5 Ways to Get Your Members Moving Today
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. I'm excited to have a special guest here today to talk about ways to get your members moving, which I think is a really fun topic, because we always talk about member engagement. This is the member engagement podcast, but sometimes you have lulls in engagement. You know, sometimes there is a lot of activity around a launch or an event or things that are happening in your industry. And sometimes there's quiet times when you need to get folks moving and bring people back into the community, get members re- engaged. So I think there's a lot of fun things that we can talk about around this topic.
Heather McNair: Yeah, absolutely. I think, we tend to focus a lot around the launch and put a lot of energy there and then kind of forget. But sometimes we see it with education communities after the summer break or after the Christmas break. You kind of have to kickstart things again sometimes, or yeah, after the holidays in general. But yeah, you do have to infuse energy again from time to time. And we have, we definitely have some tried and true techniques that we talk about a lot and I think Sarah has come up with some new stuff that's also really exciting. So yeah, without further ado, let's invite Sara Maloney to the floor.
Sara Maloney: Hi, thank you guys for having me today.
Alex Mastrianni: Of course. Thanks for joining us. Do you want to tell the audience a little bit about yourself?
Sara Maloney: Yeah, definitely. So my name is Sara Maloney and I am a team lead and a community manager on the strategic services team at Higher Logic. So I work day- to- day with 10 to 15 clients at a time, in addition to helping other team members manage their clients, and just developing new strategies and new tactics for our clients all the time. I've been at Higher Logic for close, or just over three years now. So definitely have loved working here and enjoy the work that I get to do with customers on a day- to- day basis.
Alex Mastrianni: So where did you get the idea for this topic? Can you give us a little bit of background there, or I'm sure you've encountered this with customers from time to time?
Sara Maloney: Yeah, so this is definitely a really important topic to cover, because I think that people think of community as a very intimidating topic and they don't quite know where to start. And while it is definitely important to have a broader community scheme, there are definitely tactics that you can implement very quickly to see a difference in your community that your members or your users will appreciate right off the bat. So that's kind of the goal of what this topic was about was to make sure that people understand the ways that they can quickly get their members moving without too much of a lift or work on their end.
Heather McNair: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the first things you've talked about, you've tried, is interviewing your members. So tell us a little bit about how that's helped you as a community manager and how that's helped organizations get their communities going?
Sara Maloney: So interviews are probably one of my favorite parts of the strategic planning process that we do here. I have my customers ask me all the time, " Hey, how do we know what our members want? How do we find out what they want?" And I mean, the simplest answer is, just ask them. And that's the whole point of doing these interviews or surveys if you're not able to do interviews or focus groups. We get so many small details out of these conversations. Like one question that I always like to ask is, " Hey, how do you access the community?" Because I find that instinctively when we want to highlight something on the community, we put it on the homepage. But through some of these interviews I've found that some people don't look at the homepage, right? They access the community through their daily digest, which takes them to a different link. So they don't even actually end up on the homepage, which was incredibly insightful to learn and to hear from these interviews. That's just one example of the kind of feedback that we get in these.
Alex Mastrianni: Yeah. That's really interesting, because you would think, " Oh, homepage, the first thing you see, everybody must go there." But you're not going to get that information unless you talk to people and every audience is different. So this is like one of those best practice things. I feel like I've been hearing a lot of people say lately, " Well, it's not a best practice if everybody does it." But the idea of a survey can be a best practice, because it's the tactic or it's the idea, it's the overall strategy. But then when you talk to, I'm sure if you talk to five different organizations that you work with, their members would have five different responses. And then you can take that information and you can personalize the experience, based on what your members do or how they're using the community. So that's a really interesting point that you found.
Sara Maloney: Surveying members, even if it's done annually is so easy to do. And you just get incredibly valuable feedback from it.
Heather McNair: Yeah, I think one of the mistakes that I see, or mistake may be too strong of a word, but when people are planning communities, they assume that they know what their community members, what their end users are going to want. And how they want things structured. And like you said, how they access the community. I love that question. We just, we make a lot of assumptions and having those conversations, so many rich details come out that can be very eyeopening and can completely change your strategy, your structure. So what are your other favorite questions to ask in these things?
Sara Maloney: Yeah, so we have quite a laundry list of questions to ask, but we start with some membership background questions. So, how long have you been a member of this organization? Why did you initially join this organization? Did you consider other organizations to join at the time? Or what other organizations are you a member of right now? Then we move more into some broader membership questions. So, what are your favorite parts of the membership? Are there features of your membership that you never take advantage of? And that's usually telling. People either have an answer and they're very gung- ho on that answer or they aren't aware, like they don't think there's anything there that they are missing out on, which even if there is, if they're not aware of that, that's still a good thing. Then once we jump into those more community- based questions, that's where we'll ask them, " How often do you go into the community? Why do you access the community?" And another interesting thing that I've found is most people I've spoken with only enter the community if they have a reason. They're not entering the community to look around to see what they can help with. They need something to bring them in there. And while they're there finding their answer, they might help someone else. But they're just not in their day- to- day.
Heather McNair: Yeah, I love that you said that. That is one of the most powerful things that's come out of a lot of the data research that we've done is that we'd love to think that people are just browsing the community on a day- to- day basis. That would be I think a community manager's dream, but it doesn't happen. And so one of the best things we can do is to create an environment where when they do come there, they can easily find what they're looking for, but that it also is sticky. Like once they get there, once they find what they're looking for, that they do then end up, I kind of joke about going down the rabbit hole. You know, it's like when you go to Amazon or whatever, next thing you know you're looking at five other things and you end up with stuff in your shopping cart that you had no intention of buying. But the same thing in a community that you found what you're looking for, but then you end up reading other posts, you end up getting engaged in other conversations. And we have found in the research that the more clicks people take, the more things they look at, the more likely they are then to contribute content. And then obviously the more likely they are to contribute content then we're seeing correlations to higher retention, higher net promoter scores, that type of thing. So we do want to encourage that kind of behavior as much as we can.
Alex Mastrianni: Yeah, there's so much information that you can can get from these surveys and the interviews. So that's a really great tip. I like that one a lot, and something that is easy for people to act on, whether you want to do one- on- one interviews, focus groups, or survey a lot of people at once and get a bunch of feedback that you can act on. And then of course, make members really happy when you apply some of those changes based on their feedback. The next thing that you mentioned that I personally is one of my favorite ones is a virtual office hour, or happy hour too, who doesn't love a happy hour. So we've actually implemented some of these virtual office hours here at Higher Logic with our customers and our community hug. But how do you think this helps keep members engaged? What has been your experience with customers there?
Sara Maloney: I will start by saying that this is a very broad concept and we've thought about applying it in many communities in many different ways. So one of my clients is considering launching this to specifically get women to connect, because women in their field are a little bit more sparse. So they want to use it in that way. Whereas I have another community customer who at their annual conference this past year, which was virtual, they did a very similar process called shop talks, and they want to now carry that over into a more office hours type setting that they then connect to the community in a stronger way. So I think they're really great for many different purposes. What I've noticed about these kinds of casual get togethers on the phone in general is they tend to work best with people who don't have a really strong sense of community elsewhere. So if your association is full of members where your members are the only person at their company who are in their role, I'm sure we can all think of someone like that at our company. Who do they get to talk to you on a day- to- day basis? Probably nobody about the work that they do. So setting them up on a call like this allows them to have this peer- to- peer conversation and allows them to network in a very casual way that then they really feel like they have this sense of community with others.
Alex Mastrianni: Yeah, I like that. It's an easy way to introduce people. And then, after you have those virtual meetings online, you can take it to the community afterwards and continue the discussion. Maybe get them involved over there, get some of the lurkers in the community who maybe were afraid to go to the virtual office, that way they can see some of the topics discussed and maybe choose to participate in future events. So there's a nice way to tie it back there too.
Sara Maloney: Yeah, and I think that I got an interesting question when I had a webinar on this topic of, " What do you do on these virtual office hours or happy hours if someone is consistently showing up, but they don't actually talk, they don't engage with the group?" And I think that's a prime candidate for an interview. Going back to that tip of, just reach out over email, thank them for coming. And just ask if there's anything that they feel could be improved to get them to participate.
Heather McNair: Has anything come out about, are they still getting value, even if they're not participating? Or is there something you can do to trigger their participation?
Sara Maloney: Yeah, definitely. So through a lot of research that we've done, and specifically that you've done, Heather, we've learned that most people in online communities or in your association are going to be lurkers. So it doesn't mean that they are not finding value in the community, they're just finding it in a different way. I'm a part of plenty of online communities and Facebook groups and stuff like that, that I read on a daily basis, but I don't interact. And so it can be tough for people to take that next step and start engaging. And that's where it may be helpful to have that one- on- one conversation with them and just figure out what it is that makes them tick and what they would like to see in order for them to engage.
Heather McNair: I know that The Community Roundtable, who's one of our partners, they're big thought leader in the community space, talks a lot about building that sense of safety in communities to get people to over that help of participating. And this is where I love that there's virtual happy hours, those kind of smaller events where it may only be 10 people, 15 people, 20 people. And I think that helps those people who are a little shyer feel safer, feel like, " Okay, I may not speak out in a forum where there's 10, 000 people, or even in an event where there's 500. But if there's 10 people, chances are I know a lot of them and I may feel safer speaking out in that in a more casual environment like that." So that's I think another big benefit to doing something, like these events that you're talking about.
Sara Maloney: Right. And one example that I love to tell people about is, if you made a Facebook status or posted an Instagram post and it got no likes, no comments, you would not post again. And so that's the safety of these events is you know that when you put yourself out there you will be responded to.
Alex Mastrianni: That's a really good point. And then you're more likely to be active and engaged and come back or do it again. So really great point there. I'm excited about the next one to ask the expert. So I feel like I participated in similar things like this because you know, every industry, every profession, there are people out there who you just want to hear from, because they've done something really cool, or they're a specialist in some topic. So you recommend to customers that they try and ask the expert session or event so they can talk to a particular subject matter expert in their fields. How do those work and how do you suggest people choose topics and find the right expert?
Sara Maloney: Yeah, so these are definitely one of my favorite events too. I actually had one earlier this week, but in terms of how they work. So we conduct them on a live discussion thread in an online community. So there's no video or audio component where you're engaging with the members who are submitting questions to you. That usually throws people off at first. But we have that event that way for a couple of different ways. One, people right now are zoomed out. They don't want to get on a Zoom call for everything, especially if this event is taking place in the middle of the workday, they sometimes just can't. So having an event where you can come in, post your question, and then leave and know it'll be answered is a really nice way for members to interact. And then the event itself can actually serve as a piece of marketing content for you after the fact. So it's really easy for you to share a PDF or screenshots of this event on social media or in an email promotion so that people can go ahead and look through the discussion without needing to again sit through an hour or so of listening to a recording. In terms of choosing a topic and an expert. I always recommend choosing a topic, especially for your first one that is just going to be a home run with your members. Make sure that it is good, that it's popular. Make sure it's not something that's only important to you. If it is, then they probably won't really engage with it as much as we like to kind of tactfully put out our promotions and our announcements and what we want to push. So I would start with the topic. And then once you've chosen the topic, think about who is an expert in that field, whether it's someone on your staff, or more likely a member of your organization, or even someone outside of the association that you bring in.
Heather McNair: Sarah, you've talked to before about how to figure out what those topics are. What are some tricks that you've used in your communities to figure out what the hot buttons are for your members, for your users?
Sara Maloney: Yeah. Well, knowing what you know about your industry for your association, it might just be what's happening in the world. When COVID happened we had so many conversations in almost every community happening around COVID in a different way, depending on how it impacted that industry and those professionals. Aside from something in the real world affecting our online conversations, anything that you see constantly coming up as a hot button conversation, for some organizations it might be cyclical. Maybe every summer teachers are planning and they constantly want to talk about that. So it might make sense that you have that as a recurring topic to hit on. For other associations it might be as you see, hot topics come up in the community. So if you see a conversation that's getting lengthy in your community and plenty of people are participating, that's a good sign that you should take that topic and turn it into some kind of event that your organization is putting on for the members. It shows that you're listening. And then you can also, of course, look at your reports for your online community if you have one to see what people are searching for, what the most downloaded items are, and what the most replied to conversations are.
Heather McNair: Yeah, you've actually changed the navigation in some of your communities based on those search routes.
Sara Maloney: Yes. Yeah, we have.
Heather McNair: I guess it shows the power of paying attention to your analytics.
Sara Maloney: Yeah, sometimes you get some funky search terms showing up in the search terms report, but sometimes it can indicate a lack of member knowledge. It happens a lot where we see people search for a name in the search bar, which tells us they don't know how to use the member directory. So, that's one of the most common ones I come across.
Heather McNair: It points for opportunities for education. period. Like whether it's topics or usage of the community, whatever it may be. Yeah, absolutely.
Alex Mastrianni: Okay, so the search topic is a perfect segue into the next tip that you had shared about seed questions and frequently asked questions. Do you have any tactics that can help organizations who are maybe feeling a lull in their member engagement? You know, for example, people haven't asked questions in the community for a while, or things are really active after an event, and then they quieted down, or something like that. What would you suggest to organizations like that?
Sara Maloney: Yeah, that's a really important topic, and one that we hear about all the time. So seed questions or seed content is the perfect way to get people to engage who historically haven't engaged, or if you are seeing a lull in conversation. And basically what that entails is you reaching out to an assortment of your member base and asking them what they want to ask the rest of their association, or asking them if there is a specific challenge that they're facing in their job or their day- to- day that they would like feedback on. Once they respond, that gives us a lot of content to work with in an online community. And it's also helpful to see what people consistently have questions on. It's not uncommon when you send out a pretty broad email like that to receive completely unrelated responses, but people asking like, " You know, while I have you, actually how do I go update my profile?" Something like that. So it's a good opportunity for you to gather information on what people, again, need more education on, and also helps you stimulate kind of fake organic content in the community. If you're not familiar with how we post seed content, it involves posting it from someone's profile. So it looks organic, but it was really planted when we did see lulls in conversation and we wanted to kind of reinvigorate that community.
Alex Mastrianni: Right. But it's real, because it's coming from a real person.
Heather McNair: Yes.
Alex Mastrianni: How do you identify who to ask those questions to?
Sara Maloney: So we tend to see about a 40% response rate to this email. So take that into consideration when you're thinking about how many people to reach out to. But overall just a broad range of people in your membership. I sometimes try to prioritize people who we haven't heard from before. So maybe emailing people who we haven't seen log into the community, and we still want to hear their input. So we need to meet them where they are, which is in their inbox. And I always think it's interesting to see how many people have never contributed in an online community before, but they're very quick to respond to that email because they do want to converse.
Heather McNair: On that email, Sarah. I think one of the things that we've found is that it shouldn't look like a marketing email.
Sara Maloney: Yeah, that's a good point.
Heather McNair: Yeah, I'm just, I'm guessing that you've consistently seen that as well. Like it shouldn't have a logo. It should look like it's an email that comes from you.
Sara Maloney: Yeah, it should look like it is a one- off email from Sara Maloney or Heather McNair or Alex. It should just look like it is coming from that individual. And the point of that is, yeah, people don't think it's a marketing email and they've really think that you need their individual help. And that has been really key. Additionally, don't make your email too long. I remember I started working with a client a while ago and we were new to working together and they were very adamant that their emails to their members had to be very descriptive. So we sent this long email for seed questions. It got no responses. It was amazing. I'd never seen one get no responses. And I said, " Let's try this again. Let's just send a short and sweet one. Let's change the subject line." And we did, and we got responses and it just goes to show you, people associate a long email with marketing, and people associate a short email with a one- off send to a member.
Alex Mastrianni: Yeah, and then they feel like, " Oh, Sara reached out to me. I better respond to her. She's waiting for a response from me." Whereas if it is a really flashy branded email they know, " Oh, this one to a 1, 000 people. So somebody else is going to respond and provide feedback. I don't need to."
Sara Maloney: Exactly.
Heather McNair: Yeah, which just for the record I think it's painful for all of us, because I think all three of us on this podcast have marketing backgrounds.
Alex Mastrianni: Oh yes.
Sara Maloney: Yeah.
Heather McNair: Just, to go on record. And Sara, I want to go back for one second about you were saying the fake organic content, one of the points of pushback we sometimes get about seed content is that it's disingenuous. So people don't feel comfortable doing it. Kind of have you run into that, and how have you countered that?
Sara Maloney: Yeah, community members, I don't think I've ever had a situation where they noticed that it is planted. No, I guess I haven't had a situation like that. I definitely have had concerns from clients around the effort that doing seed content involves compared to the reward. But we've seen it with clients who choose to forego that stack when they launch a community, they are significantly less successful at launch because they didn't want to take that step. I would say it's not disingenuous just because we are open with the member that we will be posting on behalf of, we tell them this will come from their account. We get permission from them. So they're completely aware. And I think that that kind of fixes any concerns that the organization might have.
Heather McNair: And it's a question they legitimately want to ask. You're just helping them ask it, right? You're like helping them-
Sara Maloney: Exactly.
Heather McNair: ...craft it in a way that elicits response, you're working on timing. So it goes out at the right time when we need to generate conversation.
Sara Maloney: Yeah, yeah. That's a great point. We see it happen a lot where someone will post a question and maybe have not been as descriptive as they should, or not as clear as they could have been, or their subject line just wasn't catchy enough in their post. And if we reach out and help them and say, " Hey, I think you would actually get responses if we make these tweaks," that we see responses. So it's just skipping that initial step.
Heather McNair: Talking to you, all of this obviously takes a lot of steps. Helping them craft the messages, reaching out to people, and also making sure these questions get answered. That's a huge part of the success of a community. You mentioned earlier on, if you post something on Instagram and it doesn't get any likes, the chances of you going back and posting something again are slim to none. So, how do you go about making sure that you have people to answer these questions? You know, obviously you can't do this alone, and a lot of people within community management, they're wearing other hats, they're doing multiple things. So, how do you kind of mobilize a group of people to help you do this?
Sara Maloney: Yeah. So sometimes incentives are definitely needed, but I think the important thing is making sure that the actions that you're asking these people to complete, whether they're on your internal staff team or they are volunteers, make sure that they're clear on what they need to do, how frequently they need to take these actions, and make it as easy for them as possible. One example I have is in a community we really needed to mobilize our staff to go ahead and answer unanswered questions in the community, but it took up a lot of time on their end if they would need to go into the community, look around for which questions didn't get answers, figure out which ones they could answer, versus maybe which ones needed to go to a different person. So we made up an unanswered questions page for them. And when we did that we just had an automated email go out every two weeks that said, " Hey, go ahead and check out what hasn't been answered yet." That combined with an internal tool that we had that told us which types of questions should be routed to which individuals made it a much easier process. And it was virtually painless for everyone once it was set up.
Alex Mastrianni: Yeah, I love that idea. And I really like your point about expectations and making sure that everyone's aware of what's involved, what's entailed, because people want to help. But sort of going back to the last point about sending out an email to a ton of people, everybody thinks somebody else can do it, but if they know, " Oh, I need to be on the lookout for this reminder email about the unanswered questions or threads. And I need to answer at least two questions a month from this list or one answer a week or something like that." People will be more likely to spring into action when they see those notifications.
Heather McNair: Yeah, and I've also found that when you're not only talking staff, but volunteers especially, back 13 years ago we felt like we had to give people huge prizes, big rewards to do this stuff. We were giving out iPads and all sorts of crazy things. And obviously we don't always have budgets for things like that. And I found over the years that we could do a whole show on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and all of this, a ribbon, a badge on their profile, recognition, public recognition saying thanks for doing this, goes really as far, if not further than an iPad. People love giving back to their community and they love just being thanked for doing that and being recognized for doing that.
Sara Maloney: Yeah, definitely. Especially to your point if it happens in a public setting, so on an online community or through a newsletter or something, and if the recognition comes from someone high up who you didn't even know was looking at your efforts, that is really powerful and it leaves people feeling good for a long time. Where to your point a thank you gift might accomplish that for a short period of time, but we don't see that be as long- term.
Heather McNair: That is such a great point, Sara. I think it's like when your CEO reaches out and thanks you for doing something and yeah, in front of the whole staff, that's a great equivalent.
Alex Mastrianni: Just to look at our full list here, now that we've gone through all of these different ideas, the five different ways or tactics that you can implement to start get members moving right now, our member surveys and interviews, virtual office hours, ask the expert sessions, seed questions, or a frequently asked questions list, and mobilizing volunteers. Sara, thank you so much for coming on the show today. What I really like about these ideas is that, depending on the maturity of your community or your organization, or what's happening right now in your specific association, there is something on this list for everyone that you can probably go talk to a teammate about and figure out how to implement to get members engaged and motivated and coming back again and again. So thank you for sharing these tips.
Sara Maloney: Yeah, anytime. And I'll add that these should be successful, no matter what happens over the next few months and years. Whether we stay in a hybrid environment or go back to in- person, they should still all apply. So I encourage you to try them out.
Heather McNair: Thank you so much, Sara. And I think that is a wrap for another podcast, another episode of The Member Engagement Show.
You’re sending emails, you’re hosting virtual events, you’re making calls. Are your members listening? You want your members to get what they need from your association. But to do that, you need to involve and engage them effectively. On this episode, community pro, Sara Maloney, is sharing five tactics you can implement today—not 6 months or a year from now—to boost member activity.