Association News

The Verdict: Digital Excellence 2017

The furore surrounding member engagement has almost reached fever pitch in the last few years. For membership organisations it has become the word on everyone’s lips, almost to the exclusion of member satisfaction. The channels of engagement have multiplied rapidly. A website is almost passé a newsletter or magazine is verging on the antique. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter; all have reached their zenith and joined the also-ran technologies. Snapchat and Pinterest have burned brightly. Now a whole new list of social media apps for marketers – Pyrus, Bear, Pocket Casts, Hootsuite Enhance, DuoBook, Headspace, Boxer Pro, Into, Daycap, and Confide – is queuing up to grab our attention.


So most membership organisations have either taken the plunge, and are reviewing their decisions, or are grappling with complex choices concerning the future breadth and depth of their technological integration.  Thankfully, once again, MemberWise has come up with a worthy study into the digital world we probably still understand and, more importantly, the way it interacts with membership organisations! And this time ‘Digital Excellence 2017’ replaces the customary ‘Harnessing the Web’ survey. 




Introduced by Ricard Gott, sponsors Advanced Solutions International (AIS) and undertaken by Heather Forrester of Research by Design, this year’s offering deals pretty comprehensively with reviewing, planning, investing, and developing digital plans. Keeping its findings neatly summarised in a twelve point plan makes it digestible without the stodge!


We are reminded that over 270 membership professionals took part in the survey – 50% of them from trade associations – and this has kept the content away from the esoteric and firmly within the practical. In fact, I wish I’d had this little book at my side when I first ventured into the world of CRM on behalf of my association back in about 2010. Then I could have worked my way through sections like: key findings; organisations’ goals and challenges in 2017 / 18; driving member engagement; the challenges of CRM; and integrating websites and CRM systems, and realised that many, just like me, were feeling their ways gingerly towards an elusive goal.


By the time I’d reached: offering a website with member structured content; personalising web content to ensure a more engaging online experience; and, understanding member engagement through web analytics, I think I would have truly understood the purpose and magnitude of the not inconsiderable investment.     Even so, the subsequent beauty parade of providers, the directory sized specification, the apparent lack of practical training, and the tortuous time-scale until final completion would still test the patience of a saint.


Questions & Answers


Then, as now, increasing member engagement is the goal. Once again it is uppermost in the minds of participants of the study. But one cannot help the suspicion that, lurking in the back of each mind, is the question, “is the acquisition of new members truly work it?” The resulting data has answered that question and a lively question and answer session posed many more! Here are but a few:


Organisations are faced with engagement, value, value propositions, and better integration: when to engage with CRM; where should we start, and how much resource should we allocate? Postponement may look like an attractive option? And a 2/3 year completion time-table is far too long, as strategies and technologies will have long-since moved on before completion!


Addressing the multiple silos of information in most organisations is another key challenge and the question that often hangs in the air is whether any new system is capable or flexible enough to deal with all my minor issues? Personal experience shows is that whilst a CRM system is wholly capable of handling multiple data streams it is often difficult to persuade employees to give up tried and tested methods. Integration is the goal, and 64% think that their systems have achieved this, but 74% say their databases and CRM systems don’t do this adequately.


The temptation to keep running a back-up copy of the accounts ‘just in case’ is frustrating. As a consequence CRM systems are often under-utilised by those they are designed to assist. There is also a tendency for there to be one ‘go to’ person in most organisations with the result that their knowledge isn’t shared throughout the company, they are perceived as over worked, or their experience is lost when they move on.


The silo of existing staff culture or working practices presents a challenge in many companies, and websites designed to reflect this structure only tend to re-enforce it. How do you structure a website on the basis of customer experience? Particularly given the silo structure? 78% of respondents said they were challenged by the possibilities of personalised we content.

Not enough resource is provided by membership bodies for members to deliver active local content.


Member engagement is the oft stated nirvana, but the results are split, with 53% saying it has increased over 12 months whilst 48% say it’s the same. But how to measure engagement? There are known performance indicators, such as open rates, click troughs, website visits, event attendance, engagement in social media, and lastly member retention rate. But all are transactional relationship! And none tell you anything about the thought and feeling of members or potential members.

Open rates of 21-30% and click-through rates of 11-20% are considered good, but still give plenty of opportunities for readers to slip though the net. Is your written content too superficial for readers, does it fail to capture their imagination, is it banal and patronising? All sure-fire deterrents!


Going one stage further, only about 25% of participants actually have a membership engagement plan in place; about 30% of organisations have a dedicated social presence; and only 9% measure their return on investment in social media.

How was it for you?


Anna Heath, Membership Manager for the Royal Statistical Society is one of the ‘go-to’ people in an organisation whose moto is ‘Data, Evidence, Decisions’, and she said, “I found the Digital Excellence event really useful – more so than I had expected.  My main interest was in the CRM side of things, as we are about to embark on the huge project of finding a new CRM that suits the varied needs of our whole organisation.  It was certainly useful and interesting in that respect, but other aspects of the research report were also of interest; it is always reassuring to hear that other organisations are facing the same challenges, to learn that we are not the only ones failing to achieve certain aims, but also that with the odd thing we actually seem to be slightly ahead of the game!


The event was really well organised, just the right length, in a great venue, and gave an opportunity to meet and network with a range of interesting people.  I definitely picked up some tips of what to look out for as we begin our CRM project, and I returned to the office with lots of useful facts and figures to share with the rest of the membership team.”

Michael Hoare

©2017 M J Hoare