Membership Marketing and the Web

I have begun the review of the raw data from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey that we launched this spring. We had over 400 survey participants.

From my initial review of the data there are many surprises and confirmations of what I expected.

My first surprise was how little associations are using the web opportunities to acquire members compared to other membership marketing channels.

We asked participants to highlight what channels they use to get new members and how they allocate their membership marketing budgets over these channels. The results showed that some commonly used web channels for acquisition see limited very use by associations and make up a very small portion of their budgets. For example:
  • Only 8.3% of those who responded use search engine advertising to acquire members and this channel only made up 0.29% of membership marketing budgets.
  • Only 12.2% use banner ads and links on others web sites to market membership and this only made up on 0.13% of the survey participants’ overall membership marketing expenditures.
Based on what the opportunities are using these channels, associations are under utilizing these tools to reach out and attract members. I suspect that these numbers will grow dramatically in the future.

On the other hand, 35.2% are using social networking to help attract members. Still this only makes up 0.78% of membership marketing budgets. Interestingly, 26.8% of associations who report using social media to attract members reported a decline in new member acquisition compared to 21% of the total respondents.

Does this mean that necessity is the mother of invention and these groups are giving social media a try or that social media diverts resources from more productive acquisition opportunities?

The vast majority of respondents -- 84.8% -- use their association website and this only makes up 3.2% of membership marketing budgets.

By the way, just a reminder that the world is changing and we need to keep pushing the envelope. Here is a post card promoting my grandfather’s Chrysler dealership. He is pictured on the left.


Dan said...

Tony, What a cool postcard! I hope he doesn't still own the dealership ;)

I wonder whether the results you've highlighted here speak to the "how" of these channels.

Social media is definitely user-friendly, takes little time to get up and running, and shows quick tangible connections providing a rewarding, visible result. Even though few organizations have found a consistent method of analyzing the impact of these activities or have figured out how to determine the ROI of their time.

Search engine marketing/advertising is a bit more complex and involves analytics that need a higher level of understanding. Placing banner and other ads on others' sites gets even more complicated when speaking of sizing, formats, animation, number of impressions versus clickthroughs, and tracking the source of the traffic. It seems a person would need to become fluent in web programming language to really understand the dynamics of what's going on.

Hopefully the organization's website is well optimized to appear in the searches organically and there isn't much need for the search engine ads.

Plus, social networks are about getting involved in the conversations out there in the mass "cocktail party" and hopefully being the topic of discussion (in a good way) daily. Membership marketing professionals are not usually the shy, introverted types anyway.

Tony Rossell said...

Dan -- No he sold the dealership years ago. My brother just came across this picture in a search that he did. It was a timely find.

Your comments as usual are insightful. I think my point is that despite the complexity, these web tools will need to become a part of a good marketers portfolio of expertise in the years to come. Tony

Ellen said...

Tony -- Great post! Do you have data that demonstrates successful use of the Web and social media? Are they being used successfully by individual membership organizations, chapters, trade associations, foundations/charitable groups? It seems to me that the marketing efforts can only be successful if there's a good match between the medium being used, the organization using it, and the members being targeted...

For example, when marketing a trade association where the members are an entity (a university, hospital, prison, or other institution), who's the target on Twitter? Who do you try to "friend" on Facebook?

I can see how expanding membership in an individual, professional association or society can benefit from leveraging all the social media and Web opportunities available, but can you help me understand how a trade association would target potential members using these media?


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Tony, why do you think so few associations are using the web for membership recruitment?

Karen Zapp, PE said...

I have a thought regarding Ellen's question: How can a trade association target potential members using social media?

First let me say that I’m rather new to using the tools myself. Nonetheless I’ve been doing extensive study and observation so I hope my comments are fruitful to you.

Let’s take Twitter, as an example. And let’s say your association is in the aviation industry.

In your tweets you pass on news articles, flying tips, and other helpful pieces of information. You add a #TAG to keywords like this: #aviation or #avionics and so forth. These tags make it easier for people interested in these topics to find you. You’ll start to pick up followers and this is one way to target your market.

Now I’ll add that you can certainly intersperse promotional tweets about your association but I personally believe the vast majority of your tweets need to be pure content. For example: You can toss in a promo about one of your professional development courses – say an upcoming webinar.

Another thing you can do is use WeFollow (; a user powered Twitter directory. This rather new “tool” is meant to make it easier for people to follow you. You can choose up to 3 tags to identify you and you’ll be listed under these 3 tags. Again, you choose your 3 tags and then send a tweet to WeFollow like this: @wefollow #aviation #flying #association

Hope that helps, Ellen!

Scott Oser said...

To answer Karen's follow up to Ellen's question I just saw a great use of Twitter that I think more associations should consider using. MPI (Meeting Planners International) sent out a tweet that used the hashtag #MPI and offered $75 off membership for new members. I do not follow MPI as I am not a meeting planner but what I would hope they are doing is using these promotional tweets periodically and mix them in with the educational and informational tweets Tony mentioned.

I think that most associations have tended to shy away from promotions on social media vehicles because many of us are taught that it is "not the spirit of social media." I agree with the fact that authenticity is critical and providing good info is the way to prove you are authentic. That said I see no reason why an association should not have a plan and a schedule for promoting time sensitive membership, event, product and service offers through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Plaxo, MySpace, YouTube or whatever else they can think of.

Tony Rossell said...

Ellen -- Just back from vacation and in my cabin I had no internet and no cell phone coverage.

I just started today to dig more deeply into our research data. As a general statement, it appears that the more channels one uses, the more successful they are in membership acquisition.

However, in general social media would not be the first place that I would start in membership marketing. As I noted in my post, groups that rely on social media for membership acquisition show a slightly lower likelihood for new member growth than those who do not use it. More to come on this topic. Tony

Tony Rossell said...

Karen and Scott -- Excellent examples. I think some of these issues come down to the question of what are you trying to accomplish. Are you trying to sell something or simply send out good vibes? I am typically an advocate of selling something. As you will see in some of the open ended comments that I will share from our reseach in my next post one common threads of growing associations is a clear focus on selling. Tony