Engagement Strategies That Work

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This is a podcast episode titled, Engagement Strategies That Work. The summary for this episode is: <p>In this weeks episode, you'll hear a panel discussion with four engagement experts discussing topics around engagement strategies, hosted by Christina Hill. The panelists include Cathy Liu, the Community Program Manager at Alation, Deborah Seys, the Director of Customer Programs at Alation, Brian Oblinger, the Chief Community Officer at Brian Oblinger Strategic Consulting, and Tom Morrison, the Chief Executive Officer at Metal Treating Institute. Listen now to learn about tried and true strategies you can implement today. We’ll share tips for modern forms of engagement like Zoom Happy Hours, podcasts, community events, and much more.</p>
Compounding Engagement
00:46 MIN
The Importance of Value in Engagement
00:22 MIN
What is Our Value Proposition?
00:37 MIN
Career Can be a Driving Topic in Community
00:42 MIN
The Sweet Spot For Community
00:40 MIN
What ALIVE Stands For
01:11 MIN
What Alation Brief Has Done
01:02 MIN
Collaboration and Sinking up Content & Engagement
00:44 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. Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Member Engagement Show. Today, we are talking about our engagement experts list and first thing that comes to mind when I think of awards, is award season and here we are right in the middle of it. Heather, do you love award season as much as I do?

Heather McNair: I do. I do. Although I will admit I do watch them a lot just for the fashion. So the last couple of years have been a little disappointing that way, but.

Alex Mastrianni: Me too. But I have to say I'm loving the whole mask matching the dress phenomenona that we're seeing right now, or like the outfit not necessarily dress because the men do it too. But it's something unexpected, but a fun addition, I guess, that we can look forward to right now.

Heather McNair: Yeah. Well, and it's so nice that we get to... well, just across the industries to take the opportunity, to recognize the best of the best. And that's what we did a few months ago with our engagement experts list. Really we took a look at all of the people in our industry who are doing amazing things with their communities, engaging their members. And we called that down to the superstars.

Alex Mastrianni: Yeah. And I like this, not just because it gives those folks the recognition that they've really earned and deserve, but it's also great for everyone to see who's doing these cool things and who should they be looking to for inspiration and ideas and new things that they could try at their organizations. So today we have one of our colleagues, Christina Hill here to join us. She's our director of customer marketing at Higher Logic, welcome Christina or chill, should I say.

Christina Hill: Yes. Thank you. It's really nice to be here.

Heather McNair: So Christina, before we jump in, do you want to give everyone a little bit of background about yourself and part of why this initiative was so important to you?

Christina Hill: Sure. Well, my role at Higher Logic is director of customer marketing. And I come from a background of working in different roles in marketing and even sales and business development. But I have a passion around working with customers, and working to improve and elevate the customer experience. So that's a big part of this role. And one of the things that we were launching right when I first came to the organization was this list, which turned into engagement experts. We've done similar sorts of lists in the past. And we were looking at thinking about a list of 21 movers and shakers for this year. And really, as we were talking about it, we realized, first of all, we have so many people within our community, both customers and thought leaders and influencers in the space that there were just too many people to call down to a list of 21. So we wanted to expand that. And we also started thinking about what were the qualities that we were looking for in these people? What were the things that we wanted to highlight most? And really the idea of engagement is something that is really dear to us. And the reason that we have built these platforms and these programs around the idea of community and marketing automation. And so we're really interested in engagement in the power of engagement and how people can use engagement to create stronger organizations and more value for their members and their customers. So we expanded the list. We focused on engagement and came up with this list of engagement experts. And the process that we followed to develop this was partially internal and partially external. We did go to our customer base to ask and to allow and invite people to nominate folks. We also reached out internally and asked for those sorts of nominations and great stories that we can tell to highlight some of the great folks that are doing excellent work in the area of engagement.

Heather McNair: In our research, one of the things that we found is that engagement, we always talk about how important engagement is but we found that actually engagement begets more engagement. So like the more you're seeing your members contributing to the organization, whether it's participating in an online community or attending an event, speaking at an event, that participation leads to more participation because it creates value for everyone in the audience. And so, we dubbed that compounding engagement for those of you who are familiar with the idea of compounding interest in the financial sector, here we're calling it compounding engagement. So it's great to hear what these experts, what these leaders in our field are doing, because that is one of the questions we get a lot is, what are other people doing? What should I be doing? And so we brought together this group to share some of those ideas.

Alex Mastrianni: Yeah, today we are bringing you a really great session that Christina hosted with some of our engagement experts earlier this year. And they came together to share some of their knowledge on the three engagement strategies that have worked for them. So take it away. Christina.

Christina Hill: Let me first welcome our engagement experts today. Tom Morrison is chief executive officer at the Metal Treating Institute, which is a non- profit trade organization association, whose members are companies in the heat treating business. And Thomas served as CEO for a number of organizations since 1995 including at the Metal Treating Institute, which he joined in 2005. He's a professional speaker, he's an author, he's a life coach. And he also hosts the regular podcast called Association Strong. So welcome Tom. Debra. We have Debra Seys here, she's director of customer programs at Alation, which is a data cataloging and governance solution. She's a previous customer that joined the team. She was also the Alation product owner at eBay for four years. And she has decades of experience in the library, science data and information space. She works to implement administrate and manage adoption for tools like Alation that improve productivity in the way people get their jobs done. Welcome Deb. Cathy Liu is Deb's also a partner at Alation, she's community program manager there, and she's an experienced online community manager with a history of working with IT and big data professionals. These two are co- nominees, which is really nice after working together to achieve some big wins in their community that we'll hear about shortly. And then finally, Brian Oblinger is chief community officer at Brian Oblinger Strategic Consulting. He has over 20 years in the industry launching and contributing to the success of hundreds of communities, including some really large names in the SAS space. inaudible is a podcast with Erica Kuhl called, In Before the Lock, where they share their experiences and free resources to help community professionals succeed. So a welcome to all of you though I invite, first of all, our panelists to just tell us a little bit more about yourself, just so that we get to know you a little bit. Brian, do you want start us out?

Brian Oblinger: Yeah, I've been around community for a long time before we even called it that actually, which makes me feel old now, but it's great. Everybody's thinking about community. Everybody's trying to figure out how to do, where to go. And engagement's a great topic. So I'm glad to be here and excited to dive in with everybody.

Christina Hill: Great. Thank you. Tom.

Tom Morrison: I'm excited to be here. I figured out on day one being association executive, that engagement was the one thing that would solve everything in your association, kind of in my jam, ever since I've spoken on it, written on it, and I'm excited to be invited in here. I got two cats and three kids and their spouses in their 20s that all keep me challenged to learn how to keep people engaged in daily lives. So learn a few things and hope today we shout some things out that people take some good takeaways.

Christina Hill: Fantastic. Thanks Tom. Cathy.

Cathy Liu: Hi everyone. And I'm honored along with Deb to be invited. Engagement is definitely something on top of every community manager's mind and I'm happy to share some tactics we have.

Christina Hill: Fantastic. Thank you. And Deb.

Debra Seys: Yeah. Hi everyone. I'm so happy to be here. I am as Christina said, I've spent a lot of time in the community and knowledge management space, and you're right before we even called it community, collaboration was the big thing. And I think the one thing I'd like to say is I'm pleased to be here talking, but I think there are probably a lot of folks out there who also have contributions and could be called experts just as much as possibly anyone here. That's probably the great thing about community is everybody's got something to contribute. So hopefully we'll give you something to take away with today. And you can be your own expert.

Christina Hill: Very well said Deb, and appreciated. We know we see within our community so many people all the time that our brains, so many great ideas and experiences and solutions to their communities and to their customer and a number of bases. And it's really a pleasure for us to lift up some of those ideas and experiences and insights in this webinar. And we'll be doing a series of these throughout the year. So yeah, as much as we can help to share out to the world great ideas and successes, we're happy to do that. I'm going to start our conversation out with a big topic today. And that is just, why? Why engagement? Why is that important? What is the value of engagement with your members or your customers? What's the value to your organization? And what's the value to the members and customers themselves? So it's a big topic to start with. Maybe somebody wants to jump in there, Brian, maybe start to eat that elephant for us.

Brian Oblinger: Sure. Yeah. I think, look, I think here's the thing. This is what the difference between community and audience and some of those other things are. If you were just having a one way broadcast channel where you're just putting like, don't get me wrong, content is awesome. It is great. And you should have a really robust content program, but if the only way that people engage with that content is just consuming it, then you probably have more of an audience. You're just blasting out this one way thing. Engagement really is the essence of community and what we do, and how we cultivate relationships and get success and ultimately business value, on the other end of like, why do we care about engagement? We care because it's the driver of how we get to value across the organization. Whether that's supporting customers, marketing sales, customer success, whatever those things are. We really need to think about, why are people coming here? What kind of value are they looking for? And then create programs around engagement to make sure that we're delivering that value to them. And then we often get the value back, when we get people engaging with each other.

Tom Morrison: You get bring up a great point Brian, leading it all back to value. Because engagement does solve everything, because when members are engaged, it solves volunteerism, it solves finances, it solves meeting tenants. It literally solves everything that you have, but it all leads back. People started engagement. What they forget to go back is one step before that, to the value. People do what they value and what they care for. And so I can remember back in 2005, when we came a great, great exercise for anyone listening on here to encourage your board and your staff to go through, is to do the following. Because what COVID did a year ago, was it magnified the weakness and every association's value proposition, which means the members stepped back and aren't as engaged. Why? Because two things were removed from COVID immediately the moment they came along. You go to any association, face to face networking, networking with their peers will be the number one thing that most people say is the reason they are members of an association. Guess what? COVID wiped that out. And our online communities and virtual meetings to try and compensate for that. But I still know a ton of associations dare to say, that's great. Well and good, but it doesn't take the place of that connection we get more in person. The second thing that ruled out was advocacy. And so that has been challenging to see associations do advocacy through online forums and virtually. So here's a great exercise. First practical takeaway for everybody listening in is, to get your staff and your board to sit down at a table and ask yourself one big question. If no members ever came to the live meeting, and everyone really did not like to write their legislature, what is our value proposition that would engage people to want to exchange their time with us? And if that's zero, you have a serious problem. And so I'd encourage you to really do that process. And here's what you have to do. One step further than that is you need to, anything you write down is when we look at the value proposition, remember touchpoint, is it perceived value or is it actual value? I know some people that look and see communities it's actually perceived value because it's not why I really pay my dollars. That's why I tell people when you take advocacy and meetings out, what are the things that you're putting down that people wake up every day driving to work saying, " Man, I got all these problems and my world and my association has got solutions plugged in and helped me do that." Communities play a large part in that, especially today, because the only way I can get to a Brian or Deb or a Cathy or to Christina, is to get online like this say, " Hey, I've got this problem. What are you helping do about it?" So I think Brian, you hit it right the nail on the head, getting it back to value to get that engagement really started.

Debra Seys: Yeah, I'd jump in on that particularly. So we have a community that's for software users. And I would say that engagement is a means to an end for us, for things like building relationships between customers and ourselves. Community is kind of in the DNA of our product. It's a social product and the product designed to be implemented inside a company and help them build a data culture. Another word for that might be a data community. And so we think a lot about engagement towards an end, collaboration, relationship, reinforcing or building or changing a culture, getting people to think about working on things together. So I think that's a great point is actually community is sort of, and the engagement doesn't mean anything unless we're helping people achieve an objective. That means something to them.

Christina Hill: And Brian, you brought up a point about engagement doesn't happen without value and that's tied to pain points and Tom as well. Thinking about the types of things and the reasons that people are coming to your community, what are some of the main drivers that you see as being really that people are engaging around?

Brian Oblinger: It depends, which is a very consulting answer. But it does depend. What are their motivations? So my advice to people always is, understand who your audience is, understand what they care about, what are their motivations? What do they need to be successful? And that's the value. And so I think when you think about how do I get engagement, or how do I get people to engage? It often starts with leading with value on your end. A lot of people build communities and they just expect people to show up, " Oh, they're going to all come and they're going to talk to each other and they're going to create all this value amongst themselves." And that might happen if you have a big enough audience, I suppose. But for most situations and organizations and communities, you have to really prime the pump with that. And so the things that I've seen work well in a business context, so B2B software technology, career is always a big one. Everybody's interested in their own career and sharing their expertise and building their skills and their resume. So I think that as people build communities and they think about like support communities and things like that, I always encourage them to also add an industry element to that where people can go and have these high level industry and career discussions. Because I find that those tend to attract a lot of people and get them in the mode for engagement. And then hopefully it spills over right into the other facets and areas of your community.

Debra Seys: Right. I like to think of it as return on effort, not just return on investment. So the one thing that's in short supply for everyone who's working is time. And it takes time to come, time to post a question, time to possibly reply to someone else. Like what's in it for me to answer question for a colleague? And that it's that kind of exchange, the return on the effort of putting something into this. What am I getting out? And for some people, I agree that professionalism, we've got some contributors on our community that they must take a half an hour to write a complicated advice or reply to another person. And that's a amazing kind of professionalism and built their own personal brand, I think. But I do think we have to be conscious constantly of people's time and whether it's worthwhile for them to put time into, like Tom was saying, come in and visit the community, is it worth it? And that's the trade- off, I'm thinking of.

Tom Morrison: That's a great point Deb, because you know a lot of people want to get... They have this motto they've said for the last 10 years. Young millennials are not joiners. Well, I want to tell you something. Baby boomers in their 20s didn't join anything because they had the same issues, just different back then in the 60s where they had no money, they were trying to build a family. We have over 100 million millennials between nine and 34 years of age who were going to create the largest membership growth in our history. And so there's two reasons millennials are going to want to join in the future. And it's also around community. One, anybody that's ever watched their parents get, let go from a job on a Friday and struggle for the next six months needing a job. Well, guess what I always say in your phone, when you get, let go from a job or reorganized, you want to have three people in your phone and they'll speed out. And they're people that you met at a meeting that said, " Hey, you know what, Brian, if you ever get, let go or leave your company, we would love to work you because you are the kind of person we want." Well, guess where you meet those people? At an association, and guess what? The best of the best companies generally are members of the association, not the worst, the worst. So it's all the companies and all the hiring managers you want to be around. And the other thing that is going to separate that for young people is, when you look at a resume, what's the one thing that separates you from the competition? That other activities, I was the chair of the real estate commission. I was the chair of this task force group. And that's where you get that in an association. So I think associations are in the driver's seat demographically to really engage the young people, to join their associations. If they're providing that value, like Deb said, and Brian said, to really engage that we can be here for your future when you need us.

Christina Hill: That's great. And so I'm sure people are wondering what are some of the great examples that you've seen or the things that you've done over the past year that has helped to drive engagement, recognizing. I think we all buy into the idea that engagement is important. So what are some things that you've seen or that you've accomplished? I know we have a couple of examples that we can share. Brian, do you want to start us off please?

Brian Oblinger: Well, I guess that question makes me think a little bit about modality. So once you understand people's motivations, as we just talked about, then the next question is, what's the mode of conversation or engagement? And I think it's important to understand that some people want to consume, some people want to get into a more forum- based discussion. Some people want to contribute their ideas to an ideation module. Some people want to look at or help create knowledge. Some people want to groups, I could go on forever. So I think it's important to think about, what's the delivery mechanism of engagement? And then, what are the programs within those modalities? How are you incentivizing people? Is that gamification? Is it access to other people? There's a bunch of different things that I'm sure, Tom and Debra know well that they could share with us here.

Christina Hill: Yeah, absolutely. Tom, I know you had some experience during the past year where you were really responding to what was happening with COVID. So can you share and talk about that a little bit?

Tom Morrison: Yeah, I think the real thing right now is information versus interpretation. Association's used to own information until the great association, AOL said you got mail and Google and Bing and Yahoo took that over. So because there's a proliferation of just tons of information and a lot of it's not right, what associations now on is the interpretation of the information. You need to be seen as the authorizing source. And so we really in real- time, look for that information to go out, but we also really dig into, what's the friction, anxiety and stress in our members' lives? What do they need and want? So I want to hear what people, what building and engagement strategy really means when you collectively put community, online communities and actual value together. And this is our net worth growth since 2005. When we did our strategic plan that went through that exercise, where we took away meetings and advocacy and said, what's our value to the person that's really not in those two buckets? 2600%. That is the growth. And our net reserves over the last 15 years. The power of that is when we only had 100 grand in the bank. I bought board to take no risk and do not a lot for our members. Now money's not an object when we look at a program, we can do great things for members. We've got 83% of our members engaged and at least one or more of our 13 touch points. So the key, I think Brian's going to allude to later, do you know what those are? Are they actual? And are you measuring them so you can really get the people who aren't in the 96% as our average retention rate of our membership for the last 15 years, because our engagement and our value is so high. So this is what engagement strategy can lead to. We really follow a process called ALIVE, and our board and our value strategy. And what that stands for is, ask meaningful questions, listen intently for the pain points, innovate for product and service that can meet that, V is value, getting the value out of it. An E is execute with excellence and engage. So we really look to see, we go through that process with everything that we do in our association when it comes to meeting the members needs, because we're asking the wrong question. We're always asking what keeps you up at night? And what keeps people up at night is what they're frustrated with. Not actually what's wrong with their company or their business model that needs fixing. So I always ask them, where do you find the friction, anxiety, and stress in your business model that we could be a part of helping you do better? Because that's why people are leaving associations. They're not providing those solutions to them. So that's what we really come out of this past year is looking for specific things to give members real- time, because the market's moving fast, Christina, very fast and associations need to speed up.

Christina Hill: Absolutely. While certain companies have started support in communities, do others do not want to do this because they sell support. What do you think about that?

Debra Seys: I can speak to that. We're in our community and partly because I come out of this knowledge management background and I hope Cathy gets a chance to present some of the stuff that we've done specifically around this event that we've done around sharing knowledge. But I tend to think of it as people are looking for advice, answers or skills. And so, I think we have to think about the modalities that Brian was talking about. We have to think about helping people solve those pain points. But if we can think in terms of answers and skills and advice, which is, I think the sweet spot for community, then we can begin to meet people's needs.

Christina Hill: That's great. Thank you, Deb. Tom, we have a question for you. Can you just come back to ALIVE and tell us what does that stand for?

Tom Morrison: Well, A, stands for ask the meaningful questions. So you want to ask things that get to what their pain points are, because with no pain points, you have no value because that's where they need you the most. And that's where communities come in. Communities, what most people, when we built ours in 2007, our online community, we thought it was going to be like Facebook. Once we unveiled it, people are going to run to it. But it didn't. So you have to have a real focus on the real expectation of a community is it's a public library. People don't wake up and go in there every day. They have a need, they need information. Like Deb said, they go out, they get it and they get away. So look at your community. You have a real expectation. It's not Starbucks, it's a public library. But A is for ask meaningful questions, L is listen intently for pain points. I is innovate for products and services. V is value. You want to create that around those products and services, and it's got to be agile and E is execute with excellence. If I find that you do those five things, you can't help, but the end was something that people want to engage in.

Christina Hill: That's fantastic. Yeah. I love that you're including innovation in there as part of the mix. How do you balance that innovation and the needs from the community, is that an ongoing process of conversation internally?

Tom Morrison: It is. All of our staff are taught as well as our board members to always be... I've had dinner with members and I just start quizzing them with questions, " You know what, when you wake up every day and you go on your business, what's the thing that's keeping you from being the perfect business?" And they're going to immediately tell you right then and there. And right then and there, you get ideas to ask other members. And when you get a lot of members that have the same pain points, boom, there's a program. And so, I love asking questions by members. So it's never a one- time survey a year. That's where we make a big mistake. You need to be real- time mode of listening to your members, but ask the right questions, you can get those. Because the affinity programs people are looking for out on collaborate, I see so many people on NSA's collaborate, asking about affinity programs. My question always is, " Have you asked your members first, what they need before you ask me to give you a program that we don't know if it matches up?" And that's where communities come into play. You can go out there and ask 5, 000 people, " Hey, what's the biggest stumbling block in your business being perfect right now?" And when they start talking, they're telling you exactly what they need.

Christina Hill: And Brian, I know I've heard, I listened to one of your podcasts recently, and you were talking about this concept of, ask, listen and do. What are your thoughts?

Brian Oblinger: It's this crazy idea about listening to your members or your customers or whoever your stakeholders are. I'm very fond of saying that, I've worked with hundreds of companies over my career. And one of the things that you see commonly is a lot of guessing, frankly. Like a lot of, we think we know what the customer wants or what our members want. I got a feeling, I had a dream, whatever. And the reality is instead of spending all of your time and money guessing and being wrong and having to retread and redo, the right answer is to just ask them, they'll tell you. So I highly encourage people to use surveys. Tom was talking about having conversations with them, any way that you can get a window into their world and understand what they actually care about from their mouth unfiltered, through your kind of what you expect or what you want to hear, is ultimately the most efficient and the best way to collect that data, and then turn that data into something useful. So it might not be the easiest route, but it's certainly the best one. Just ask them. They'll tell you.

Debra Seys: No, I was just going to say one thing, we've just relatively finished a phase one of a project where we're using data out of the Higher Logic platform and feeding it into our Alation data warehouse, and then producing dashboards in a visualization tool. And so speaking of data, we're a data- driven company. And so, we talked to our members, we have done surveys, but we're also watching what they do. Because they'll tell you a lot just by what they do, what they're looking at, what they're interested in, which events they attend, questions they're responding to. So data and behavior can reveal a lot of that without even having to ask them.

Christina Hill: Yeah, they're saying true.

Brian Oblinger: People vote with their claims.

Debra Seys: Yeah. They vote with crosstalk.

Tom Morrison: I have a practical example, Christina. I know everybody likes to look at the practicality. So I was at dinner a few years ago in Seattle talking to some members before this big standards meeting we had. And I said, "What's that big thing that makes your business not perfect?" Like at the time we all get audited because we work on airplanes, we don't do our work, right. Planes fall out of skies, right? So there's audited pretty high. What would be great is if we could be able to see other members like us as audits, audits they're all private to the company. So they can't share it. They said at MTI could come up with something that allows to see the findings, the best practices, the corrective actions. That would be great. And I'm like, " If we add a database that you could log in, password protected, confidential, and you could log in and put that information in. And when you do that, then you can see all the other audits that'd be beneficial?" They said, " Tom, that would be golden." So we turned around and spent 15 grand and we put that database together. Now, remember, it's an awesome thing because now they can see all of the members information. And so, that's what I talk about listening and connecting the dots of a need to a solution.

Christina Hill: Absolutely. And that idea, that behavior really it's data, it's human data. It's these communities give us an opportunity to connect with people on a human basis and their behavior will tell us everything. Cathy, what kinds of behavior have you seen in your community and how has that helped direct the work that you're doing?

Cathy Liu: Yes. So during COVID because we're relatively pretty young community. Before COVID were just launched a half a year ago. And we really need that interaction and engagement. So we quickly launch what we call, Alation brief, which is a weekly 30 minutes kind of partnering up with a subject matter expert from cross- functional team and speakers. And the program's vision is really to create that feeling of sitting down next to the knowledgeable colleague and learning something new, because during COVID, this is exactly why we need. And the subject matter expert are there to really share the best practice experience and advise on Alation features, functionality, and use case. And when the program launch at the end of June, 2020, it really immediately attract the other community members attention. And from the data we know the community members are really craving for this type of bite- size and not a huge time commitment of online sharing. And presenter presenting that 15 to 20 minutes of meditation is really not demanding at all. And what we did in the community is every Alation brief is recorded and shared and followed by a Q& A discussion, and really encourage the participant to continue the discussion in the community. And we use the High Logic event module, and that really helps the community member to quickly RSVP for the event and download on the event on the calendar. It also send out automatic reminder for participation, really making my life as a community manager very easy. And we also can see from the result, it really becomes that must attend activity. And every section we attract over 80 attendees. And the community traffic tremendously increase our unique page view in the second half of 2020, almost double versus pre- Alation brief time. And you need lock- ins increased by 72%. Now I mentioned that engagement rate when surge by 20%. So this is exactly how a good program that meeting the committee members needs can bring.

Christina Hill: Yeah. That's a great result and that's a great program that you developed in a quick, an agile method in the last year. I've seen that, it seems like that's been a bit of a trend over the past year. And Tom, I know you were doing similar types of events and programs in your space as well, right?

Tom Morrison: Yeah. Well, we require every... another level of engagement, not a lot of people think about us. We require every act of working committee to have their own community, which pulls them in and gets inaudible because we don't want to just meet between conference calls and our annual meetings or whenever committees can meet, we want to build processes. One, I love it as a CEO because I can send out... if I'm going on vacation, I can send out a bunch of notifications in the community and let them go do their thing and work and talk, and I can come back and go, " Oh my gosh, all this work's being done while I'm gone." I look at our community as a communication employee. So it helps us really connect our members. Yeah. We circle online, virtual and community around everything that we do. And we ask ourselves, how can that community aspect play a vital role in connecting people, whether it's a program, a meeting, a committee, or what have you?

Christina Hill: Cathy, where are you getting your subjects? Are they community and member driven or are you coming up with those ideas on your own?

Cathy Liu: Definitely both. We have a thread open for topics suggestions and cross- functionally. We constantly ask our cross- functioning teams possible topics for every week's Alation brief. And bi- weekly we have starting committee which we definitely invite our stakeholders for advice upcoming topics.

Debra Seys: Yeah. I would jump in and say that one of the things that we've done since we're a young company, young community is, and I intentionally did this, which is get as much of Alation on board into the community as much as our customers. And the other thing about these Alation briefs is a lot of times we'll cherry pick them from stuff that people are already doing. So we've got sales engineers, and professional services, customer service guys, and they put together a few paragraphs about a new feature or how to implement something or some advantage to a feature. And if we see those we'll reach out and say, " That looks like a good 15 minute chunk of something you could do on Alation briefs." And so we're repurposing and that also, keeps that flywheel of these meetings going. And a lot of it is what Cathy said, it's not a huge commitment to find 30 minutes that return on effort, 30 minutes for an attendee and 15, 20 minutes for a presenter. We're not asking them to do a whole big formal 16 page PowerPoint. So they're just sitting down, creating this informal, very targeted, very nugget, light piece of information. And I think that's really helped us to keep the flywheel going and the content going. And it ranges all over from how do you use a particular product API, to how to drive adoption. We have customers doing sessions, people from all over the company. So they make a name for themselves. We just recently, and I'll quiet down about it, but we just recently had the guy who does all of our training videos and nobody's ever seen him, but everybody recognized his voice. He just did a session. So people got to see the face behind the voice.

Christina Hill: That's great. That's great. One more question for Cathy or Deb. The briefs. How were they marketed? Did marketing change as the months progressed that may have positively impacted attendance?

Cathy Liu: Well, it's definitely the positive attendance and word of mouth. And we actually constantly announce our results no matter in- company newsletter and also in all hands. And I actually reach out to a lot of our subject matter experts to ask them to be our speakers. So it all kind of... and truthfully thank you to community platform and from the reports we identify topics people are interested in. And from the blog views like Deb was saying, we monitor and really see possible feedback from particular block. We know that is something the community members are interested in, and we reach out to the blocker to ask them to present. So it's multiple venues.

Debra Seys: Yeah. We've also got some small incentive programs, internal ones where we recognize our presenters. And we have a little internal incentive that we give them a banner, Cathy, something like that.

Cathy Liu: Yes we do. Yes, we do Alation brief presenter banner.

Christina Hill: Lovely. That's great. And Tom speaking of marketing cross channel promotion, I know you have your podcast as you said. And you were doing these sessions during COVID as well, that were informative, and sort of cross seeding that between your podcasts. How did that work?

Tom Morrison: Well between the podcast, but also I knew that we needed to get information to members' hands very quickly on very specific topics. So we actually developed, we already had an MTI TV online show, but we created heat treat live webcast. And every other week we had a 45 minutes show that wasn't slides. It was this right here, real life people talking like in a news format where we were giving real- time information to members and they loved, it was well attended. And they really sought to be there on every single webcast because we were bringing things they needed right then and there. So, when we post things out, we take a combination of our weekly e- news our newsletter and our community. And we're pushing that information out. Our members love the early part of COVID. We took many people know who, what prompt you is. It's a kind of a question asking a platform that gets members feedback. And we would send out on Monday question, three questions that were important to members in COVID, send it out on Monday. And the next Monday we would post that in our community. And members got the love that every single week it was things like, how many of you are laying people off? It was real- time information that people needed to know. So it was cross- pollinating all that information and all of our different platforms to be able to get that information down to them. But the key is understanding what information is going to be meaningful that draws them in.

Christina Hill: Right. And Brian, I know you work with a lot of different organizations. What kind of cross- channel collaboration and integration have you seen with the community, with podcasts? What kind of also trends have you seen over the last year in terms of what channels or what tools are people gravitating towards?

Brian Oblinger: Not as much collaboration as I'd like. So I think what tends to happen is people focus on their specific functional area or their slice of the pie. So people in marketing are going to do marketing things. People in the community are going to do community things. The real power of a lot of this in an organization comes when they start talking to each other and sinking up their content and engagement calendars. A lot of the rework gets set aside, efficiency increases, and ultimately then your message, whatever it may be, your message is tend to resonate more because they're more consistent across the different channels. And then you can also use those channels to promote different activities. So people in social, it can be promoting what's going on in community, community can be promoting certain messages from marketing, round and round we go. So I think that collaboration and sinking up those content and engagement calendars is super important. Not enough organizations do it because it's hard. And people don't want to talk to each other and they want to sit in their silos and keep their head down. But it turns out the companies that are really high functioning and high performance are the ones that have that type of a culture. And so I would recommend anybody listening, reach out to someone that's not in your functional unit. And see how you can partner with them, and see where you can gain that efficiency. Because ultimately that's what I think really makes it compelling for members. And that's why they want to tune in more.

Christina Hill: That's great. And I know I, so agree with you and we are as a company that has our own community, as well as all of the other efforts that we're doing all the time, we're constantly working together to communicate internally and that it is something you can get to running so fast that you don't take the time to do that. And I think that's really, really important. I want to come around to the idea of measurement. We've talked about value. We talked about how we learn from our users or our members of our community about what they need and help and think about how we serve that up to them. How do we measure then the engagement that we're getting back out of that? How do we bring that back to around to our business impact?

Tom Morrison: Well, we're big on measurement from offline and online. I look at our online stuff to see how things are going within our community, but even more than that, we track and our AMS, all 13 touch points of what our members doing on the community as a part of that. And so it takes me about an hour, but I download that information by member and I give them a point for every one of the touch points and I then score them in the how many programs they're in. I don't get bogged down in, do they get 50 points because they're on the board. Because I know board members that go to two meetings, they're on the board, but there are none of our programs. They're like number 50 on a scale of one to 50 of being engaged. So I believe and I take that and I put them in orders of highly engaged, somewhat engaged and not engaged because here's the two members we're always subject to losing. Your largest members because they make enough money that they ask themselves, " What can you do for us we can't do for ourselves?" And then the members that aren't engaged in anything they're always at risk to leave. So doing that, that scoring in some capacity just to see where your members are in that engagement really helps you understand where your focus needs to be on your messaging.

Christina Hill: Deb from a data, you're a data science person. So from that perspective, what kind of KPIs are you looking at? How are you measuring impact and taking that back within the organization?

Debra Seys: Yeah, data- driven from day one. We report some really high level metrics. We try to grow and retain an engagement rate percentage at the same time. Every time we get a new customer we want to get that customer into the community. We want to cover our customer base. So we're looking at that number, how many members from each customer? How many of them are engaged? And we also look at a certain set of activities to prove that they've been interacting and not just logging in and lurking. And then for ourselves, we look at a lot more detail around events and how much content and which content is getting viewed. Cathy does a great job monitoring all of that. And I've just learned over the years, if you can't answer a quick elevator question about, how many people are on your community? How well are they doing? What percentage of them are engaged? Then you're kind of not paying enough attention.

Christina Hill: And Cathy, do you have anything to add?

Cathy Liu: Yeah, we actually set up standard pretty high. So the engagement rate, I reported earlier. We're looking at total number of people who actually have done something in the community, they're not just visit to Higher Logic. That means like post questions, answer question like something, I should recommend something, download something, or participate in the poll. They actually have to trigger an action besides just feeling we called a total active members, and divided it by total number of community member who have logged in and signed the terms and conditions. So it's pretty rigid. So it's not just you to, I know a lot of communities put a lot of value just for people who log in and check it out within the past seven days, for example. We actually take the step beyond that. So that 20% was maybe high as far as I know.

Christina Hill: Yep. Well, that's great. And Brian, any last thoughts on value and measurement and really bringing that back to where we started in business impact.

Brian Oblinger: When I think about how do you explain the value of what we're doing here with all this engagement, if you go into the CEO's office or a board meeting or something, and you're talking about engagement, in terms of logins and posts and those things, those are great measurements, and those are operational metrics. That tell you, are we going in the right direction? Ultimately, to get to that higher level audience, the VPC level, board level, you got to translate that into their language and what do they care about. And so we've heard some of those here today with like retention, cost savings, increasing your pipeline on the marketing side. So I think understanding deeply what those types of folks want and care about, and translating what you are doing in your community or your association or whatever the case is into that high level value discussion, preferably with dollar signs on it. That's when you really find that you can get a lot of traction and all of a sudden people, it clicks for them. They go, " Oh, I did it." Okay. This is why we're investing in this. And hopefully this is why we should invest more in it is really the value there. Like a lot of people talk about how hard it is to get investment in community initiatives and get head count. I can confirm for you that if you go into a CFO's office and say, " I saved you$ 20 million last year, and I can do 30 this year if you give me two more people." That's a whole lot different conversation than saying, " Well, I had 15 posts." And that kind of thing. Maybe if the average cost of another head is 80 grand or 90 grand, and you're saying, you're going to save a net 10 million more dollars. They're like, " Yeah, let me load you up. We'll give you as many head count as you want." And that's like translating all of this into the language of business.

Debra Seys: I have to jump in for two things that we're in the process of moving towards. One is what we call case deflection. Very classic kind of use of community. And we're looking at how it is that we can measure that and put a dollar amount to it. And then the other one is, of course, we're in software as a service. So we're really interested in renewals and expansions. And we're just beginning the work to look at engagement. We may not be able to prove causation, but we could certainly look correlation and say that a most engaged customer is more likely to renew and expand. And so that's very definitely a dollar proof for us.

Christina Hill: Yeah. Great work. And it's a question that comes up, I think, a lot and in all of our lives and something that is important that we work towards, reflecting back, what is that business impact as well? So thank you so much for being here to all of our panelists. And we will look forward to more great conversations in the future.

Alex Mastrianni: Well, there were some really great tips there. I hope everyone finds them as helpful and insightful as we have here. And I just want to thank Christina Hill for moderating and for joining us today. And thank Tom, Deb, Cathy and Brian for such a great session.

Heather McNair: Yeah. And if you enjoyed that, we have another panel session, just like that one coming up in a few weeks, you can join us on May 26th at 2: 00 PM Eastern time where we'll be joined by another handful of our engagement experts to talk about some of the key metrics that they're looking at to determine the impact of community on their organization, how they're measuring success, tracking towards goals. And it was always a topic that we get questions about. So definitely some tips you can pick up there. So stay tuned to the Higher Logic social accounts, check out LinkedIn, Twitter for the registration link for that one, but that's going to do it for another episode of the member engagement show. We'll see you all next week.


In this weeks episode, you'll hear a panel discussion with four engagement experts discussing topics around engagement strategies, hosted by Christina Hill. The panelists include Cathy Liu, the Community Program Manager at Alation, Deborah Seys, the Director of Customer Programs at Alation, Brian Oblinger, the Chief Community Officer at Brian Oblinger Strategic Consulting, and Tom Morrison, the Chief Executive Officer at Metal Treating Institute. Listen now to learn about tried and true strategies you can implement today. We’ll share tips for modern forms of engagement like Zoom Happy Hours, podcasts, community events, and much more.

Today's Host

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Beth Arritt

|Association Evangelist

Today's Guests

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Tom Morrison

|Association CEO, Author, Professional Speaker and Life Coach
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Christina Hill

|Director of Customer Marketing
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Brian Oblinger

|Chief Community Officer | Strategic Consultant, Advisor, Mentor, Podcast Host, Keynote Speaker
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Debora Seys

|Sr. Dir., Learning & Communities
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Cathy Liu

|Community Program Management