The shift to online member engagement among associations accelerated dramatically with the onset of COVID-19. According to an article from AssociationsNow, a majority of association leaders, during this time, expanded investment in digital channels like online education, virtual conferences, and digital content platforms.

While the trend towards online member engagement was happening for years, the need for associations to pivot during COVID was more important than ever. To replace in-person meetings and events, associations began investing in digital alternatives that helped replace lost revenue in the short term. It was critical for associations to take a re-prioritize and invest approach, not just a slash and hold approach. Organizations that radically reduced their portfolios during previous crises came out on the other side less prepared than those that did not.

It was also important for associations to start thinking ahead to their long-term strategy. Senior executives needed access to both new and near real-time critical data to make unprecedented decisions in the short term and inform adjustments to their medium to long term business strategies and operational plans 

An article from the Harvard Business Review argued that we needed imagination more than ever, suggesting that companies who focused on imagination would be able to “reap significant value.” Their article goes on to explain that companies who could think strategically and use imagination to find creative solutions would be more likely to thrive in the future.

The idea was to innovate to remain relevant, focusing on new products or services that resonate with members. The same concepts still hold true.

One way for associations to innovate is to take the membership engagement data that’s being created in their digital platforms and use it to identify revenue opportunities. Platforms like online communities, learning management systems, social media, and other digital content platforms are typically rich sources of data that can provide insight to member needs and preferences.

If your association is heavily invested in digital, you should also be figuring out a solution for analyzing all the digital member engagement and transactional data being created.

This usually requires a centralized data warehouse or data lake, with the ability to run visualizations and perform data analysis in near real-time. The ROI on this investment in data and analytics is that you will have a single source of trusted data that provides key business intelligence. This will help make the member engagement data more actionable, helping your business discover new opportunities to optimize results and grow profit.


How BI solutions help you understand online engagement

Engagement data lives in multiple systems and it is mostly considered to be unstructured data captured as text. To see trends from this text-based data, associations should use a BI platform that can take large volumes of engagement data and allow you to perform data analysis.

The goal of analytics is to provide insights that lead to action and many associations are already using their online engagement data to inform business strategy. Specifically, trends from online member engagement data can help to understand:

  • Influencers and thought-leaders in your community
  • Topics that are most relevant to members
  • Points of frustration for members
  • Causes of member churn
  • Products that are most popular with members

Looking for trends in engagement data will help your association to better understand member needs and will help you to adapt and remain relevant in the future. It enables you to make decisions with confidence and pivot quickly. 

For example, a webinar we hosted with NAFSA shared how they are closely monitoring the data as things evolve. One outcome is that they noticed many of their constituents had questions related to visa regulations and they were able to act quickly to get a website page published that directly addressed this specific member concern. They identified this topic using data from their online community, and it is a great example of how you can take what members are saying and use that insight to deliver relevant content or services.


BI should be a part of your association strategy ahead

It’s important to have a clear business case for why your association should invest in data and analytics. Cost reduction is an important priority, but adapting the business model through data and analytics will allow for long term success. As you think ahead, it’s going to be even more important for you to have data that is accessible in near real-time, to quickly adapt as things change.

You may have understood how members felt in the past, but it’s important to our member sentiment and interests in real-time so you can adapt and remain agile as things change. Knowing where and when to leverage your resources, what programs are no longer profitable and how to best re-prioritize and invest will only help your bottom line. Here are three ways BI can help improve your association business outcomes:

#1 Improves targeted marketing

Your association most likely uses marketing as a channel for growth. Analytics will help you better segment your audience for more personalized, targeted marketing. Understanding what content and topics are relevant to certain member segments allows you to send the right message to the right member at the right time.

#2 Creates insights into new opportunities

Your association most likely is always looking for new revenue opportunities. Analytics will help you to understand member needs and preferences, helping you to come up with new products, services, and content you can offer to generate additional revenue.

#3 Enables you to evaluate business performance

Most importantly, your association is likely focused on understanding business outcomes. As you invest in new programs, you need comprehensive reporting on the business impact so you can strategically cut under-performing programs or double-down on programs that are performing well.


Additional Resources

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team hosted a series of discussions on how your association can leverage data and analytics to improve business outcomes. The sentiment and tips are still highly relevant. If your association hasn’t yet, it’s time to build a foundation so you can make data-informed strategy decisions in the future.