Ideas for Getting Members to Engage

By Lila Elliott Test Account posted Aug 27, 2009 03:38 PM

To truly engage members, the key is to create meaningful programs and then heap on reward and recognition---the only proven combination to actually permanently change behavior (which, make no bones about it, is exactly what we are trying to do).  One of the main facets of my job is to work on methods that specifically address your issue--namely, how do we get people to adopt social networking and then further engage with the organization. I do want to point out that we often miss the fact that launching a social networking focuses on user adoption while growing a social network focuses on engagement---there are different strategies for both.  However, I wanted to provide you with a few ideas/ programs that I've repeatedly used throughout the years that are tried and true that are compelling enough to get people to start using the social networking platform:

1) Appeal to different segments of your memberships based on the unique (collective) value that they bring and what they may offer others, and then craft a program and launch on your social network. 30 year olds and 60 year olds are vastly different in terms of career lifecycle, but may share other commonalities. Use the dynamics of relationships to create compelling programs.  For example, 30 year olds are entering into the hard work phase of their career where they may be in preparation for the next management level or are clock-punching to some extent until they can move up the ladder. They may be in the throes or beginning family life with all the stresses it brings while working.  This group might greatly benefit from the advice of 60 year olds who have lived through this period and provide perspective and sage advice on coping mechanisms, etc.  60 year olds might be facing retirement or looking at the beginnings of legacy creation and might have the desire to continue to give back or expand their ability in giving back and making an impact. Why not bring together these two groups to provide a mutually beneficial Mentoring Program? This is a new program that you can then run on your social network to ensure low administrative cost and low-touch with the staff of your organization, but deliver high-value to your constituents (the win-win we are looking for!). 

2) Find a universal commonality/interest and set up a community around this idea.  For example, almost all professionals want to know what other professionals are reading or where they get their information. Perhaps you can address this basic human voyeuristic quality by putting together a Global Information Exchange Club and allowing members to share where their go-to places are to get the information that helps them to best perform in their jobs. Instead of a discussion or in addition to, why not survey them or set up a quick poll to see where people are going for information and then share this back with the group.  One of the biggest changes for organizations to realize as they undertake social networking is that their role is changing.  Instead of being information providers, the organization is becoming an information aggregator and facilitator.  Once users are empowered to create their own content, the organization can take on the role of facilitating conversations, compiling data to identify trends and patterns at the aggregate level and then pulling out examples and showcasing them to the global group.

3) Start a conversation prior to meeting in -person.  Why not ask all attendees prior to the conference to go to their individual blog or discussion list in your social network and write in the top 3 challenges the industry faces today or another such question.  Then feed this information back to the keynote speaker or ED/CEO of your trade association and let them address their sentiments in a conference session.  Why not create an ad hoc session around their feedback? or, look at the responses and then, at the conference, have tables set up that pool people together around certain of the aggregated topics and create ad hoc task forces to discuss the issue and then leave the conference to continue the dialogue online?

4) Why not just start a discussion with a super compelling title such as "People Who Want to Drive Innovation in our Industry" and let people opt-in and give an award for the most innovative ideas or reward individuals for the amount/quality of their contributions in providing innovative ideas.

5) Why not just ask members for content?  Many organizations are hesitant to ask for content and it is true that in social networking, if you build it there is no guarantee that they will come.  However, it often is the case that if you ask for content, they will provide.  First, it depends on how you ask and second, it depends on what you do with the content. If you ask organizations to contribute content that helps them and provides them with greater visibility or credibility, they are far more likely to provide the content.  If there is the possibility of getting praise on top of it for providing content, then your chance for success greatly increases. Never underestimate the power of giving visibility to an organization or individual within a social network--the "name in lights" phenomena and public praise is one of the fastest ways to get people to adopt.  Unfortunately, it often seems to rub up against organizations' attitudes towards members which is to treat them all the same due to fear of presenting the organization in any way that shows favoritism.  Unfortunately, this long-held attitude that "all members must receive the same benefits" also often makes your organization seem outdated and rigid in an era where everything is personalized and the younger generations are all told that each person is uniquely different.  So go ahead and ask for content and then praise individuals for their contributions and show gratitude for their willingness to give so that you can reinforce this behavior (after all, we want them giving more in the future) and others can see that the behavior of giving is richly rewarded in your organization. Remember the basic rule that people love to talk about themselves, so ask them to provide their opinions/insights/stories as much as possible.  As a trade organization, you may ask members to provide models or samples used or lessons learned in their advocacy efforts, best programs used for soliciting support for initiatives at the local level, policies used in member companies to support tenets of your organization, etc.  Even ask for company histories and collect these---ask member companies to outline what their company did during other economic downturns, etc.  You might be surprised what you receive if you ask members to provide content for a specific purpose and with a specific identified reward for their contribution.

The bottom line is this: you might have a strategy that tells you where you want to go with your social network and outlines the goals/objectives, you might have the best software tools in the world to allow your members to use your social network, but if you don't know how to create programs of value to appeal to users and fulfill unmet needs, the social network will usually stay at the level of an online filing cabinet with a few discussion threads around it.  The key to this new world order is knowing how to effectively market--- you must be an expert at demand creation and communication and know how to continuously reinvent yourself to sustain that demand and keep people interested.