Here are 11 near-term opportunities that will help more deeply engage and better connect with your audiences on digital platforms.
Last week I wrote about six reasons why membership and development departments should be involved in their organization’s digital engagement strategies. And, now that we’ve established that getting involved with online strategy is a good idea, a sensible next question is, “Okay, so how do we effectively and efficiently go about doing that?”
Before we dive in, there’s one thing that you won’t find here: social media for social media’s sake. That is because social media for social media’s sake is a distraction from your organization’s goals. On digital platforms, sometimes organizations get so caught up in showing off their use of social media tools that they forget that those tools have a purpose – strengthening the relationship between an individual and your organization. This certainly doesn’t mean that membership-aimed contests, promotions, or even digital membership lounges aren’t necessarily good for your strategy – but what I’ve aimed to do here is compile some immediate ideas to provide a solid baseline of best practices for better engaging with your members and donors.
Here are 11 favors that you can start doing immediately for your members and donors to keep them happy and growing in number:
1) Post content that goes deep on social networks (not just broad)
I hit upon this last week, so let’s pick up where we left off: In the midst of the frenzy associated with Facebook decreasing its organic reach for organizations, organizations seem to be very preoccupied with their ability to utilize content to go “wide” (get a lot of engagement) instead of going “deep” (get the right kind of engagement from the right kind of people). A healthy social strategy includes both content created to get new folks in the engagement funnel AND to strengthen the “passion-connection” that ties an individual to your organization online. You need a mix of both. While there are many things that may be done to cultivate members online, making sure that you’re posting the right kind of content is among the most important.
Content that offers a deeper dive into your mission (which we know is an increasingly important factor aiding in membership cultivation) may not yield the same volume of vanity metrics as content that is aimed to provide reach rather than deeper engagement. In other words, posting about your mission won’t always get as many likes as, say, a funny meme related to your organization or its cause. However, though you may not get tons of likes, but you’re more likely to get the right ones from the folks who matter. (Still caught up on vanity metrics at your organization? A good step forward is shifting from a focus on “likes” to “shares” and here’s a better way to think about social media metrics in general).
2) Combine digital with existing membership cultivation strategies and consider how they work together
Simply put, organizations should comprehensively integrate their digital and “real life” membership cultivation strategies. If they are isolated from one another, then your organization may be missing the point of utilizing digital platforms to cultivate and maintain members and donors (i.e. It’s about people, not technology.) In other words, make sure that you are incorporating “real life” touch-points (e.g. mail, phone calls, any onsite special treatment, etc.) as well as digital touch points such as those described below. A member online is a member offline (and vice versa). Digital assets provide another, exciting (and often just as personalized) touch-point that makes up the membership experience.
3) Prioritize social care
Digital platforms have made marketing (and also membership retention) a 24/7 job, and brands must be accessible via all communication channels. The way that we have observed this demand for communication made manifest in the digital realm is via social care (or social CRM). At its most basic, social care is responding to and communicating with folks who post on your organization’s social media channels. Social care is important for engaging and cultivating all audiences, and is particularly critical for members as a lack of response to a member on an online platform bears greater risk of alienation.
Some quick social care stats: 47% of social media users engage in social care and one in three social media users prefer social care to contacting an organization by phone. A member isn’t going to necessarily call and ask to speak with membership when they have a question. They want to (and you may have noticed, many do) ask those questions online.
So how long do we have to respond to questions and interact after a posting on social media? Edison research suggests that 42% expect a response within an hour or less and 32% expect a response in half an hour or less. Moreover, various sources are increasingly reporting that the market’s expectations are growing. For example, 53% of Twitter users expect a response within one hour on that platform.
I reference these statistics because to think that the membership department is the sole or even the primary point of contact with members is a woefully outdated perspective on the membership experience. Today, membership and development must work intimately with marketing and PR departments (or whomever principally manages social media and social care). If social care is not prioritized, all departments feel the effect.
4) Engage in active response beyond inquiries
Successful online engagement requires that you are active in cultivating and maintaining members on digital platforms. It’s critical to meet and exceed expectations by actively reaching out to members to heighten a sense of personalization online. Actively engaging with all constituents is a smart move, and this can be done by commenting on or liking Instagram posts, public Facebook posts, or even blog posts that reflect positively on your organization. Again, this is a best practice among all audiences, but may have particular payoff as a touch-point in the mind of a member when considering renewal of their membership. This kind of active appreciation of positive word of mouth lets folks know that you are listening, value their feedback, and “touches” folks on their personal platforms.
5) Start identifying members and donors online
Some of your members and donors may be more active on social media platforms than others. It is beneficial to start building a list of social media usernames and handles for members – and noting those who are particularly active. This can be done over time by asking members for their handles for the networks upon which they are most active. This can (and arguably should) also be done by making notes of user handles when they self-identify as members on social networks. The latter approach aids the former, as it allows you to assess which members are most active on digital platforms. Note this information in your member or donor CRM because, again, a member online is a member offline.
6) Make private Twitter lists to aid in organization
This tip is sweet, simple, and effective: Twitter allows you to make private lists of Twitter users that are hidden from the public. It’s quite simple to create distinct lists of users based on a collective affinity or behavior (eg. a list for members, a list for larger donors, a list for desired members with high imitative value within their communities, etc.) Simply pulling up this list and peeking through the happenings, concerns, sentiments, and news shared by these constituents can help your organization be better informed of their interests – and aids in prioritizing interaction with current members.
7) Prioritize interaction with current members and donors
Not all social media users are of equal value to your organization – and members/donors are a particularly valuable audience. Once you have even the start of a list of handles for those actively engaged with social media, those lists can be put into play by sending periodic @replies or sending active direct messages to them on Twitter (e.g. when it is someone’s birthday, or to thank them for sharing a valuable bit of information). As your lists grow, you will be better able to keep a pulse on your members and interact with them to provide more personal, real-time touch points.
Don’t forget to thank folks who self-identify as members on TripAdvisor! TripAdvisor allows you to access a management dashboard and responding to select reviews is a good practice. However, organizations often use the response feature to address dissatisfaction only. Don’t forget to write a quick (and public) thanks to those who write a positive review and mention having become a member or donor!
8) Revisit your email strategy
The role of email has changed. Data suggest that email is less effective in reaching large quantities of people than it was even a few short years ago. Now, organizations may better utilize email to reach the right quality of people. Simply put, the public perceptions and use of this communication channel are moving it from “key marketing tool” to “key membership/donor engagement and cultivation tool.”
9) Create opportunities for personalization through shared interest
From Google searches to Facebook newsfeeds to online advertisements – nearly every part of an individuals’ digital experience is increasingly personalized. The changing role of email and the increasing expectation of personalization underscore the importance of creating opportunities for your audiences to “go deep” on information that is most interesting to them. This may be done by creating more specialized email lists for those with a particular interest related to your organization (e.g. if you’re a children’s museum, perhaps this is early childhood development updates or family projects), or creating a tumblr to allow for a deeper dive into a specific aspect related to your mission. In other words, provide a source of information for folks who have a special interest in a topic related to your organization.
Hint: It’s not a good idea to create a separate Facebook page for parallel audiences as that removes incentive to follow your main page, risks cannibalizing audiences, requires considerable additional content creation, and just creates an overall mess. The challenges resulting from divided Facebook audiences and parsed brand equities are hard ones to bounce back from, and often result in a net loss of engagement and a further reduction in precious Facebook algorithm juice – which is increasingly harder to come by these days.
10) Provide opportunities for members and donors to share
Sharing is caring. As addressed above, responding with gratitude to positive sentiment shared online can go a long way and create a personalized touch-point. It’s also wise to remind members that’s it’s okay (if not encouraged) to share socially during membership events. If you’re trying to cultivate community at the event by using a hashtag, make sure that the hashtag is provided before the start of the event. Have easily accessible, publicly available WiFi. This is the stuff of Online Sharing 101: Provide the tools that enable folks to do what you want them to do.
11) Consider initiatives for members who are digitally active
Once your best practices are down and the importance of maintaining and cultivating members online (or the notion that not all digital audiences are equal) is internalized, go ahead and bump things to the next level. Only then is it a good idea to create membership contests or experiment with social media “bells and whistles” that you believe (after actually listening to what your audience wants) will result in cultivation and retention.
Remember, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. Or, just because you create an initiative for members doesn’t mean they will use it – regardless of how cool and “social media-y” you think it is. (Remember: that’s not the point.) If you are running contests, for instance, and members aren’t participating, take a look at your baseline strategy. If you’re utilizing social care and paying attention to your audiences and they still aren’t participating in your initiative – that initiative simply may not be an effective one in strengthening engagement. Instead, listen to your audiences and create initiatives that fit how they are best engaged online.
Steal-worthy example: The National Aquarium recently carried out an Instameet for select audiences who were particularly active on Instagram. (Search hashtag #ReefMeet.) The event was a success in that it created a very personalized touch-point for those who were invited, demonstrated to Instagram users that the organization was “listening” to their posts, and helped get folks with high imitative values/social influence into their engagement funnel. The aquarium made new friends and potential supporters while leveraging the power of social media to facilitate the online/offline connection. This kind of initiative benefits the organization through both marketing and development departments.
Membership and development departments have a lot on their plate. The importance of utilizing digital platforms to cultivate and maintain donors is one of those topics that often gets categorized as an important thing to think about in the future – but is actually an important thing to think about at this very moment.