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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

8 Essential Strategies to Improve Engagement

Association Laboratory has identified the following essential strategies to improve engagement:

  1. Strategic market selection
  2. Setting the stage for engagement
  3. Assessing the culture of engagement
  4. Create a strategic value proposition
  5. Curating the engagement community
  6. Intentional strategy along the engagement continuum
  7. Strategic prioritization of the program/service portfolio
  8. Alignment of governance and operations with market engagement needs

Strategic Market Selection

To improve engagement, the association needs to identify and develop a deep understanding of the primary audiences, stakeholders, or markets it serves.

An association can serve anyone it wants, but not everyone it wants. By trying to serve larger, more diverse markets, associations dilute their resources. As the number of distinct audiences increases, it becomes more challenging to understand similarities and differences between audiences, to determine a unique value proposition to serve each audience, and to manage an organizational structure that can provide these multiple value propositions effectively.

Setting the Stage for Engagement

To improve engagement the association needs to understand the expectations, needs, and surrounding business or professional environment, and how these factors influence future choices regarding engagement.

Before deciding to engage with the association, individuals face a variety of factors that may positively or negatively influence their desires for and type of engagement. Examples include previous history with association engagement, alternatives to the association, business or professional influences, or limitations on engagement.

The association needs to understand these factors and begin preparing for their influence prior to the decision to implement specific engagement strategies.

Assessing the Culture of Engagement

To improve engagement, the association needs to assess the historical culture of engagement within the industry or profession.

Different industries, professions, and associations have different cultures of engagement. The more positively the market views engagement, and the more engagement with the association is part of historical experience, the more likely individuals are to be responsive to engagement strategies.

For example, physicians have historically worked in a professional environment where collegial interaction and the use of the association as a conduit for commercial, educational, scientific, and personal interaction are common.

Understanding how the culture of engagement within an industry or profession can reinforce or hinder engagement is important to developing successful strategies.

Strategic Value Proposition Identification

To improve engagement, the association needs to identify and provide only the activities essential to the business or professional needs of the primary audience within the association's sphere of influence.

Many associations struggle under the weight of legacy programs or attempt to provide a huge portfolio of services. Successful engagement may depend more on providing five great benefits or services rather than ten average services.

Curated Community

To improve engagement, the association needs to identify and curate not only information but the network of people who use this information.

Relevant information is essential to engagement. Also critical to engagement is a relevant community within which to discuss the context of this information. Without both content and community, an essential component of engagement is lost, making it difficult for the association to sustain engagement.

80% of respondents to Looking Forward 2014 said developing/maintaining viable communities around relevant content were a concern.

80% of respondents also indicated they were concerned about customizing content to [these] distinct audiences.

Creating Specific Strategies across the Engagement Continuum

Before individuals engage, they must first be aware of the association. In addition, engagement is a process with four distinct components: Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy, and Influence. The following section introduces key strategies for each of these areas.


To improve engagement, associations need to implement specific strategies that create positive awareness about the association and its value proposition within the audiences essential to its Mission and its commercial success.

A person cannot engage with an association if they are not aware of its existence, its purpose, or the benefits it provides. Much like a farmer who prepares the ground prior to planting, associations need to develop strategies to prepare the ground for engagement within their primary market.


To improve engagement, associations need to implement specific strategies that generate initial contact with the association and track this activity for follow-up action.

Potential involvement could be viewing the website, downloading an article, or calling for information.

At this point, the relationship is very tentative and needs to be encouraged and reinforced.

The focus of these strategies will be creating a preliminary and positive perception of the association and its potential as a valuable resource.


To improve engagement, associations need to implement specific strategies to reinforce the initial involvement and create a more substantial relationship.

A person happy with his or her initial involvement may decide on more substantial interaction, such as a product purchase or membership. This interaction may include submitting a paper or volunteering on a committee. At this point, the individual has decided to enter into a mutual relationship with the association.

The focus at the point of interaction begins to change from marketing and communications to the successful delivery on the promise of the engagement value proposition (EVP). If the EVP is not met, the odds of maintaining engagement and building to the next stage decrease.

Strategies should encourage a trial purchase or interaction allowing the association to begin demonstrating its value proposition as a potential solution to problems faced by the primary audience.


To improve engagement, associations need to develop specific strategies to interact with and support individuals to reinforce interaction and build a deeper, more emotional relationship.

Individuals who desire more intimate professional relationships will begin to take ownership of the association's success. Their sentiment regarding the association may be positive or negative and both reflect high levels of engagement. These individuals are commonly referred to as opinion leaders, people who have been active with the association, long-term members, or contributors.

The association needs to monitor and care for these individuals at a higher level because their expectations of the association are higher.


To improve engagement, associations need to develop specific strategies to support and encourage individuals who have become brand influencers and positive advocates for the association.

A person with strong feelings of engagement with the association often becomes a brand advocate, visibly supporting the association's mission, goals, and initiatives. These individuals have outsized influence because they are proponents of the association, creating a multiplier effect that goes beyond their transactional activity with the association.

Strategies in this area focus on reinforcing and supporting these advocates through higher levels of service or opportunities with the association.

Evaluation and Modification of Engagement Strategy

To improve engagement, associations need to continually monitor the success of engagement strategies and modify these strategies based on audience feedback and objective results.

Engagement is a process, not a destination.

Once specific engagement strategies have been implemented, the results need to be tracked to determine success and to identify how each strategy contributes to the objective and whether the link between strategies can be improved.

Strategic Prioritization of the Value Proposition

To improve engagement, associations need to identify, configure, and price only the programs, services, and initiatives essential to the decision to join or participate with the association.

Too many associations continue to produce legacy programs that are no longer relevant. These activities dilute association resources and limit the association's effectiveness in producing truly unique experiences essential to the member experience.

Legacy programs sap the associations financial and staff resources but, more importantly, the energy and focus of leadership.

The member value proposition is not what can be offered but what should be offered to solve the unique problems of the target audience.

Prioritizing the benefits helps your association focus resources on the benefits essential to membership.

Consider the following:

  • The Society of Manufacturing Engineers discovered that out of 24 potential member benefits, nine distinct benefits attracted 70% of their market. The rest of their offerings provided only limited additional market penetration.
  • The National Ground Water Association discovered that of 28 tested benefits, only 2 were essential to the membership decision.

Association Laboratory's historical research consistently shows that strategic prioritization is essential to successfully position the association relative to its competitors and allows for a focused concentration of staff and financial resources allowing the association to do 5 great things instead of 10 average things.

Align Governance and Organizational Structure with Market Needs

To improve member engagement, associations need to structure themselves to meet how people desire and choose to engage.

Too often association structure is determined by internal criteria, not market-based needs or preferences. Like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, if the association is not structured to fit the needs of the market, it becomes inefficient.

This results in an internal focus, dictated by politics and staff priorities, which may not be reflective of the desires of the market.

The market does not care how you are structured; they only care about solutions to their problems. If you have a fragmented structure you may have a fragmented approach to members' needs and this may limit the association's efficiency in providing a meaningful and engaging member experience.

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