The Secret to Member Engagement: Part II – 7 Ways to Effectively Listen

The secret to member engagement is listening to your members

In the first part of this blog series, we explored how vital it is to listen to your members in order to keep them engaged. Listening allows you to adapt in order to meet the needs of your members and customers. In this second part of the series, we are going to explore tactics you can implement in order to actively listen to your community.

7 tactics for listening to members

When you’re in a long-term relationship, you spend time every day with that person. Opportunities to listen occur frequently. But what if you’re in a relationship with thousands of members whom you rarely or never see? It’s more challenging but not impossible to listen to a representative sample of them.

Whichever method you choose, don’t keep what you learn to yourself. Come up with a monthly or quarterly routine for sharing insight and trends with your colleagues.

#1: Random phone calls

I’ve met a few association professionals who make a random call every week to a member. Random is key so you don’t call the usual suspects. However, you must make an effort to call a diverse range of members over time.

It usually takes a few attempts to get someone on the phone so you’ll end up leaving lots of voicemails. But even if you never reach someone, they know you’re taking the time to check in with them.

Random calls end up becoming an enjoyable habit. It’s only a small sample but the calls will be illuminating. You’ll learn more about your members’ professional lives and make new acquaintances. Plus, members will feel appreciated and important.

#2: Question of the month

Every month, come up with a question to ask members at the end of a call or email. Ideally, you’ll convince your colleagues to help out. Ask members, “Before we hang up, can I ask you a question that’s been on our minds here?”

Develop questions that elicit more than a yes/no response:

  • If XYZ regulation passes, how will that affect your business?
  • How are you dealing with issue XYZ in your office?
  • What’s your biggest frustration at work right now?
  • What skill do you need to learn to get promoted?

You’ll learn about issues that can guide decisions about advocacy, education, and content.

#3: Focus groups

Focus groups are ideal for a more in-depth discussion. The only hitch: they usually take place where members are already gathered, like conferences. You could end up talking only to active members, not less active members.

#4: Advisory groups

Advisory groups are a good way to gather and include the perspectives of member segments who aren’t usually sitting at the leadership table, for example, chapter leaders, young professionals, and other special interest groups. Don’t convene an advisory group unless you have a way to put their issues and interests in front of your association’s leaders.

#5: Listening tours

ASAE’s Associations Now has highlighted several examples of listening tours:

  • The CEO of the National Confectioners Association conducted a listening tour to hear members’ concerns about a new strategic initiative and to share data that helped win them over to the idea.
  • The NAACP national leadership met with local members, community leaders, activists, and partners in seven cities to discuss issues, challenges, and future plans for the national organization.
  • A team from the American Dental Association visited dentist offices to listen to members’ unmet needs.

The only downside to a listening tour is the expense and time away from the office, but the long-term benefits outweigh the costs.

The five methods we’ve discussed so far collect data only from a limited group of members. They’re time-consuming, but according to those who make the time, they’re well worth the effort. In a recent ASAE Collaborate discussion about new member onboarding calls—another good reason to talk with members—someone said, “I also make these phone calls…and it’s my favorite part of the job.”

#6: Surveys and polls

Since time is a limited resource, how can you get as much information as possible from members? How can you listen at scale?

The traditional listening methods, surveys and polls, cast a wide net, but only a small percentage of members generally respond. A one-question poll on your newsletter or website home page can quickly reveal information about your members and audience.

Surveys must be expertly designed to collect useful data. Unfortunately, they’re usually not done frequently enough. It can only take a year (or less) for a member’s professional life to change and for new interests and challenges to emerge.

#7: Video conferencing

Invite members to an online town hall conducted via video conference. Ask them to send in questions and comments ahead of time. Put the most requested ones on the agenda for a live Q&A session.

Surveys, polls, and town halls aren’t perfect solutions because you’re dealing with a self-selected group of members. Are they representative of your entire membership?

Take the art of listening to the next level

This blog is part of a 3-blog series where we explore The Secret to Member Engagement. In the third part of our series, we will explore how you can listen to members on an individual level, and at scale, using artificial intelligence.

If you are ready to begin amplifying engagement by way of listening carefully to your members and tuning your messaging in order to meet their needs, then start by signing up today.


Read Part III - Listening to Members at Scale

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