Comparing Growth Rates of Trade Associations to Individual Membership Associations

Trade associations have had a much tougher membership year than have individual membership associations.

In our 2010 Membership Marketing Benchmarking study, we asked respondents to identify their association by what membership structure they operated under: trade or organizational, individual, or both.

When we cross tabulated structure with our membership growth question, we found that 42 percent of individual membership associations had experienced membership growth in the past year, but only 25 percent of trade associations saw growth.

Here is a chart of the results.

A Tough Year for Membership Organizations

When you compare the percentage of associations that report growth in overall membership, new member acquisition, and membership renewals from 2009 to 2010, you see a consistent downward trend.

The comparison comes from looking at previously reported responses from the 2009 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report with new data under analysis for the 2010 Benchmarking Report.
The most significant drop off for membership organizations appears to be in renewals. In 2009, 31 percent of responding associations reported that renewal rates for their organization had decreased in the previous year. In 2010, 44 percent of associations reported a decline in renewal rates.

On the positive side, 62 percent of associations reported that new member input in 2010 has either increased or remained the same from the previous year.

Here are some of the charts highlighting this data.

When I reflect on results that I am seeing across a broad range of membership organization clients, these trends seem to be holding true. Acquisition efforts appear to still be meeting with good success, but holding onto the same level of renewals from previous years has been a real challenge for most associations.

The Correlation of Social Media Usage and Membership Growth

As I dive into the data from our 2010 Membership Benchmarking Survey, I am discovering some very interesting outcomes. I will be sharing some of them on this blog, but of course the full report will go to the 405 associations who participated in the research.

The power of any survey data is not in the answers themselves, but in the cross tabulations. Looking at one answer compared to another. Today I took a look at official usage of social media by associations cross tabulated with associations reporting either membership growth or decline.

The crosstabs highlight patterns or correlations that can aide an organization in making decisions. However, please remember that a correlation is not a prediction. Because organizations doing one activity display higher growth rates than those that do another does not mean that replicating that one behavior will result in growth.

There is a lot to discuss in today’s data. Here are a few comments.  First of all, there has been an explosion of the use of social media in associations. Only 8% of associations participating in the survey said that they do not officially use any social media tools.

The most popular social media application used by associations is Facebook with over 75% of associations reporting that they officially use it as an organization.

On the other hand, only 17% of associations reported that they have a “private association social network”. And those organizations who have a private social network are 28% more likely to report growth in membership compared to the average association. While groups that use LinkedIn are 13% more likely to report a decline in membership numbers.

Here is a chart that takes a look at the top responses from the survey.

I would appreciate your theories on what this data may be saying about social media and how it can impact an association. Feel free to post your thoughts.

The Push and Pull of Membership Recruitment

Marketers sometimes categorize products as either "push" or "pull." In a pull system the consumer requests the product and 'pulls' it through the delivery channel. On the other hand, in a push marketing system the sales efforts are initiated by the producer and information is 'pushed' toward the buyer.

Membership has traditionally been defined as a "push" product. Most people do not wake up in the morning and say, "hey, I really need to join something today." Instead, they need to be actively sold.

However, we live in a time of exciting change and the paradigm for membership recruitment is changing with it.

Today, effective membership recruitment often includes a pull strategy as part of the marketing mix by taking advantage of online opportunities and social networking tools.

In fact, in our most recent Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 56 percent of association executives reported that one way prospective members learned about their association was through association-sponsored social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn and another 33 percent report the use of search engine advertising or online ads helped make prospects aware of membership. These channels still fall below the top awareness builders for membership, but they reflect signgrowth over the previous year.

Here is what survey respondents highlighted as the top means by which prospects became aware of membership.
So how can this pull strategy be deployed?

We are effectively implementing a pull strategy through what we call trading content for contact. Instead of initiating a relationship by selling a membership, we allow potential members who are seeking specific information to find us through the very content they seek.

With this pull strategy, the relationship is started by presenting valuable information and resources that only a qualified or prospective member would find of value. This concept takes portions of the membership content and offers it for free through a host of online tools. These include:

• Co-Registration Submissions
• Ad Networks including LinkedIn and Facebook
• Online PR Releases
• Article Submissions
• Blogs
• Social Media Ads
• Affinity Media
• Search Engine and Content Advertising

As prospective members access the valuable content, they also are asked to opt-in to receiving additional communications from the organization. These prospective members who have raised their hand to a relationship are cultivated and given the opportunity to join the association and take advantage of all the products and services available.

In a very real sense, by using this pull strategy, the membership organization opens a very large funnel to allow potential members to pull themselves into a relationship at their own pace and as their needs dictate.

And because of the traceability of each stage of the relationship through web and database records, the system can continually be monitored and optimized to make the movement into a full membership relationship as simple and easy as possible.

Is it time to put a little PULL into your membership recruitment efforts? Please share any experiences you are having with these methods.