By Jacqui Olkin

[Reprinted from the March 2008 Membership Developments, a Newsletter of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)]

The latest social media tools offer great potential for enhancing your services and increasing member engagement, and thereby boosting recruitment and retention.

The social media buzz has spread quickly through the association world as professional organizations adopt blogs, wikis, discussion boards, RSS feeds, and other “Web 2.0” tools to provide value to members. But social media also can support your member recruitment and retention efforts.

Make Your Member Directory Your “Killer App”

Your member roster and the people on it are your association’s most valuable assets, so why not use them to increase the value of membership and boost participation?

Member and staff directories have become an essential resource for many organizations across the association, commercial, and federal markets. The new-generation directories include a wide range of information and multidimensional search options to help you find members easily to answer questions, join a committee, develop content, serve as mentors, or speak at conferences and events. Further, a social media–powered directory allows members to form their own affinity groups, keeping them active between conferences.

An enhanced directory makes the most of the intellectual capital that resides with members and encourages wide participation in the work of the association. As we know, more involvement with an organization typically means higher satisfaction, which translates into member retention.

To entice nonmembers to join, you could show them only basic directory information but make it clear that members can log in to access more information and functionality.

Interact with Your Membership

Social media can help an association anticipate and respond to members’ needs and questions.

A survey or polling tool enables you to determine members’ highest-priority needs and concerns and solicit feedback on member benefits and services.

Discussion boards, online chats, messaging tools, and blogs provide a public forum in which the association can answer members’ questions. Archiving answers and making them searchable prevents association staff from having to answer the same questions over and over—and gives members access to information 24/7.

If your organization already uses social media, read the user contributions to track hot topics and when in the annual cycle members are discussing them. Armed with this knowledge, tailor and time your communications to members and prospects.

Augment the Value of Events—for Members Only

To provide additional value to members and entice nonmembers to join, offer event-related online discussions or groups that are evident to nonmembers but only available to members.

Turn training or conference participants into a learning cohort by providing an online means of meeting one another before the event and staying in touch afterward. Post webinar or conference presentations online after the live event, and allow members to interact with the presenter and/or each other through the use of a blog, chat, or discussion tool.

Another option: Use social media as a sales tool by showing who’s registered for an event and allowing members to recommend an event to others.

The Generational Argument 

If you’re aware of a generational split among your membership, give your members the tools they need and understand. More tenured members might be less inclined to embrace a robust suite of social media, whereas younger members will expect online professional networking and an online forum for dialogue with the association. Common sense tells us that as more Millennials enter the professional world, associations will need to do more to serve and communicate with members online, using the latest tools.

Staying Focused

You have many options for choosing and using social media tools. Get started with these strategies.

  1. As in all technology decisions, form should follow function. Decide what you want to do, then choose the tool(s) to help you do it.
  2. Choose tools that are easy for nontechnical people to use and administer. Test usability before you launch, and tweak any problem areas.
  3. Don’t let your website look like a patchwork quilt just because you launch new tools. Try to create a consistent look and feel for your website, whether the user is on your homepage or a membership directory page.
  4. Single sign-on is vital to a good user experience. If you can prevent members from having to log in more than once on your website, they’ll tend to stay on the site and access members-only tools and content.
  5. Think big, start small. Everyone is new at this, and every implementation is an experiment. Start with a vision of the future and a modest toolset. See how members respond and expand the toolset from there as needed. A modular social networking platform can help you scale up over time while providing good analytical reporting from the start.



Jacqui Olkin is principal consultant of Olkin Communications Consulting, which specializes in content management, social media, usability, and Web redesigns for associations.