Tips to Measure and Improve Your Member Engagement

By: Gerald Bramm, President, Bramm Research Inc.

Measuring and improving member engagement continues to be a dominant conversation in the association world. In this article, I will present my thoughts on measuring engagement and improving engagement.

Measuring engagement

Conversations about member engagement usually relate to a member’s relationship to the association. Is the member active or passive? Do they attend events, do they volunteer? Are they involved or do they simply send in their member dues?

Quantifying member engagement has typically focused on behavioural or transactional measures i.e. event attendance, product purchase and other forms of participation. Sometimes a score is attached to each type of interaction. Higher forms of commitment e.g. conference attendance or volunteering receive higher scores.

Some associations will use their AMS to track member scores. Such a tracking mechanism can create an overall engagement score but also serve as an “early warning system” alerting the association to reach out to members whose scores have dropped and who may be at risk of not renewing.  The assumption that underlies this approach to engagement is that higher levels interaction will lead to greater loyalty, member satisfaction and ultimately, member retention.

This approach may work to track behavior in a physical world but what about interactions that take place in the virtual world?  Measuring interactions with an association, particularly in a post-Covid world now need to include virtual meeting attendance, opens, views, clicks, likes and shares.

Measuring engagement – an alternative approach

Measuring all of the possible member interactions with an association has become complicated. But more than that, this form of measurement overlooks the important fact that your members define their engagement and not you. Deciding that certain activities represent a specific engagement value may not accurately reflect how your members see their relationship with the association and the value that they feel they receive.

Engagement is an attitude and limiting your measurement to behavior won’t give you a complete picture of a member’s commitment. What needs to be incorporated into this model is information that captures a member’s beliefs and attitudes about your association and its role in their lives.

What I’m suggesting is that you periodically collect attitudinal information from your members. This may take the form of asking members to indicate their level of agreement with a number of attitudinal statements pertaining to their membership in the organization.

One piece of information that we like to collect is a member’s Net Promoter score (NPS). NPS is an open-source management tool that can serve as a loyalty metric. In the consumer world, a considerable body of research has shown a correlation between increases in loyalty and revenue growth.

We have adapted the Net Promoter question to read as follows, “How likely is it that you would recommend membership in our association to a work colleague”?  Respondents answer by using a 0 to 10 scale with “0” meaning “not at all likely” and 10 being equal to “extremely likely”.  Typically, this question is followed by an open-ended question asking for reasons for a specific response. Based on the response to this question, a respondent is classified as a promoter (a score of 9 or 10), passive (scores of 7 or 8) or a detractor (6 or below).

There is value in tracking the percentage of your members that fall into each category. But more than this, there is considerable value in following up with more in-depth research. For example, amongst your promoters, what defines these most loyal supporters and ambassadors and what do you need to continue doing to earn their ongoing support? Amongst your less loyal members, where is the association falling short of their needs?  What conditions would have to exist that would result in a “detractor” becoming a “promoter”?

Improving Member Engagement

So far, we’ve been talking about measuring engagement. I have suggested that by combining behavioral and attitudinal components together we can arrive at an idea of where our members exist along an engagement continuum. From there we can make decisions regarding how best to move members along that continuum.

But how do you actually generate engagement?  My underlying belief is that your members are looking to your association to help solve problems and challenges and assist them in achieving their goals and aspirations. When you help your members succeed, your members will engage with you and your association succeeds. 

In my view, many associations spend too much time in their member surveys asking members to evaluate current programs and services. This is like driving down the highway while looking in the rear-view mirror.

Instead this time should be spent developing a deep understanding of your members. What are their challenges, anxieties, fears, frustrations and headaches? What are their goals and aspirations?  Take their answers and apply thought and creativity to come up with programs and services that will address these challenges. This, in my opinion, is the essence of a “needs analysis” and ultimately, will generate improved levels of engagement.

In my view we need to be more member-centric. Ultimately the member-centric association uses deep insights to understand where their members are going and the role the association can play in helping them overcome obstacles, achieve their goals and reach their destination.

Gerald Bramm has operated Bramm Research for more than 25 years. He has worked on hundreds of projects both in Canada and the U.S. and has experience in all types of survey research, from large-scale online surveys to focus groups and individual interviews.
“The bulk of our work is with professional and business/trade associations. Our focus is on member engagement, needs assessment and compensation and benefits surveys.” Gerald is a member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). He is currently working on his CAE designation. Gerald is also a member of the MRIA (Marketing Research and Intelligence Association). He holds the CMRP designation (Certified Marketing Research Professional).