help them do that? What type of data might help you provide that experience?

Do an informal data audit:

  • Identify the data you have, how you collect it, where it lives and whether you’re using it.
  • Identify obstacles to effectively using the data you have. Are there missing links between systems or shortcomings in any systems?
  • Review your existing data collection processes.  
  • Take a hard look at data-sharing within your organization. Is data stuck in silos? Does anyone share with others what they learn from data?

Many organizations don’t use the member data they do have, for example, data from website, social media and email analytics. Or, they collect data from members once – when they join. I know my online habits, interests and needs have changed from a few years ago, and your members are no different.

Give members (and website users) the ability to update their online profile. Every now and then, when they come onto your site, ask them, like LinkedIn does, to answer a few questions that will help fill in some empty data fields. Or, if that’s not possible, ask them to update their profile when they renew their membership or subscription.

Data and trust are intertwined. People want a knowing website, but if they feel you’ve gone too far, like pushing too many promotions and not enough content, their trust will erode. Focus on increasing the value of their visits, not upselling them. If they enjoy the appetizer, they’ll come back for a meal.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer with some pretty grand ideas about the future membership experience.