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How Associations Can Create a Future-Focused Member Experience

Associations are increasingly trying to keep up with today’s digital demands. They’re considering how to meet members’ wants and needs in a post-pandemic world and what it will take – especially from a technology standpoint – to provide a great member experience. 

For the past five years, Community Brands has conducted surveys uncovering insights into association members’ and professionals’ attitudes and behaviors with technology.

Let’s look at what the 2022 Association Trends study reveals about how associations can create a future-focused member experience. 

This study further illuminates how technology affects member sentiments and loyalty, answering questions about what trends will impact the future of associations, including: 

  • How have attitudes and outlooks toward technology changed in the past few years?
  • What does it take in today’s environment to provide greater member value and a more positive member experience?  
  • How do members’ viewpoints about their association’s technology affect their loyalty to the organization?  
  • Are associations technologically prepared for the future?  
  • How can associations prepare for the future needs of members? 

A note about the study: Parallel surveys were conducted with more than 1,000 members of professional membership organizations in the United States and more than 300 professionals (“pros”) who work at those organizations.

Download the entire 2022 Association Trends study for free.

Key takeaways: 

Attitudes and behaviors toward technology indicate the time for digital transformation is now. The 2022 Association Trends survey suggests some positive trends, including:

  • A strong belief in the importance of digital transformation
  • An improvement in pros’ evaluations of their organization’s use of technology
  • A projected increase (and slightly greater flexibility) in technology budgets
  • Upticks in usage of many tech tools 

technological transformation

Professional organizations still have work to do to be technologically prepared.  

While numbers have improved slightly, less than 20 percent of pros say they are “very prepared” technologically for the future. Only one-third of pros say their organization has a formal digital transformation plan and four in ten have a data governance plan. Although pros say data analytics is a high priority for their organization, their confidence in the state of their member data remains weak. 

association digital plan

The link between technology and member loyalty remains strong.

As in studies from previous years, there remains a strong correlation between technology and member loyalty. Members who view their professional organization as an early adopter of technology are more satisfied and connected with the organization, more likely to renew, and more likely to promote the organization.  

Members continue to give their organization higher ratings than pros in most technology areas. However, there are a few exceptions: Members give lower scores than pros on security, webinars, and in-person conferences. Members rank online job boards as a priority but give their organization a weaker score in this area. 

technology and member loyalty

Improving the member experience is the number one goal for organizations.

The top goal for pros when it comes to technology is to improve the member experience – it ranks significantly higher than other variables impacting the bottom line, such as increasing acquisition or boosting revenue. This goal is also reflected in the upward trends in tool usage: More pros are using email marketing, content management systems (CMS), job boards, and e-commerce platforms than reported last year. 

organization goals

How members and pros rate technology usage 

Members continue to rate their organization higher in most technology areas compared to pros. However, there are a few exceptions: Members give lower scores than pros on security, webinars, and in-person conferences. Members rate online job boards as a priority but give their organization a weaker score in this area. 

While members’ evaluations of their organization’s technology remain strong, they have remained flat from five years ago. This lack of movement indicates an opportunity for organizations to improve their use of technology to create a more positive member experience. Regarding online professional development and continuing education, pros’ evaluations have caught up with member perceptions, which indicates improvement. 

use of technology

Member engagement, loyalty and priority trends 

Member priorities are shifting. In 2021, members focused on bigger picture areas that involved understanding and protecting their industry. This year’s data suggests a shift in member priorities: Tangible benefits that impact an individual’s personal career – including certifications, job opportunities, and help with career advancement – have risen in importance. These were once top priorities for members early in their career, but today they are also critical for mid-careerists. 

Pros continue to underestimate the importance of job opportunities and help with career advancement, indicating a strong opportunity for organizations to invest in and elevate these benefits in their value proposition. 

membership benefits

During 2020 and 2021, members focused more on their industry’s big picture – with benefits such as industry news and information, fueling industry growth, and the reputation/status that comes with membership seeing the biggest gains in importance. In 2022, member responses suggest they have shifted their focus to more personal tangible benefits, including certifications/credentials, targeted content, job opportunities, and help with career advancement. 

Pros align with members when it comes to some areas. However, pros underestimate the value of job opportunities, career advancement, certification, and training, while overestimating the value of representing interests, targeted content, and industry-specific information. The disconnects suggest an opportunity for pros to realign their efforts in these areas. 

Top 12 Most Important Member Benefits

This study’s findings show that overall, the top reasons for members to join an organization continue to be networking, job opportunities, certifications, career advancement, and training. Job opportunities and career advancement are stronger motivations for early and mid-careerists to join, while industry news and code of ethics are more attractive to those late in their career.  

For reference, the 2019 study shows that the largest number of members join a professional organization early in their career – within five years of employment. About one-third join before employment. Few join later in their career. 

Association Trends Study, why do members join

A deeper look shows that some member priorities differ, and have shifted from 2021, based on career stage. Early and mid-careerists are now more focused on tangible benefits, including job opportunities and help with career advancement. The shift to more interest in job opportunities and career advancement from mid-careerists has been a big change from previous studies. Priorities have remained steady for those late in their careers, who are more interested in code of ethics and industry news and information. 

Member Priorities Based on Career Stage

Member benefit gap analysis 

Pulling multiple data points together provides a gap analysis around member benefits that shows where organizations are strong, where they have work to do, what benefits need to be maintained, and what areas are less important. 

The 2022 analysis shows that organizations are doing well in several areas that are important to Members, including code of ethics, industry news and trends, and certifications. Meanwhile, organizations have room for improvement in key areas like providing career advancement and job opportunities. 

benefit gap analysis

Where to go from here 

This study’s findings suggest that technology holds an important role in an organization’s ability to provide a great member experience and retain life-long members. While member sentiments and loyalty for their professional membership organization remain strong and positive, member values continue to shift as our world evolves.  

The ability to adapt to the changing environment is key to long-term success. Here are four ways to use the data and findings from this study to better align your organization’s efforts with what members value most: 

1. Rethink your value proposition.  

Findings from this study indicate that member loyalty may be softening from the highs seen during the pandemic. When asked “why should I join?” or “why should I renew?” A well-defined value proposition will close the deal. 

Set aside time to review your value proposition to ensure it is still relevant to today’s members. Successful associations go beyond a laundry list of what’s included with a membership. Instead, they share a vision of how membership will improve a member’s career and life. 

At the same time, there has been a shift in member priorities – from the broader industry to more personal benefits. Reassess your member benefits and engagement opportunities to ensure they continue to provide the value that members seek. During your assessment, consider not only which programs and services should be expanded, but also which should be discontinued. The expansion or discontinuation of programs and services enables you to communicate your plans and reaffirm your value proposition. 

increase member value

2. Evolve your use of technology – now! 

Less than 20 percent of pros feel very technologically prepared for the future. Meanwhile, members who view their organization as an early adopter of technology continue to be more satisfied, more connected, more likely to renew, and more likely to promote their organization.  

And while member evaluations of their organization’s technology remain strong, they have stayed flat over the past five years. Together, these findings point to a big opportunity for organizations to improve their use of technology to create a more positive and lasting member experience. 

member value technology gap

Take a good look at your organization’s technology strategies to make sure they align with what members value and expect. For example: 

  • Develop a digital transformation plan. Make sure your entire organization, including leadership and the IT team, is in sync with the priorities set forth by the plan. 
  • If you find yourself struggling to stay ahead of the curve, turn to your members who are early technology adopters to help you develop a technology strategy to meet your member’s expectations. 
  • Make sure your AMS and LMS support a modern digital member experience. 
  • Invest in an event platform that can help you deliver excellent hybrid event experiences. 
  • Find a strong online job board and comprehensive career center solution to help you provide members with the benefits they want most. 

3. Make career advancement opportunities a top priority – no excuses. 

Throughout the past five years’ studies, one thing remains clear: Members want job and career advancement opportunities. So, if you want to be the go-to resource for your industry or profession, you must provide members with resources to help them advance their career. 

With the right technology and proven approaches, you can create an online career center that helps members achieve success in their career. Be sure to provide more than just a job board (so that members can easily search and apply for relevant opportunities), but also career advancement resources, such as career advice, with relevant articles that guide job seekers in their search; online coaching that provides job strategies and tips on resumes and interviewing; and career insights and placement services that help members secure their dream job. 

Learn how to elevate career advancement opportunities for your members.

Get the tip sheet.

4. Step up your work around member data. 

Only four in ten pros say their organization has a data governance plan. And confidence in the state of their member data remains weak. Make sure your organization’s member data is strong by keeping your data clean and secure. Talk with your technology vendors to ensure they have data compliance certifications in place, and that they use best practices to prevent unauthorized access to data. Also, develop a data governance strategy that includes policies for what type of data you collect, how long you keep data, and how you use it. 

Keep in mind, too, that organizations continue to recognize the importance of data analytics to better understand their members and create an amazing member experience. Yet, many still do not use data analytics tools to get the job done. Start using data analytics tools to visualize your data and put it to use in new ways, such as making more informed business decisions. 

Finally, be sure to use your member data to segment your audience and deliver the right message to the right people. And make sure you’re targeting the right audiences through their preferred social media platforms. 

 

Find your next technology solution to provide the ultimate member experience.

For more than 30 years, Holiday Showcase (produced by Association Forum) has been the place for the association community to celebrate achievements, network with colleagues and friends, and build for the future. This year’s Holiday Showcase theme is “Inspired by your community, tailored for your future.”

The conference will be in Chicago from November 30 to December 1. Join in as association professionals learn, share, and lead our industry into 2023, more resilient and better prepared to propel our organizations into a prosperous new year! 

Can’t make it to Holiday Showcase 2022 in person? No worries.

Discover how to become the career resource professionals in your industry turn to for new career opportunities.  

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