Throwback, The power of Personalisation for membership website content

We look back at Ash’s blog written back in 2017, looking back how we reach and engage with members and how personalisation can be a powerful tool.

We would all like it if we could reach the people we know are out there and who are ideal members for our association, but the legislation seems to keep getting in the way! This article looks at how to consider these changes to legislation and strategies to personalisation and membership strategy.

Personalisation in the age of Technological Policing

It has been some time since membership associations stopped being about being part of a ‘club’.  Membership organisations, instead, act as an important professional and networking platform allowing professionals to gather together to discuss news relevant to their roles, industry or around legislations affecting them. With the help of technology there are more options than ever to arrange these events, diminishing the need for previous limitations such as the affordability of venues, catering, and other logistical challenges.

Technology- making things easier (but not without its own challenges)

While you can host webinars or “live” broadcast sessions on platforms such as Periscope, the demand for producing even better content has risen, since everyone else is also doing the same thing. It’s easy, or at least easier than a physical event, it’s cheap, and it’s convenient- no one has to book out a day to travel to your event, it’s there just behind the click of a button.  To create a meaningful membership relationship in the so called “Age of I” though, where the demand for great content within the click of a button, is a question that cannot go unanswered (but that’s another article on its own).

The innovative ways we can leverage technology to reach more people than ever across the planet does come with it’s policing. You may think that the market is saturated, that there is no way to reach new customers and attracting more members in a way that complies with all the legislation and rules and keep up business. I get it- how do you reach beyond all the noise to be heard by your targeted potential new member? In the past you could map out your strategies for expansion by reaching people who would reach their network and the networks of people within these groups- almost like a cord diagram or a sunburst chart showing the breadth of your membership reach. There were physical, logistical barriers that limited the growth of your membership forms base. However, you now have access to be able to reach your ideal member online. You just have to find them (or they, you).

Net policing- a necessary evil- or a force for good?

In the last few years, we’ve seen changes to the legislations and changing attitudes towards the processing of personal information rising as a country as well as a civilisation. While these legislations may come as an unwelcome party-crasher to the online community that no one invited, take a minute to consider that more than half the world’s population today has access to the internet. That’s huge!

With this in mind, it’s perhaps rightly so, that these legislations are taking into consideration how we should interact with data as an organisation as well as a consumer. Bear in mind, even though we have our membership organisation hats on, would you want your personal data to be misused by another organisation or company looking to sell you something?

Probably not.

On the other hand, would you like it better if the organisation you chose to sign up gave you content relevant to your professional or personal interests and goals? Yes!

Moving away from the “One-size fits all” myth

We are all in consensus in that the “one size fits all” approach is ineffective for medium and larger sized membership organisations. You risk losing the focus and community spirit you’re your membership platform goes from being a place to make meaning for relationships to just another platform where you signed up and now there doesn’t seem to be any activity or engagement with you, so you disengage and tune out, or worse cancel your membership. You don’t have time to waste when you know someone else will offer the thing that this organisation didn’t. Being worthy enough to have other people give your organisation their personal data is a big responsibility- perhaps the legislation is only allowing us to get up to standard and put the potential new members at ease when they share their information.

I recently attend a conference at which I had one takeaway point:

Legislation is there to give power to the customers over the data they share. So then it’s a matter of value: are we providing our customer with services of equal value in exchange for for the customer sharing their data with us?

This highlighted a point that’s always rung true to me. Customers’ heart should always be at the heart of everything we do. The reason we are in this industry is for customer services. But if felt like somewhere along the way, we developed our own theories about what ‘the customer’ wants, and with the changes to legislation, misplaced the actual customer (and their needs), with our version of what we thought the customer wanted.

So how do we get the customer to share personal information with us, that would enable us to do our work? Some sources have found that their members are reluctant to share their personal information with the organisation outside of their new member registration form and member renewal form.

So what is it about these two opportunities that makes the member less likely to refuse the sharing of such data?

Nature of interaction- membership forms

The answer is most likely in the nature of that particular interaction you have with the members. This is the one opportunity where the member expects you to ask them questions about themselves.

Consider the following scenario:

You are at a networking event at a physical venue. You came to this looking for a new mentor/professional network/etc., and you’re looking to give out your business card to the right people. Shortly after, you meet someone who seems engaging. They know a lot about the industry you work in, and is also generally interested in helping you get further in your career. So you agree to keep in touch and they leave almost abruptly after you give them your business card. You wonder why they didn’t even ask for your professional goal, what area you were specifically interested in, or give you a way you can get in touch with them.

You’re left wondering if you’ll ever hear from them again.

Exchange of equal value

In this scenario, you would’ve been happy to share more of your personal information, like your interests, professional goals relating to this context, and what you wanted to get out from this relationship. This isn’t because first impressions matter, or you’re keen to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with this person from the start or anything. It’s common sense, almost. You give them this information so that you can both decide if this relationship is, or will be, fruitful. You can both go into this relationship with understanding of the end goal, and that will help the mentor provide you with targeted advice. There’s no point in your mentee talking to you about the manufacturing of work boots if your interest is in the fashion industry.

The same logic applies to membership application and renewal forms: they expect us to ask this information at the beginning, or at regular periods, so that they can get a more personalised experience as a member of your association.

It’s all about the context

In this context, asking them for personal information is exactly the right thing to do, as they know that in exchange for some personal information about them, they will receive tailored communication relevant to their industry, and with a preferred channel of communication that they indicated as well.

If I’m invisible, do I still exist to you?

I never understood why people insist on keeping their ‘mailing list’ or members’ list at a high number and bombarding them with postal mailings when the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation (PECR) came into effect and the unengaged members couldn’t be sent any more emails because they never opted in so to speak. I say, disengaged members are just as good as non-members. Why would you spend additional resources on sending them postal mailing when that money could be re-allocated to research into, and benefits for the engaged members. Who knows, if we had any disengaged members who used to read the postal mailings (but never once told us so), then they will use the now-no-longer-being-mailed situation as a catalyst to engage with us via a different platform and thus we can collect their preferences, opt ins and consents and move them from the “disengaged” box to the “engaged” cohort. Win-win for all parties, I say!

Personalisation- not a hard and fast rule

This is not to say that collecting data at any other points is bad- a portion of your members will appreciate you trying to personalise their member experience and will gladly provide you with feedback. It’s the other members, those who could turn out to be your champions, but are less frequent and less vocal in this platform, who may be more comfortable when they make their commitment who may hold back.

Use existing intel to segment your members

There’s also a balance to be struck in what information you ask. Do thorough research on the existing members of your platform and the data you hold about them to see how your members are segmented. You can then use this to not only inform your strategy, but also plan communications relevant to these segments rather than churning the regular industry-wide fluff that doesn’t get a chance to explore some of the meaty issues concerning specific sub-groups in your association. You could even take it a level further and have the new members who wish to do so be introduced to mentors within the industry: of course dependant on the quality and accuracy of the information they give. Ask me, and I’d give an arm and a leg for a great mentor!

So what are you waiting for? Look at your existing member base, see how you may be able to personalise content by various psychographics (as well as applicable demographics), and provide content and services that are worth the sharing of personal information from your members (and potential members).