4 Trends to Optimize the Value of Your Association’s Online Community

Operating in the new virtual space challenges associations to find creative ways to reach their objectives. Your best resource for finding the path forward may be right in front of you—in your online community.

By Brian Smith – Demand Generation Specialist    

By their very nature, associations are dynamic. You are always innovating to provide value to members, sponsors and supporters. At the same time, you are constantly challenged with finding new ways to reach operational goals such as: 

  • Measuring and increasing member engagement 
  • Growing membership 
  • Adding new opportunities for non-dues revenue  
  • Planning content, events and initiatives 

The challenges have become more acute as associations have adapted to a world that is fully virtual. Associations must stretch their creativity to continue to meet expectations and provide value to all stakeholders. 

But we have good news: Your online community may hold the key to meeting your operational objectives. 

Best Practices: Online Community Trends that Deliver Business Value 

Your members have come to rely on being able to participate in events, meetings, and social and professional interactions online. Your online community may have taken the place of many in-person interactions for your members, including topical discussions, asking and answering questions, professional mentoring and even committee work. 

Those online activities are a remarkable resource—a vein of informational gold just waiting to be mined. At Protech, we’re learning how associations are going beyond the basics of community management and monitoring to produce extended value for both members and their business stakeholders. 

Let’s look at some examples you can put into practice. 

Objective: Increase Member Engagement 

A key goal for associations is to get people to visit your website and use the resources they find there. When you have a branded community solution that’s integrated with your AMS, you can create a seamless user experience once people arrive on site. Today more than ever, members need a reason to leave their bubble and come into the community.  

The trend: Transform your digest email into a community magnet. 

Action: Bring your member connection out of the inbox. 

  • Move away from the idea of “pushing” information out to members through lots of emails with lots of details about events, reminders and peer activities 
  • Instead, use a short format with leading headlines to link members directly to your site—and your community. 
  • Once onsite, members can engage with groups and see all that’s going on with the association. Everything that matters to them is all in one spot. 

The effect: A digest lightens the inbox load for recipients. In addition, links to details or to “learn more” automate the leap into the community and help turn engagement into a habit—just like social media is for many people.  

Objective: Increase Membership 

When you allow non-members limited access to connect with peers and get further information and resources—all from you, in one place—you make them feel invited and included. An open-community approach is attainable when you segment content and conversations. 

The trend: Demonstrate the value of your site resources to curious non-members. 

Action: Open selected community threads, groups and content to the public. 

  • The traditional recruitment model is to sell the membership, then give access to the content.  
  • Today’s associations are taking a closer look at the buyer journey that members are on.  
  • The new approach is to flip that model—make more content openly available to bring people in. 

The effect: An open community naturally brings in new members. They experience the benefits of your association and the quality of your offerings. 

Objective: Increase Non-Dues Revenue 

Donors and sponsors have always been a foundational source of revenue, but an all-virtual environment initially made it harder for those supporters to be seen. For those who actively and financially support your mission, it’s increasingly important to see measurable value from their investments, whether during virtual events or throughout the year 

The trend: Leverage data analytics to reveal opportunities and demonstrate value. 

Action: Integrate opportunities for increased visibility into the community and report on engagement.  

  • Analyzing non-member interactions may point to opportunities to invite new donors to support your mission. Give donors a window into your activities and a voice in the community. 
  • Offer partners and sponsors greater connections to your members through transparent exposure within the community—for example, a partner might run ads on your platform. 
  • Collect engagement and ad-response data to show supporters the value of their investments. 

The effect: When you provide supporters with meaningful and valuable connections, it’s easier to make your case for continuing or expanding your online community. 

Objective: Increase resource offerings 

Communities aren’t only for members to connect to each other. They enable you to connect to members—to get direct insights into their needs, questions and challenges. An integrated community solution should enable you to access flexible analytics that will help you bring even unstructured information to life. 

The trendAnalyze data to identify trending topics and critical needs. 

ActionUse the data you collect from your community to propel: 

  • Enhanced events and education—Identify expert speakers, contributors and topics. 
  • Advocates—Identify thought leaders and who can extend your message to industry influencers and policy makers. 

The effect: Tapping into conversations and actively engaging natural community leaders helps you stay ahead of important industry trends, be responsive to member needs and diversify your educational and resource offerings. 

Support Emerging Trends for Optimal Value 

Over the past year, we saw community engagement soar as members flocked online to maintain connections and stay informed. Even as we ease toward the return of limited in-person engagements, the importance of online communities remains strong. The virtual world is firmly in place.  

How much can your association gain from your online community? Give these trends a try—and start seeing that value multiply!  

Looking to update your online community or build a new one? Protech can help. Talk to your customer success team or request a demo to learn about full-featured solutions from our respected partners—and explore our new built-in community solution, Protech Connect.