Align, Automate, Activate with Rebekah Weidner and Josh Slyman

Episode Thumbnail
This is a podcast episode titled, Align, Automate, Activate with Rebekah Weidner and Josh Slyman. The summary for this episode is: <p>On this week’s episode, Alex and Heather take a look at a conference they had last year called Super Forum Virtual. Because not everyone was able to join, they chose one of their favorite and highly informative sessions to play today! You’ll hear experts Rebekah Weidner and Josh Slyman talk about using the power of data to personalize communications! Rebekah is a Senior Copywriter and Content Strategist for Illinois Association of School Business Officials, and Josh is a Senior Consultant with Higher Logic.</p>
00:18 MIN
Deliver Impactful Content
00:35 MIN
Personalized Messages
00:37 MIN
Calls to Action
00:58 MIN
Power of Community
00:32 MIN
Connections in Data
00:32 MIN

Alex Mastriani: 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 Mastriani: I'm Alex Mastriani. And we're happy you're here.

Heather McNair: Hey Alex, how are you doing today?

Alex Mastriani: I'm great, Heather. Happy to be here.

Heather McNair: Yeah, me too. So in our last episode, we were joined by some great panelists talking about virtual events. And if anyone missed it, take a few minutes, check it out. And related, last year we took our own user group conference, Super Forum Virtual, and we know not everyone was able to join. So we wanted to share some of the amazing content that came from that event with you today.

Alex Mastriani: Yeah. One of my favorite sessions from the conference was one where we had a Higher Logic customer that's using our platform share their story about how they're personalizing their email communications based on a member's online community interests or behaviors. Becca Weidner from Illinois ASBO is joined by a Higher Logic senior consultant, Josh Slyman, to tell us her story.

Heather McNair: Yeah, I think this is one of the most exciting things about really using the power of data to personalize those communications with your members. And you'll walk away from their discussion today with practical goal- driven strategies to mobilize your own integrated community and curate those topics of value. You'll figure out how to identify and activate those members who may be interested in attending your events, who you can tap into to create content. Those people who may become ambassadors for you. Those champions in your membership. And even those you can tap into for financial contributions for fundraising.

Alex Mastriani: Hey Josh. Hey Rebecca, let's turn it over to you to hear your story.

Josh Slyman: Great.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah, I'm excited to be here.

Josh Slyman: I'm Josh Slyman, senior community manager and strategist here at Higher Logic. I've been serving as the IASBO integrated platform coach for a little over a year now. So together, Rebecca and I are going to talk you through some of our initiatives. We'll hit on how Illinois ASBO use Higher Logic to drive goals around life cycle automations, content planning, and identifying behavioral insights within the platforms that they could leverage. Becca, I heard a rumor that you just hit your 10 year anniversary.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. Yesterday.

Josh Slyman: Congratulations.

Rebecca Weidner: Thank you.

Josh Slyman: So how did you find yourself at Illinois ASBO?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah, so I don't know how many can relate, but I wasn't really aware of the association industry, but I had just returned to the US after teaching English abroad and was looking for a job as a marketing copywriter. And, of course, the job that popped up in my area was at Illinois ASBO. So, now, I've been with them for 10- years, and it's been a great spot to learn and grow.

Josh Slyman: Wow. That's amazing. That's amazing. Why don't you give us a little brief introduction into the organization? What do you do? Your team? Day- to- day responsibilities?

Rebecca Weidner: Sure. Illinois ASBO stands for Association of School Business Officials. So we are a professional association for school administrators. We have around 1700 members, including 330 service associates. That's what we call our vendor members. We have a 13 person staff and four people on our marketing and publication team. Our marketing team, we're a mighty four, we wear a lot of hats. We have a print publication that we create in- house, and that goes out four times a year. We work on all of our event marketing. We have multiple websites micro- sites that we manage. We also are in charge of all the branding for our products and our events and tag onto that online community.

Josh Slyman: inaudible. Of course, absolutely. Wow. So clearly, your four- person team has a lot on your plate. Let's talk about the ecosystem you guys have built within Higher Logic to help solve problems for your membership and your team. You use the CMS to manage your whole main website. I think that's an underutilized feature. What was the benefit in using the CMS to host your site?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. So we previously used the CMS that was provided by our AMS, but it kind of looked like something out of the early nineties. I don't know. I didn't have a lot of functionality. So we were seeking a new CMS, and I actually got a call from Higher Logic, and they offered to show us their platform for websites. And we really liked the idea of connecting our community and our website seamlessly and having that backend power to use both in an interconnected way.

Josh Slyman: So you also use... you have the online community product. You have communications professional or informs. I see you utilize quite a few micro- sites, and I think this is only half of them.

Rebecca Weidner: Mm- hmm(affirmative).

Josh Slyman: And then you also just recently took on the event engagement platform. That's a high- level usage of the Higher Logic platform. Very cool. So I know one of the biggest goals from your executive team really was to help step up the use of the platform, open up some team capacity. It sounds like the leadership in the organization was really willing to invest in your team. It looks like two of our primary goals for the year were really based around internal efficiency. Having that executive- level buy- in must really help. What's the biggest impact of having that support?

Rebecca Weidner: Sure. So I'm really grateful. I have a very supportive executive director and COO, and they both really support our professional development and helping us succeed in our roles. So when we brought up the word efficiency, obviously when you have a small staff efficiency is what you want. So we really wanted to focus on less duplication of efforts, on streamlining what we were doing. And we saw strategic services at Higher Logic as a useful way to have somebody come in and help us figure out how to streamline everything that we were doing. And we got really lucky because we got Josh as our advisor. And it's really been cool to see how that's impacting the work that we do.

Josh Slyman: Well, that's awesome. Well, thank you for the kind words, for sure. So after some initial interviews, investigations within the organization, we found a strong need across the team to understand sort of the behavior of membership within the platform. Can you share some of the problems your stakeholders were trying to sort of get a hand on by getting this insight?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. So internally I think we have a pretty good grasp on who our members are as far as their demographics, their jobs, things like that. But we saw a gap in our understanding of their behaviors across our whole ecosystem and what they were interacting with on our website or in our emails. So we weren't really doing a good job mining that data to better understand what they wanted. So we thought we could deliver more impactful content if we had that understanding of what they were actually doing within our platforms.

Josh Slyman: Oh, that's really, really smart. And it's neat to know that you were able to sort of identify that that value is there, but you weren't exactly sure how to capture it.

Rebecca Weidner: Mm- hmm(affirmative).

Josh Slyman: One of the places that we saw some opportunity based on the conversation of goals was to implement some automations to help reduce repeated work, solve some internal pains. We thought this really might be one of the most effective ways to drill down on that staff efficiency as quickly as possible. I know we're going to touch a little bit on renewal campaign that we worked on. What other life cycle campaigns have we been sort of working on and have in the pipeline?

Rebecca Weidner: We are working continually on revising our annual conference marketing efforts. We'll be working on some better touchpoints for our new members through our new member campaign, as well as our lapsed members, which with COVID and everything going on this year, that's an important campaign to try and win back those who we may have lost.

Josh Slyman: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's great. So in our efforts here to align our tools and our data. I just wanted to sort of talk, touch base on what it is that we are leveraging here. So we're going to use our integrations, our campaign builder, landing pages, dynamic groups, personalization, and leverage those data points, AMS demographics, event attendance, email actions, web visits just to work into these life cycle initiatives. One of our first priorities was really to deliver more relevant calls to action in the annual conference communications in order to drive registrations. Did you have any ideas, Becca, about how to make the annual conference campaign more relevant to the reader?

Rebecca Weidner: Sure. Yeah. In our database, we have people who work for school districts, our members. So we actually track what their specific role is in the district. So that seemed like an easy way to segment content like sessions or professional development that might be relevant to their role.

Josh Slyman: Great. Yeah. So here's a snippet of that campaign flow, where we took the opportunity to deliver personalized messages based on role. So you can see here we're splitting them based on their role within the organization or their title at their employment and then sending each down a personalized path. The content, the calls to action, personalized based on the role to drive that emotional connection. Wow, we had a 52% open rate, which is really impressive. Sounds like that message was pretty compelling.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. We were really excited about that result because that was our first time testing that segmentation for our conference.

Josh Slyman: Yeah. And it sounds like delivering that relevant content to the right person at the right time, really sort of helped to drive that action. I know everything changed on a dime in 2020, and ultimately this event was canceled. But we also did see a 20% conversion rate early in the campaign.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. That was exciting for us. We didn't complete the campaign. So we don't have the insight on if that changed the ultimate attendance numbers. But we definitely noticed an early increase in our registrations, which of course is good for revenue and was a very positive result of that campaign.

Josh Slyman: Yeah, that's exciting. So, hopefully, we can continue to leverage that learning going forward and roll that into our future efforts. You also found an opportunity upsell conference exhibitors who had purchased a marketplace- only option the previous year. We wanted to see if we could get them to grab that full version, the full registration. Can you tell us a little bit about the thought process on that?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. So those who registered for that marketplace only option. They got different messages within the campaign that really encouraged them to get the full experience. This inaudible email was actually sent to all of our exhibitor prospects. But it was kind of fun because we looked at our past data at what members were interacting with within our emails. And we found out that the top clicked item was our exhibit hall map, which was kind of actually surprising. I didn't know that was that interesting. So we're like, let's make an email that puts them at front and center. Clever headline with personalization. Nobody Wants To Put Your Organization in a Corner, and give them that fear of missing out of not getting stuck in a corner of the exhibit hall.

Josh Slyman: Oh, right, right. Yeah. I thought this was a really creative use of the segmentation by going after the previous registration type. But also bringing in that unique personalization attempt and showcasing the value ultimately of the full purchase versus the lower discount version. So again, ultimately, the event didn't happen due to COVID. But what we really did see was that we were able to move those numbers up by 13%. So, fewer people were purchasing the lower- cost option, and more people purchasing the full option. You must've gotten some accolades around the office for that one.

Rebecca Weidner: You could say that.

Josh Slyman: That's great.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. I think the more exciting data point in some ways for us was just the early registrations that we were getting, which, based off of our first email on the campaign, we'd already converted 7. 5% of those prospects. So-

Josh Slyman: Wow crosstalk-

Rebecca Weidner: So that was a good result for us.

Josh Slyman: Yeah, that's neat. That's a great result for a first touchpoint, for sure. I assume this is another tactic we're going to keep moving forward with.

Rebecca Weidner: Yep.

Josh Slyman: All right. We also looked at some content initiatives and really wanted to work in some template navigation throughout actually most of the mailings that the team was working on. We really felt that this was important in that it improved opportunities for quick linking to high- value properties within the organization. It reminds the subscriber of member value and drives emotional connections. And it adds convenience and trust, and authenticity for the end- user. So I really do like this tactic in bringing in more value to our emails by sort of replicating a website navigation.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. Another tactic that we've implemented, really, across all of our email communications is thinking about our calls to action. And if we're putting in there what the member wants and not what we want. So, of course, we want somebody to register for an event or renew their membership. But in this case, to renew, and maybe they want to continue learning. So we've used a lot of these types of calls to action, and they've gotten, as you can see here, very good response from members.

Josh Slyman: Yeah. This button generated 88% of the total clicks for this email. I think it's a really great perspective to sort of remember that as organizations, sometimes we get so focused on our desired outcomes and our directives that we forget that our members' motivations might be slightly differently. And if we position ourselves to drive sort of our desired outcomes while speaking and serving the members' motivations, we can start to see results like this. Very cool. So basically you can see how that really sort of shows across the renewal campaign as a whole. We had a 56.6% open rate. A 40. 6% click- through rate, and that was across the campaign as a whole. Really being driven by those direct dynamic calls to action. Another tactic that we took was activating a drip campaign and automation to reduce the internal workload of communicating these membership renewals. This really allows consistent messaging cadence across the membership. And ultimately, this is where we save our hours, right. Someone on the team was doing monthly mailings previously. Is that correct?

Rebecca Weidner: Yes, but it was hard to keep up with all the snail mail mailings that were happening. And even before we had this campaign, then we had to do a monthly email that was run manually every month. So this campaign was a good time saver to just implement an automation and not have to do all that manual work.

Josh Slyman: That's amazing. And it looks like we were able to reduce staff effort on this by 75 to 80%, which is really a great way to open up that team capacity that we talked about earlier and allow you guys to focus on other more impactful efforts. Another fun tactic that we used, and ultimately across the board in our lifecycle campaigns, is looking for opportunities to create and note actionable observed behaviors. Here in the renewal campaign, we were able to note renewal timing and behavior. We can also take a look throughout the platform at web tracking, email clicks, library, and content access to note those sort of observed behaviors and interests.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. So we're curious to see after a year of running this campaign, we'll be able to have some really good data on when people are renewing just from looking straight into these areas of the campaign. So we're excited to see what that shows us.

Josh Slyman: It's really neat because you'll be able to probably do some forecasting, like some revenue forecasting that we hadn't had access to before. And also, no sort of... expect some planning on when that revenue is going to come in over the course of a 90- day renewal effort. Let's talk about content planning. I know there was an important gap to bridge. What were you trying to solve with the cross- platform content analysis?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah, so we like to feed our professional development committees. They're the ones who plan all of our events, our PD events. And we like to feed them useful information about what our members are looking for, what they're doing to try and help them then curate great content that our members need. So we were feeding them basically just the top discussions in the community. But we found opportunity to give a lot more different and robust data to help guide relevant content.

Josh Slyman: Very cool. So for this initiative, we have leveraged reporting and metrics, web tracking, individual analysis, data from online community behaviors, email actions, web visits. Now take a look at some of the strategies and tactics we used. So I know there's actionable interactions all over the ecosystem. We wanted to take a look at how we could solve some problems with it. So we wanted to look across that ecosystem and start to compile top 15 community search terms. So I love the search terms report. It really tells you what you're missing. Also, what you're hiding or what members can't find. Here you can see the CARES Act pop- up, COVID, unemployment. You'll probably start see some trends as we sort of dig into the content usage. If we look at library access, here we see families first, plexiglass dividers, risk management plan. We're starting to develop some trends here. If we look at discussions, we have social security tax delay, HEPA filters, budget forms. I think everybody sees the trend here. Not unexpected. But nice to be able to support with some real data. If we also start to bring in some of the email data, we start seeing professional development, virtual conference, seminars. So, educational things start to rise to the top in terms of email clicks and email opens. Then we look at top- visited web pages. We see event- related learning opportunities, community discussions, and clearly, COVID and learning opportunities are sort of our high priorities here. The trends we're seeing throughout our analysis here. One of the important parts is to sort of build consistency, benchmarking, deepen your insights. What's the cadence for this report?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah, so we just completed our second quarterly report, and we are sending it out to all of our professional development committee chairs. We're sending it to our board members. We're also taking a look at it internally as a staff, which helps us to see are we providing the right resources that our members are searching for? Are the topics that we're providing consistent with the things that they are talking about or asking for? And it just kind of verifies by the clicks that we're doing the right things. In some cases, we saw certain events that we knew were getting some popularity, and then we looked at the clicks, and the data just supported what we already knew in that case as well.

Josh Slyman: Very cool. And so this inaudible report goes to the board?

Rebecca Weidner: Uh- huh( affirmative). So we have two reports. We have the hot topic report. We also are doing a quarterly engagement report, which includes kind of a high- level summary of our engagement trends within our online community and our clicks and in our emails, all of those different kinds of data points, and how those are working over time. It also just talks about some of the strategies that we're trying to implement. And it's really been cool to see the board kind of also interacting with this data and getting excited about it.

Josh Slyman: Yeah, that's neat. So, tell me a little bit about where and how it's being used. I know you touched a little bit about it, but how are you guys leveraging this report internally?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. So we're definitely using it to kind of just give more information to the people who are creating professional development for us. We're using it kind of as a gauge of what our members are really interacting with, and do we need to provide additional resources? I learned that people are not sick of COVID resources, even though I felt like I was sick of putting those out there every time. They were still getting the most clicks of everything. So it just gave us some good insight to know where we were on the right track as well.

Josh Slyman: That's great. That's great. So can you tell us about some of the other impacts that it has sort of as from an organizational standpoint?

Rebecca Weidner: Sure. So for me, one of the coolest things to see is in our strategic planning process with our board and with our staff because this is being kind of continually put in front of them. I think they're seeing a lot more the power of community and the power of the tools that we have. And we're actually hearing them brainstorm ideas like," Hey, maybe we could use the community for this. And" Hey, maybe there should be an email campaign here." So it's cool to see everybody kind of jumping on the bandwagon and buying into what we're doing.

Josh Slyman: That's amazing. That's the best thing I've heard so far. Awesome. All right. Let's talk about our last touchpoint. We're getting a little low on time, so I'll try to pick up the pace a little bit. So we knew that there was sort of data here that we weren't taking full advantage of and that we really wanted to sort of understand and identify member value. What was it that you thought you might be able to deliver or do better if you had some better insights?

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. So for me, I think we were doing a lot of marketing based on demographics, which is good in a lot of areas. But I just felt like there was a gap in really looking at behavior and letting that play into how we market or how we recruit volunteers or various things where their engagement could play a role in that. So that was kind of the gap for us that we wanted to identify.

Josh Slyman: Great. So for this initiative, we looked at, we heavily leveraged our integrations between Higher Logic and informs, or communications pro. As well as AMS demographics, and information there and the integrations. We also leveraged dynamic groups within informs, AMS demographics, community behaviors, event attendance, email actions, web visits. We sort of brought all of this into informs in order to compile and take a look at the connections in that data.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. And it was just a cool opportunity to bring together all these different data points that we had from our website, from our community, from our emails, and put them into something that was more actionable.

Josh Slyman: That's cool. So we set up some tools and processes in order to observe interests across the ecosystem. We looked at online community behaviors, web visits, event participation, email interactions, community membership. And we want to align that with individual sort of identifying value points. So things like engagement level, expertise in education, observed interests, content consumption, and content creation. These are ways that members really can add value and notable action points for us. So using the integration, we bring these data points together in a compound group to make it actionable. Here we've defined sort of an expert pipeline where we have define an expert as someone who has a master's or higher, 10- plus years experience, and are active in discussions. So this is sort of our base level for identifying expertise. But we also have the option then to filter this against a particular role or a particular expertise or a particular observed interest in order to sort of even drill down further on an individual expertise or skill set that we're looking to leverage.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. And we see value with that when we need to recruit for our publication, or down the line, if we want to create some kind of mentoring within the community, we then have the ability to look at who's been in the profession a long time, who's also very active, maybe that's who we can tap. And then once you add in their role, then you can say," Okay, we know we can tap these people on a particular topic." So I'm looking forward to trying to figure out if there's a way to automate all that, but we're not quite there yet.

Josh Slyman: Awesome. So this is sort of what, based on those expertise, we were able to drill down on 68 experts that we can sort of look to activate in our next steps. We also looked at the idea of conference prospecting, looking at previous registrants, web visits to conference pages, email clicks on links related to conference, conference library access, community membership. So by sort of compiling all of those things and then excluding everybody who had already registered, we were really able to create a nice powerful prospecting group to deliver personalized, timely, relevant calls to action.

Rebecca Weidner: Yeah. And I just had the opportunity to start using this. We're in the middle of our virtual conference as well right now. Our second day is tomorrow. So I'm excited to kind of go back and look at the data and see how including the people from this prospect group in that marketing made an impact.

Josh Slyman: Yeah. That's exciting. And thank you for being here with us while you're also doing your own virtual conference. So we also just wanted to sort of identify some of the other places that we're putting this into play so that maybe it sparks some ideas for some of our viewers. We've basically been able to across the platform, identify observed interests in donation, professional development, committee participation, leadership opportunities, ambassadors for the website or for community or for in- person events, volunteers. We talked about speakers and authors for publications as well as the conference attendees. So basically, we have created a nice sort of prospecting group for these different priorities for the organization. And the next steps basically, as Becca mentioned, is to automate these efforts. So now that we have these groups, here's an example of a simple prospecting follow- up campaign that could take these basically next steps in activating these members. We're in different points, in different processes with our groups here. But just wanted to make sure that people understood that now that these groups are creative, they are dynamic. And as people flow into those criteria and groups, we can activate an automated email follow- up to take the next steps for that activation. Very cool. So just basically through those three initiatives, I think we did a nice job of maximizing the platform. We were able to help increase staff efficiency and better understand the members. How are you feeling about year two for our coaching?

Rebecca Weidner: It's going to be a good one.

Josh Slyman: Awesome.

Rebecca Weidner: It's an interesting year.

Josh Slyman: For sure. For sure. Yeah. All right. Well, hopefully, that's a lot of insight for people. Some action items. Maybe some ideas and some connections that people can put into play. Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing with everyone how Illinois ASBO has used the platform to align, automate, and activate internal efficiencies and member motivations and your understanding and behavior of members.

Heather McNair: Yes. Thank you, Josh, for taking the reins today. And Rebecca, thank you so much for sharing that experience. We really appreciate the insights, and Alex, what was your take on all of that?

Alex Mastriani: I thought it was really cool to hear the progression of Rebecca's experience over the years. How they started off with their communications strategy and then added on community. And then realized how much data is accessible to take and bring into that communications so that they can really just personalize the experience even more and make members feel like they're talking directly to them.

Heather McNair: Yeah. It's one of the things that I talk to our customers and talk to people out in the field a lot about is, with the community, people are creating hundreds, if not thousands of data points across the course of the year. Every time they're posting to a community or liking a piece of content, or downloading a piece of content. And that really does give you the opportunity to personalize every piece of communication you're sending out. So it's really exciting to see organizations like Illinois ASBO taking advantage of that opportunity.

Alex Mastriani: Yeah. The possibilities are endless. Well, that's it for today's show, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us, and we'll see you all again next time.


On this week’s episode, Alex and Heather take a look at a conference they had last year called Super Forum Virtual. Because not everyone was able to join, they chose one of their favorite and highly informative sessions to play today! You’ll hear experts Rebekah Weidner and Josh Slyman talk about using the power of data to personalize communications! Rebekah is a Senior Copywriter and Content Strategist for Illinois Association of School Business Officials, and Josh is a Senior Consultant with Higher Logic.

Today's Host

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Beth Arritt

|Association Evangelist

Today's Guests

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Rebekah Weidner

|Senior Copywriter/Content Strategist
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Josh Slyman

|Senior Consultant