Engaging Communities

Erin Keating

October 29, 2021

Last week we spoke with the spirited and smart Celess Tyrell. She works across six different organizations, all in nursing, managing communities and online learning for each one. The combination of these two responsibilities was an interesting one for us to dive deeper into with Celess and in our own thinking. As online learning is a place for associations to bring in non-dues revenue, it makes sense that to be relevant to your audience you need to engage your communities.

We took away three great options for not only growing the participation in online learning but also in furthering engagement with your members.

Be Involved in Your Community

To know what your members think and want, you need to listen. It can be easy to pay attention to the squeaky wheels and the loudest voices, but online communities can offer a unique way to get engaged at a more local level with members who may not feel as comfortable speaking out directly or aren’t physically more active in events and the goings on of the association. Listening in to the community and getting active opens the door to new opportunities you may not have seen.

As an example, Celess tells us that through listening to the online community with her nephrology nurses’ group, she heard from several people in one specialty practice network (SPAN), the transplant SPAN, that they were missing content related to their specialty from a recent conference. The content was there but because it was all in one comprehensive agenda, they missed it. From this information in the community, Celess was about to create an entire new set of content series based on existing content that simply got packaged according to specialty. This brings personalization and authentic engagement to the members, increasing their value.

Freemium Content Wins in the Long Run

Years ago, Celess argued that if they could leverage their online community to draw more engagement in the association’s online learning offerings it would ultimately create a win. To do this, she decided to trial offering a free class each month to see if it was enough to draw the members in and over the course of the next few years, they saw their revenue double in online learning.

Offering the product or service free versus a discount provides your members with a zero-barrier entry into experiencing the product without selling the farm for free. This will drive you to be more laser focused on the quality of content you are providing so that once they are in the system, they want to stick around and experience more.

Hybrid Schmybrid

Let’s move away from calling events out as hybrid. The new era is upon whether we were prepared for it or not and continuing to look at it as a hybrid experience rather than recognizing that technology is simply more integrated into our experiences now is so last year. In fact, Celess was doing this years ago. Being a self-proclaimed millennial, she may have had a head start as a digital native and early adopter of technology, but we could all take lessons from her on how to marry the in-person experience with the online experience.

Remember when building your own app for an event was the coolest new trend and getting everyone to tweet throughout your conference was the way to get broader exposure? Well, now the chat functions and agendas are all available through online meeting platforms. People are attending the live events and still logging into their computers to keep up with the chatter at the event. This is a phenomenal opportunity for an association to capitalize on real-time feedback and continue to use social media to talk about what’s happening in the moment. Being on your game like Celess in this area will help you to pick up what’s important with your community in the moment and translate it into bigger wins through social and through making future improvements. What people won’t say on a survey, they might say right in the chat window and its actionable.

Embrace Multichannel Communications

This all comes down to embracing the fact that people and conversations can now be anywhere. They can be an avatar on their computer in Italy attending your certification class online with the real person sitting in the classroom in Boca Raton and engaging with each other while learning. This is a huge opportunity to recognize the gold mine of data, insights, and feedback that lives in your online community, in your chat rooms at events, and on message boards. Get active, get proximate, and get engaged.