4 Digital Trends for Associations to Increase Engagement

Kurt Voelker

Vice President, Solutions, Forum One

Buzzed-about digital trends are not exclusively for the private sector. Associations can look broadly at proven and emerging digital trends, and find opportunities to apply them directly to their business intelligence goals and member needs.

There are endless articles detailing how emerging digital trends can help private-sector businesses increase revenue. But what about Associations? How can the latest technologies help them to better connect with members, improve website engagement, and drive growth?

The following are digital trends we see providing real impact in the association sector.

Big data platforms, machine learning, and AI

The cloud computing revolution over the past 10-15 years has matured to the point that it is no longer reserved for large commercial enterprises that can afford a new breed of tools. Massive data storage, real-time querying and analysis, and web interfaces to explore and dissect data are readily available and affordable. These abilities are delivered on demand through a myriad of services. Data represents a huge opportunity for associations in particular because of their access to membership data as a source of valuable information for the network itself. For example, for the many associations already providing multiple survey-based benchmark studies for members, expanding data collection —both in terms of the process as well as what data is able to be collected — as well as architecting centralized data platforms can serve multiple data-centric products across the organization.

The opportunity for associations to leverage advances in data platforms does not end with providing data products to members; using similar data aggregation, storage, management, modeling, and visualization tools, implementing Business Intelligence solutions can help associations to better track business performance across the organization. Lastly, creating KPI dashboards to track success will help drive business insight in both the short and long term.

Personalization and marketing automation

For the past several years, the private sector has been steadily adopting new and increasingly-sophisticated approaches to convert website visitors into buyers through marketing automation tools. Public-sector organizations are increasingly starting to use these same tools and techniques to measure interest, awareness, and drive sign-ups, donations, applications, and other transactional online actions. Put simply, these platforms allow associations to:

  • Personalize content and landing pages based on visitor data
  • Track and analyze individual site visitor behaviors
  • Manage and track email and/or social media campaigns and outreach in an automated way

Introducing marketing automation into your digital ecosystem will create personalized experiences for both members and visitors. Furthermore, personalizing the user experience so that associations can put the right content in front of the right person, at the right time, is now attainable. By unifying site visitor data through a CRM and other systems, it is possible to craft personalized digital experiences that promote content specific to an individual’s role, location, career stage, or interest area(s). An example is placing relevant asks (e.g., join, sign up, volunteer, participate) into context based on previous interactions with an association’s digital properties.

New engagement channel experiences: assistants, voice, and conversational interfaces

The explosion of machine learning, combined with the popularity of messaging on mobile are setting the stage for another big paradigm shift in interfaces. As a result, conversational interfaces are showing up everywhere, and associations should explore their potential to better serve their business and membership goals. From chat interfaces and bots that could help members navigate their careers and professional development, to voice services detailing relevant events, to finding and connecting a user to the right topical experts directly from within Facebook Messenger, there are many ways that associations can benefit from incorporating new engagement channels into their digital footprint. When seamlessly integrated into a digital presence, these services create a more proactive relationship with online visitors.

Emerging tools for networks

At the heart of most associations is their network of people. It is both the source of their value as an organization and the audience they serve. How do modern associations earn from, and better compete with, digital networking tools aimed at professionals? From Discord, Slack, and LinkedIn, to international messaging apps like WeChat and WhatsApp, to good old fashioned email, how should associations both provide their own community services and meet members where they are on existing networks?

Most associations already use email to stay connected with members; however, it’s often the external networking platforms that provide the most opportunity to reach members in a new and meaningful way. Moderated discussions, event recaps, knowledge sharing, and news updates are just a few ways to interact with members (and potential members!) so that they in turn actively participate with you. An essential part of this is to foster an inclusive, safe, and productive community experience for members. Creating a deliberate plan ahead of time to address this has the ability to strengthen an association’s relationship and trust with its members and provide a positive online experience in the process.

Based on the above trends, this is a great opportunity for associations to assess what kind of information they want their members to have, identify internal communication gaps, and determine the resources needed to modernize. These digital trends are certainly not one-size-fits-all; however, each can bring value to an association’s existing and growing community base.

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Written By

Kurt Voelker

Vice President, Solutions, Forum One