How Well Are You Managing Your Online Community?

How Well Are You Managing Your Online Community?

There’s a difference between “setting up” and “building” an online community – and the latter requires much more time, ongoing effort, and resources.

Private online communities have grown in popularity in the association world, and they can be a great tool for building engagement and connecting members.  But many resource-constrained membership organizations set them up only to find that it’s a lot harder to manage a community than they thought it would be.

A thriving online community requires a lot of time and attention. So before you launch, be sure you have the ingredients you need to make it successful!

A Purpose

What do you want to achieve? Most communities focus on information sharing, connecting members, staying in touch with members, and giving members a place where they can get answers to questions. Online communities thrive on content, but before you can determine what kind of content you want to distribute, you need to have some specific goals in mind.

A Strategy

It takes time to build a thriving community, so you need to think long term, rather than posting content on an ad hoc basis. Your strategy follows your purpose. Based on your goals, get something down on paper that provides some detail on what kind of content you’ll post, how often, how you’ll manage your community, and who will be responsible for managing it.


With so much competition for your members’ attention on the web, you need to be sure you’re giving them relevant, timely information they can’t get anywhere else. Maybe it’s researching findings from studies you’ve conducted, quick tips from reputable experts within your organization, or videos that will teach your members something valuable.

Community Managers

Ideally, you’ll want to dedicate more than one person to creating and posting content, monitoring forums, and responding to questions. Choose people who know the industry really well, even if it means using a reliable volunteer. You want people who are up to speed on the latest industry trends so they can generate some discussion.


Think varied and personal. Your content should touch upon the issues and challenges your members to encounter on a day-to-day basis so that they are compelled to read it, watch it, or listen to it. Use a mix of mediums, including written content, videos, and photos to keep things interesting for your members.


Don’t do it alone. The most successful communities draw on the expertise of many contributors. This might mean including content from partner organizations, sponsors, board and staff members, and even enlisting some of your members to volunteer as contributors.


Your online community won’t grow overnight. Keep at it, monitor your progress, and re-assess your strategy from time to time. Be flexible – if something’s not working, acknowledge it and change your approach.

Put all these ingredients together, and over time your fledgling community will grow into a thriving, regularly visited hub for your members and prospective members.


Data Rules, Assumptions Drool: Keeping Your Email Marketing Relevant

Data Rules, Assumptions Drool: Keeping Your Email Marketing Relevant
Contributed by Mary Byers, CAE

Email marketing has long been the mainstay of an association’s marketing plan, but is it still effective? The popularity of smartphones and tablets has made email readily accessible but has also created some challenges. To be most effective you’ll need to do a little research to determine how and when your members read their email, and what type of content is most likely to engage them.

Lori Ely, Marketing Manager at Informz, Inc. says, “Behavior is huge and understanding what your individual members are doing in your emails, both on desktop and mobile, will help in creating the right strategy.” You can accomplish this fairly easily using analytics technology offered by most email marketing systems.

Ms. Ely offers the following tips for keeping your email campaigns relevant and effective:

Many associations are taking notice of Ms. Ely’s advice and revamping their email marketing to meet the needs of their members. Here are a few examples of associations that made significant changes to their email marketing strategy to become more effective:

Toy Industry Association, Inc. – revamped their weekly newsletter through testing, re-engagement strategy and design.

Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association – transformed their monthly newsletter into a mobile-friendly version based on utilizing data to identify those who read on a mobile device.

The American Political Science Association – improved their customization of messaging by utilizing behavioral marketing.

The success of any email marketing strategy begins with understanding your members’ preferences and how to best engage them. Tracking and analyzing your email campaigns and utilizing behavioral marketing concepts will help to achieve a better response rate and more effective communication with your members.

– See more at:

About Mary Byers

Author. Speaker. Facilitator. Consultant. Provocateur. All describe Mary Byers, CAE.

Mary Byers helps associations gain clarity and focus through leadership conference training and facilitating strategic planning retreats, assisting task forces and work groups, and helping association staff and volunteers talk through tough issues. Visit

Blog Category: Industry Trends & News, Marketing, Technology


Fighting Email Fatigue in Association Marketing

Fighting Email Fatigue in Association Marketing
This week’s blog post on association marketing is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec,  founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website:

While I was out of the office recently tending to some personal affairs, my husband commented on the number of “dings” from my iPhone. He was shocked when I explained that said “dings” indicated yet another email.

When I returned, I had 400 emails. Really. After only three days.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but I can’t keep my inbox clean. I operate three accounts regularly and they’re all suffering from inbox overload.

So. Much. Email.

And…so much deleting.

But I have to admit even when I’m overwhelmed, I open the emails with the catchy subject lines.

Lesson here: People are suffering from email fatigue, so as an association marketer, your job is tough. How do you get people to open your emails, let alone read them?

It’s a delicate balance of testing, creativity and, most importantly, research, finds a new Informz report.

The “2015 Association Email Benchmarking Report” summarizes email marketing metrics from more than 1 billion emails associations sent in 2014. The four metrics measured in the report: delivery rate, open rate, click rate and unsubscribe rate.

Informz found email testing is on the rise. In 2014, there was increase of more than 26 percent in email subject line testing. But also, associations are testing layouts, timing and call-to-actions.

At the same time, the survey found 72 percent of email subscribers received five or fewer emails per month. But subscribers who received six to 10 emails per month had slightly higher open and click rates. And while all this is important, the single most important engagement factor is relevancy, Informz said.

Key findings from the report:

“The data shared will help you understand what metrics to analyze, what goals to set and how your email marketing program is performing in comparison to your peers,” Informz said. “Always keep in mind that these are averages from your peers.”


5 Things Every Association Should Have Check-listed

5 Things Every Association Should Have Check-listed
Beyond the usual financial audits, the end of the year is a great time to review your operations and processes – and shed the inefficiencies that could hold you back from achieving your goals in 2015.

Here are five things (besides the obvious review of your business plan) you should consider doing before January rolls around.

#1 – Review Your Service Contracts

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” isn’t the motto to operate by when it comes to your service contracts. Your needs have likely changed since you first signed some of your contracts, and you could be wasting unnecessary time and money by sticking with a provider that you’ve outgrown.

Make a list of all your service providers – including utility and equipment rental companies, printers, professional service and software providers, and any others you use regularly. Consider how they’re priced, the value you get for the money, and their level of customer service.

Prioritize the services that are most critical to running your organization, and invite proposals and quotes from competing companies. Even if you ultimately stick with your current provider, doing the research may give you the leverage to negotiate lower prices or more favorable terms.

#2 – Evaluate Your Internal Processes

While you’re refining your business plan for next year, make it a point to review your day-to-day processes to determine how well they support your strategies. You can do this internally, or consider hiring a consultant to perform the assessment for you.

Ask staff and committee members to document the processes they use to fulfill their responsibilities. Brainstorm with your team to identify inefficiencies and come up with ways to improve. As you go through the process, don’t forget to research new technologies that can help you save on time and resources.

#3 – Update Your Policy Manual

If you don’t already have a policy manual, create one. If you have one, review it. Your policy manual is your blueprint for your internal operations – yet it’s an often-neglected document, particularly in smaller associations.  It covers everything from human resources … to attendance and dress codes … to facilities management issues.

It’s important to review your policies every year to make sure they continue to meet changing employment and business laws. You’ll also want to check that they still align with your current practices and procedures.

#4 – Do a Marketing Audit

Using outdated marketing materials can reflect poorly on your organization – whether it’s letterhead with your old phone number or address on it, membership welcome packs that still mention old services, or a website that lists Board members who retired last year. Sometimes these details slip through the cracks, so gather all the collateral you currently use and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

Ditch any materials that have information, messages, graphics, or branding that no longer reflect your organization’s direction, and put a plan in place setting out how and when you will update each piece with specific dates for completion.

#5 – Say Thank You

Recognize and thank staff , volunteers, members, committees, sponsors, and anyone else who had a part in your organization during the year. Convey your appreciation through cards, events, gifts, or just a special note in your newsletter if your budget is slim. “Feel-good” gestures will have everyone heading into the new year feeling appreciated and engaged with your organization.


What Does Member Engagement Mean, Anyway?

What Does Member Engagement Mean, Anyway?

The phrase “member engagement” is big in the association world. But what does it really mean, and how do we measure it?

Member engagement runs deeper than member satisfaction. You would use the word “satisfaction” to describe a member’s attitude toward your organization. But engagement covers both attitudes and behaviors, and gives you a measure of your relationship with your members. Retention is all about building strong relationships, so it’s really important to know where you stand with your members.

Recently, the Loyalty Research Company (LRC) did research to determine the key indicators of member engagement, and found that engaged members are more likely to:

It boils down to this: a strongly engaged member equals higher non-dues revenue and strong participation. A weakly engaged member is less likely to buy “extras” and rarely participates.

You should know who your highly-engaged and moderately-engaged members are, and what aspects of your membership value proposition are most important to them. That information should drive your business strategies. You’ll want to put the most effort and resources into the initiatives that are most important to these groups because that’s how you’ll keep them, and attract new members.

So how do you determine an engaged member from a non-engaged member?

You check in with them through surveys and other forms of member research. Matt Braun from LRC says when it comes to measuring engagement in surveys, it’s not a one-question solution. You’ll want to include questions that cover:

The combination of responses to those questions will tell you whether the member is strongly engaged, moderately engaged, or weakly engaged.

If your members’ behaviors don’t seem to be matching up with the answers they provided on the survey, that’s a sign you may need to dig a little deeper to find out what’s going on. But this is a good place to start.


Stakeholder Analysis: The Key to Good Strategy

Stakeholder Analysis: The Key to Good Strategy
Stakeholder audits are a critical component of an ongoing strategy development process. Your organization can profit from stakeholder audits in other ways as well. Stakeholder audits are an imperative component of an issues management program, they are part and parcel of good governance, and they are key to collaboration.

Stakeholder analysis should be undertaken as part of your environmental scanning activity. In addition, such analysis can play an important role in strategy execution, as you seek to align stakeholders with your strategy. Although you may take a “stakeholder management” approach when conducting environmental scanning, a different mindset is suggested for strategy execution. When possible, in strategy execution, the goal is to take a collaborative approach with stakeholders. Ultimately, a mutually defined, reciprocal relationship should be sought.

Stakeholder Identification

The first step is to identify your stakeholders. For purposes of a stakeholder audit, stakeholders are defined as anyone or any organization that could be affected or that could influence your organization or its outcomes. Take an expansive or divergent approach when identifying stakeholders. Early in the process, it is important to identify all of your stakeholders. It is often helpful to take a systems approach.

Stakeholder Identification Systems Approach

Stakeholder Analysis

Once you have identified all of your stakeholders, it is time to conduct an analysis of the stakeholders. Make a determination to use either (or both) qualitative or quantitative analyses. Likewise, you will want to engage in both primary research and secondary research. The types of stakeholders and your current relationships with them, along with your ultimate research goal, will dictate the research methodology you employ. The objectives of the research are to: gain an understanding of their influence, determine their needs, determine their concerns and issues, assess their level of commitment or resistance, and understand their perceptions of your organization.

When evaluating the influence of stakeholders, take into consideration their constituencies, credibility and capacity. You will also want to consider whom they are connected to.

A complete analysis also takes an inward view. You will want to give consideration to what you want from each stakeholder. Finally, you will want to make a determination of the importance each stakeholder represents to your organization.

Stakeholder Prioritization

Relative importance and influence are two key elements generally considered when engaging in stakeholder prioritization. The following matrix can be used to map stakeholders and determine their priority level.

Stakeholder Audit Priority Matrix

Protect: This quadrant contains stakeholders that are considered to be very important to your organization, but they do not have a lot of influence. As such, it will be important to pay particular attention to the group to make sure that their interests are protected and considered as strategy is developed. In fact, you may want to make sure they are well represented at any strategy development think tank.

Good Relations: You will want to make sure that you develop a close and constructive working relationship with this group. If engaged properly, these stakeholders can have a significant multiplier effect on your strategy execution and programs. They are considered to be high priority stakeholders.

Monitor: These stakeholders wield significant influence, but they are not very important to the organization. As such, they can be a source of risk to the organization. In the strategy development process, it is important that you recognize the potential risk and consider risk scenarios.

Low Priority: These stakeholders are of relatively low importance to the organization and do not carry much influence.

The priority level classification of each stakeholder is taken into consideration as strategy is developed. Priority levels are also fed into an issues management program.

In summary, the primary goal is to take a collaborative approach with stakeholders, especially those in the “protect” and “good relations” categories. This demands a mindset wherein you consider the stakeholders as sources of opportunity and competitive advantage. On the other hand, some stakeholders, such as those in the “monitor” category, could present risks and, therefore, require a stakeholder management approach to ensure that you mitigate the potential negative impact.

In today’s rapidly changing environment, it is important that you engage in a comprehensive stakeholder audit every 12 to 18 months. Most importantly, it is critical that you begin with an all-inclusive list of stakeholders; taking a systems approach to stakeholder identification can help ensure you are considering all potential stakeholders.

How do you engage stakeholders in the strategy development process?


Social Media Associations’ Top Strategy for Member Engagement

Social Media Associations’ Top Strategy for Member Engagement

Member engagement doesn’t happen randomly. Associations with increases in overall membership are “also more likely to have a strategic initiative in place for increasing engagement,” according to the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General.

Those that have been most successful – according to this study – cite participation in public social networking as the engagement strategy that has been most effective for driving engagement – more than young professionals programs, webinar attendance, and members-only website areas.

This makes sense. You can offer all the value-adding programs and services you want, but you won’t get very far unless you aggressively promote them, and social media has become a go-to tool for doing just that.

According to the study, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the most-used platforms by hopeful associations looking to find new ways of connecting with members. Most of them have learned that the saying “if you build it they will come” doesn’t apply in the realm of social media. You have to actively build and nurture your social media page with timely, relevant content that’s helpful to your audience in order to increase exposure.

Association executives shared some of their best practices from their social media experience, including:

One thing to add … don’t make your content all about you. People get tired of seeing promotional content constantly – and eventually, Facebook won’t even show your posts in your fans’ newsfeeds. Try to make the majority of your posts serve your members’ and prospective members’ interests – it’ll make them more likely to read the occasional post promoting your next event.


Technology Truths for Meetings and Events

Technology Truths for Meetings and Events
This week’s blog by Kristen Parker is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA. Aaron is the founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website:

I’ve admitted it before and I’ll do it again: I’m a social media and technology addict. So when I’m choosing conferences to attend, I look for technology use. Is there a hashtag? Will speakers engage with participants in real time – or afterward – via social media? If something comes up, will the organizer provide content virtually? Also, is there an app that can help me plan where to eat, where to stay and sights to see?

According to a report by American Express Meetings and Events, I’m not alone.

In the first half of 2014, American Express Global Business and Travel surveyed 336 meeting planners and 161 meeting and event attendees to learn more about the evolving landscape of technology in meetings.

Overall, the survey found smartphones and wireless data/streaming video have had the most influence on the meetings industry. In fact, according to the study, 77 percent of smartphone holders use their phones “always” or “often” for business during a meeting or conference.

And almost all attendees have computers, which makes virtual attendance a breeze. While virtual meetings are becoming more popular, they’re still far less common than on-the-ground events, the study found.

Survey respondents ranked less time away from the office and a reduced need to travel as the top reasons for attending virtual or hybrid events. But interestingly, most event planners reported they don’t offer virtual options. Among the top reasons: distraction. They seem to be worried that a virtual environment offers too many temptations to pay full attention.

From the report: “There is strong agreement that in-person attendance still provides the best overall experience. Seventy-four percent of attendees and 85% of planners feel that: ‘In-person meetings are more valuable to me because they allow more social interaction.’”

So, American Express Meetings and Events recommends event planners survey target audiences to gauge interest and need for virtual events. Once it’s determined virtual events are necessary, planners need to provide tailored content, specific for the web.

Now. Let’s talk social media. Event organizers use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about events and to track interest among users. But there seems to be a divide: The survey found social media is more important to planners than it is to attendees. (This surprised me!) Forty-three percent of planners said social media capabilities were important, while only 35 percent of attendees said the same. So it follows, then, that planners ranked hashtags as more important than attendees.

The report speculates that social media users are still a bit hesitant about posting things that aren’t relevant to their followers, i.e. a conference/event they aren’t attending. And, there’s still concern about privacy.

Like social media, meeting planners rank meeting apps as more useful than participants – 67 percent vs. 55 percent. Access to basic event information and scheduling features are important app features for both groups. (See page 13 of the report for a comprehensive chart of important features.)

Specifically, networking capabilities of an app are important to both groups, especially when it offers search functions so users can search by company. Meeting apps that provide the ability to schedule meetings with exhibitors and vendors are also valuable to both groups, according to the report.

Event planners also listed apps as the most effective measurement tools for success, followed by social media. That said, in-person monitoring and post-event surveys are still the most popular.

“Technology continues to change the landscape of meetings and events, presenting new opportunities to increase engagement, reach a broader audience and deliver value for attendees and meeting owners alike,” the report said. “Meeting planners and meeting owners bear the burden of incorporating these technologies into meetings and events in a way that drives value for meeting attendees. Understanding the expectations of your meeting attendees as it relates to technology is an important step in the meeting planning process.”


Increasing Board Engagement for Better Governance

Increasing Board Engagement for Better Governance
Good governance demands that boards are engaged. An engaged board is a board that spends most of its time actively engaging in dialogue that explores big issues that really matter to the organization. High-performing boards engage in framing issues, asking (the right) questions, and considering options. They engage in critical and creative thinking as they explore issues.

Have you ever left a board meeting where it seems that majority of the board meeting was spent on listening to reports or presentations and conducting perfunctory business? Have you ever left a board meeting doubting that the meeting really added value to the organization? Or left concerned that some of the board members might be wondering why they even spent their valuable time going to the meeting?

If so, it is likely that your board is not actively engaged in a good governance sense.

Active engagement doesn’t “just happen.” If you want board members to actively and effectively engage in dialogue (around the right issues), you need to spend time designing a meeting/experience that encourages, welcomes and facilitates dialogue around the right issues.

If you are serious about increasing board member engagement, the first step is to evaluate the current level of board member engagement. Examine your last few board agendas and think back over the last year to calculate what portion of the board meetings were spent in true dialogue about big issues. Then, set a goal for where you want to be in a year or two’s time. In calculating where you want to be, keep in mind your Board’s culture and determine if the incremental change or revolutionary change makes more sense.

Once you determine where you want to be, develop a change management strategy to get there. Early on in the process, you will want to engage in dialogue with the chairperson and other key board members. Ultimately, it will be important to gain the support for the transition. In my experience, it is helpful to present the concept in a positive light; you are looking to enhance the performance of the board, rather than fix any problem.

As I mentioned in How to Create a Strategic Thinking Board, agenda design is key to increasing board engagement. However, in designing a highly engaged board meeting, you need to think beyond the agenda itself.

Rich dialogue is more apt to occur if there if there is a strong sense of “team” amongst the board members, and the board members feel comfortable working and contributing to the team effort. The challenge that most organizations face is that board members are only together three to four times a year, so there is little opportunity to build relationships. As such, a priority should be placed on including a social event in conjunction with each board meeting.

If you can inject a little bit of fun into the social event, so much the better. Again, be guided by the culture of your board or the culture you want to develop. Your social event could be a dinner or reception the night before the meeting. Or it could be an evening of bowling. As far as receptions, I have held them at the association office, on a boat, in a restaurant/hotel, and in a celebrity’s house. If you are going to hold a dinner, especially if you have a large board, try to precede it with a reception where the members can more freely mingle. If you do hold a dinner, especially if you have a large board, use rounds of no more than eight to facilitate conversation amongst everyone at the table.

Consideration must also be given to the type and quantity of information you provide the board prior to the meeting. In making the decision on what information to provide for the “big issue” discussion(s), ask yourself, will this information inspire robust dialogue or will it stifle creative thinking and critical thought? In considering what background information to provide, keep in mind that your goal is to get the board to engage in a divergent conversation, not a convergent one.

You will want to provide data and information that provides a 360-degree view, including opposing points or options for the board to consider. At all costs, you don’t want to provide one viewpoint or a recommendation. In deciding what information to provide, you want to protect against anchoring. Anchoring is when a board or board member locks onto an idea or piece of information upfront and uses that information as the basis for future judgments, which then stifles divergent thought. In my experience, less information is usually better than more. It is also important that the information you provide the board doesn’t inadvertently frame the issue before the meeting. Although it might be uncomfortable for some, ambiguity in the information can be a good thing. Of course, the issue or topic will also drive the selection of background material.

Selecting the right topic is key to raising the governance bar. You want to make sure that the topic is something that really matters and is of strategic import. Selection should not occur in a vacuum. Use your committees and the board itself to identify topics. Likewise, you can review your strategy and conduct environmental scans to identify big issues. In fact, a good way to begin your journey to a more engaged board might be to engage the board in a high-level discussion about what issues could be of strategic import. These issues could then be prioritized and fully explored at future meetings.

When it comes to the design of the meeting itself, it is important that the big issue discussions take place at the beginning of the meeting while the board members are still fresh. It is also important that you are explicit about the guidelines and objective(s) of the dialogue in which the board will partake.

First, the board needs to understand that the purpose of the dialogue is to engage in divergent thinking. It should be clear that the purpose is not to make a decision, rather, it is to creatively explore an issue from as many viewpoints as possible for the purpose of surfacing ideas, not decisions. This requires that individual members actively listen with an open mind to what is being said. People have a tendency to judge what is being said and be thinking about how they are going to respond to a comment; in active listening, no judgment is being made. Instead, the listener is trying to gain an understanding of what the speaker is saying.

Board members should also strive to ask questions, rather than make statements. What would have to happen for that to be true? What does that mean for us? Is there another way to look at that? What information would we have to know to make the best decision on this issue? Does this really advance our mission? Are we asking the right question(s)? What principles should we consider as we dialogue about this? Who does this issue impact? What would they think about the issue? What could be the unintended consequences? How could we frame this differently?

Above all, board members must actively challenge their individual assumptions and those of the group at large. They must also actively seek out opposing views and data that supports opposing views. This requires a willingness to look at issues from different perspectives and an openness to consider the different viewpoints as being right. Depending on the issue, you might consider periodically inviting non-board members, who bring a totally different perspective, to participate in big issue discussions.

Next, a decision needs to be made regarding the format of the discussion. I have found that breaking the board into small groups is very effective. In addition to visually sending a message that “we are doing something different,” breakouts help protect against groupthink and increase the probability that all of the board members actively engage in the dialogue. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, you might assign all groups to the same issue or question to explore or provide each breakout group with a different issue or question. Either way, after the breakouts, the board returns and each group presents their findings. This is not the end of the dialogue, however.

Once the groups have reported back, the full board should be encouraged to challenge the findings and further dialogue on the issue. Again, the board should be encouraged to ask questions in favor of making statements and challenge the assumptions of the smaller group. One technique that I have used is to have the board think about how many ways the assumptions, concepts or conclusions of the small group could be wrong.

I would advise against using breakout sessions at all meetings. It is important that you vary dialogue methods from time to time to limit the probability of board fatigue with a particular practice. Again, ask yourself if a particular issue or set of issues is better explored in a large group or small group environment.

In summary, high-performance governance demands a high level of board member engagement. Achieving a high level of engagement requires intentionality and design thought. It is also only achieved if all of the board members engage, which, at times, requires a skilled chairperson, facilitator or discussion leader. Transitioning to this level of engagement may require the application of change management techniques and is often more effectively accomplished through incremental change. It also requires setting aside board procedural formalities and creating a retreat type environment.

Finally, it is important to monitor the implementation and success of your engagement effort(s). After each board meeting, survey the board to find out what they liked best and least about the methods used. In the beginning of your journey to a higher engaged board, you could also survey the board to get their ideas on how engagement could be increased and to determine their perception of the then current level of engagement.

About the Author

Robert Nelson, a Certified Association Executive (CAE), brings over a quarter-century of successful executive leadership experience, working with Boards and high-powered CEOs in a not-for-profit setting. He is the founder of Nelson Strategic Consulting and brings hands-on experience guiding and facilitating the design of strategy development processes and think tanks. His focus on organizational strategies and strategic solutions to complex organizational and global grand challenges for national as well as international organizations.

Contact Robert through his website, or learn more about Nelson Strategic Consulting at