Yes& General

The Right Kind of Research Can Be The Key to Member Engagement

Robert W. Sprague

Tracy Betts speaks on the needs of associations

“A little bit of the right kind of research can help you hit the mark—to make a big impact with your members and get you the kind of engagement you’re looking for.” So says Tracy Betts, senior vice president of digital innovation at Yes&.

“Too many times we hear associations say, ‘We talk to our members. We know our members. We try to deliver what our members ask us to deliver. But still, we don't have the engagement or the retention or the numbers that we want or need. What are we doing wrong? What can we do differently?’”

“Research is the key,” Betts goes on. But it has to be the right kind of research. Fortunately, by leveraging the data and technology already on hand, the additional investment can be relatively small.

Betts gives three examples. One, a large healthcare association, was seeing a sharp drop-off of members who were early in their careers. New members would join, and by the end of the second year as many as 50% were gone. Betts and her strategy team started with the data the association had accumulated over the years, and employed a methodology called “Jobs to be Done” to derive qualitative insights. One finding was that young members sought recognition, but that recognition only came through seats on committees, which were very difficult to obtain. Another finding was that young members were forsaking the association and turning to social media to interact with peers because doing so gained them the psychological safety to take risks and be wrong. Armed with these findings the association was able to employ existing technology to provide a psychologically safe online forum to engage young members and stem the turnover they had been experiencing.

A national professional society turned to Betts to help humanize their digital systems—a need that became suddenly and dramatically more important when the pandemic made those systems key to member interaction. Qualitative and quantitative techniques revealed that members didn’t so much want to network—a classic association function—they wanted to belong. In order to belong most members felt hampered by a perception that belonging was a result of “who you know, not what you know.” Optimization of the organization and its services to foster belonging is a very different task than providing networking opportunities and doing so has the potential to significantly increase member engagement.

A third association—small, but international in scope—was seeking to boost engagement between its annual meetings. A process of in-depth journey mapping, says Betts, “not just us guessing the high and low points of the conference experience, but mapping the high touch points and low touch points in that conference journey,” revealed that the organization’s fellows were an underused resource. Revered, eminent, but untapped, the fellows could be activated to engage newer members with stories and counsel. The association was also able to provide an online forum for something else member craved: provocative questions and debate.

Recognition. Safety. Belonging. Access. Provocation. Not the typical “features and benefits” ranked by conventional research.

Betts recommends three steps most associations can take right away, at relatively little cost:

  • Start using the data already in the association’s systems. “You have the technology already,” she says. “You have a website with a content management system. You have an association management system. That's where you start.”

  • Start collecting bits of data throughout the member journey. “Stop making new members fill out one big old form when they join.” Such a form is apt to provide less-useful surface results. Instead, look for all opportunities to track behaviors, and use it to feed it back with existing services and content. 
  • Engage in the right research to reveal the insights you need. “There are too many times that your members tell you one thing but do another,” comments Betts. “Use research to watch what they do. That's the thing that's going to differentiate you.”

Tracy Betts and the Yes& strategy team are well-versed in the association and not-for-profit field and have helped dozens of leading organizations find actionable insights. Contact us to tell us more about the problems we can solve for you.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

Let’s talk about what the power of "&" can do for you.

Robert W. Sprague
Robert W. Sprague
President & CEO