How To Leverage Your Online Community To Provide Member Value

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This is a podcast episode titled, How To Leverage Your Online Community To Provide Member Value. The summary for this episode is: <p>Mentoring is a key element of the member journey. But what does mentoring look like during a global pandemic? Leverage your online community! See how ASCE is rethinking the mentoring experience, using community resources, and automating the program with Higher Logic.</p>
Pivoting Strategies and Events When Covid Hit
01:25 MIN
Moving Into a Virtual Space
00:46 MIN
Restructuring How We Interact Virtually
02:00 MIN
Balancing Automation and Personalization
01:19 MIN
Having Clear Expectations Between Mentors and Mentees
01:02 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. Welcome back to the member engagement show. This week, I'm excited to share a session from our annual Super Forum conference. Teresa Austin senior coordinator of online community at the American Society of Civil Engineers did an amazing session on virtual mentoring and how to leverage your online community to provide more member value. I know this is a really big focus for organizations as they look to drive engagement with younger members, maybe get long- time members involved in sharing their own expertise and bring more member programs into your communities. It's another great way to make them stickier. So listen in as Teresa sheers how ASCE is rethinking the mentoring experience, using different community resources and even automating the program to make her life easier. And as always let us know what you think about this episode over on HUG or on the LinkedIn post for this episode.

Tirza Austin: So I'll go ahead and get started. My name is Teresa Austin. I'm the manager of online community for the American Society of Civil Engineers. Today, I'll be talking about virtual mentoring, how to leverage our online community to provide member value. A little bit about our organization is we are a nonprofit engineering society. We have around 150, 000 members and 177 countries. So fairly large organization, we've got nine different institutes that run autonomously and they usually will do at least one or two in- person events a year. So we put on 20 plus conferences a year. So really a very large organization about around 250 staff people, but I am the one who is solely responsible for our online community and I work within our communications department. So today we're in a crazy place. We've really had to do a community pivot and many in- person communities have, it's really a crazy world that we're living in it at this moment. So with that, COVID- 19 hit, what was it, March 16th? And there was a lot of hesitancy from our staff about what are we going to do now? How are we going to engage our members? We were an organization that really did a whole lot of in- person events. So how do we pivot? What do we do? How do we move to virtual? Well, the good news is we were already it. We already have an online community. There's already a place for our members to connect. So really, it was working with staff and working with members and saying, we already have this virtual place for you to connect and really trying to embrace and move things to our online community. So this right here is something called Thursdays @ 3. These pictures. So what we did is we ended up starting weekly virtual round tables, where we really wanted to support community members. And the thought here was really to support people professionally, but really to provide emotional support during a very difficult time. That's something that we were able to do. So again, we've been here for members all along. This is an example of a resume workshop that we put together, and this actually was taking place the same week that the COVID-19 shutdown happened. I'm watching the news and they're announcing that schools are shut down until June, and I'm like,"What is going on?" and at the same time I'm trying to manage this resume workshop. So it was really a very interesting time to be working within online communities in March. So with that been said in addition to our online community that already existed, ASCE Mentor March is something that we launched in January 2019. Our objectives were to improve member value and increase student and younger member retention. So again, we wanted to use a virtual mentoring platform, and this is something that we put up. So when COVID happened and there's all the buzz as many professional organizations are, they very much care about mentoring and how important it is. How do we support mentoring programs in COVID? How do we train and nurture relationships with the younger engineers? How do we improve engagement? These are all questions that people were asking. How do we do this with COVID? And the answer was, we already have an online mentoring platform established for you to use. So really it's great that we really were ahead of the curve. The world was moving in a virtual space anyways. And COVID just tip the scales to say, as an association, we need to be digital. We need to be virtual. This is where we need to be successful. Your digital footprint is successful and you need to provide ways for members to connect virtually. So we were already doing this. So we were able to really take advantage and you hate to say that. But to really take advantage of the pandemic and really be able to pivot and be able to provide a better digital experience for our members. That's really something we were able to do. With that being said, I want to talk a little bit about our virtual mentoring platform and how set up and the story, and basically how virtual mentoring can really impact your organization. So that's something the focus of what I want to talk about today in the context of a global pandemic. So as far as past results, we've previously set a virtual mentoring platform on the Naylor Platform. If anyone's familiar, they do like a virtual job board and they did have a mentoring section as part of that we were using that previously. And one of our committees actually was running that program. These are some of the numbers from the past years from 2009 to 2014, this is the participation, which I mean, it's not terrible, but the really terrible numbers is you'll look at numbers of engagements in progress. And this was the participation level is actual mentoring. So the committee decided, because there wasn't a whole lot of results within that mentoring program, they decided to sunset it. So come 2019, our board of direction decided that we were to have nine new member benefits that we would needed to launch. And one of them was mentoring and we decided to use the Higher Logic platform. Let's talk a little bit about online dating. This was the model in how we really sought to rethink mentoring. And I know it sounds crazy. It sounds funny, but we got together a focus group. Our community had multiple discussions on mentoring previously, our online community. So people were to, what are best practices for mentoring? What are they like? So you have a conversation already going on. The individuals that were participating in that conversation. I asked them to be part of a focus group to really think through and work out what our mentoring program was going to look like. And we had some younger members on that call, but there were a lot of more senior members because mentoring tends to be something that older members get excited about. They have this idea of mentoring and it's this glass tower, it's up here. This is the experience they want. They see a mentoring relationship that starts, and it's 20 years long down the road and you're meeting for coffee once a week. That's what they see in a mentoring relationship. And they have these ideas. The committee that run this previously, that was the idea that they had. Within our program, and I did a lot of research, both from other organizations and then within our local sections and branches and chapters that ran their own mentoring program. So I looked at what those places were doing successfully and what other associations were doing successfully. What I found is that mentoring programs are really hard to pull off. They take a lot of work and there's not a lot of ROI. It's very difficult to get people connected and engaged. So really my goal was to rethink how we think about mentoring as an organization. And when I sat down with that focus group, one of the gentlemen looked at me and he said," I just don't know about this e- dating type mentoring program. You can't do it. It can't be successful." It struck me and I was like," You know what. No. This is actually where we're going to go with this." And maybe I'm crazy, but this was the goal. And really if you think through it, as someone that's 32 years old, I am definitely of the younger side of leadership within our organization. However, I am not nearly the same segment as your membership that's in that zero to five retention rate. And so even though I'm young and I'm used to thinking about things in an online dating type perspective, guess what the people that are 10 years younger than me how they're thinking about interacting virtually. It's significantly different. So really this is how your younger members, this is how your students, this is how they expect to engage with people. They don't want to sign up for a program where you agree to meet with someone once a week, and you're locked into a year long relationship. That's scary. It's very scary. I don't want that type of commitment in my life at all on any level. What I want is I want to be able to view different people's profiles. I want to pick which one I think is right. Then maybe I want to send them a message. I don't want to meet with them until I know what's going on here first. I want you to message me first. We have a little chat, then maybe we decide to meet in person. And then once we decide to meet in person, I want you to buy me a drink first. That's where we're going to start. We're not moving in together right away. That's the relationship. And that's where that goes. So that's really how I saw the program working in a virtual space. So the importance of touch points. It's hard as a community manager to engage with members on a one- on- one level. I can't assign people to specific, that assignment process can't happen when you're a team of one as a community manager. So what we ended up doing was using touch points. So we did use automation for recruitment. So if you post three times in our community, you get an email asking you to be a mentor. So when you're recruiting mentors was going to be one of the hardest things. And we wanted to get people that were already in using our online platform to do that. So we use automation to do that. The next automation inaudible sit here is, has enrolled as a mentee. So if you've enrolled as a mentee, have you searched for a mentor? So they get an email. So these are all examples of things that they do on the platform, the next level of participation that we want from them, we've automated to send emails. The other thing that I will mention is so important when you set up automation rules is the return address. The return address should not be connected community, do not send blah, blah, blah. It needs to be your personal email address because people respond back to some of these automation rules and they say, because they're designed to look like personal emails. So someone's going to respond back with a personal email," Hey, I'm having trouble finding a mentor." Or" Hey, I met with my mentee and he asked me for a laptop. He wanted me to buy him a laptop." Those are conversations you need to be having with your mentors and mentees within the program. And honestly, just within your community, you need to make it easy for them to find you. To be honest, I always respond back personally, once I get one of those, just to show that I am a person, I'm here to support you. That's important. Automation tends to be cold. I want to add that personal touch within our mentoring program and with our community at the same time balancing, I'm one person and I can only do so much. So I think there is a very fine line there for how you automate and what you do that way. But mentoring programs, touch points are very important. This is just an example of what we do. Virtual meetup. So the one thing that I found with successful programs across our organization was that they do, I should say in- person meetings, but they do some type of networking event quarterly. And so that's something that I wanted to do. However we were promoting this as a global virtual mentoring experience. So how do you do that? What I ended up doing is I ended up scheduling these calls where I would ask a mentor and a mentee to both lead a conversation where they'd share three successes, three challenges, and then invite the participants on the call to really collaborate and talk about what works for them in their mentoring relationships. Or maybe they have a question about working with their mentee. Whatever that is, we wanted to have a space for them to collaborate and get together and network. We ended up using the Higher Logic registration system, which is pretty easy. And that allows you to email back and forth with the participants. It also allows you to set up this pretty looking event page right here. So I can put the bios of the speakers and whatnot. So that's great. We've done the phone calls in Microsoft Teams. So again, that's something that we use already as an organization. So I was able to leverage Microsoft Teams. It really has been a time to connect members globally. We'll have members from my rack, we'll have members from Hawaii, we've had members from all over the world join this call. And there'll be people that have said," It's two o'clock in the morning here." It's so awesome to be able to have that participation. It's a more inclusive world and we're a more inclusive organization because you don't have to spend$ 600 for a plane ticket and a hotel room to meet other members. You can do it for free. It breaks down a socioeconomic element of your membership and who's involved in your organization. I think a lot of times, the most involved members are those that are 10, 15 years in and they have money to travel to these events, or their company's willing to pay for it. If you're an entry level, and in our case engineers, maybe your boss isn't sending you to a conference and you don't have the opportunity to network in the same way, but these virtual events really allow you to do that. So this is something we were doing since January 2019. And this was the same framework that we ended up using when we created the Thursdays @ 3 virtual round tables. So that was just helpful to pivot, but we've really found, usually we'll have 20 to 30 people that participate in this call. And really what it does is it's another touch point for mentors and mentees to say, oh yeah, mentoring, let me, let me check in with my mentor. So that's something that's really helpful. Expectations. This is one of the biggest things that we've seen as far as mentors and mentees. People connect a lot of times. We asked them to do a discovery call. If you will, to discuss their expectations. We find that mentors and mentees that have clear expectations have successful relationships. If you don't have those expectations that like, oh, maybe I'll email every once in a while, that is not successful. And then mentors and mentees tend to be unclear about the expectations, how often they're meeting and whatnot. So we provide a sample partnership policy that's on our website and we actually have a way for you to submit it electronically if you wanted to. But basically it discusses how many hours are you going to meet? How many times a month? Who will initiate the meeting, agree to meet until the date or goal is accomplished? Which I think that's really important is either a lot of our relationships are date based or goal based, but we really want mentoring partners to be working towards a goal. That's so important. So these last three things, agenda, summary, how many days will be provided. That comes form a more rigid idea of mentoring that again, we were trying to break down with this here, but we still included it. If that was something that pair thought was helpful is providing an agenda, providing a summary. Some of our partnerships don't operate that way. Some of them text messages their mentors back and forth. It really just depends, but it's just important to have the expectations set. I don't care what you decide on. And you don't necessarily have to report it back to me, but it's more about accountability from the partners pair or the partnerships' mindset. We find and meet, do you have a large amount of mentees in our program that are not formally in a mentoring relationship? And again, sometimes when I get that response back from them, they're like, oh, I enrolled and I got busy and whatever, but again, to use that online dating mindset, I think mentoring is a good idea. I might create a profile. I might look at some other profiles, I'm going to scroll," Oh, that might be nice." But like really at the end of the day, do I want to take my pajamas off and put on some heels and go out to dinner? Probably not. It takes too much work. You know what I mean? People think mentoring is a great idea, but really it takes a lot of work and commitment on your part that a lot of times people aren't willing to do. Just like online dating. So we do see a lot of that. And a lot of times if we send that email a week out and that's the response like, Hey, thought it was a good idea. Maybe I'll participate later. I don't know, I'm actually not looking for a mentor right now. That's completely fine too. But that goes into the next part of this is resources. We do have both topical resources and mentoring resources. So we have a Webinar that someone put together. We have an email template that actually is a sample email template of how you would contact a mentor. So basically it's a plugin. Like, I so- and- so am interested in mentoring because, and it's literally just have lines for them to fill in the blanks for when they emailed their mentors. If anyone works in civil engineering. Well, I'm a civil engineering organization, but anyone that works in an engineering organization, they're engineers because they don't like to write. So communication can be a challenge and we try to support them to the best way as possible. So that email template I think is super helpful. We have a sample meeting agenda that helps mentees fill that out. If that's something that they want to be providing, we have a brochure on building a relationship that I developed in a PDF format. Again, like I said, we have formal expectations that we have posted on the website. We also have talking points for when they schedule a discovery call, we have a PowerPoint on using the platform and then information on ending a relationship. So that can be a little bit difficult as far as like saying goodbye. So I put together a document on the best way to do that too. And then in addition to that, we also have topical resources. So we have a student and younger member online portal that we developed at the very same time that we were developing our mentoring program. And really the goal was to design that portal for student and younger members to really be an asset and resource for the mentoring program. So it goes both ways. And that portal itself also has a discussion forum for students and younger members. So really the integration here between that online community and mentoring really, there was a lot of integration between the things and the work that we were doing. A lot of these topics, the topical resources were essentially curated content pages that we had developed for this student and younger member portal. But I was developing content that way, based on the mentoring topics that we had decided would be good for our program. So when you enroll as a mentee, you select things that you're interested in. So maybe I'm interested in looking for a job, maybe it's preparing for professional licensure, maybe it's writing a resume. So there are all these goals that you can work through. And that's how that worked. So again, with that, sharing topic related content was really important. So with these Thursdays @ 3, that we developed, or even with some blogs or with these curated content type pieces based on topic, some of those resources, what I will do is I will go through periodically and I will pull a list of all the mentees in the program that have enrolled in certain topics. And I'll send them an email and I'll say," Hey, we are committed as an organization to support you in your career related goals. We want to provide you the best content available in helping you achieve your goals. Because of that, I thought you'd be interested in this virtual round table or in this topic page." So those are ways that to again, connect the dots within the content that you're creating and then your mentoring program. So even though they may not be actively participating in a mentoring relationship, they're still benefiting from the content that the community is creating. So I think that's helpful. The program is very much about perceived value. So after the first six months, the mentor back, to homepage had 4500 page views. So we really saw emails from members and non- members. And funny enough, one of which was an NFL quarterback that wanted to get into civil engineering. I won't tell you who that was, but we were able to connect him to someone in the program, but that was funny. It was the first month of the program and we had an NFL quarterback find us just because he was interested in civil engineering. So the microsite itself currently has 66,000 Patriots total. So again, it's one of those things that I'll share how many people actually participate, but it's more a program that people know that it's there for them if they need it, if they want to get involved will participate. So it's definitely more about the perceived value as a whole. We did do a survey. It's funny, very small percentage of people said that they wouldn't recommend it, but a lot of people said they're not sure. Which really just means they probably haven't used the platform. Then again, only 3% said that they would plan on participating in the future. Again, the 22% probably never really participated as far as KPIs go, this point over a thousand members have enrolled since the program launched. In September, we had 226 people with active mentor profiles, 668 active mentee profiles, and then 165 active relationships, which really that's huge. That's the number that we want. And a lot of is too, as far as the reporting goes within the mentor match module is not ideal. Some people can connect necessarily just through the platform and not actually request someone formally in a mentoring relationship. It's a metric, but really there could be a lot more relationships that have been formed that no one's actually gone through the formal process. So it's kind of like take it with a grain of salt and then also in September 49 completed relationships. So again, huge, well, I shouldn't say huge because it really doesn't seem like a whole lot of numbers, but really considering the amount of participation that mentoring programs typically get. This is pretty decent, especially virtually. Testimonials. So I'll read these off." This relationship has changed my idea of what mentorship has to look like and become an invaluable tool in my career development toolbox." And then lastly," My mentoring relationship has been great. I'm glad that I have a mentor who is helping me shape the future." So I hear from mentors, I hear from mentees, through those automation walls on a weekly basis and the impact has been huge. People finding jobs, people connecting across the country. We had one individual that joined our organization just to participate. And it took him a year to find a job. But his mentor was in the trenches with him. And I would get updates about different job interviews that he went on. And finally he ended up landing that job. But the next step was not only finding a job. He wanted help finding a girlfriend. So they have not been successful in the girlfriend aspect, but they found a job. But anyways, it's been great. And I think I shared within the Super Forum community yesterday, that it's really great to see things that the community does that impact people's lives. And that's what we should be doing as a community professionals is really working to impact people's professional and also personal wellbeing. That's the job that we have and that's what we do on a daily basis. And it's really fun and exciting to make that kind of impact on people's lives. So with that being said, feel free to connect with me at any point. Love to talk to you more.

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Mentoring is a key element of the member journey. But what does mentoring look like during a global pandemic? Leverage your online community! See how ASCE is rethinking the mentoring experience, using community resources, and automating the program with Higher Logic.

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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Tirza Austin

|Manager, Online Community at American Society of Civil Engineers