By Brian Smith, Communications Specialist
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from associations during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that they can – and in many cases must – be innovative.
And as we heard in a recent webinar with Breezio President & CEO Benjamin Muscolino, some organizations have innovated by opening up their online communities to share vital resources at a time when members need it most.
In the recent past, online communities have been an excellent tool for associations that are looking to foster collaboration between members, but that has left non-members out of the conversation. Now, according to Muscolino, many associations are opening up their online communities to the public to add a new avenue for engagement with potential members.
If you haven’t yet considered it, here are four reasons why your association should open up its online community to the outside world.
1 – Broaden Audience Outreach with Searchable Content
When you open your association’s online community, non-members can view and interact with the event calendar, free video webinars, member posts and shareable resources on industry trends. But how will they find all of this information?
Typically, private community content is locked behind a members-only paywall, so non-members will rarely encounter out about your organization’s community via a web search. Finding that content can be a crucial first step in prospecting non-members, which is achievable with an open community.
2 – Drive the Sales Funnel
According to SiriusDecisions, 70 percent of the digital buyer’s journey is completed before contact with a company’s sales team. This applies to associations as well. Typically, a non-member will check an association’s website, social media and other communication channels for pertinent content that helps them decide which association, if any, is best for them.
With an open online community, once a non-member finds your content on Google, they can engage with members on various topics within their industry. Why is that important? Existing members become your part-time recruiters as they indirectly highlight the value of membership. Additionally, non-members will have a better idea of what the online membership experience is like before they make their decision to join. It’s like a free trial.
If those non-members join, you’ll want to continue to foster that new relationship with relevant professional development opportunities and events – which is the next reason for opening your online community
3 – Improve Hybrid Events & Education Programs
Like many other experts in the industry, Benjamin expects an increase in hybrid (a mixture of in-person and virtual) event environments and educational programs to be instituted by associations. Here’s how open online communities can help associations providing these experiences for the first time:
- Discussion boards between in-person members and virtual non-member attendees at events will provide new ideas for future event topics or online courses.
- Pre-recorded sessions from subject matter experts can be posted on the community platform and can be targeted to specific sub-groups.
- Live Q&As can be held with a moderator for in-person attendees, and an online monitor who checks the community to keep the conversation moving.
- New sponsorship opportunities will arise with a larger audience able to attend virtually, and your partners will want to be able to reach that audience.
Aside from member acquisition and elevating the event experience, there’s one other benefit of open online communities: the ability to generate more data.
4 – Generate More Data
A mixture of members and non-members in your open online community will provide your association’s staff with more qualitative and quantitative data to help them discover how they can provide a better digital experience.
Here are some questions your team can ask that will get you started:
- What data do we want to track? (engagement, downloads, etc.)
- What data was useful from our closed online community and where did it come from?
- How are we capturing data and where?
Answering these questions and figuring out how your open online community can help you get that data will be crucial for associations going forward.
Closing Thoughts on Open Online Communities
Even when people are working remotely, they still want to feel connected, and that is especially true for your association’s members and non-members who are looking for a community of like-minded professionals.
Whether it’s broadening your audience reach, driving the sales funnel, improving the event and education experience, or obtaining more and better data, open online communities can transform your association’s business operations. As more nuanced conversations occur in your open online communities between diverse audiences, you and your colleagues will have a better opportunity to create a more cohesive membership acquisition and engagement strategy.
Looking to learn more? Watch our webinar with Breezio, which is available now!