The State of Email: Three Tactics for Adding Automation

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Any email marketing program thrives with a little automation. Not sure where to start? Here are three ways that automation could work for your association.

Automation and email go together like lettuce and tomato. They may not be the meat of your association’s membership program, but they can garnish it effectively and help to strengthen your recruitment, retention, and general marketing efforts.

If you haven’t taken a deep dive into automation, you may need some help sorting out the available options. Here’s what email automation could look like—in both simple and advanced forms.

Simple: Add a Little RSS to Your Workflow

The cost. Free or cheap. Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, is already integrated into your email service and content management systems.

The benefits. RSS can help you cut a little time off your production process.

The strategy. RSS is commonly associated with distributing content to people who use readers such as Feedly or Feedbin, but it can also be an easy way to automate email creation. Popular services such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor allow users to integrate an RSS feed into their workflow, so that whenever a new article gets uploaded to a website or blog, it can turn into newsletter fodder.

In many ways, RSS and its sibling technology Atom are something of a barebones API (application programming interface). Associations looking to simplify their email process can pull in different RSS feeds and curate them.

This approach can be scaled up, too. Services such as are based on RSS but build on it by personalizing messages to match readers’ needs. RSS can also fill other automation gaps, including as a way to push links to social media platforms or apps.

Intermediate: Use SaaS Tools to Automate Your Processes

The cost. SaaS typically costs a few hundred dollars per year, depending on the services you use.

The benefits. It can allow you to test ideas for engaging members without hiring a development team.

The strategy. In recent years, it’s become easier to integrate different tools. Two of the best-known options are Zapier, which tends to be for professional use cases, and IFTTT, which aims for more personal ones.

Zapier and tools that touch a similar market, such as Integromat, are useful for testing ideas for integration—say, by helping to build a drip email campaign that contacts a member or other user a few days after signing up, or an integration that automatically sends a new member an invitation to a member community when they sign up for your newsletter. (It can also work the other way, nudging a member who hasn’t opened any of your emails lately.)

These offerings can integrate with a variety of tools, including official partners such as MailChimp and WordPress, APIs offered by vendors large and small, and “webhooks,” which offer callbacks between different web-based applications. These integrations can get in depth with tools such as Airtable and Google Sheets working as de facto databases.

This approach has driven the so-called no-code movement, which takes advantage of the ease of integration to build products that work as a proof of concept without additional development. Similarly, using SaaS tools can help associations experiment and understand what they need before fully jumping into integration.

Advanced: Use APIs and Data Analytics to Target Your Messaging

The cost. This advanced strategy will require an investment of thousands of dollars per year, with ongoing vendor or development fees.

The benefits. Based on integration with your association management system (AMS), this approach allows messaging related to user behavior and can support a best-in-breed application approach.

The strategy. In the past, many associations deployed automation through tools that can target specific messaging to users based on data about members housed in the AMS. But other platforms can be integrated and share data to create even more relevant email messages. For example, if you know that a member is attending a lot of your events, you could create messaging to upsell additional programs to that member. If a member seems to be an active user of your website, you could email the member a feedback form asking their thoughts on the site. Put another way, your email strategy could be informed by data points gathered throughout the organization.

One other benefit of this approach is that it doesn’t have to be implemented through a single vendor unless you want it to be.

The challenge is that it requires a lot of homework to figure out what’s right for your organization. You may want to try a smaller use case before you go all-in.

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Membership Pro Tip: On-Demand Webinars

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A new membership type responds directly to member needs by providing affordable education options when they need them most.

How does it work? The National Society for Histotechnology launched a new membership type in October 2020, in direct response to a member survey showing a strong desire for more affordable education options. The number-one reason members join NSH is to access education, says Cindy Simpson, CAE, manager of members services.

The new Enhanced Education Membership incorporates access to NSH’s library of on-demand webinars into membership. It’s helped bring back lapsed members and attracted new ones, especially histotechnologists looking for continuing education credits or professional development, Simpson says.

Why is it effective? A lot of NSH members were furloughed by their employers or their work hours were reduced, so they were concerned about accessing affordable education. Members are price sensitive, Simpson says, but “we didn’t want to just give everything away.” So NSH reached out to its members and settled on a price. For $139, members get a general membership, which costs $80, and unlimited access to over 70 webinars. The webinars generally range in price from $10 to $25. So, if members access just a few webinars, they’ve recouped their investment in the Enhanced Education Membership.

What’s the benefit? “We’re always looking for ways to increase our percentage of retention and we feel that this will be a nice springboard and an opportunity for us to work with members further,” Simpson says.

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Why Subscription Boxes Could be a Smart Quarantine-Era Member Perk

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Subscription boxes, once seen as a fading trend, are showing signs of resilience during the COVID-19 era. Associations might consider the idea as a way to surprise and delight members when in-person interactions can’t happen.

Subscription boxes were already seen as a peaking craze nearly two years ago, when Marketplace noted that the industry had reached $10 billion in value in 2018. They’d been picking up interest for years before that.

Might this be time for a comeback, perhaps as an association member perk? Subscription value is close enough to membership value that it could be a good idea to give the box model another look. At a time when in-person events are off the table, it could offer a much-needed personal touch.

If you’re intrigued, keep in mind these points on the status of the subscription box in the COVID-19 era:

Many subscription box firms are growing because they fill a pressing need. Many subscription box firms seem to be drawing interest because their products can keep people occupied at a time when they’re stuck at home more often. This is especially true of children, who no longer have their school routine, noted the toy news website Kidscreen. “All of the subscription services I spoke with are experiencing an uptick in members now, and for obvious reasons: They arrive at the house without families having to leave for pickup, with minimal human touch, and in answer to a parent’s specific need,” wrote the site’s Robin Raskin. “Toy subscriptions and online services for kids providers can offer predictability, constancy, and quality.”

The market is crowded and complicated, however. A recent analysis of the subscription box business by the National Retail Federation explained that COVID-19 has increased uncertainty in the sector and could distract people who might otherwise be interested in the services. And the added competition could make it tough to stand out. “Subscription models require a high level of commitment on the part of the consumer,” said Unity Marketing’s Pam Danziger. “And it’s hard enough to get that commitment in normal times.”

Nonetheless, subscriptions are showing resilience. In the latest edition of Zuora’s Subscription Impact Report [registration], the firm found that roughly half of the subscription companies it analyzed were maintaining the status quo with limited impact from the COVID-19 crisis, with some areas growing faster than others—in particular, video streaming (a 400 percent increase over the norm at the start of the pandemic), digital news and media (a 110 percent increase), and e-learning software (an 80 percent increase). Digital Media Solutions noted that the food-delivery service Blue Apron and the STEM activity kit seller KiwiCo have been particularly strong.

Getting started requires some good vibes. Word-of-mouth is essential to building growth, notes TotalRetail, and often a little boost from an influencer or a strong customer support game can make all the difference. “By partnering with websites like My Subscription Addiction or influencers who post unboxing videos on social media, businesses can gain an advantage over competitors and prove attentiveness to customer satisfaction,” author Georg Richter writes.

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A Return to Meetings: How Contact Tracing Works

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As meeting professionals plan for future in-person meetings, they’ll need to incorporate new technologies and processes to keep all participants safe. One tool to consider is digital contact tracing. Here’s a look at what’s involved.

Although most associations won’t be hosting large in-person meetings in the immediate future, many are thinking about what those face-to-face events will look like when they do return, along with what new technology and procedures they may need to implement to keep all participants as safe as possible.

One new area that meeting professionals will have to consider is contact tracing. For a look at what this involves, I spoke with Julie Ann Schmidt, CMM, CMP, a certified COVID compliance officer and founder and CEO of global events firm Lithium Logistics Group.

“Contact tracing is being able to trace who someone was in contact with before they became sick,” said Schmidt. “For meeting planners, it’s looking at having a conference where, after the fact, you find out somebody was sick and then being able to inform everyone who had contact or may have had contact with that person.”

The CDC defines “close contact” as being within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more over 24 hours.

If you decide to do contact tracing at a conference, you must “first have a mechanism for people to inform you afterward that they got sick at your event, and then [you] need to be able to take that information and tell other participants they may have had exposure,” Schmidt said.

Also keep in mind that an association can’t require people to participate in contact tracing. “Rather, it’s an effort that you’d have to ask attendees and other participants to opt into,” Schmidt said.

There are two ways to handle contact tracing. The first is to use your list of people who checked in onsite. “If that’s all you’re doing, then you’ll have to tell everyone on the list that they  may have had contact,” she said.

The second is to use some type of technology that allows you to pinpoint and contact only those who were within six feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or more. “For some groups, the value of not having to worry everyone, of being able to give people more precise information, and maybe manage the PR of it …  is worth the investment of going beyond that full list,” said Schmidt.

Contact Tracing options

If you decide to make the investment in contact tracing technology, you’ll be able to choose from among three types:

Radio frequency identification (RFID). This is considered a passive technology because attendees wear a tag or fob—possibly in a wristband—that is constantly on. Sensors are set up around the meeting space, and the technology tracks when a person’s fob crosses a sensor and compares it to other people’s fobs going by the same sensor. (It does not track attendees walking by or standing next to one another throughout the conference venue.) According to Schmidt, RFID is typically the most expensive option. “It can run, based on the last research I did, up to $120 per person, depending on the amount of people you have,” she said. “That includes the individual fobs and sensors.”

Bluetooth low energy (BLE). Like RFID, this is also a passive technology where participants wear a fob. “But, in this case, there are no sensors,” Schmidt said. “Rather, the fobs, which may be in a name badge, are talking to one another so the data shows when attendees are close.” According to Schmidt, this technology is typically in the $10 to $15 range per person.

App. This is considered an active technology because people need to put the app on their phone, and the app and the phone need to be turned on for it to work. “In other words, people can actively turn it off if they want to,” Schmidt said. However, apps usually have the lowest price point, running about $5 per person.

Data Privacy Concerns

All of these technologies collect the same data. “They are measuring time and distance,” Schmidt said.

Most importantly, the collected data is confidential. “When attendees sign up for the app or other contact-tracing program, it puts them in the system as a number,” she said. “So planners don’t know who these individuals are.”

It’s not until an attendee informs the organization that they are sick that staff can put their name into the system and learn who that attendee had been in contact with. “That’s the only point that you know the data tied to a specific person,” she said.

The technology also does not track where people go throughout the day. “It’s not GPS,” Schmidt said. “It’s not tracking the person; it’s tracking their contact.”

Ultimately, the decision to use digital contact tracing comes down to three things: budget, buy-in from participants, and risk management.

“To me, being able to do digital contact tracing, rather than using you’re checked-in registration list, is going a step further and beyond the basics to keep people safe,” Schmidt said. 

This is the first piece of a three-part series about meetings post-COVID. In part two, I’ll look at what onsite screening and testing procedures may entail. And in part three, I’ll discuss COVID protocol documents that meeting professionals should put together.

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Why Your Association’s Community-Building Strategy Might Need a Tweak

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If your association has been leaning on staff-centered online community engagement tactics, it might not have the effect you’re expecting, says culture expert Maddie Grant. Instead, let the members take the lead.

The difference between canned community engagement and the real thing can feel subtle. But you know it when you see it.

And when engagement feels forced in a member community, it can feel disingenuous—something highlighted in a thread that picked up heat in the community-building space on social media.

What’s something that feels like community building but isn’t?

— Rosie Sherry ☁ (@rosiesherry) November 17, 2020

In an email, community expert Rosie Sherry noted the reaction to the tweet was fairly robust. “It made me think, realize, see that really anything can be good for community building, but just because you are doing it doesn’t mean you are building community,” she said.

Maddie Grant, cofounder of the culture-driven consultancy PROPEL, compares tactics like these with the early days of social media, before brand marketers moved in.

“It used to be really organic and just fun and interesting and kind of new, and then the marketers took over, and now you’re just getting spammed all the time with the ads,” Grant said. “I think community management, not in the same way, there’s a little bit of that, too, because all of these tactics are so obvious.”

Service at the Center

So why do these tactics feel so poorly suited to online communities? And what does that say about community-building in general?

The secret might come down to who is driving the engagement. Sherry explained that communities that put the organization’s goals at the center will often fail to engage. Instead, she suggested that member communities should be built with service in mind.

“There would be better success with a community if done this way because the focus is more on building something of value for the people, rather than the person [or organization] at the center of things,” she said.

In an ideal world, Grant said community managers could mostly stay out of the way of the member conversations.

“Really, the best communities are where the organization itself is completely invisible and in the background and is just making sure that everything runs smoothly from a technology perspective, or that there’s a helpdesk person in case anybody has issues, or that is focused on onboarding new people into the community,” she said.

Community Considerations

Grant offered a few suggestions as to what that might look like, including creating a network of “champions” to help seed conversation in the community, but also to think about the structure of the community, building it in a way where everyone who joins has a role—such as a help forum or an area dedicated to Q&A.

“The impetus for people to help each other is really, really high, as opposed to ‘just come in here and discuss these industry-related topics,’ where nobody has time for that,” she said.

Grant offered two additional insights on keeping digital communities going:

One-way engagement is OK, sometimes. If you can’t get people to comment, all is not lost. Since the start of the pandemic, people have found themselves engaging aggressively through mediums like Zoom, and they may need a break from posting on a forum. While passive forms of consumption, like podcasts and videos, may seem underrated compared with commenting, Grant said they still have significant value. Just be sure to offer options. “The value of people watching or just reading or sharing is actually much higher for the association than the value of somebody commenting, or posting, which obviously has always been harder to get,” she explained.

How should you feel about external competition? In recent years, Facebook’s long-neglected Groups feature made a big comeback as a way to interact with others, in ways that don’t seem as stilted as more professional platforms. Grant noted that the professional nature of association communities can actually put Facebook groups at an advantage in some ways, as they tend to be a bit looser. However, associations can learn from them in trying to encourage a balance. “You can still have rules without curbing some of those connections, because that’s how people obviously get to know each other,” she said. She also noted that the informal nature of Facebook groups makes them distinct from the stronger strategic nature of associations. “It’s so much more lightweight,” she said.

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Four Ways to Make Marketing Part of Your 2021 Comeback Story

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With tight budgets and a challenging road back to in-person events, it may be tempting to rein in your marketing spend. But reminding people why your association is vital can lead the way to a robust return, as well as supporting members as they navigate their own unfamiliar territory.

By Melissa Bouma

If 2020 left your organization hurting due to lost business and revenue opportunities, know that you’re not alone. Many other associations are facing the same challenges. But the new calendar year, while it doesn’t end the pandemic, offers an opportunity to reset and fully embrace the new normal. And how you react to that new normal can help set the stage for your comeback story.

With strained budgets, it can be natural to look toward austerity measures and other forms of cost-cutting, but these have their limits, especially from a long-term perspective. To turn the tide, ultimately, your association needs to invest, but that investment should be thoughtful and evaluated for performance early and often.

A great place to invest is in your brand’s identity and differentiator. It’s one of the best things that you can do to reverse your fortunes. The Corporate Horizon Index, a 2017 McKinsey study of for-profit companies, found that organizations willing to invest in their long-term fortunes tended to grow 47 percent more, and with less volatility than organizations that were more focused on the short term.

And marketing is a great vehicle for reinforcing the importance of your association at a time when members may be reevaluating their reasons to renew their dues. It’s the industry-specific relevance that your organization provides that can help members overcome 2020 difficulties. The question is how to strategically invest those marketing dollars when your budget may already be stretched thin. Here are four ways to do this:

Focus on recruiting new members with a new acquisition campaign. Three of the biggest reasons people join associations are for networking, education, and recognition. Yet these benefits may have lost their luster in 2020—a year where meetings, the primary conduit for such exchanges, came to a standstill. Start off 2021 strong by leveraging an ad campaign or direct marketing (more on that, next) to reinforce your organization’s value in these key areas and promote what makes being part of your association so valuable—and help to offset any member drop-off seen in 2020.

Employ free or low-cost marketing efforts to retain existing members. A member retention campaign doesn’t need to be an expensive endeavor. Use email or retargeting to remind existing members of your value, or even introduce new initiatives or services they may not have known about. Consider adding a new member recognition award program into the mix, and explore other ways to amp up virtual member recognition until meetings return full force.

Target this messaging with performance marketing. This approach, which represents a combination of brand marketing, paid search, and social media advertising, helps marketers target very specific audiences. (It even has its own association, in case you were curious.) One of the benefits of this strategy—and part of the reason it’s growing in prominence—is that it’s rooted in results by design. That means there is a direct correlation between money spent and the people who are being brought into your association. And ultimately, money spent to bring in new members and to engage existing ones is critical at this time, as they will provide the basis for any future organizational efforts.

Be ready for meetings to return. So maybe this year won’t be when in-person meetings make their big comeback. But that moment will come eventually. Consider directing some of your funding into long-term event marketing, so that when attendees are ready to come back in force (in the back half of 2021 or beyond), your association is ready.

The challenge, of course, is that the pressure to return in a big way is high for every organization that found itself sitting out most of 2020, or drastically shifting its strategy into virtual realms. And that means everyone wants a comeback story.

This is going to be like a thoroughbred race. Whoever gets out of the gate first is probably going to win the race.

Don’t miss the opportunity to make your next steps count.

Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.

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Three Ways to Boost Membership Renewal With Video

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Looking for ways to increase membership renewal in 2021? Sounds like a plan. And adding video to that plan could help make your association a renewal superpower.

Our whole lives became video based at the start of the pandemic, and the value of video has become much more apparent anecdotally and quantitatively since then. Why is video so powerful? Because it increases engagement, participation, value, and community, said Gather Voices CEO Michael Hoffman in a recent webinar on using the medium to boost member renewals.

But it’s important to have a plan. Seventy-eight percent of associations that have seen an improvement in renewals state they have a tactical plan to increase engagement, according to Marketing General Incorporated’s 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report [PDF].

Keep It Real

Video may seem expensive, glitzy, and out of reach, but it doesn’t have to be. Especially now, in this moment, authenticity is key, Hoffman said. The most resonant videos are not highly produced but are simple segments featuring real people talking about their real experiences.

“Engagement is about creating something new and letting members be the star of the show,” he said. And that emphasis on real people and real stories is good news because it means expensive production companies are not necessary. You can use inexpensive tools like Zoom recordings to build up your video library.

When you ask a member to share their experience in a video, that person’s story becomes a powerful testimonial that will influence others. Just asking for it creates a different relationship between the member and the organization: It says, “We value you. We value your experience, and we want to know about it,” Hoffman said.

Three Platforms

Hoffman recommends using video to boost membership renewal on these platforms:

Website. The average user spends 88 percent more time on a website with video. When your members spend more time on your association’s website viewing video content featuring their fellow members, their sense of community and belonging increases because they see themselves reflected in real people sharing their experiences, rather than brand messaging.

Social media. Incorporating video into social media messaging creates deeper engagement and greater retention of content. People remember 95 percent of a message viewed in a video compared to only 10 percent in text. And 85 percent of marketers say video is an effective way to get attention online.

Email. Email is the main tactic associations use to connect with members for renewal. Putting the word video in the subject line of an email doubles open rates and increases click-through rates by two to three times.

Video on websites, social media, and email leads to member engagement by making campaigns and communications perform better across channels. The good news: This doesn’t have to be a major—or expensive—production. Video enhances the platforms you are already using to increase click-throughs, engagement, and conversion.

It’s important to remember however, that video is not a strategy. “Video is a tool, and your strategy is your value proposition, your messaging, your targeting, and your communications plan,” Hoffman said. The beginning of a new year is as good time a time as any to assess whether you’re using all the tools at your disposal—including video—to carry out your member retention strategy.









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The State of Email: Five Email Trends to Watch in 2021

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From visual tricks to added interactivity to integrating user-generated content, there are a lot of ways for associations to leverage the power of email in 2021. Read on to catch up on the latest trends.

Even with all the options out there—video, social media, immersive websites—email has remained one of the most important ways for associations to reach their members.

But competition is fierce, as plenty of other organizations’ newsletters are fighting for your readers’ attention first thing in the morning. (According to one study, the average person gets more than 120 business emails each day.)

To stand out, you need to be willing to try new things. Here are five email trends that associations should keep an eye on, and potentially experiment with, in the year to come:

1. Interactive elements

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it remains true: Email is often constrained by email clients’ limited parameters, which means that the boundaries of what the medium can do will only stretch so far.

While tools like AMP for Email have promised progress, these offerings are still years away from being widely used.

But digital marketers still have plenty of options. A blog post from Email on Acid notes that interactive techniques such as image rollovers, quizzes, and even surveys add panache and are compatible with many platforms. (Email on Acid even mentions a scratch-off-style effect, in case you really want to get fancy.) These snazzy tactics are possible in many email clients, particularly Apple Mail-based clients and even Gmail. But if your users are stuck with Microsoft Outlook, they may miss out.

“Always provide a fallback image or design for subscribers opening your email on a mobile device or a client that doesn’t support interactive elements,” writes Hanna Kuznietsova, the chief content officer at

2. Workflow optimization

Whether it’s a matter of curating content more efficiently, automating the use of data to personalize messages, or optimizing processes so building messages takes less time, there are ways to make your email production workflow less painful.

In a blog post for the email provider MailerLite, email marketer Kevin George recommends creating content calendars for messages that aren’t automated, while building out multiple workflows for the various kinds of emails that are.

“When defining the email production workflow, make sure you account for the different types of email campaigns and automated workflows you have set up for them individually,” writes George, of the custom email design firm Email Uplers. “This will help you nurture opportunities thoroughly and allow you to cater to the needs of the target audience without compromising on the quality or speed of the campaigns.”

3. The rise of dark mode

While not widespread in emails yet, dark mode—a low-light version of an operating-system interface—has gained popularity in many computer operating systems, including MacOS, Android, and iOS.

Since Apple has been a driving force behind this trend, dark-mode functionality has translated to email clients as well—and as Litmus reports, Apple’s support for dark mode in its desktop and iOS email clients has helped to build momentum for such support in email messages. Heck, even the mobile versions of Gmail and Outlook support it now.

While not a necessity—certainly, you’ve gotten by without it until now—dark mode can help avoid rendering issues for users who have the feature turned on. It’s also a boon for accessibility.

“One of the biggest benefits of Dark Mode is its assistance with reducing eye strain for users in low-light conditions or for other personal reasons,” Litmus’ Alice Li writes. “If your subscribers are making that conscious decision to view emails in dark mode, it’s best to respect that.”

Plus, adding such support helps prevent Google or Microsoft from doing it for you—and, in the process, messing up your hard work.

4. The growing popularity of web fonts

Much like dark mode and interactive elements, web fonts aren’t everywhere, so you need some fallbacks. But where they do exist—particularly clients like iOS Mail and Thunderbird—they stand out.

“Web fonts can be used for many things from enhancing the aesthetic beauty of an email to setting the mood for your message,” the email provider Emma writes in a blog post. “After all, communication is not just about the message, but it also involves how the message is conveyed. And for written media like email, looks (yes, including typography) enhance your message.”

While web fonts do not yet have universal support, designing for them now can supply a more elegant look for a surprising number of users, particularly those on mobile clients.

5. A push for user-generated content

Emails promote your association’s messages, but incorporating voices beyond your own can be a cost-effective way to spur engagement. It can be easier and less costly than building out visuals in your emails, and engaging with individuals beyond social media can impart intimacy.

“Social networks have become the go-to place for people to post about the brands they love,” Stackla’s Megan DeGruttola writes on the Campaign Monitor blog. “But, to amplify the collective enthusiasm of your customers’ social posts, you need to start cultivating that community beyond social platforms.”

Thanks to their member communities, associations are well positioned to leverage user-generated content. This base creates a loop: Associations can draw on their members’ perspectives and showcase them through activations like regular polls and prompts for members to share their thoughts, and in turn that content encourages ongoing engagement.

This is the first part of a three-part email series. In part two, we’ll discuss what it takes to add automation to your email workflow. And in part three, we’ll highlight a real-world example of an association finding success with email.

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Membership Pro Tip: Member Orientation Webinars

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A series of recorded member orientation webinars helps introduce an association to members who don’t typically come to its events, creates microvolunteering opportunities, and attracts new—and sometimes elusive—members.

How does it work? The United Fresh Produce Association saw an upside to Zoom and created a series of recorded member orientation webinars featuring members who talked about their membership journey. Specifically picking members who had not seen the value of the association previously but had a transformative experience to share made a big difference, says Miriam Wolk, CAE, vice president of member services at United Fresh.

“We figured people who were watching the video were on the fence, and so it would be good to hear from someone who was also at one point on the fence,” she says. “It makes a big difference in their willingness to be involved.”

Why is it effective? “Video captures more of the senses than just a two-dimensional marketing piece or even a website,” Wolk says. A company she had tried to engage for more than 12 years joined United Fresh after watching one of the recorded webinars.

What’s the benefit? Participating in the webinars gives members a chance to microvolunteer, without the lengthy commitment of serving on a committee. The webinars also give young professionals, who might not have a chance to attend a large conference or event, an opportunity for professional development.

“It gives rise to a whole new generation of members,” Wolk says.


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After a Year of Free, How to Reset Your Pricing for 2021

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While the pandemic led many associations to offer free education and events as a way to best support members in 2020, now is the time for organizations to re-evaluate their pricing strategy to ensure sustainable revenue.

With 2021 upon us and a vaccine slowly rolling out, associations are starting to move out of the pandemic pricing mode and into a post-pandemic normal. But many are wondering what pricing should look like this year. Michael Tatonetti, CPP, CAE, a consultant who specializes in association pricing, said organizations should move away from the discounts that marked 2020.

“I think discounting and knee-jerk reactions to make everything free need to stay in 2020,” he said. “I understand that for 2020, we wanted to get the right education to our members. That’s noble, but moving forward, it’s not sustainable financially. It can undervalue you if you eventually decide to do hybrid [events] or if we go back to in person.”

Tatonetti recommends starting fresh this year and looking at all pricing to ensure it makes sense.

“Now is a good time to reevaluate the value, and not just for events and sponsorship, but for membership and education, certification, publications, everything we offer—whatever those offerings are,” Tatonetti said. “The best associations will keep price and value conversations in step with their strategic planning, asking not only what value they provide to their members, sponsors, and the public, but how will they monetize it.”

Monetizing will typically require charging something other than free. Associations can decide that price by aligning it with the value of their offerings.

“Sit back and ask, what is the value? What are we charging? What is the strategy?” Tatonetti said. “When we get into conversations about value, we are actually having a conversation about innovation because we are saying, what else can we do? How else can we serve? What new things should we be doing? What should we stop doing? Is there anything that is no longer of value that we can sunset?”

While it’s important to get pricing right, some associations may be wondering how to get members to accept the new pricing model after months of free events and other products. The answer is simple: communicate value.

Whether in sales copy or videos, according to Tatonetti, “you need to clearly hit on membership value, sponsor value, and make sure you are clearly communicating that.”

Tatonetti said it’s also important to remind members that 2020 was an outlier due to the pandemic, and now the association is returning to a sustainable model.

“You can say, our goal for 2020 was to make sure you had what you needed,” he said. “As we move forward in 2021, we can now breathe and make sure the value matches what you need and that our association and our community can have financial sustainability.”

In addition, Tatonetti recommended mentioning that the free offerings were possible “because of your membership dues, because you spent money on conferences before, because of our great sponsors. Now, we’re going to continue to offer these amazing things, and continue to grow into other things, and because of that, membership is going up, or the cost of certification is going up, or whatever it is that is going up is going up. I think if you communicate well, that will minimize—it doesn’t mean you won’t have any complaints—but it will minimize the complaints.”

However, if members do complain about price changes, Tatonetti said “it’s important to capture those complaints. Document them, categorize them, and evaluate them a few months out. That will teach you how to communicate better next time.”

The good news is that small price increases can significantly improve the bottom line. For example, if a product costs an association $40 and it sells it for $50, that results in a $10 profit. Raising the price to $52 would boost profit by 20 percent.

“The price raise typically has a way heavier impact on your bottom line,” he said. “We might think the price is only going up 1 percent, but that might impact 5 percent of the bottom line when you look at your costs.”

The key thing is to have those pricing conversations now and start introducing those changes with proper communication. “As we do come back to some level of normal, now is the time to introduce some new things, and try some new things, and reprice a bit because it’s almost expected,” Tatonetti said.

What are your plans regarding pricing this year? Share in the comments.


The post After a Year of Free, How to Reset Your Pricing for 2021 appeared first on Associations Now.