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Measuring Engagement: Just a Fad, or Here to Stay?

Within the association community, there is always buzz around something. For the past several years, the buzz was “big data.” More recently, the buzz has turned to engagement, specifically measuring member engagement. In fact, in my latest annual one-question survey, engagement was the most commonly identified issue from respondents. (I’ll write more about this in a future newsletter.)

Often the buzz is just a fad; the latest solution to a long list of challenges that all associations face. But unlike many past fads, I think engagement is different because measuring engagement and using that information wisely can lead to the most important factor of success: bringing actual value to the member or customer.

But first, what is engagement? My favorite definition comes from the book Maximum Engagement, written by David Gammel, and published by ASAE. (I receive no remuneration for this plug!) In Maximum Engagement, Gammel defines engagement as “…the result of a member investing time and/or money with the association in exchange for value.” It’s a very simple definition, but very powerful. Engagement is the exchange of time and/or money for value. Engagement could be volunteer time, attending a conference, responding to a survey, or dozens of other activities.

So if measuring engagement is important to associations, what’s the best way to get started? When I work with my clients on this issue, here are the four steps we take:

  1. Identify the data you have (and don’t have) – You can’t measure engagement if you don’t have the data to measure it. So the first step in this process is identifying all the data your association currently manages (whether it’s in your primary AMS or elsewhere) as well as data that you’re not collecting that you should be.
  2. Identify the engagement points you think are most significant to measuring engagement – Once you’ve identified the data you have and don’t have, identify those data points that you believe best demonstrate engagement for your organization. Broadly speaking, my clients typically identify data points such as volunteer activity, event attendance, product purchases, and participation in certification programs.
  3. Score the engagement points – Once you’ve collected all your data points and weighted them, total your scores to identify your highest (and lowest) engaged members. Be sure to give weight to the engagement points. Each engagement point is not equal to the others. Some show greater levels of engagement (e.g., service on a committee vs. purchasing a product). When you consider all of your engagement points, give more weight to those points that reflect higher levels of participation.
  4. Review the engagement points periodically – This may be the most critical step. Engagement scoring is not a “set it and forget it” activity. You must periodically (once or twice annually) review the items you’re scoring to determine if what you are measuring is what is truly driving greater engagement.

Some tips to help you keep your sanity:

  1. You eat an elephant one bite at a time – Getting started with measuring engagement can be overwhelming. The key to any task this size is to “chunk it down” in to manageable bits, and to not try to eat the entire elephant in one bite. Start by measuring just four or six data points, and work your way up from there.
  2. You may not get it right on your first pass through – This is about success, not perfection. After your first review, or maybe years later, you’ll discover that what you have been measuring is no longer relevant (or maybe never was!). That’s okay.
  3. Periodic review is critical – This can’t be overstated. If you don’t review regularly, the data will quickly lose its usefulness.

Is measuring member engagement a fad? I don’t think so. If used correctly, this information will lead to stronger, more valuable, and longer relationships with your members and customers.

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