Cultivating engagement: Let's talk about connections.

Associations are communities of shared interests.  To cultivate member engagement, we want to quickly welcome people to the community and help facilitate individuals connecting as fast as possible with those who share the interests they seek.  People want to be a part of the action, and doing so increases engagement and a sense of connectedness.

Ideally, every new member receives a welcome phone call within five business days of their application being received.  (If you just spit coffee on your computer screen, I'll wait while you wipe it off). That won't be difficult if you've recruited and trained a corp of volunteer ambassadors from your membership ranks, a rewarding volunteer commitment that requires a minimal time commitment.

If you've learned the catalyst for people taking action (joining, attending, reading, etc), what they care about, and the types of contributions they'd like to make, your ambassadors (or the organization) are in a great position to make some suggestions to new members about people they might like to meet, as well as interest groups, technical sections, or other affinity communities within your association they might like to join.  A little Amazon.com style "we've got recommendations for you" may be in order, particularly if at this point our relationship with the individuals is more transactional than ongoing.

But we live in a DIY era when people don't always want (or need) the association to be the gatekeeper for relationship management.  We need to make it easier for them to find the people they seek on their own time and terms.  I've long been an advocate for organizations to add two fields to their membership application to help facilitate members finding others with whom they'd like to connect.  In these fields people would be asked to share:
  1. I'd like to connect with people who are interested in/could be a resource for: _____.
  2. I could be a resource for people interested in learning more about: _____.
What goes in the blank?  The numbers or letters you assign to say 15-25 of the common networking interests you've learned members of your community possess.  You create a legend for these topical areas and let people select as many of them as they'd like to include in the two fields.  You've now turned your membership directory from a mere address book into a much more powerful search engine and community connections tool.

Helping people feel welcome and connect must be a timeless commitment, one for which you create specific tactics every time the organization is bringing people together: for a conference call, for a webinar, for a committee meeting, for a workshop, for a major conference.

When it come to connecting, little efforts can yield big returns. A few examples:
  • A namebadge that displays "Talk to me about ______." is a more powerful connection tool than one that doesn't.  
  • A workshop participant directory that includes relevant demographic about the organizations that those in attendance represent is more insightful than one that doesn't.
  • A committee listing that includes brief bio information and one interesting fact about each member is a more welcoming volunteer community than one that doesn't.
We spend so much of our time trying to connect people to the organization.  But people join people and are more likely to renew their affiliation with the organization if they possess deeper connections to the people in its community.

And finally, it's important to note that we live in an era where people have likely developed fairly extensive networks prior to coming to the association, often through social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and others.  So where the connection question used to be one-way (the association helping connect members to desired resources), we now have an opportunity to make it two-way (members helping connect the association to valued contacts).

So don't be afraid to express the organization's networking needs as well:  We're looking to connect with people who are _________, who know ____________, who can __________.  What could make a new member feel more valued than knowing she helped open the doors and make a connection that will help the community she just joined?
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Note
This post is a part of a short series of daily posts on cultivating engagement.  Your comments, reactions, and refinements are encouraged. I am not a marketing, data or information analysis, or membership specialist. I am a generalist in the trenches, sharing what makes sense based on my experiences and observations of others’ efforts. I am a deep believer in trying a lot of stuff to learn what works.  These posts are in support of that commitment.