There’s a growing demand for data within associations to help inform decision-making. And one of the biggest trends in this area that we’ve seen is online engagement for members.

In recently published research, it’s clear that many association business leaders are leaning into new online platforms to engage with members and they are looking at this as an opportunity to solidify their value proposition with members. Specifically, associations have been:

  • Creating new digital assets, including web content and resources for members
  • Replacing in-person events with virtual ones
  • Developing new products or services to adapt with the times
  • Increasing use of online communities for engagement and discussions

Many of these digital transformation initiatives have been in the works for quite some time, but COVID-19 pushed the urgency to move forward and make progress in the digital arena.


As engagement moves online, there’s more data than ever to manage

As associations pivot toward online programs, there’s also been an increase in the volume of data that is being created by members. This creates a greater opportunity to leverage the data to understand what is resonating with members and to understand what’s not effective.

In this way, the role of data has never been more important to association decision-makers. Right now, leaders are seeking to understand what is working with the business and where there are opportunities to both drive revenue and cut costs.

The association leaders I have spoken with over the last several months are using data to rapidly analyze data and use the findings to become more agile in their planning and execution processes. While historically it made sense to plan far out in advance, there is now a greater need for data in real-time and the ability to quickly pivot as the market changes.

The new cycle we’re in has become much more focused on empowering staff with data in real-time and using it to inform how you move forward. Becoming a data-driven organization can be summarized in three distinct steps:

1. Empowering staff with critical information to make decisions

While data was historically siloed or hard to access, new BI tools make it easy to empower executive teams, board of directors, and business managers with the data they need to make decisions. Particularly in these uncertain times, there is a greater focus on understanding key metrics like retention, membership, sales and orders and benchmarking the results against historical performance to understand if there are problems. The first step is to empower staff with the data and the next step is to quickly take action.

2. Understand members’ needs “in the moment” and responding

There’s a greater demand for data to be accessible in real-time so that issues can be resolved in a timely manner. More associations are looking to collect data from websites, community discussions, surveys, and other ways of quickly tapping into the pulse of members’ needs. When data is accessible in the moment, associations are then using these insights to respond with new products, services, and content that address different segments of their membership.

3. Measuring the results and understanding ROI or value of programs

The other reality for many associations is that there’s greater oversight into budgets to really understand what is driving value for members and is at the same time profitable for the business. Data is an asset for business leaders and boards as they look to strategically cut underperforming programs and re-invest that money into more profitable areas. With the rapidly changing business environment we’re in, it’s no longer enough to repeat last year’s playbook. More associations are using this as an opportunity to examine programs, understand what is driving value for members and focusing more of their attention on those high-impact initiatives.


Adopting a culture of data and optimizing business outcomes

Data is more important than ever to understanding what’s happening with a business, developing strategies to address these concerns, and ultimately measuring the effectiveness of these new programs. If a new online event is tremendously successful, this now becomes something that will be continued in the future, even when in-person events resume.

It’s an opportunity to diversify revenue streams and leverage technology to reach members at scale. Many associations are becoming much more agile, less afraid to test new initiatives online for members, and then adapting and making iterative changes based on what they are seeing in the results.

This is a powerful framework that may also require a shift in mindset for many organizations. When done effectively though, teams will have data that is actionable and available in real-time, with a process to evaluate results and then continuously refine strategies over time.