Associations With Engaged Communities Have Higher Retention Rates

If you read this blog, you know I’m obsessed with two things: associations and community management. I’ve been happy to see a slight uptick in associations hiring community managers this year--although salaries seem to be significantly lower than the average salaries reported in the Community Roundtable's recent salary survey (the average salary for community manager is almost $70k; the average association community manager salaries that I have seen have been significantly lower than that). And I truly believe that successful online communities are a key ingredient in member retention, and that eventually associations will realize this and start investing in staff with community management expertise.

The community management nerd in me was thrilled when I saw Rachel Happe’s postcorrelating successful communities--enabled by community management expertise--with higher market value. She points out that, while right now just correlational, the evidence is encouraging and definitely suggests that organizations that are advanced in their use of communities are far outpacing the market.

But what about associations? What if there was data showing that associations with best-in-class communities had higher member retention rates? Well, guess what? There is.

Higher Logic and MGI's recently released Community Benchmarking Report contains a figure that shows a comparison of average renewal rates from MGI’s 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report and the associations that Higher Logic’s own research showed to have a more engaged online community who agreed to participate in a blind-comparison between the two studies. As you can see from the figure below, organizations with engaged online communities show a definite increase in renewal rates--for individual member associations, 79% vs. 76% and for trade associations, 92% versus 85%.

From the report: “The renewal rates for engaged organizations sampled for this analysis were consistently higher than the industry average renewal rates cited by MGI. While these results are preliminary and more research is necessary before any definitive statement can be made...this is evidence that having an engaged online community could play a beneficial role in developing a successful retention program.”

As both Rachel and Higher Logic point out, at this point, evidence like this is merely correlational, but to me it feels like vindication for my obsession and gut instinct that online communities matter to associations’ bottom lines….and that community management should definitely matter to associations.

Making Sense of Social Media Analytics

Whew, it's been a busy few weeks. At the beginning of October, I had the pleasure of finally going to (or at least *near*) Boston for the first time in my (long) life to present about social media analytics at NESAE's Technology Conference. It's a topic that I think is really important for associations, yet also a challenge for them. Whereas a few years ago in the association community, social media was a topic that dominated almost every event agenda, the topic has all but fallen off the radar in favor of this year's hot topics, content marketing, big data and the like. The good news is that this is partly because associations seem to have mostly moved beyond the "should we be doing social media?" conversation and social media has, for the most part, become an integral part of most association's strategies across a number of departments.

It's one thing to be "doing" social media, but another to try to analyze whether efforts are effective, especially for associations. One thing I talked about at NESAE was the fact that, for for-profits, social media measurement is a bit easier because it seems to be tied mainly to marketing or PR. If you Google "social media measurement" you get a ton of stuff about measuring the ROI of social media marketing or calculating social media share of voice. That's great...but social media in the context of associations is broader than just marketing or PR--it’s part of almost every function of an association: communication, marketing, events, publications, membership, advocacy, continuing education, HR/recruiting, fundraising, etc. How do you map metrics to ALL of those functions?!

Another challenge beyond figuring what metrics to track is doing it on a shoestring--or non-existent budget. I've written about this before, and as the number of platforms keeps increasing, the problem only intensifies. Associations face several challenges when it comes to social media measurement. The first is that, especially at small associations, social media is often relegated to volunteers or interns. Expecting those people to also identify relevant metrics and prepare meaningful reports back to senior management is asking a lot, especially given the second association challenge--lack of budget for social media.

Even large associations with dedicated social media staff face the challenge of not having budgets for tools and/or staff. Just take a look at Socialfish's association social media series...many of the social media managers interviewed cite lack of budget for tools as a frustration, as well as the time it takes to do social media reporting. Having to rely on free tools or the native analytics of each separate social media platform means having to do a ton of manual work to pull together reports, as well as having to rely on platforms that either change constantly and/or disappear without warning. That's a lot to deal with even if you're the dedicated social media manager; for associations bootstrapping social media management with volunteers or sharing the responsibility across several staff as a tiny part of their already full job plates, it's an even bigger burden.

But don't let me get all gloom-and-doom on you--all is not lost when it comes to associations measuring the impact of their social media efforts. Hopefully my presentation can help, as can the resources I've put together, including a sample social media report.