Engagement: It’s Not About You

There was a lot of talk about measuring and scoring member engagement at December’s ASAE Technology Conference.

People talked about scoring systems. People talked about tech platforms to track and report on the scores. People talked about engagement as the key to recruitment, retention, and upselling, whether that means getting members to invest money by buying stuff or invest time by taking volunteer positions. People talked about rewards for engagement. People talked about engagement being the core of the association value proposition.

We’re all on the engagement bandwagon, yes, sir, we are!

So what’s the problem?

I might have missed something, but nearly all the talk about engagement I hear was about scoring, tracking, and rewarding what the association values. We value committee service, so we give it a high score. We value spending money with the association, so we give it a high score. We value getting articles written for free for our magazine, so we give it a high score.

Spot it yet?

The perspective is totally backwards. Tracking, scoring, and rewarding what the association values tells you precisely zip about what the members and other audiences (do we even consider audiences outside the membership?) value about their interactions with us.

In other words, we’re focusing our resources, our attention, and ultimately, our value proposition on what the association values, not what the members value.

And then we wonder why the membership model is in trouble.

What if we changed our engagement model to start with conversations with members and other key audiences about what they value about their interactions with the association and the other members and key audiences, then based our scoring and rewards on what they value? How would that change our value proposition? The way we invest association resources, including money, staff, and time? Our organizational focus? Our members’ sense of involvement in and ownership of their association?

Edited April 24, 2013 to add: Associations Now recently addressed this very topic and came to the same conclusion: we’re “only scoring engagement the association values.” Yes folks, this is a big problem.

Edited February 25, 2016 to add: Is there a better way? You better believe it! Check out the recent Spark/The Demand Networks FREE white paper, Leading Engagement from the Outside-In to learn more.

4 thoughts on “Engagement: It’s Not About You”

  • Amen! If associations tracked what members were interested in and magically served up content or services that matched their interests, it could go a long way towards keeping them engaged. The sad thing is that most associations are not even tracking engagement the wrong way–they’re not tracking it any way at all. Look at all the tools there are out there to help businesses track user’s behavior and preferences, then the way they use those insights to keep them interested–it’s not like the technology doesn’t exist or even that it’s financially out of reach for many associations. The fact is that as long as things are going well enough or even ok, there’s no reason to do things differently or care. Not that I’m bitter or anything 😉 In just a month working outside the association industry, I’m shocked at how different it is and how things that are a given outside of the association space are mostly not even on the table in the association world.

  • Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE says:

    Yet another thought from Tech (that relates to Maggie’s comment): everyone was talking about “Big Data.” My thought? We’re getting ahead of ourselves – we don’t even do small data well at this point.

  • Great point, Elizabeth. Thanks for bringing it up. I think there is a distinction to be made between engagement tracking and engagement scoring.

    I see tracking as an internal process, one that associations should be doing to measure engagement levels among all members and across all engagement opportunities. This sort of tracking will help inform associations about how to better serve all members in the aggregate and individual members according to their behaviors. And it would give an association some behavior-based measurements of what members value most, which may or may not line up with what members say they value most conversationally. Both forms are important, though.

    Scoring, on the other hand, is where the question of “who values what” comes into play, as an association begins to assign greater weight or value to certain actions via higher scores. I see this as being most useful as an external process, one that is visible to members (and non-members) as a way to encourage increased engagement. I think it’s natural that certain activities that appear to be “what the association values” would be scored highly, if only because they’re activities that can be hard to generate wide engagement in.

    In cases like volunteer service or writing for the association publication, an association might incentivize those activities because it knows those activities help support other services or products or even other engagement opportunities that a wider number of members value. For example: If we can get more interested volunteers, then we can have a more diverse and talented pool of potential committee members, therefore raising the quality of the work the committee will do in producing educational programs that our members value.

    This last part is where the message of your blog post is important. Whatever the association values has to be based on what members value. So I don’t necessarily have a problem if engagement scoring is used to drive certain activities that aren’t on the top of every member’s list, so long as those choices are based on driving the quality of the things members value most. And the association should be getting that input regularly, to make sure what it values continues to be aligned with or in support of what members value.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. Thanks again!

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