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Do Your Events Help Retain Young Members?

Engagement strategies aimed at less tenured members are critical to associations’ success. Here’s advice for connecting with and keeping your newest members through events.

“Engaging those who have been in an association for less than three years is perhaps the single most difficult task for associations,” according to Shaun O’Reilly, vice president of marketing for MemberSuite. It might also be one of the most critical. “Retention directly correlates to revenue,” notes O’Reilly, and associations “with a solid engagement plan will lose fewer of those newer members.” 

That claim is supported by Marketing General’s 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report
 which found that 45 percent of 824 responding associations increased their membership over the previous year. The kicker: 83 percent of those with increased membership have a tactical engagement plan in place.

Meetings and events are a central factor in cementing member engagement; that’s part of why MemberSuite, a provider of cloud-based association management software, recently acquired experiential marketing platform Event Farm. O’Reilly says that the purchase happened because “we realize that an association cannot speak to all its members in a homogenous way. Instead, it should focus on looking at membership data more deeply, beyond simple demographics to hone in on the tenure of each member, and tailor its year-round marketing messages and its events’ on-site messages towards newer members.”

The reason: More-tenured members know what they want from their membership and how to maximize what they get from membership, O’Reilly notes. But “new members don’t yet have that ability, and many of them give up before they get their relationship with an association where they want it. For them to best use your association’s resources and deepen their engagement, approach them in a way that fits where they are in their career journey.”

Event Strategies and Tactics for Engagement
ShaunOreillyHeadshot.pngBy analyzing member data across several of its association clients, MemberSuite found strong clues as to why newer members choose to engage with an association, and when. For instance, “we saw that members with more than three years of tenure had a greater number of logins across the year into the member portal than those with less than three years, by a huge margin,” says O'Reilly (pictured here). “But we also saw that newer members become much more active on the portal right after they received communications for events. That shows the potential impact that events can have on newer-member engagement and retention.”

In addition to using email to communicate, associations must engage newer members on trending
social media channels (to wit: research shows that Instagram is much more popular than Facebook for the under-30 crowd). Also, the style of communication used on social media must be different than that of email, reflecting their preferences.

This is one area where O’Reilly finds associations lacking. “Too many of them are not sufficiently active across social media because they have very few people devoted to communications, and those resources must be rationed.” But by having someone focused on social-media outreach—someone with an eye for visual elements, which tend to resonate more strongly with younger businesspeople—the potential to capture the attention of newer members and spur action on the member portal or an event website goes up.

YoungAttendees2.jpgCommunicating about event elements that are focused on the needs of newer members will boost registration numbers as well as the overall benefit that newer members gain from an event. O’Reilly says that “promoting and delivering on-site sessions that orient the novice member to the association’s various offerings can head off future lack of engagement. At your events, make sure those folks have opportunities to learn how to leverage all the resources of the association, not just how to navigate the event itself.”

Furthermore, one of the strongest resources an association has is the collective wisdom of industry veterans. “The
opportunities for mentoring newer members are abundant and powerful,” O’Reilly says. “Pairing newer members with experienced members at events helps them get the benefits they want very quickly.”

Even event sponsors can be enlisted to deliver objective content that provides newer members with broader perspectives. “As long as you can vet the content, sponsors can deliver really engaging content because of their expertise in certain fields. In your marketing messages, promote the specific takeaways for members to demonstrate that it is not going to be a sales pitch. The association can generate revenue from this too.”

Lastly, webinars are a useful bridge to draw newer members toward the educational component of an association and to the in-person events across the year. “If you promote webinars right, you will get the attendance,” O’Reilly says. “Emphasize the takeaways and the nature of the presenters’ expertise. This not only drives more revenue,
but it exposes newer members to the quality of your content, making them more likely to come to the annual meeting.”

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