Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Membership in the age of Google: What are you serving up?

Do you have an information desk open at all hours?  Is your website an open book for your members and the general public?  Or do you keep reports, whitepapers, podcasts and other benefits of your membership hidden behind walls on your website – only available to your dues-paying customers?

Google is available 24/7 to answer questions from your potential new members or clients.  Before you even sit down at your desk with your first cup of coffee, there may have been several potential clients sizing up your business or association without you ever knowing about it.  So how are you capturing the attention of these potential members?  And how are you retaining members who know that they can probably access all you offer through some other on-line source in this age of Google?

This was the topic earlier this Spring for the Marketing & Communications Group in CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau.  While they didn’t come up with all the answers, they did have a fulsome discussion on the tactics you could use to encourage non-members to become members and those you could use to reinforce membership with existing members.

Information on websites can answer immediate questions.  Whitepapers can solve immediate research needs.  But are you giving all your value away without capturing something from these transactions?

When we focus on what matters to our members, perhaps it’s a bit like that old sitcom Cheers where at some point during the opening minutes of the show, Mr. Peterson walks into the bar and all the regulars should out “Norm!”  Are you ready to capture information that will give online visitors that “Norm” feeling about your organization?  Do your existing members that have that “Norm” feeling about your organization?

During the session, they looked at how you can begin to create engagement with current and future clients. Here are a few of the possibilities discussed:

  • If you sell things through your website – books, promotional items, events or other – are you capturing any data through these transactions that could help you build a relationship with the buyers?
  • With your existing members and clients, have you ever done any data mining to build more complete profiles of them?  What specific interests do they have? Do they belong to other organizations? When is their birthday?  Some of these questions might seem frivolous but it helps you develop a more complete profile.  They become human to you and you to them.
  • Build sub-groups.  This type of niche knowledge could lead to news-sharing, events and meet-ups in communities which reinforce the value of your organization.
  • If a non-member attends an event, is it purely financial or have you made a connection with them during attendance? (This could include a special welcome at the event; a buddy system; a personalized survey afterwards, etc).

Many of these ideas are certainly possible with technology.  But you, the organization, need to have a plan for data collection and usage.  How will capturing information help you transform your clients’ transaction into an experience that they will want to repeat?

Many member-based organizations used to be able to provide one-size-fits-all programs to their members. That game has been upped.  If you buy books online, you’ll know that you will receive future promotional emails based on your previous purchases.  Can you say that you know your members this well?

Sure Google is open for business 24/7 and commercial websites can create “personalized” experiences. Technology has provided the tools for data mining and resultant niche marketing.  Anything that you can do to add “warm and fuzzies” to your stakeholder transactions, will put you a step above Google, Wikipedia or any other online experience.  It’s important to remember that transactions do not equal engagement; human relationships do.  After all, Norm didn’t just want a beer at Cheers, he wanted the camaraderie; it could have been any bar.

This article was originally featured in the April-May issue of CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau Executive, and was written by Jennifer Hagen, CAE, Director, Chamber Development & Services with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

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