The shift to online member engagement seems to be accelerating because of the crisis at hand. According to a recent article from AssociationsNow, a majority of association leaders are expanding investment in digital channels like online education, virtual conferences, and digital content platforms. This trend towards online member engagement has been happening for years, but there’s now more urgency for associations to get it right.

The investment in digital channels is being made as a tactical response to Covid-19. To replace in-person meetings and events, associations are investing in digital alternatives that can help replace lost revenue in the short term. It is critical associations 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’s also important to start thinking ahead to your association’s long-term strategy. Senior executives will need 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 argues that we need imagination now more than ever, suggesting that companies who can focus on imagination will be able to “reap significant value.” Their article goes on to explain that companies who can think strategically and use imagination to find creative solutions will be more likely to thrive in the future.

The idea is to innovate to remain relevant, focusing on new products or services that will resonate with your members.

One way for associations to innovate in the future is to take the membership engagement data that’s being created in these new or existing 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

The reason why you need to invest in BI tools is that 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 will need to invest in 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 recent 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

Many organizations are going into cost cutting mode, so it’s important to have a clear business case for why your association should continue to 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 we think ahead, it’s going to be even more important that associations 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 going to be important to understand in real-time your member sentiment and interests. This will allow you to 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 will help improve your association business outcomes:

#1 Improves targeted marketing

Your association will likely need to invest in marketing as a channel for growth. Analytics will help you to perform better segmentation and targeted marketing. Understanding what content and topics are relevant to certain member segments will allow you to send the right offer, to the right member, at the right time.

#2 Creates insights into new opportunities

Your association will likely be looking for new opportunities to capitalize on and to make up for lost revenue. 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 will likely continue to be focused on understanding business outcomes. As you invest in new programs, you need to have 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

Over the next two months, our team will be hosting a series of discussions on how your association can leverage data and analytics to improve business outcomes. As your association decides how to move forward through this crisis, it may be a smart time to build a foundation of data now, so you can make data-informed strategy decisions in the future.

This discussion series will be peer-led from other associations that are invested in data analytics. We will present ideas for how the association industry can leverage data to optimize business results and stay relevant during this challenging time. While there may be no easy path forward, we believe that associations can greatly benefit from better understanding member engagement to discover opportunities to innovate and continue to deliver value to members.