If you want to go big with your membership base, you have to stay small with your communications, says this association marketing pro.
The American Medical Group Association works with some of the biggest and best-known health organizations in the country, including the likes of the Mayo Clinic and The Permanente Medical Group. But despite the size of AMGA’s 175,000+ membership base of physicians, Director of Council Relations Joe DeLisle believes the strength of this association lies in individual connections.
“The number one thing I would advise any marketer or membership professional in the association world looking to grow new memberships and increase retention is to develop one-on-one relationships with your members,” says DeLisle. “There is obviously a limit to the number of people you can do this with, but I have members with whom I text about baseball and chat about nerdy movies. As a representative of your association, you want to be regarded not only as a trusted source of information, but also as a person with whom the member feels connected.”
This personal touch pervades the AMGA’s approach to its Councils, which are online groups organized via the Higher Logic community and communications platform. “We’ve taken a different approach than many other organizations,” explains DeLisle. “A lot of associations have these big, open community boards, but ours are all private. We have 16 separate Councils, which are sorted by various roles or demographics. We have one for CEOs, we have one for attorneys, marketers, and more along with specialized Councils for women and emerging leaders.”
Rather than blasting members with every issue under the sun in healthcare, this approach keeps the conversations specific to the member’s individual needs and expertise, and it has had phenomenal results. “When I first started, we had 800 people in nine councils — now we have over 2,500 in 16 Councils. It has absolutely exploded,” DeLisle reports. “The ‘throw everything at members and see what sticks’ approach just trains people to ignore the community emails since a good chuck of them don’t relate to their specific situations. Keeping it applicable and relevant preserves the sanctity of the conversations.”
Because at the end of the day, he says, applicability is what members want. “Everybody is looking to learn from someone in their shoes because it’s one thing to read about a solution in a book or in an article, but it’s something different to hear it coming from somebody who is in your exact situation, talking to patients or working on a merger or an acquisition. Nuance matters. Being able to connect to someone who’s in the trenches and who’s actually done what you’re trying to do? That is invaluable.”
The AMGA doesn’t just sit back and hope for great engagement. They employ a multi-pronged approach to keeping members active in the Councils. DeLisle says this can come in the form of a simple email saying, “Hey, we noticed you haven’t posted in a while,” with a link to a thread where their expertise could be useful. “Sometimes we find that a little invitation to participate can be all it takes to get someone who hasn’t posted before to get involved,” he notes. “And every two weeks or so, we will repromote any unanswered questions. Everyone has a thousand emails in their inbox, so we want to call attention to important questions that might have been missed.”
This attention to detail has not gone unnoticed by members, says DeLisle, which helps fuel the passion of the professionals behind the scenes at the AMGA. “It’s very humbling to have a CEO in charge of hundreds of employees and thousands or millions of patients send you a note that says, ‘Thanks so much for putting this together. I don’t know what we would have done without it.’ Or they tell us that there has never been a more valuable time to be involved in an association allowing healthcare professionals to help each other. Making those one-on-one connections happen is incredibly rewarding.”
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