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October 21, 2008

Social media yields engaged members and even cash

I was recently invited to write an article for the Avectra Institute newsletter. In case you missed it, here's my contribution.

There's a lot of talk about using social media as a means to engage members. And it's not just talk. If you read research from ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership (if you don't, you really should) you know these three facts:

  1. that social media is a new and potent way to engage members,
  2. that the extent to which a member is engaged in their membership association is tightly correlated to their likelihood to renew their membership and to talk to friends and colleagues about their association, and
  3. that the number one way that members first learn about their membership association is from another member.
All of these are great reasons to embrace social media and can certainly stand on their own. But sometimes association leaders are looking for a more direct effect. And seriously, who can blame them? I mean, who doesn't want to see some honest-to-goodness cash flow in these challenging economic times? It can be done. Here's a case study from my association on how we used social media to get new attendees at our annual convention. And keep in mind, our convention was sited outside the state we represent and our members are Realtors (if you hadn't heard the real estate market is a little tough out there). In a nutshell, here's how we did it.
  1. Personally invite members who use social media themselves. We keep watch for new bloggers within our constituency by subscribing to Google Alerts about our industry. When we learn of a new blog, we leave a comment, e-mail or call to ask them to come to our next major event.
  2. Use social networking sites. About a year ago we set up a Facebook group for our membership. Over time, the group has grown to about 300 participants. We messaged everyone in our Facebook group to let them know about convention sessions that would be relevant to them, as people using social networking sites like Facebook. We also have a number of members using Twitter, and used that medium to spread the word about our convention. Through Twitter, we were actually able to recruit people who weren't in our target market to attend the convention, although it should be noted that credit for the recruiting should be assigned to volunteers who willingly recruited those non members to attend.
  3. Give them stuff to do that screams social media. We invited a number of members to contribute to our convention blog, scheduled a conference session specifically for bloggers, and worked with volunteers to arrange an unofficial after-party for anyone who wanted to attend, regardless of whether they had registered for the convention. Two keynote addresses were delivered by authors who believe in the virtues of social media, and we even streamed Twitter posts tagged with a special keyword (which we announced in advance) into our convention website, so that anyone could publish to it from their cell phone or laptop. The same tag was used to tag photos of the convention uploaded by members to Flickr. And we immediately displayed the posts of any blog that linked to our convention website. The on-site internet cafe presented this dynamic conference website to all who approached.
Hard results? Well, how about 15-20 attendees who never would have thought about attending our convention before we started our social media initiative? Here's a Twitter post from a member who attended: "I am glad I am an agent in Virginia. The other associations should be jealous."

Think he'll come back to our association's events in the future or tell others about them? He already has.

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