5 Myths About Measuring Member Engagement

Associations, Retention // How do you measure member engagement in your organization? Check out these five common myths from association executives.

Julie Dietz
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How can associations build loyalty and convince members to renew? According to research by Association Metrics, members who regularly engage by visiting the association’s website, attending conventions, and volunteering are more likely to remain loyal.

In other words, members who are engaged tend to renew at higher rates.

Renewals, of course, are only one of the benefits of member engagement. Engaged members are also more likely to see the value in your association by making full use of your benefits, as well as recommend your association to family and friends. They may even be more likely to make additional purchases at events or in your online store.

Associations have known about these benefits of member engagement for years and, as such, they are consistently working to increase member engagement. Yet despite understanding the importance of participation and focusing on improving it, many associations don’t actually measure engagement.

Why? Because a pervasive series of myths has steered associations away from ongoing engagement measurement.

That’s a mistake. Many of the measurement ideas floating around the association industry are not true.

It’s time to take a hard look at the common wisdom about measuring member engagement and find out if they’re true or not for your organization. Chances are, the myths are just that – myths – and they should not stop you from measuring engagement.

Here are five of the most common myths we hear every week from associations executives.

The Truth About 5 Popular Myths About Measuring Engagement

Myth #1) Measuring Member Engagement Is Hard

This myth is likely so pervasive and damaging because it’s partly true. If you look at engagement from a high level, it does seem hard. There are so many activities your members could be doing – volunteering, commenting on blogs, reading blogs, looking at your files, downloading files, and attending a conference barely scratches the surface. Where do you start?

The good news is that just because keeping track of and measuring all these activities seems hard doesn’t mean it actually is. The bulk of measuring member engagement isn’t something you have to do, it’s something your technology systems can do for you.

Consider your membership software. Member-focused software, such as an online community, is already tracking your members’ activities for you. Make full use of that and let your platform deal with crunching the numbers, running the reports, and creating the graphs. The reports and graphs will quickly and easily show you how many members you have that are engaged, how engaged they are, and how many members barely participate.

Measuring member engagement is a lot easier when someone, or something, else is doing it for you. Let your membership management software be that helping hand.

Myth #2) There’s No Process for Measuring Engagement

This idea is huge in the association space. It feeds right into our last myth, that measuring member engagement is hard. What new initiative, without a set example or process, wouldn’t be hard?

Fortunately, this is just a myth and there is a process for measuring member engagement that many organizations already use. Like any process, however, you may have to tweak it a little bit in order for it to fit your unique association.

The process is called engagement scoring. When you score engagement, you pick the activities that members are doing that are most important to you and assign points to them.

Think that’s hard? It’s not, if you have the right processes in place.

You can think about it in terms of big activities or small activities, commitments, or even revenue. For example, what’s worth more to you: your member visiting your website or your member registering for a conference? In its simplest form, think about it this way.

Members who do nothing get zero points, members who visit your website get five points, and members who register for a conference get 25 points.

Once you’re done creating your engagement scoring model, you can hand over measurement tasks to your tech tools. The best membership management software and online community platforms will automatically track your members’ activities and add up their points based on your scoring criteria. They’ll then use that data to build charts, graphs, and tables that show you how engaged your members are.

Myth #3) Engagement Measurements Aren’t Accurate

There are many reasons why engagement measurements may not be accurate.

  • Not all activities are included in engagement scoring
  • Members are only performing low-level activities but still have sky-high engagement
  • The conference your member attended five years ago is still raising her current engagement level

While not an exhaustive list, these are a few examples of why your engagement measurements may not give you an accurate picture of your members. They’re common issues that crop up and can skew your numbers. Fortunately, tracking member engagement with the right procedures will mitigate these issues.

Start by being thorough with your engagement scoring. Include all your top activities and always build in a “zero” level, so that you know who’s a part of your organization but isn’t performing any activities.

Then, set limits for how often members can receive points for certain activities. Your limits will help prevent members who simply log in and out of your online community every day, but do nothing else, from having a very high engagement level.

Set an expiration date for these activities as well. An engaged member five years ago is not necessary an engaged member right now.

Your membership management software should make engagement scoring easy along with allowing you to put limits on activities. It should also update your engagement measurements daily to ensure that they’re current.

Myth #4) Engagement Levels Don’t Show Trends

Unfortunately, this myth is often true. Many technology systems that measure engagement do it only at a specific moment without clearly showing changes or trends over time. You can recognize these systems by how they display your engagement data.

Often, your engagement level graph will be in the form of a pyramid, with the smallest point on top showing your most engaged members and the large, much less engaged, pyramid base representing the bulk of your members. As members move up in engagement, they move up the pyramid. Pyramids, however, are static. They will not show you trends.

Technology is constantly changing, however, and just because this myth is often true doesn’t mean that it’s always true. The most innovative association software has already abandoned the old pyramid structure, opting instead for more fluid graphs that show both current and past engagement levels.

These cutting-edge membership systems have changed the pyramid into a modified line graph. On the left you’ll see how many members were engaged (or disengaged) in the past and on the right you’ll see how engaged members are currently. Since both current and past data is displayed on a single continuous graph, it’s easy to spot trends and see how your members’ engagement is going up or down over time.

Myth #5) Engagement Measurements Aren’t Actionable

There’s a very strong idea floating around that engagement numbers are just numbers. You can’t do anything with them, certainly not anything worthwhile. This is, perhaps, the most prevalent and dangerous myth we’ve heard. It’s also completely false.

While there are never any promises for results when you apply any data-driven strategy, engagement measurements are actionable. They can help you make better decisions that are more likely to bring about the results you want. One way to apply your engagement measurements directly is to use them to determine which members you need to target for more communication, benefits, and strategies.

For example, since we know that engaged members are more likely to be loyal and renew, use engagement measurements to pinpoint the members that are at risk of not renewing their membership. Direct more strategies, such as email campaigns, toward these members to get them to visit your website, read blog posts, or purchase educational materials. Look at your how your engagement levels change while your strategy is in effect. If members move from low engagement levels to higher ones, then your strategy is working. These more engaged members are now more likely to renew.

In this example, engagement measurements are used to both identify your target audience and evaluate your strategy. That’s just one way that your association can use engagement data in a valuable, actionable manner.

Measuring Member Engagement Takeaway

Measuring member engagement can see daunting, especially when these myths are so common. As time goes on and technology advances, however, measuring member engagement becomes easier and easier.

Today’s membership management software and online community platforms are a big part of that. They have dealt with nearly all these myths, making them non-issues and ensuring that you only have to do minimal work to measure engagement. As long as you have the right technology to work with, there’s no reason why you can’t start measuring member engagement today.

Debunk these myths for your association to help your staff, volunteers, and board get past their resistance to measuring and tracking member engagement. Once they do, you can start accurately measuring your members’ engagement levels and using that information to better serve your members and improve your association’s performance.


Julie Dietz

Content Manager & Strategist, Epic Notion

Julie is a Content Manager & Strategist at Epic Notion. In her past life, she worked her way through Europe and Asia as a freelance writer, editor and English teacher for local and international businesses.

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