With COVID-19 disrupting almost every aspect of the way we live – from working to socializing to buying disinfectant wipes – it’s evident that organizations must reinvent the way they engage members and constituents to adapt to the new normal. They’re trying, too, along with schools, companies, and everyone else who’s social distancing. With worldwide lockdowns in place, video-conferencing app Zoom reported a surge in users from 10 million to 200 million in March. Despite the best intentions and increase in virtual activities, we’re witnessing online fatigue – users are complaining about lackluster online events, monotone webinars, mediocre content, and the like. Here’s how you can break the mold and keep your members engaged whether you run an association, chapter, or any other type of membership-based organization.
1. Take them off autopilot
It doesn’t matter what you do, but if you do it over and over again, people will get tired of it.
To keep a 45-minute weekly phone call from getting mundane, change up the format. At the beginning, try asking a question that everyone (if time allows) needs to answer. Some examples: Who was your favorite teacher? What’s your favorite movie? What was the best concert you went to? If you have a video conference or webinar with more than 20 people, you can try doing online polls (preferably related to your webinar’s topic) every couple of slides to keep your audience on their toes. Doing what’s unexpected jolts people’s brains from autopilot to actively being engaged. Strive to infuse everyday activities, online meetings, and webinars with things to make them different. Don’t give your members a chance to think this: If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
2. Ask yourself whether your content is valuable
When you look at your own content, do you find that it’s worth your time? Is your content the result of a well-planned strategy? Did you benefit from producing and consuming your content? If you didn’t answer a confident “yes” to those questions, you’re missing the point of creating content in the first place. Maybe you threw something together last minute for the sake of meeting a deadline. It happens, but it shouldn’t be the norm, especially now when people are even pickier with how they spend their limited time. They could be working from home with kids or might be caring for someone who’s ill. One way organizations have delivered valuable content is to survey their members – ask them what they want and need during this time. Then, for the next newsletter, they deliver on the topics members have requested, which beats the guesswork.
3. Find a balance in engaging the heart and mind
Right now, many people are still in survival mode. While your organization’s strategy might incorporate producing educational content and networking opportunities, make sure you find that balance of appealing to people’s minds and hearts. Don’t shy away from telling someone’s inspiring story or create a forum for your members to share encouragement someone else needs to hear. One organization paired mentors with new grads (who didn’t get a ceremonial sendoff into post-grad life) – to equip them with advice and ideas to navigate our brave new world. Another invited its members to share stories of resiliency. And many more have launched fundraisers to help communities in need. Those are just a few examples, and here you can find many more real examples of organizations engaging their members with the right balance.
4. Pay attention to the delivery
As you take a look at the ways you’re engaging your members, don’t discount how you’re doing it. You could have the best content, but if it’s delivered in a boring webinar with a speaker who’s reading from a script in a monotone voice, your audience is going to zone out. Or worse, leave. Whatever format (blog, newsletter, video, infographic) it needs to be done well. Practice using your tech platform – so you don’t spend the first 10 minutes asking if everyone can hear – and rehearse your webinars. Have a friend or colleague you trust give honest feedback on how effective your speakers are. For slides and graphics, use eye-catching imagery and gifs. There are too many free resources available, such as Canva, to skimp out on this. For emails, blogs, e-books, and other longform content, remember to check that they’re mobile friendly.
5. Boost your social presence
The pandemic has ushered in an era of physical distancing, better known as social distancing. With many of us cooped up at home most of the day, we’re spending more time on social media to stay connected. Adults in the United States average 82 minutes a day, Statista estimates. This doesn’t mean, obviously, that your organization should post random videos on TikTok. Do what makes sense for your strategy and the value you’re striving to offer, then take into account the social platforms your target audience is using the most. The data so far points to Youtube and Facebook as the most popular social media platforms among adults. Using social platforms to connect with your audience and promote your content can be very effective when done properly.
Engaging with your members can take on many forms and now is a good time to get creative and brainstorm with your staff volunteers. We hope these tips provoke new ideas and ways to effectively connect with your members.