The transition into the digital space has created both an opportunity and a challenge for members and associations. With in-person or other physical elements traditionally providing value to their membership packages, defining member benefits in the digital sphere isn’t always a natural step.
However, when utilized strategically, the sheer amount of digital information that membership organizations and associations have at their disposal can easily create relevant additional value for members and potential members.
The way members view member benefits has evolved over the past five to 10 years. While networking has remained a core motivator for members throughout the years, younger generations tend to have a different approach to building their networks. With prevalence of social media sites, it’s easy to get the false sense that they have the ability to make connections on their own.
However, these connections are rarely as curated and valuable as they would be within a designated online association portal. Members are beginning to shift their focus beyond networking, creating a growing need for professional development. Leaving young professionals with questions about how to best increase their understanding, connections and knowledge to advance their careers.
In addition to competing with free resources, the challenge of getting people to engage in a new behavior is rarely an easy sell. When faced with these challenges, how can associations create an online community that adds value to the membership experience? Or, taking it one step further, how can you make your online community your most valuable member benefit?
8 Strategies for Creating a High-Value Online Member Community
Provide exclusive, relevant information
In order to set your online community apart from the other options your members could easily access on their own, it has to be uniquely relevant to their interests and situation. Your online community needs to provide an opportunity to access relevant information and experiences easier and more efficiently than any other networking options. For example, your members should feel confident that, upon logging in, they will be met with articles, discussion topics and engagement opportunities that cater specifically to the interest that brought them to the community in the first place.
Ensure a high-quality content experience
The quality of the experience and information your online community provides can make a big difference in leading members to choose to spend their time there. Rather than having to sift through so much online content and communication that is not high quality, providing the guarantee that they won’t have to waste their time on low quality resources can be a big value add.
Offer an entertaining experience
Being community-builders provides a unique opportunity. So much of your members’ professional lives are dry and boring. Your association’s online social community is your chance to stand out.
Your community allows users to be comfortable in their own environment, while connecting with others in theirs. Sure, networking and professional development are important, but remembering that your online community experience is also supposed to be fun can go a long way in keeping your members coming back.
Knowing they can always find a like-minded person to connect with and share information can promote a fun sense of togetherness that adds more value to your community than any amount of fresh content ever could. You could even consider hosting contests with prizes to really boost engagement.
Don’t overcomplicate participation
Online communities provide added value by allowing members to access resources at any time. In order to capitalize on this accessibility, make sure your online community is easy to join and doesn’t complicate participation. Your members need to be able to fit participating into open windows of available time. If your sign-in screen takes too many steps or if your resources and forums are difficult to find, they’ll be less likely to take the time to engage.
Promote (and deliver!) consistent, daily benefits
Many member benefits only have value once a month or once a year. Your online community can provide value to your members every single day. By promoting this element, you can position your online community as a constant benefit your members can access as often as they choose.
Beyond simple using the 24x7 availability as a promotional tactic to drive members to your online community, you should also use this tenant as inspiration for your online community management. By hosting online discussions and events, you can consistently show your members that there are plenty of new and exciting reasons to show up every day.
Engage in real-time
In order to differentiate your online community from other online spaces of its kind, consider offering real-time, live interactivity with members. By offering an experiential element, you can give your members an online experience that’s above and beyond the typical exchange of information.
Live events make members feel as though they are missing out on something when they can’t attend. They will be more likely to make joining in a priority when there is something concrete to miss. It adds a sense of urgency, while still providing the valuable networking and interaction that your members crave.
Plan for intentional engagement
Providing your members with reasons to show up goes beyond simply planning events in your social community. In order to provide the most value, your community managers and marketing team needs to take a systemic approach to member engagement. This involves planning a variety of activities and interactive elements that enable low-risk engagement, alongside the day-to-day community participation. However, if the activities within your online community aren’t well promoted and planned as part of a larger engagement strategy, they’re more likely to fall flat.
Allow for easy, intuitive member connection
Since the entire point of an online community is to foster, well, community, ensuring your members can easily find each other is essential. Carefully consider how you set up profiles to allow members to showcase who they are and where their specific interests and areas of expertise lie.
By making these profiles detailed and highly searchable, you can encourage the types of valuable connections that make an online community such an important member benefit.
Association Online Community Takeaway
With these eight strategies, you can make your online community more than just a pit-stop for casual browsing — instead, it can be an essential daily visit that helps engage members beyond your yearly conference or quarterly meeting.
Positioning your online community as your most valuable member benefit will take a bit of strategic initiative and planning, but the results for both your association and your membership base are well worth the effort.