Thursday, February 6, 2014

Welcoming New Members

Members often join for a single reason – perhaps it is a conference, or signing up for a course or certification, or wanting to join a local component.  Whatever the reason may be, this single point of entry is the typical ‘organization perspective’ they have when they come through the door.  Of course, our organizations offer much more than just one point of value – we strive to create many opportunities for further development, networking, growth and professional success all leading to the greater success of the field.  Yet, what do we do most of the time?  After the member joins they are automatically added into the marketing stream and receive email after email with further upsell, treating them as a customer first and a member second.  If we want to see a rise in membership engagement, in awareness of everything that is available to a member we must reverse this prioritization.  This starts with how we welcome members.

For the welcome stream to be effective, it is important to prioritize what communications members receive shortly after joining.  This is a unique time when they haven’t yet start to receive the range of communications that the organization emails and when there is a higher likelihood of getting their attention.  It is often beneficial to have a strategic discussion with the marketing arm of the organization on the possibility of implementing a marketing ‘freeze’ for the first XX weeks after a member joins (XX determined by how long your introduction period is – probably at least 4 weeks, and not more than 8).  Exceptions should be factored in such as:

1.      Regular newsletters/e-journals/e-publications that are member benefits and not sales.

2.       Hubs of member activity – such as an annual conference.  Limited marketing for these events that are the not-to-miss programs of the year may still be worthwhile.

Lining Up the Players:

As you open your spreadsheet, or draw your welcome calendar with open slots, there are a number of questions to answer before you slot anything in:

1.        What are the key areas of value for your organization?

2.       How can you provide a taste/example of that value for someone who has never experienced it before – that is more than just descriptive copy?

3.       Are any of these pieces more foundational, and as such should come earlier in a welcome stream rather than later?

Once you have the answers to these questions, it then drives down to slotting them into a logical stream.  Here are some generic examples of what may be included:
Welcome Letter w/ Membership Card – The first touch, identifying their new status upgrade from customer to an investor in your organization, and as such, in their career – a member. 
o   Call to Action: Login, fill out the rest of your demographic information so we can tailor the association opportunities to your path
o   +1 idea: Can they access their membership card at any time on your site, to print it out?  While the importance of having a ‘paper’ card continues to be debated, having this as a simple, .pdf option is no cost to the organization once it is initially created and allows the member to remember that they ‘belong’ at any time
Personal Greeting from CEO/President – A letter in a personal tone from an organizational leader.  This is a good opportunity to do a brief history/vision/state of the union of the organization in a narrative form.
o   Call to Action: Have a strategy summary page where members can take a quick glance at current organization initiatives, linking to the full strategic plan for those that are interested.  This is a great chance to connect those that are interested to where the organization is going and why!
o   +1 idea: Feedback link/email.  If the leader who signs the greeting is willing, include a link or email where any questions or feedback can be sent from the new member.  While replies may not always come from the CEO/President, proactively seeking inquiries and thoughts from day 1 of membership can help with long term retention and overall process improvement.
Journal/Publication – Is a key benefit of belonging exclusive access to a journal or publication?   If so create a directed invitation to experience this live.
o   Call to Action: Have a ‘highlights from the current issue’ communication that has an embedded link where the member can go read any of the articles.
o   +1 idea: Do your members also have access to past editions of the publication?  Why not prompt them to explore that valuable resource with some content-curation.   Share excerpts with your top 5 most-read articles from the previous year, with links where to find the full content.  This gives new members an easy taste of the best-of-the-best.
Website Orientation - If you were a new member, would you be able to easily navigate your website to find the high value points?  Do you have 3-5 specific places which you would like to showcase to new members? Run a live tour of your website for new members.
o   Call to Action: Run a monthly ‘webinar’ where you can screen share and walk new members through your website with high impact points for them to remember.
o   +1 idea: Record a top run through of the presentation and offer it as recorded content for those who can not attend the live version
o   +2 idea: Invite a different member of your Board of Directors to participate on each monthly call and let them welcome new members and take a few questions.  This personal touch and connection to the organization’s leadership can quickly build relationship bridges with the new member.
Learning Opportunities – Do you house your learning opportunities in an online learning platform?   This time of orientation is your opportunity to both demonstrate the wealth of value for members contained in that platform as well as some quick tips on how to navigate its inner workings.
o   Call to action: A summary of what is on your online learning platform with a link on how to get started.  Quick steps to getting started can be helpful here.
o   +1 idea: If you have free pieces of learning you can offer, whether as a .pdf or interactive module, this will invite the new member to experience a taste of your content, that type of learning you offer and the pathway to discover more learning opportunities
Community Connection – If you have smaller communities that connect professionals by geography, specific industry affiliation, topical interest, etc (also known as components), then you are faced with the opportunity of more targeted value for your members and the challenge of getting them to ‘join’ additional mini-societies.
o   Call to action: Have a letter of welcome go out to new members from the Chair of one of your communities, keeping the introductory copy similar but rotating the ‘sender.’  Within the letter have a link to a piece of recorded content that a community has produced and/or a sample website for one of your geographic communities to show the ‘why’ of getting involved.
o   +1 idea: If segmentation is not too difficult, include a specific invitation to the next chapter/virtual event targeted specifically to where the new member resides/demographic information.
  Conference/Meeting – For many organizations, their annual meeting is a central hub of learning, networking and member growth.  Often the value is in the live experience – something that is only gained by attending.  Therefore, an introduction to that meeting has to give an impression of that experience.
o   Call to action: Compile a brief ‘highlight video’ of what happens at the conference.  Send a testimonial from a first time attendee on the impression they had, and link to the video.
o   +1 idea: As a bonus, link to a piece of recorded content (i.e. a keynote, general session, etc.) so that the new member also gets a taste of the learning that they will find.
  Career Resources - Whether your professional is currently in the job hunt or is simply looking to explore their personal career path, an introduction to how you can help them with the next step, and the steps after that too is key.
o   Call to action: What are the top visited resources your members view/use?  Connect your new member with that resource as an example of what they can find in the career section of your site. 
o   +1 idea: Has your job board directly helped your members get that next position?  Capture a few of those stories, and weave that narrative into the introduction to your career center.

There are of course other organization hubs that you can build out here – certification focus, research, volunteering, etc.  What you include in the welcome stream should reflect the engagement priorities of the organization, and ideally should be tied to those points of greatest value. 

While the decision to join is often made because of a single point of value entry (attending the conference, taking a class, a certification, etc), the decision to renew is usually based on the value the member finds in belonging in that first year.  A robust, vibrant welcome stream is one of the strongest investments an organization can make in keeping its members.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome ideas...great article.
    Ed Rigsbee, CAE, author, "The ROI of Membership"