Talk Less, Listen More to Engage Members

Listen to MembersBy: Dave Will


Associations are usually pretty good at talking to members, but communication is a two-way street. Here are some tactics to prompt meaningful dialogue and engagement.

Imagine you’re trying to get to know a new friend. Would you do all the talking? Probably not.  You’d probably say a few things, then ask a question. You’d listen to the answer and begin a conversation. This helps create an authentic dialogue and a more connected relationship.

So why do associations do so much talking and so little listening when they communicate with members?

You may have a smart content strategy with engaging articles and videos and concise marketing messages, reaching your member segments with the content most relevant to them. You may have a drip campaign that welcomes new members over the first several weeks of their membership. You may send messages through an online community or social media. And if engagement is less than you’d hoped for, you may be tempted to talk louder, send more emails, and post more links on social channels.

Why doesn’t it work? Because there’s not a big difference between engaging your members and engaging a friend face to face. Instead of talking at members, think about how you can involve them in conversation.

Ask questions—and keep it brief. Try sending a quick question by email to see how members are doing and to gather quick, informal feedback. Don’t ask them to click through a 20-question survey that will take 15 minutes to complete. Instead, send a personalized, relevant question that allows members to share an opinion, give praise, or ask for help. There are many different member engagement platforms that can gather feedback, and it doesn’t always have to be a survey.

Sometimes you need more depth, of course. Many associations use annual membership surveys to study larger forces and trends, but often these surveys are lengthy and have low response rates. Another option is to ask a qualitative follow-up occasionally, prompting members to explain what values or benefits keep them coming back. Questions like these can lead to insights on membership trends:

  • How likely are you to renew your membership in the upcoming year?
  • Would you recommend membership to a friend or colleague? Why or why not?
  • Which of the following benefits or services are most important to you, and why?

Interact one on one. When you are fortunate enough to connect with a member individually, it’s usually by chance. Perhaps you bump into them at a meeting or respond to an emailed question or complaint.

There’s not a big difference between engaging your members and engaging a friend face to face. Instead of talking at members, think about how you can involve them in conversation.

If you’re already engaged in a conversation, follow up and ask another question. By knowing who to talk to, when to talk to them, and what to talk to them about, you might be able to establish a relationship that could retain the member long term. Here’s where to find members who may need some one-on-one interaction:

  • If you conduct a routine member survey, target members who took time to respond to open-ended questions. These people have shown a level of interest and invested time that could result in more substantive conversations.
  • Use artificial intelligence or sentiment analysis to segment the results according to negative or positive responses and focus on groups of members that rated your performance high or low.

Engage in early dialogue. Most associations have challenges with new member retention. Asking new members questions and listening to their answers will help you serve them better and more likely retain them. Here are some strategies to get early feedback from new members:

  • In the application, ask the member to explain in a few words why he or she is joining.
  • A few months into membership, ask the member if he or she has any unresolved issues or tips to improve the member experience.
  • Rely on a network of staff or volunteers to connect with the new member in more personal ways—a phone conversation or meet-up experience—where the new member feels seen and heard.

By talking less and listening more, you can improve your communications and marketing strategies to create a two-way dialogue with members. This change might just give you the feedback you need to reimagine the member experience.



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