What Online Community Engagement Looked Like in 2021

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This is a podcast episode titled, What Online Community Engagement Looked Like in 2021. The summary for this episode is: <p>Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen communities spring up faster than ever before—digital became the primary way for members to connect. So we reviewed data from more than one thousand association member communities to identify the most common trends. </p><p><br></p><p>Check out this on-demand webinar with Higher Logic's resident online community experts, along with Cory Elford, Manager of Communities and Membership Marketing at Meeting Professionals International. </p><p><br></p><p>They share key findings from this year's report, with insights on some of the most effective tactics you can implement to boost member engagement at your association (and how to sustain it).</p>
The 3 trends from this year's engagement trends report
00:25 MIN
Tips for maintaining engagement if you started your community before the pandemic
05:00 MIN
Tips for newer communities
02:47 MIN
How community and strategy has changed throughout the pandemic
04:11 MIN
Key components to bringing more exposure and promotion to an online community
02:36 MIN
The benefits of content calendars
03:03 MIN
How to pick the people for a community advisory board
01:16 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 are happy you're here. Hi everyone, welcome back to the member engagement show. Today we have a special treat for you, a sneak peek of our annual engagement trends report. The report shares three online community engagement trends that we've identified across our association communities in 2021. We've recently walked through these on a webinar which we'll share with you today. We were joined by Cory Elford, manager of communities and membership marketing at Meeting Professionals International and two of our Higher Logic team members and community management experts, Sarah Maloney and Kristen Parody. The panelists explained this year's trends, tips for community strategy and examples of what other associations are working on. As usual, they shared some slides during the webinar that we've linked below in case you want to check them out. And if you want to read the full report, visit the episode notes on the Higher Logic website for the link. Now let's dive in and hear what they have to say.

Sarah Maloney: All right. Hi everyone. Thank you for joining us today for our 2021 engagement trends report webinar. My name is Sarah Maloney and I'm a team lead on the strategic services team at Higher Logic. I already introduce myself, but I'll pass it to Kristen Parody to quickly introduce herself.

Kristen Parody: Hello, I'm Kristen Parody, a strategic services consultant here at Higher Logic. Corey?

Cory Elford: Hello everybody. It's still morning for me. I'm in Dallas, Texas, but I'm Corey Elford and I am the manager of communities and membership marketing at Meeting Professionals International.

Sarah Maloney: Thanks Corey. And do you mind telling us a little bit about your background and what you do at Meeting Professionals International?

Cory Elford: Sure. I have a pretty untraditional background for my job, which actually I think is a lot of fun, but I was an art major in college, so we're going on a completely different direction here. But I actually right out of college, I worked for an art college in mostly doing sales and admissions. So I definitely have a pretty strong sales background. And then I got into marketing so that I could sort of bring it back to my degree and utilize my creativeness a little bit more and I got heavily into sort of the agency world. So I have a pretty good mixture of sales as well as branding and marketing. And then just with the craziness of the pandemic and everything, I decided it would be a lot more fun to go brand side and that's kind of how I ended up at Meeting Professionals International.

Sarah Maloney: Awesome. Well, that is a very interesting background.

Cory Elford: And I give you the highlights, but yeah I know it's a lot of fun.

Sarah Maloney: Well, thanks for introducing yourselves. Today, we are going to talk about the annual engagement trends report that Higher Logic puts out. During the COVID- 19 pandemic, we saw a lot of communities spring up very fast. As I'm sure you can all guess, it had to do with the fact that in the pandemic people needed to connect digitally. And for a lot of associations and corporations, they had not had had something like an online community in the past that allowed people to connect in that type of way, that quick communication, quick ability to get updates and resources from the association. So that's why we saw a lot of communities spring up. Associations really wanted to meet that need and provide resources, education updates very quickly to their members. And we also saw a lot of member to member communication increase, we saw that need. So even though thinking about all of those reasons why you might stand up an online community, even though they were present before the pandemic hit, it's something that the pandemic really magnified. So today we're going to focus on some of the trends that we saw in the last year. And for this report that we're going to talk through, just so we collected data from about 1050 association online communities. And with that, I will pass it over to Kristen.

Kristen Parody: Let's start things off with a quick poll. So we'd love to hear how many people have an online community and, or what process you are in in launching one. So we're going to launch that poll for you right now and give you a little bit to enjoy and set that up as the results come in. So our options here are yes, we launched before COVID, yes, we're new, but we launched after COVID, no, we don't have a community but we're in the process of planning or launching one. And no, we're not quite there with the community side of the fence yet. So we'll give you a little bit longer as those poll results come in before we'll do this, it'll be a great way to start us off and kind of head into the first trends that we're seeing with the report. All right. It looks like the vast majority of you are in the yes, we've already launched before COVID range, which is great to see. And then a lot of you pretty tied on the other three options there. All right. So let's start talking about the trends here. So if we head over to the next slide, Sarah, thank you. We have three trends that we've deemed from our learnings from in this year's engagement trends report. First being, old and new communities saw similar rates of engagement. The second trend was that smaller organizations have more active users. And thirdly, industry changes can impact community engagement. We're going to go through these one by one. Sarah, take it away.

Sarah Maloney: All right. Thank you. So as Kristen mentioned, the first trend that we saw is that old and new communities saw similar rates of engagement. I think as all of us were preparing for this webinar and reading the report, we were all very surprised to hear this. So it is really interesting. And what we're talking about when we say old and new communities, we're talking about communities that were either launched prior to March 2020 when COVID began and new is referring to any communities that were launched after March 2020. So we saw similar rates of engagement when we looked at associations at their engagement in November 2020 and August 2021. They were at very similar levels. And so what's interesting about this is not necessarily like what do these two groups of organizations do differently, but what could we do now moving forward if you're in one of those buckets to make sure that you're continuing to see the engagement that you would like to see? So if you started your community before COVID, that means your community at this stage is at least a year and a half old. And in community speak, that's actually you're getting pretty mature at that point, you're past your first year, you've successfully launched, you're getting a good feel for what your members connect about in the online community. So how do you maintain that engagement? There are a couple of key tactics that we would recommend. So first off, develop a community plan. I would hope that that's something you've thought about or maybe have put into place by now, but it's really key to ensure the long success of your online community. When we at Higher Logic help develop strategic plans for our clients, we make them about six months to a year out and we're keeping in mind what the larger goals are. So we want to be able to look at our strategic plan and say, " Okay, if our goal is increase membership by 20% over the next year and have the community have a direct influence in that, that informs what tactics we are going to employ in the community." I see people often get really tied down in very small tactics like, " Hey, we want to increase discussion posts." That's very common goal that associations have. And it's a great goal, it's one that absolutely makes sense. But why do you want to see discussions increase? It needs to tie back to that larger goal in order for there to be an impact. Because if you can say if you say... If at the end of your first year, your second year of your community you can say, " We increased discussion posts by 50%," what does that mean? How did that tie back to your larger goal of membership acquisition or membership renewals? Secondly, it's a great idea always to do a community health survey. And in the engagement trends report, you'll see that we have a guide from CMX linked that you can go take a look at. Community health surveys though are awesome to be able to survey your members about what they like in the community, what they see on other platforms that they don't see in your community, but they want, and what they feel is still missing. I'm encouraging a lot of my clients to do this right now because a lot of them are considering launching a mobile app. And so we're trying to gauge whether or not that's something their members would want before we go and put forth all this effort and energy into developing that. So that might be something that you want to do before your next strategic roadmap. You might want to consider doing a survey and letting those results inform the tactics that you'll employ for the next six months to a year. Next would be let's think about making a content calendar. Content calendars, I think, often get overlooked because they're so common. Our marketing teams use them. Everyone knows what a content calendar is, but I think people forget that sometimes you... well, most of the time you really want a specific content calendar for the online community. And I believe we have an example here so I'll skip ahead to that quickly. And so with a content calendar what you're doing is really identifying the content that you want to be posting to the community on a regular basis. One question I always get related to content calendars is, " Well, I thought one of the cardinal rules was not to have staff engage in the community." And that's true, but this is a different kind of staff engagement. So when staff engagement is planned and it's something that members can expect and it's of significance to the members, it has a very different impact than when staff are just randomly popping up in the community and maybe answering members' questions and things like that. So when you develop a content calendar like maybe every Monday you're posting a wellness tip for your members and every Tuesday you're posting a tip on how to connect in the community, maybe every Wednesday you're sharing a resource that you want to highlight to the membership that's new or an old one but it's always used. Having a content calendar is really important and then it's interesting to see what content of that calendar your members are engaging with the most. Also, for mature communities, it's always a great idea to go ahead and refresh the look and feel of your community. Again, coming back to that survey, it's a great idea to include in the survey, how are people coming into the community? When I did this with a lot of my clients, it was really interesting because we found that members were not visiting the homepage as much. So we were putting forth all this energy into the homepage when people weren't coming in that way, they were actually... They were coming into the community based on if they saw something interesting in their daily digest and then they would click on that in their email and go to the community and they were bypassing the homepage completely. So that totally changed our tactics around where we were putting content that we wanted people to see. So that's always something to consider too and then upgrading the design based on results you get like that. And I'm going to go back a few slides again. So thinking about if you have a more mature... or excuse me, a newer community, there are a couple tactics that you want to consider that are a little bit different. You might still be very much in your infancy or you could be close to a year old at this point with your community. One thing that's always good to evaluate especially as you're coming on staffing and budget conversations is considering your staff plan for the community. If you don't have an online community manager yet, which a lot of organizations I think don't start out with one because they think, " Let's see how this goes. We'll see if we can staff it with our usual staff." And then they realize later on, " Okay, this community has taken on a life of its own and it's time to put someone completely dedicated to that project." So consider if it's time for you to hire that person at your association. We did a whole session at Super Forum last week on how to hire the right community manager so I'd encourage you to check that out if you haven't already. But what's important to remember is the right person might already be at your association, you might not need to hire externally for that. So just consider all options when you're thinking about the staffing plan or if it's something that at this point, it still can be managed by multiple people. If your community is also new, one common pitfall that we see is when people think that the online community should reside in one department. So a lot of times we see the community be siloed into the marketing department or the membership department and other departments feel like it's not their thing to touch. Maybe that's how it starts as you're building up the community, but that's not going to give you as much success long term. When you're thinking about what you need to do in the community, coming back to that content calendar example, you might need to get input from other departments on what content you're posting and they need to realize the value of what that will bring to them if they're going to put in effort to helping you develop that. Trust me, once you have a successful community too, other departments are going to want to come in and join and have their voices heard in it. So it's also going to be important that you develop frameworks around how you want staff to engage. A lot of my organizations that I work with develop separate staff rules of engagement so that everyone knows, " Hey, you don't go post all the time. This is how it's best appropriate to engage with the community." Because you don't want it to become this space where community members feel like they're being watched all the time by staff. If you don't have an online community yet, those are two important things to consider between the staffing plan and getting internal buy- in. And there's a couple resources linked in the engagement trends report for you to take a look at if that is something that you'd like to do. And I will go ahead and pass it over to Kristen for some questions.

Kristen Parody: Yeah, Corey, thanks for participating again today. So couple questions for you. What has been the value of your community for your members during the pandemic?

Cory Elford: Oh my goodness. That's such a loaded question, right? Well, I probably should start off by saying that I'm still relatively new to our association. I actually started in February, which starting a new job in a pandemic when everything is online is very interesting in itself. But it definitely allowed me to kind of take a step back and really have an opportunity to learn what's been done and what people are... what they think are working and what's not working. I will tell you that, and I think this kind of goes across the board really for anything, not just associations, the pandemic really, as Sarah mentioned earlier, put a spotlight on just digital access, digital conversation. It was the safest and easiest and fastest way for us to download information of what's going on within any industry within the world. And so I don't... I think we all know it's not going to go away anytime soon. This is probably going to be how things are going to look for a long time and maybe will look for the foreseeable future. But our communities, especially within the Meeting Professionals industry, it took a massive hit and we are not back to square yet. And so there were a lot of people that lost their jobs, there were a lot of people that couldn't host their large scale events and meetings and everything was just put on the back burner. And so our communities were exceptionally valuable to them because they were talking to each other, they were finding out what's working for people, what's not working for people. It was their gateway to information directly to people that knew what they were experiencing and what was going on. And we needed to do a better job. I was hired specifically to make sure that our communities had a stronger presence within our association because it became such an important and vital aspect within the meeting industry. And so I would say that the value became pretty great. And actually we took a poll at our last signature event in June. It used to be that education was the top reason that people were kind of existing on our community forum and that's not the case anymore. The top value that all of our attendees said was the reason why they were there is because of networking. And again, I just think that that is essential and really the heartbeat of our association right now is just having that platform to be able to talk to each other.

Kristen Parody: Yeah, it's been tough. I'm sure in the meeting world obviously everything going virtual, canceling the events and still trying to stay connected and figure out how to pivot was a huge challenge last year. I'm excited to hear too kind of what you've been working on in a strategic inaudible your community because I know it was created pre COVID. So can you tell us a bit about how your community and how the strategy has changed over the past few months?

Cory Elford: Yeah. So just going back to the reason why I was hired, I sort of double dip. It was interesting to hear Sarah talk about how the community manager can get siloed in the marketing because I'm a marketing manager and I'm also the community manager at my association so I very much split two sides here. But I actually think that that's significantly helped me in building up our communities. This has definitely been a significant year of change for our communities. I think just given my background and the fact that I worked with people, worked in marketing, worked in branding, I just saw our communities differently than my predecessors. I think before me communities was sort of a nice thought, like we're going to create this digital space, this digital community where anybody can start their own community whether it's underwater basket weaving or it's people who work in the medical event professionals industry. And so I think that well really just kind of taking a step back, what I did was I interviewed each of our chairs of each community. And for those of you that are obviously not familiar with MPI and the way that we're built, we're a meeting professionals association. And so we have a lot of different verticals that we cater to in a lot of different industries. And so we have right now eight core communities that are sort of the foundation of our forum. And initially it was called My MPI. If you want to just like take a step back on the last slide, that kind of shows you what I inherited. So you can see our forums were called My MPI. For those of you that are familiar with branding, it was atrocious in my opinion. Nobody knew what My MPI was when you looked at it, especially for new members it's like, what is My MPI? It was over branded in my opinion. It was off brand in color, it was clunky. When I decided... When I interviewed each of our community chairs and the heads of our core communities, their number one hurdle was that they're out there selling the hottest technologies and here we are with this like 1990 looking interface community forums. And it just wasn't jiving. People were embarrassed to market it. They were embarrassed to promote it from a member perspective and so we needed to fix it fast. And luckily, our partner at Higher Logic was fantastic. She knew that this was a huge problem for us and she was like, " You know what? Let's take a look at what we can do to make this a little shinier." And so if you go ahead, move forward to the next slide, you can see simple is definitely key. It's significantly more cleaner. You feel like you can breathe easier. It's on brand now with our colors and we made it very simple and just called it community forums because that's exactly what it is. And people don't have to take... they don't have to guess. And so that significantly helped us. We actually launched the new interface in June, we've been calling it the facelift. And even from that moment, we saw a significant increase in activity just because people weren't embarrassed to be on there anymore. And something that is really significant for our community forums page is we have a lot of sponsors that look to the activity, the education, the problem solving initiatives that happen on these threads and they decide whether or not they want to spend money and sponsor us. And so this is vital to the livelihood of our association because without those sponsorships, we wouldn't be where we are today. And so we have to make sure that this is a very attractive place to be.

Kristen Parody: I love that perspective, keeping the members in mind, keeping the look and feel in mind and making it a place that's welcoming and makes sense for people. Thank you. Let's head on to trend two, Sarah. For trend two we saw that smaller organizations have more active users. So for this trend, we looked at community engagement based on association size as it relates to revenue. We saw that as revenue increased, the percent of active users went down. So you can see in this chart here organizations with between$1 and 500, 000 in revenue averaged 60 to 70% active users. Our next wave was 500,000 to a million in revenue and that group averaged 49% to 59% active users. And as we hit into the bigger ones, over a million in revenue was seen in under 50% in active users. And when you got to 10 million in revenue, that number dropped to under 30. So this trend isn't super surprising for a few reasons, smaller organizations probably already know a lot of the other users. There's trust. They're at those same networking events, they see similar faces. So that online trust is really people know that they can go to that community and post questions and get answers from people they're familiar with. And they maybe aren't as intimidated to do so because they know that, the people who are actively posting. For larger organizations, it's a lot easier to sit on the sidelines as a user, watch the conversations and not engage at all. With larger organizations, they might also have more non- members who have active community accounts but don't participate. So what can you do with this? Smaller organizations really think about ways to personalize your community using personalized call to actions, creating automation rules to contact users who have never posted, encouraging them to share questions and spotlight members who aren't frequent posters. I think we always sometimes think about spotlighting those who are active, but highlighting the folks that maybe are just doing something cool but aren't participating as much to kind of encourage them to be more active. Similar to hosting ask the expert sessions can really help get more conversation going, highlight someone who's an influencer in a field. And then on a larger organizational side, really thinking about ways to segment your users into smaller groups so that they can feel more welcomed and be less intimidated to participate. So host private round table events, encourage members to add a profile picture. Also maybe think about dividing your community into smaller sub communities. That way, the conversation's a little bit more intimate and can really help drive engagement a little bit more and get more active users in the group. Sarah, questions for Corey?

Sarah Maloney: Yeah, thanks. So Corey, as you talked about, you brought more exposure and promotion to your online community, but can you tell us a little more specifically about maybe a couple key things that you did to help that?

Cory Elford: Yeah. I talked about obviously the big thing was sort of kicking everything off with updating the interface, but also the user experience was pretty clunky. Each of our core communities... Well, I guess I should take a step back and say that when I first logged on to our community forums, we had over 200 different communities. And that, me personally, I feel that that's very overwhelming for a new member to log on for the first time because who's going to take time to sit there and go through that many choices? And we have a very large association, we're the largest in our space and it is a global association. And so you kind of have to find ways to make it feel smaller to people especially if they're brand new so that they're not intimidated and that the they're able to find their little niche or their verticals that they feel like they can really fit into so that the association doesn't feel so large. And so I went through and anybody that hadn't... any community that hadn't had activity in over a year, and by activity I mean, somebody getting online and logging on and posting something, we just got rid of it. And again, it felt you could breathe more. For those that were brand new, it was easier for them to find those core communities, it was easier to find their community chapters, groups and the whole experience was just a lot easier for people to digest. We also started automation which was really important because each of our core communities has sort of a different feel to it and they appeal to very different audiences. And so I had each of our community chairs write a personalized welcome letter that auto populates whenever we have somebody join the community. And again, it's just all about that connection, right? It's all about letting somebody tracking that customer journey and letting people know that there are multiple touch points in which somebody is going to reach out to them. They're not going to be able to just log onto the forums and kind of hide into the background, right? We want them to get engaged, that everyone has excellent content, excellent ideas, excellent experiences that we need them to share and we need every member to kind of play that part. And so that engagement piece is really, really important and really the customization aspect is key.

Sarah Maloney: Totally, that makes a lot of sense. With engagement, do you have any additional plans that you'd like to share for the coming year?

Cory Elford: Yes. I'm knee deep in developing our 2022 plans. And one of the, I think biggest hurdles personally for me as I believe it was Sarah that you were mentioning earlier is communities, it's a job in itself, right? It's a big job too, and it's a lot, especially if you want people to stay engaged and especially if you work for a larger association like I do. And so frankly, I was having a really difficult time trying to balance the membership side of our marketing department, as well as making sure that our communities were strong and sufficient. And this was sort of a plan that came into fruition prior to my time at MPI. But we always knew that we wanted our communities to be more self- sufficient and more self- governing. So when I joined MPI, we had a governance system in which there was a chair, co- chair for each of our core communities. And they sort of managed their own community within itself and then they had their global community manager, me, that was their connection to global. And I kind of thought about this with my boss, our VP of brand engagement and thought there is a way to make this self- governance significantly more easier for everyone by creating an overarching community board. And so going into 2022, we are going to have a new governments model where we're going to have a board. Essentially we are electing somebody within our formal election process where it'll be one representative from each community that will serve on this board. And they will all work together to help our communities grow and become more streamlined. I don't think it's a secret that not all communities, especially with ours are kind of on the same level. We have some communities that really don't have the leadership that some of our other stronger communities do. And so we really wanted to even that out a little bit and have everybody sort of benefit from the leadership and the dedication and the involvement of some of our current chairs. So that'll be changing. And then we also... one of the biggest things that I really needed within this election process is making sure that people that are elected are really technology savvy. Because I do think that there is a certain amount of learning that comes with learning the Higher Logic platform and staying engaged. And I would be lying if I said that there weren't multiple conversations that I had to have with people sometimes on, well, how do I do this when I post, or I'm trying to upload my event and it's not working for me. And so I really need a strong group of people that can figure it out even if they don't know what they're doing right away. And so that technology component was key. And also another aspect of that is going to be having somebody from each community that's dedicated specifically to engagement within each of the community forums. And it's going to be their job to uphold the content calendar that we put together, make sure that people are feeling welcomed, they're engaged, making sure that each of the channels don't become stagnant. And so that person is also going to be key. And this is some of our branding, it looks like we might be missing a picture. But this kind of as you a little snippet of some of the stuff that we've worked on. But we've definitely taken a very lighthearted approach with some of our imaging in our branding. And also on the global side we do social media takeovers, really finding ways to cast a wider net so that people that don't know about MPI or even that are a member of MPI and aren't familiar with our communities know that we're here.

Sarah Maloney: Great, thanks. And now we'll move on to the third trend.

Kristen Parody: Yeah. And I love that puppy photo. Great, great. So the third trend that we found this year is that industry changes can impact community engagement. So we looked at industry segments as a whole, including verticals like government, hospitality, retail, et cetera. We looked at five different time points between November 2020 through August 2021. So we noticed some fluctuations and seasonalities seemed to impact community engagement. So here are some examples where we saw fluctuations in the data, first being retail. So in November 2020, the segment had 39% active users, and that dropped to 35% by August 2021. So this trend seems to align with the holiday shopping season and we expect this engagement to start picking up again now that we head into the holiday shopping season for this year. So science and engineering segment saw an active users grow from 27% in November 2020 to 31% in August 2021. So we assume that this trend is pandemic related, that there was a lot of conversations about everything that was going on with the pandemic and the science behind it. The third group here is the real estate industry, and this had one of the highest percentages of active users, at 51%. So this trend likely corresponds with the high US housing market. The pandemic also was a significant engagement driver. So in March of 2021, 81% of our customers had a significant uptick in the online commute engagement. From March to November of 2020, we saw 33% increase in usage and new members across our platforms. Very anecdotally, I noticed that higher engagement would happen when new policy changes and compliance information would come out. And I'm sure Corey you probably saw the same thing as like we were able to meet in small groups of 25 to a hundred and what that kind of meant for meetings and initiatives that you all can plan. So industry changes like this are a great opportunity to capitalize in your community, but you want to make sure that you're planning for these slow times and keep a steady content calendar and be adaptable to all these relevant topics as they come up. So things that you can do. Make sure that you are increasing on this, pay attention to what people are searching for, those relevant key terms, what are the hot topics, putting content around those ask me anything events, additional information, virtual round tables, all of that super helpful. And also make sure to spend time building those sponsorship packages. When you have high engagement, it's a great time to get some of those extra revenue points in. And in slow times use your seed content, build up a little bit of curation of those so that you can go to whenever engagement starts to dip a little bit, and then keep that content calendar really up to date. This is those times to really start planning for what's coming up ahead. And then make sure you're also highlighting popular content. So if you have a newsletter that goes out, drive traffic to your ongoing community by highlighting those most popular discussion and threads and resources but you can also do that through social media and other platforms that you have going on. Sarah, I'll kick it over to you for more questions.

Sarah Maloney: Yeah, so just one question this time around for Corey. So thinking about content calendars as I was talking about there, a big benefit that they bring is that you can sure that there are things being posted to the community, especially when there are lulls. And I believe you have something related to that plan for 2022. So do you mind walking us through that a little bit?

Cory Elford: Yeah. I mean, admittedly, I'm currently in knee deep and planning it. But one of the things I mentioned earlier in is that I sort of have the benefit of being a part of the marketing team too. So we're allowed or we're able to really kind of connect or bridge those two departments, if you will and sort of share the wealth on engagement. One thing that's really important to MPI about our communities is we really want our communities to be the vehicle for new member acquisition. Especially right now just going back to the conversation about the pandemic, within our industry it's been very challenging. It's been a very challenging year and a half for many people and a lot of them had to leave the industry because they weren't able to host live events. And hosting digital events is also very challenging too, it's a whole different ballgame. And so know a lot of the strategy in our marketing really needed to change, right? Because now we needed to cater to a group of people who used to be in the industry and for whatever reason aren't able to anymore, or even maybe their company was cutting budgets and they weren't able to have their MPI membership anymore. I mean, really the situations were endless. And so we really had to sit down and brainstorm what our messaging looked like and try and tie that into what membership was doing. When I started, we had initially sort of paired our content calendar with our publications team. And in looking through it, I realized this isn't really doing very much for our audience right now. I mean, sure, people like wellness, right? And there were certain promos that we were offering, but it wasn't really speaking to what people needed. And so in looking at our content calendar and our strategy as far as marketing the communities going into 2022, one of the biggest things we're doing is we are branding communities as a whole. So we're actually going to start that exercise here going into the next couple of weeks where communities for MPI will have its own persona so that people are able to identify it and it becomes a stronger component of the values of being a member at MPI. And then obviously to go along with that is what can we do month to month to really tie the content between all of our departments, all of our vital departments, which would be education, our chapters. We have over 75 chapters across the entire world. And so that's a lot of people that need to utilize these resources, as well as our communities. And so really just making sure that everybody is kind of on the same page. But yeah, having a content calendar is going to be key for engagement, it's also going to be key for letting people know that we're here.

Sarah Maloney: Awesome. That's so insightful and it's great to hear what you guys have done and what you're thinking of doing too. All right. So wrapping it up, we're going to talk about some key takeaways. As you can see here, going into 2022, it's all about having a strategy. That's what you want to think of. If you haven't started putting it together yet for the next year, I would encourage you to start thinking about doing so. As things get slower a little bit around the holidays, you have some opportunity to work on that. And when you are putting together that strategy, just make sure that you're tying it back to your association strategy and overall goals. So Kristen, how would you recommend teams go about doing that?

Kristen Parody: Yeah, so I think the first thing is just making sure your community team has a seat at that table. So just as your marketing team or your social team does, and if you're a team of one, understand that that's always a little bit harder for you. But be there, think about it. Your community can really help you brainstorm ideas, give you insight into what you should be focusing on and help drive awareness of new initiatives. So I really think planning in advance, plan with the content calendar, but be flexible with it so that you can capitalize on those hot topic times. And then track your progress too. See how the community engagement is affecting your member satisfaction or your renewal rates. So there might be some value there that you aren't always capturing. So have that in mind too so that you can be putting some effort into being like if someone's engaging in the community, they're maybe more likely to renew than somebody who's not. So how can we make sure you'll see that trend and really bring that to the table to focus on what we should be doing in the community?

Sarah Maloney: Great. Thank you. And Corey, how have you connected the community goals to your organization's goals at MPI?

Cory Elford: Well, I think one big driver for us is obviously how can we use our communities to help drive engagement, help drive membership, whether it's new member acquisition or whether that's on the sales side with sponsorships. And so I will tell you that I work incredibly close with our membership department, as well as with our business development team in making sure that they have everything they need from our communities in order to be able to properly promote them and really kind of spell out their value. And then of course, on the membership side, just being there to welcome any new members or potential new members with open arms. I think that one of the biggest challenges that we've all faced is everyone is looking for solutions. And so being able to provide a platform which houses those conversations and that ideation around what can be done and how we can all move forward together is key. So lots of conversations and many meetings in my week that definitely involve lots of other business units. One thing too, that we recently implemented that is going to be essential for us going into next year is we just implemented an acumen, which is data intelligence. And that in itself has really opened my eyes to a lot because it's allowed me to see who partnering with in conjunction with Higher Logic. It allows me to see what conversations are the most popular, what's taking place, who our influencers are. That's going to be huge for me and for our new community board going into next year, is really honing in on our top influencers and making sure that they're a part of our strategy. Because they're our big advocates, they're our ambassadors, and if we're not utilizing them, then it's going to be really challenging to get buy- in. And so acumen is really going to be a massive part of our plan going into next year.

Sarah Maloney: All right. Awesome. And now, Kristen, what are some of the fundamentals that an association should have in place to make sure their community is set up for success? What have you seen?

Kristen Parody: So first off is a plan, that roadmap, that content calendar, we've talked about it so much today, but really making sure you're thinking about it from a foresight. And the other big thing is really putting in what are the member needs. So Sarah you mentioned that the members' needs weren't the homepage because they were logging in from a different area. So putting their needs first and not putting the inaudible needs versus an organization because they're going to feel bad. So really putting your shoes, have empathy for your members, kind of ask them questions, make sure that's working for them and then that'll give them that more welcoming environment to come back and be willing to participate.

Sarah Maloney: All right. Great. Well with that, we have concluded our piece of the presentation. Do we have any questions so far that have come in from the audience, Kristen?

Kristen Parody: Yeah, let's... So we've got some people asked about active users. So how is an active user defined? Is an active user the same as an engaged user? If I go to the community to access content, am I an active user? Great, great question. We have that displayed here and we have the formal definition in the trends report so let me find that page and read it verbatim for you. So what is an active user? Has logged into the community in the past 120 days or receives community email digest. So then we looked at the percentage of active users by how many active users are over the total users the organization has.

Sarah Maloney: So active and engaged are sometimes the same, but sometimes they're not, so that's a great question.

Kristen Parody: The second question here, and I can bring this one to the team at large, how do you define engagement?

Sarah Maloney: Corey, do you want to take that one?

Cory Elford: Yeah, I'd love to. I mean, I will say that I feel very spoiled because I work for an association that has some of the most, if not the most passionate members. I mean, they are insanely intelligent and so engaged. I mean, frankly we have an over abundance of content that we have to kind of pull the reins back a little bit. I think for us in our community forums, we specifically define engagement as how strong are the conversations that are taking place, how many posts are happening within a certain timeframe and are people responding to those posts? Are they quality posts? Are people utilizing our libraries? Are they posting up white papers? Are they sharing education? These are all things that as an association we look at as a whole really to determine the health of our communities. And so that's how we see engagement.

Sarah Maloney: Great. And it's tough to answer that question, I think broadly, because it does just totally depend on what your organization's goals are. I work with some organizations who, for example, tracking the amount of library downloads and views on library entries is really important and other associations don't care about it at all. So it totally depends on what is important to you and where you want to drive that member activity and then that'll inform what metrics are most important for you to track to see who's engaged.

Kristen Parody: Yeah, absolutely Sarah. I think that that's really something to think about as you're planning too, is like, where is the value that your members get in the community? Is the value very heavily weighted on the resources that we share that maybe are in the library, or is the value from the discussion questions or from your mentor program? Understanding that and what the members value can also help you weight sort of what you pull into that engagement metric. And if you're not sure, start small, it can always be adaptable. Start somewhere, start tracking it and then always adjust and revisit as you get more information and learn more about your users. All right, Corey, I've got another question here for you with just a few minutes left in our presentation today. But Corey, how will you pick the people on your community advisory board?

Cory Elford: But as far as picking the leaders of our board and who's going to work with wean and manage, I mentioned earlier one of the biggest components is going to be somebody that is already an active engager and also an influencer. It almost feels like sort of a unicorn position in itself, right? Because it's somebody who's very familiar with how our forums work and with Higher Logic, somebody who's technology savvy is going to be key. But I will tell you that I really need a good mixture of people, right? I need a good mixture of tenure. So I need our most seasoned members, but then I also don't want to alienate our newest members. And we want every circumstance to be heard and have a seat at the table and so it has to be a very diverse group of people. And that's one of the reasons why for this year in particular, we asked for the election process to represent one person from each community so that every community had somebody that could really speak to the unique challenges that they're faced with and currently what they're working on so all of that could be taken into consideration.

Kristen Parody: Yeah, that's great. Getting a wide both getting some diversity of ideas and thoughts and into that community, into that advisory group will be very helpful and I'm glad that all of your communities will be represented.

Sarah Maloney: Corey, thank you for joining us today. It's been really valuable to have all of your insight shared from a customer's perspective, and we really appreciate that.

Alex Mastrianni: That's going to do it for today's episode of the Member Engagement Show. As a reminder, if you want to read the full engagement trends report, check out our episode notes or visit the Higher Logic website for the link. See you on the next episode.


Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen communities spring up faster than ever before—digital became the primary way for members to connect. So we reviewed data from more than one thousand association member communities to identify the most common trends. 

Check out this on-demand webinar with Higher Logic's resident online community experts, along with Cory Elford, Manager of Communities and Membership Marketing at Meeting Professionals International. 

They share key findings from this year's report, with insights on some of the most effective tactics you can implement to boost member engagement at your association (and how to sustain it).

Today's Host

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Alex Mastrianni

|Sr. Manager of Product Marketing at Higher Logic
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Heather McNair

|Community Industry Expert

Today's Guests

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Kristen Parody

|Strategic Services Consultant at Higher Logic
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Sara Maloney

|Team Lead, Strategic Services at Higher Logic
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Cory Elford

|Manager of Communities and Membership Marketing at Meeting Professionals International