What is a member engagement strategy?
A membership engagement strategy is a plan devised by community leaders to ensure current members remain actively engaged in the life of the community. The goal of the strategy is to give members both a reason and the means to stay active, so that when their membership expiration date approaches or they’re thinking of cancelling their subscription, they are inclined to renew.
A member engagement strategy is a multifaceted effort, and we will get into the details below. But before we do, it’s important that you understand the “membership engagement ladder” since the engagement strategy will be built around it.
The membership engagement ladder explained
The membership engagement ladder lays out the ideal member journey; from the time the prospective member first interacts with your sales pitch to the day they become a community leader devoted to and actively promoting the wellbeing of the community as a whole.
Different people and organisations will use different terms to describe the membership engagement ladder, but the basic principles are always the same. Let’s take a quick look at that the various steps on that engagement ladder now:
Step 1: The new member – A total stranger hears about your community, gives it a look out of curiosity and is interested enough to sign up. Great! How you greet and engage this new member and the level to which they feel welcome will determine if they become engaged early on or they start to drift away right after signing up.
Step 2: The satisfied member – The next step up the ladder is turning that new member into a satisfied member, someone who checks in regularly, makes friends in the community, interacts with posts, leaves comments and does all the other things happy community members do.
Step 3: Renewal – Satisfied members are many times more likely to renew than those who only drop by occasionally to take a glance at what’s going on. Still, you cannot take renewal for granted. So in the weeks and even months leading up to renewal time, you will need to make sure that member feels the love from community leaders.
Step 4: The known quantity – Once a member has been around awhile, stayed active and renewed their membership they will likely expect their loyalty to be rewarded in some way. There are subtle and effective ways to do this. One is by inviting them to participate in exclusive events or take advantage of special offers for loyal members.
Step 5: The community leader – The community leader is someone who has established themselves within the community. They are well-known by most members because they spend plenty of time within the community interacting with people. To keep them engaged you might want to try giving them some community-related responsibilities, such as moderating content.
Step 6: The devotee – Some of the ways a person might distinguish themselves as a devotee are attending any and all live events if/when they occur and by successfully recruiting new members. Devotees form the bedrock of your community and there would be a noticeable void without them. But how do you demonstrate your appreciation of these community stalwarts? There are several ways. For one, you could allow them to play host during your live streaming events.
Now granted, not every member’s journey will mirror these steps. With some, it will take a while before they are sold on the community. They might even let their initial membership lapse and then return later and decide they love it. Whereas, others will want to be involved with everything right out of the gate. But for most, the above is a pretty good representation of the membership engagement ladder.
The key to making sure your members climb that ladder is by showing them you know who they are, that you appreciate their participation in the community, that you hit them up with the right messaging at the right time and that you provide perks at various stages to keep them climbing. And that’s where the membership engagement strategy comes in.
Why you really need a member engagement strategy
To get your members climbing the engagement ladder you need to have a strategy in place to keep them moving. A membership engagement strategy will enable you to create a livelier and more interesting community that pulls in new members and enjoys impressive member retention rates at renewal time.
No entrepreneur worthy of the title would launch a new enterprise without a clear growth strategy in place. In a very real sense, your membership engagement strategy is your growth strategy. It will provide you with a road map to long-term success, while enabling you to monitor progress and identify strengths and weaknesses in your approach.
Creating a membership engagement strategy
Any engagement strategy worthy of the time and effort you are going to put into it will be dedicated to:
To determine whether your strategy is working, you need to establish clear goals before you begin implementation. You will then measure your success against these goals at regular intervals to determine whether the steps you’re taking to move members up the ladder are working.
It’s important that your member engagement goals are aligned with the overall goals of the community. For example, your overall goal is to grow the community and make everyone feel welcome. So you don’t want to spend too much time and effort trying to retain just one segment of the community (say, the top 10% of posters) at the expense of everyone else. The approach must be balanced, reasonable and innovative.
Creating member personas
Creating accurate member personas can help you understand your members and how to motivate and inspire them. Member personas are imaginary members that represent your typical member. Use information obtained via the signup process, as well as user activity data, to create your member personas (there could be more than one if, for instance, your community serves several distinct geographic areas, or is involved in promoting more than 1 cause).
Once you have the personas in place you can use them as a kind of sounding board for new ideas. This can potentially save you time and trouble by allowing you to see that this idea or product or subject is not likely to interest your average member. The alternative is to simply launch a new initiative and risk it falling flat or alienating some members. Don’t be shy about using member data to refine your personas. That’s what it’s there for.
“Value” is one of those words that has a lot of possible definitions. What’s valuable to one person is as dull as dishwater to someone else. With that in mind, if you are to create genuine value for your members in order to keep them moving up the engagement ladder you will need to have those personas in place and put them to good use.
Once you understand who you are dealing with, creating value for them will be a relative breeze. Here are a few ways you can potentially create value for your members:
· Branded gifts for premium or long-standing members
· Themed virtual get-togethers
· Create a classified board where members can promote their related skills
· Create a forum thread exclusively for new members
· Introduce new members to the community as a whole
Now that you’ve established your goals, created your personas to understand your audience and determined the best ways to create value in order to move your members up the engagement ladder, you will need to measure member response to your initiatives.
This can get tricky because there are different metrics involved in measuring different types and degrees of engagement. That said, here are a few proven ways you can measure member engagement with your various initiatives:
· Monitor traffic: One of the simplest and most reliable data points out there. If traffic is up, that’s a good thing. If traffic is down, that’s a bad thing. Watch traffic levels related to the launch of specific initiatives and see if it jumps, drops or stays about the same.
· Monitor contributions: Contributions can include creating posts, commenting on posts, hitting the like button, sharing, helping to resolve problems and more. If one of the goals you set in your membership engagement strategy was to increase the number of likes and shares and you see these numbers are unchanged, you know it’s time to tweak your engagement strategy.
· Keep track of how much time is spent moderating: If you are spending more and more time deleting posts and issuing warnings it could be a sign that your content is too hot to handle. Sure, it’s producing a response within the community but it could end up pushing some people away. So if moderation is becoming a burden it’s probably time to tone things down a bit.
· Utilise surveys: If you want a snapshot of how you are doing at any given point in time surveys are a great way to find out. With member surveys, you can find out what members like and don’t like about your community, which features are a hit and which are a miss, and which (if any) new features members would like to see. You can also query them on technical issues they may have encountered that you were not aware of.
· Third-party tracking tools: Your forum or app may provide its own suite of tracking tools but you may also want to engage 3rd party tracking tools to fill any gaps in your information. For instance, there are 3rd party apps that will allow you to track emails sent to members. That way you will know which types of emails members are opening and which types of emails are going straight to trash.
When it comes to measuring engagement and member satisfaction surveys and polls, along with solicited and unsolicited member feedback, are important. But more important are KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. KPIs are metrics you create to measure engagement. As a general rule, the most important KPIs are:
Average session length: This is a measure of how much time a member spends in the community during a single visit. The happier your members are with the community, the more engaged they are, the more time they will spend during each session.
Amount of UGC: UGC or User Generated Content is that community content that is created by members. If a significant portion of community content originates with members that is a very good sign that they are satisfied and engaged. If, however, only a tiny portion of the community bothers to create content, that is a big red flag that there is trouble in paradise.
Number of active users: For many communities, the difference between the number of members and the number of active users can be significant. The bottom line on this KPI is that the higher the percentage of members who are active users, the stronger the community. If only 1% of your members are active during a given period of time the other 99% are telling you what they think with their silence.
Retention: If a significant portion of your members are renewing their membership that’s a very good sign. It means different members are finding different kinds of value in your community. It’s not terribly difficult to measure member retention. Google Analytics will help you do so if yours is a standard web forum. If you have a mobile app instead, like the Disciple mobile app, there will be a variety of built-in tools that will make measuring retention a walk in the park.
A successful membership engagement strategy is not something you will implement for 2 weeks and then abandon. It requires consistent effort. You should drop new opportunities for members to engage on a regular basis. And you will need to continually monitor the metrics laid out above, as well as additional ones. It’s a lot of work to be sure. But you can use this as an engagement opportunity. How?
One of the best, most tried and true ways to reward long-term members and at the same time lift some of the burden from your own shoulders, is to allow them to take on moderation responsibilities. Another thing you could do is use these senior members as real-life sounding boards for new ideas, in addition to your member personas. This will make them feel like their dedication to the community is appreciated and it will likely help you produce more effective content.
Not letting members just slip away
If you are lucky enough to have a large community keeping track of everyone can seem like a chore, but it’s essential. Engagement doesn’t stop when you sign someone up, or when they reach the point where they’re considered a satisfied member posting regularly, contributing in a positive way, etc. Even active members can start to drift and if you are not on top of this, they might just drift away entirely by failing to renew.
By analysing member activity you can see who is logging in less often, leaving fewer comments and passing on live streams they used to sign up for. You may be able to trace their disillusion to a particular event or post, or to an interaction with another community member that went south. But even if that’s not possible, you can take action to make them feel valued:
· Send them a personalised email saying that you noticed they’ve been less active.
· Provide them with a customer service number they can call where they won’t be put on hold.
· Ask them if they are having a problem they would like to discuss.
· Inform them of upcoming events and offer them a discount.
· Provide them with an incentive to renew their membership.
· Gift them some community-related merch and ask them to give the community a 2nd chance.
Sometimes, members drift just because they feel like they’re not appreciated, so making it clear how valuable they are to you can sometimes turn the tide. You may not coax everyone who wanders back into the fold, but chances are if you do your level best you can prevent a significant percentage from walking away.
Delegating responsibility effectively
If you are lucky enough to have multiple people working on maintaining the health of your community, you need to make sure each team member understands the engagement strategy and their role in implementing it. Then you need to empower them to perform the roles they’ve been assigned.
The best way to ensure staff members are given appropriate responsibilities is to formulate your membership engagement strategy before your community goes live and then create job descriptions and hire with the needs of the engagement strategy in mind.
If your membership engagement strategy is being implemented after the fact you may need to set up a kind of engagement task force to determine how it will be implemented and who is best suited to handle the different aspects of the program.
In spite of your best efforts, it is likely that problems will surface that defy the simple, common-sense solutions you devised. Which means you will need to have procedures in place to deal with vexing issues when they arise. One of those potential issues has to do with the technology you’ve chosen to build your community with.
If you have opted for a standard website or forum members may encounter delays, crashes, servers being offline and a host of other issues. Rest assured that no amount of themed get-togethers or dedicated new member forums will counteract the bad feelings created by technical issues. People these days expect fast, dependable access and won’t settle for anything less, which leads us to our next point…
Choosing the right platform
You can offer the best membership experience ever created but, as the Titanic proved, if the underlying technology is not up to the potential challenges you will eventually be lowering the lifeboats and wondering what happened.
If you’re serious about building a strong community, you should consider a Disciple-powered mobile app. A mobile app loads instantly, is never completely offline, provides robust branding opportunities a standard web forum can’t and also integrates seamlessly with the other features of your mobile device like the camera and mic. If you are determined to provide the best possible community experience (and you should be) you cannot beat the convenience, flexibility and dependability of a Disciple mobile app.
The Disciple mobile app provides:
· An impressive feature set
· A proven way to boost member engagement
· State-of-the-art technology
· Live streaming
· Regular updates
· Live chat
· Push notifications
· Group segmentation
· Peerless customer support and more…
Your community will be in good hands from Day 1 when it is built on the rock-solid foundation of a Disciple mobile app.
Will you pay a bit more for a mobile app than you will for a website? Sure. But the experience is totally different. Nowadays, people spend around a third of their waking hours on their phones, and 90% of that time is spent on mobile apps. Mobile apps have huge advantages in terms of building a fantastic member experience that keeps people coming back. A community app, like Disciple offers, also provides a range of essential tools for building a streamlined and profitable community-led business.
So what exactly is a membership engagement strategy? For all intents and purposes, it is your community’s growth strategy. By being able to quantify your goals, create value and guide members through all the steps of the membership ladder, you will help ensure that your community continues to grow and prosper.
Just keep in mind that creating a membership engagement strategy before you launch your community will be a lot easier than trying to retrofit one onto an existing community. And don’t forget that the platform you choose will be just as important as the content you create.