Let's Build Community Programs That Our Members Want And Need

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This is a podcast episode titled, Let's Build Community Programs That Our Members Want And Need. The summary for this episode is: <p>This episode is from a previous recording from our Super Forum 2020 Virtual Conference.</p><p>Innovation. Culture change. Customer retention. These business goals are simple to explain but much more complex to actualize. Luckily, your organizations’ community is the ideal connector between these types of complex business goals and your customers’ needs. In this session, you will learn how to develop, plan, implement, and measure community programs that are an integral part of your organization’s success.</p>
What A Program is in Context of Community
02:13 MIN
The Five Steps of Building Your Program
01:27 MIN
Focusing on your Organizations Priorities
01:15 MIN
Planning and Structuring Your Program
01:15 MIN
Develop and Monitor Your Key Performance Indicators
01:28 MIN
Developing Your Action Plan
01:19 MIN

Alex Mastrianni: Welcome to The Member Engagement Show with Higher Logic, the podcast for association professionals looking to boost retention, gain new members, and deepen member involvement.

Heather McNair: Throughout our show, we'll bring on some experts, talk shop about engagement, and you'll walk away with strategies proven to transform your organization. I'm Heather McNair.

Alex Mastrianni: I'm Alex Mastrianni, and we're happy you're here. Hi, everyone. I'm excited to be back for another episode of The Member Engagement Show. Today, we've got another great session for you from our 2020 Super Forum conference. Courtney Howell, the community manager at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, is joining us to talk all about building programs that your members want and need. When you think about the goals of a community, think about some of the words that come to mind, innovation, retention, culture change. These business goals are simple to explain, but they're a lot more complex to actualize. But luckily, your associations community is the ideal connector between these types of complex organizational goals and your members' needs. A lot of times, a community is a perfect place to bring all of those programs that you want to provide to your members to show real value and drive member satisfaction altogether. So listen in to today's session as Courtney is sharing how you can develop, plan, implement, and even measure community programs that are all a part of that bigger organizational strategy. Enjoy.

Courtney Howell: My name is Courtney Howell. I am the community manager for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. We call it the ACFE for short. And just to give you an idea of our organization, we have about 85, 000 members from all around the world, and out of those 85,000 members, about 40, 000 have made it into our online community at one point in their life. And I share all of that with you to let you know that it doesn't matter. No matter what type of organization you have or what size your organization is, if you have some sort of community, you can build programs for that community. So let's all get on the same page about what a program is in the context of community. It is simply a plan or system, under which, action can be taken to achieve a goal. So there's two key words in there that I really want us to hone in on, and that's action that your program participants can take in order to achieve a goal. That is it. That's the simple breakdown of what a program is within a community context. So we got the what, but I also want to take a moment to touch on the why. Why are we building online communities? Why are we building programs inside our communities? So I'm from Austin, like I mentioned before, the live music capital of the world, and a few years ago, I was going to several shows every week because I love live music. But I was also feeling anxious about going out by myself, so I decided that I wanted to... In order to solve this problem, I wanted to learn self- defense, so I found a gym nearby and I signed up for their free trial. It was Krav Maga, which is a form of self- defense, and I took their free trial. And after that first class, I was like," Wow, I just learned how to defend a knife attack," so I was like," Okay, take my money," and they got my financial investment. However, I have been at that gym for five years because not only do they have my financial investment, they also have my emotional investment. I participate in weekly challenges... I mean, monthly challenges, specialized seminars, all kinds of programs that they put on for their students, and I've made lifelong friends by participating in these programs. And that's why we want to build programs in our communities, because once we have that financial investment, we want to take it to the next level and get our members and our customers to make that emotional investment. So how we build our programs is, we're going to follow this program cycle. There's five steps. I'm going to give you a brief overview of those five steps, and then we'll dig into each one, and there will be another interactive moment later in the presentation, so just be ready. Okay, so first, you're going to gather feedback. This is where you start to hear from your customers or your members or your clients and you start to realize there's a need that's not being met, so that's kind of where the seed or the germ for your program comes from. And then, once you realize there's a need that's not being met and you think, oh, maybe a program would help solve this, next, you're going to uncover the goal. So in order to make sure that whatever we come up with aligns with our organization's priorities, we need to make sure that our goals match the program. Once we have these two pieces in place, that's when we actually start planning and structuring. A lot of people think that that's where they start. They get an idea or they participate in a program and they're like," Ooh, that's really cool. I would like to do that in my community." But you definitely want to make sure that you have that customer problem and you have a goal before you start really digging into planning and structuring your program. Then, you're going to develop and monitor your key performance indicators because you want to make sure that what you're doing is working and you want to make sure that you're actually meeting that customer need and you're achieving your goals. And last, but definitely not least, you're going to iterate, so you're going to review everything that you've done in the program and then make it better the next time around. So when you're first building a program that you haven't launched yet, these different steps are going to be very distinct. But then, as your program runs through a few times, you might see a little bit of overlap between each of these, especially iteration and gathering feedback. So as we go through each cycle, I'm going to use a case study of one of our most successful programs, called the 90- Day CFE Exam Challenge, to show you how we worked through each of these five phases. So when someone joins our organization, they join as an associate member, then they purchase our study materials, they prepare for an exam, they take the exam, and then they become certified, and then their membership changes to a CFE membership, certified fraud examiner. So this is the basics of one of our members' biggest priorities when they join us. We send out a survey every year, asking members why they join, and that is always the number one reason, they want to become a CFE, so this is definitely something big for our members. But we also heard from them that they had a problem getting through our materials, so this is where the idea for the challenge came. And basically, what the challenge is, we give them their own dedicated group or community within our main community that is... Once they sign up, they get added to that group. And then we have resources, staff members, and other association members who have already passed the exam in that group to help everyone pass this exam within three months. So that's the gist of what this program is, and we'll dig into it even more. So as I mentioned earlier, our first step is gathering feedback. Sometimes this happens organically. As in the case of the 90- day challenge, we already knew from our surveys that people want to pass the CFE exam. And then we also conduct surveys on this. So first, I'm just going to list out a bunch of different ways that you can gather feedback, and then we'll kind of dig into what we did for the 90- day challenge. So you can measure engagement on a topic. You can do this in your community, or you can do this elsewhere in your organization. For example, if you start seeing a bunch of threads about the same thing, that's probably a hint that your members are interested in something and maybe a need that they have isn't being met, or you can post blog posts and social media on a certain topic and see what kind of engagement and questions you get. You can also conduct surveys, like we did with the 90- day challenge. We also do this within the program itself. At the end of each program, we send out a survey to every single participant to see what they found helpful, what sort of ideas they have for improvements, if they would recommend it to other people, so we have that more structured feedback. You can also host focus groups. We don't really do this for the 90- day challenge, but we have done this for other programs, such as the mentoring program. And this is just where you get a group of people who are willing to talk to you and just dig in on a topic and get more individual feedback on a program. You can also do one- on- one phone calls with people, kind of like what Jay was talking about earlier in the keynote address, how he did the 50 interviews with 50 people. He's getting that one- on- one feedback to know what direction-

Speaker 4: crosstalk-

Courtney Howell: ...program should go in. You also want to-

Speaker 4: crosstalk-

Courtney Howell: ...collaborate with internal stakeholders. Please don't forget to mute yourself.

Speaker 4: inaudible.

Courtney Howell: With the 90- day-

Speaker 4: crosstalk-

Courtney Howell: ...challenge, we heard about this customer problem, this member problem, from our membership department. Our community lives in the marketing department, but they came to us with this problem, said," Is there something we can do in the community to help solve this?" And then, last but not least, you want to make sure that your executives are on board, especially if there's going to be some sort of financial investment in your program. If you're doing some sort of ambassador program where you're going to need some swag and you're going to need resources for that, then you definitely want to share this with your executives and get their stamp of approval. So first step is gathering feedback. And what is most important about this is that you really identify what that customer problem is. That is how our programs are going to be something that they want to participate in, something they're excited to join, is because they know that by participating, they're going to get that need met. So after you've got your feedback, you know what your customer problem is, then you want to uncover the goal of your program. So we got our customer problem. There's two other things that need to all be in alignment in order to make this program work. Next thing you really want to focus in on is your organization's priorities. So the reason that we chose a challenge for this particular program is because one of our main goals as an association is customer retention. I'm sure that's true for pretty much anyone who has a business. You want to keep your customers, you want to keep your members. So that was our big overarching goal, but underneath that, we dug a little deeper into how this program was going to get people to stay with us. So as I mentioned before, our members really want to pass the CFE exam, and as an organization, we really want them to pass the CFE exam because when they convert from an associate to a CFE, they stay with us longer. Most people in our organization, if they're going to leave, they leave within the first year. But for those who get over that first year hump and become a CFE, they stay with us three to five years, so that is a huge goal for us. And then we took it even further and we said," Well, now that they have our study materials, we really want them to get through them, so how are we going to do that? We're going to provide resources and a deadline for them to get through this exam." So our customer problem and our organization's priorities are really aligned at this point with this program. The last thing you want to consider is your community capability. You might come up with this great idea for a program, but it doesn't quite fit within the parameters of your community, and that's okay. Maybe you're going to pass that off onto a different department or a different area of the organization. You really have to make sure that what you want to do is going to actually work in your community context. So once you have these three items all figured out and all aligned, that is where your goal is, that is where the purpose of your program lives. Okay, so now we get to the fun stuff. All right, so we've gotten through our first two steps of the program cycle. The next step is my favorite part. It's the planning and structuring step. This is where you get to scheme and dream. So this is where you really start asking those logistical questions, like, who is involved? So for our challenge group, we have me, the community manager, and our marketing department. And then also in our marketing department, we have two people on our email marketing team, because not only do we have the community side of this, we also have an email marketing campaign that goes along with it. And then we have our membership director who's in our membership department, and we have someone from our IT team who helps to make sure that our community, our inaudible, and our email marketing is all aligned, all synced up, and all working properly. Anytime there's a problem, we definitely go to him first. So that's our core team, but we also get a lot of other people involved. Every time we run this program, we also have two former participants in the new group to help answer questions and help encourage participants. That came along later. That wasn't something that we started out with. So that's a good note, that you don't have to start big. You can start small and scale as you go. Then, we also have a lot of our membership team who just is in there, helping to answer questions and helping people with the logistics of the exam. You also want to know, what resources do you need? Is this going to take an initial investment? How many staff members are going to need to be involved? Is there any type of physical thing that we need to order for this? All those types of questions, you want to answer as you're planning and structuring. What is the timeline? Okay, how long is this going to take us to plan out? How long is this program going to run for? How many times a year are we going to run it? These are all the sorts of questions that you're going to be going through as you're planning. And then what I think is one of the funnest things, what type of program is it? So here's a list of common programs that you can have in your community. The 90- day challenge that we've been talking about, that's a time- bound challenge. There's tons of these out there. If any of you have ever used Codecademy to learn coding, they have a month challenge where your goal is to just code a little bit every day. And I think Duolingo has something like this too, so there's all kinds of challenges out there. So those are really fun because it's kind of like you're winning something when you finish. There's also repeating series. Obviously, Reddit's ask me anything is one of the most famous ones in the world. Earlier in the keynote session, they mentioned inaudible Austin who has started a round table program, which is super cool, and I definitely want to learn more about that. Higher Logic has Mentor Match. There's mentoring programs, learning courses, group projects. You can totally do that through your community. Our community has built resource lists together. That was more user- led, but you can totally make it an organization thing. Of course, there's volunteers, ambassador programs, that kind of thing. And if you have any other types of programs that you have been involved in, or that you run, please share them in the chat with everyone. I love learning all kinds of different types of programs. Our next step is to develop and monitor your key performance indicators. So there's a lot of info out there about what data you should be collecting and how you should collect it, but in the terms of your program, there's a few key things that you should keep in mind. First, I think I've honed in on this a lot over the course of this session, but you definitely want to make sure that your KPIs are aligned with your underlying goal. You want to make sure that you are doing the things that your program sets out to do. So for instance, with the 90- day challenge, as I mentioned, we want to convert members, so we're going to track our conversion rate each time we run the program. We're going to track how many people sign up, is it growing, did we have a drop- off? If so, why? The key thing also is, you only want to pick three to five, especially to start out with, but even if you've already got a program going and it's sort of started ballooning out and all of a sudden, you're tracking 20 different things, that could be a good moment to really look at what you're tracking and say," Uh, I think we can cut about half of these." So really pick those key performance indicators, ones that really indicate how your program is doing, and then you can dig in a little bit deeper if you need to for specific issues. These can evolve and change as you go. Maybe what you started out with a couple of years ago isn't really relevant anymore to what you're doing in your program, so revisit those, don't be afraid to change them if you need to. And you always also want to make sure that you're tracking significant changes in your program, making notes of those. So if you look over here on my little graph, the spring 2019 sign- up rate jumped way up, and that's because we launched a new email campaign to go along with it. And without that note to remind me of why there's that huge spike, I would have no idea why there was that big jump. And then, also very important, share it with your stakeholders, share it with your executives, let them know what's going on with the program, let them know how their resources are being used, how it's succeeding, what plans you want to make for the future, keep them in the loop. You never know, you might get some awesome feedback from them. For instance, when we shared our report with our CEO a couple of cycles ago, he had a great idea to interview one of our inaudible and have her provide exam tips in a video to our participants. And I'd never thought of that because I don't know our inaudible. So he had that personal connection with them. He came up with that idea. So that's another good reason why you want to share it with your executives. And then, the last part of our cycle is to iterate. And I honestly think this is the key to your program's success, really looking at what you've done and coming up with an action plan to improve it. So this is how we iterate with the 90- day challenge. This could be similar for you. You can kind of make it your own. But first, after each challenge ends, about two weeks later, we have a review meeting with our key stakeholders, those five people I mentioned earlier. We gather all sorts of data. We look at our survey results. We've been taking notes on anecdotal evidence and observations that we made along the way in our last cycle, and participants give us feedback along the way as well. They're not shy about it. We take all of that, we get our holistic view, and then we just talk about it and we make sure we know exactly what happened in the last cycle. Then, that's where we brainstorm our improvements. We take all of that information, and we come up with tons of ideas, we usually have way more than we can actually implement, and think of ways that we could improve our program. Then, we make our action plan. Okay, out of all these ideas that we've just come up with, what are we actually going to do? What are we actually going to put on our schedule and make sure that it happens? And sometimes this means we're going to cut things that didn't work in the last couple of challenges, and that's where you would make these decisions in this part of the cycle. And then, most importantly, you're going to actually implement those changes. It doesn't do you any good to come up with this amazing action plan and then not actually put it into place. And maybe you won't have time to do it in the upcoming cycle, but you can do it in the next one, just as long as you have that plan.


This episode is from a previous recording from our Super Forum 2020 Virtual Conference.

Innovation. Culture change. Customer retention. These business goals are simple to explain but much more complex to actualize. Luckily, your organizations’ community is the ideal connector between these types of complex business goals and your customers’ needs. In this session, you will learn how to develop, plan, implement, and measure community programs that are an integral part of your organization’s success.

Today's Host

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Beth Arritt

|Association Evangelist

Today's Guests

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Courtney Howell

|Community Manager, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners