Obstacles to Measuring Engagement

From what I read and hear, it seems engagement, and particularly member engagement, is all the rage with associations these days. (In fact, I’m presenting on member engagement at the upcoming ASAE Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference in June in Washington, DC.)

First, what is member engagement?

I prefer David Gammel’s definition, from his excellent book, Maximum Engagement, published by ASAE. David defines engagement as the result of a person investing time and/or money with the organization in exchange for value. It doesn’t get much simpler than that: I give you time and/or money and you give me something of value in exchange.

The idea behind measuring engagement is to be able to see at what level your members and customers are engaged, and to increase engagement where possible. The theory is that a more engaged membership will better advance your mission. So what does it require to measure engagement? Data, of course.

Based on experience with my clients, there are three common obstacles to measuring engagement:

1. Not knowing which data to measure

Which data are most important when it comes to measuring engagement depends entirely on what you and your association value from your members and customers. Is committee service important? Is it more important, equally important, or less important than, say, attending the annual convention? Is it more valuable than speaking or writing for your association? Or it could be that product purchases and earning certification from your association is what matters most. Or it could be participation in social media.All of us are inundated with data (that’s what “big data” is all about), so we can’t treat all data the same, especially when it comes to measuring engagement. You have to know which data you’re going to measure before you start measuring engagement. And each association needs to define what constitutes engagement for them.

2. Not having the data you want to measure

Once you’ve identified which data you’re going to measure, you need to ensure you’re actually capturing that data somewhere. This sounds obvious, but I often hear my clients say “We’d love to know who has attended our last three annual conferences, but we don’t have that data available because it’s managed by an outside registration company.”And if it’s being captured in different places (e.g., AMS, outside registration company, social media, etc.) you have to develop a way to bring all that data into one place for measuring it.

3. Not having technology to support data capture and measurement

It’s easy to blame a lack of technology for your data management problems. (See this article for what I mean. http://effectivedatabase.com/Getting-it-Done) But having the right technology in place can be extremely helpful for measuring engagement quickly and accurately. The good news is that several AMS vendors are now building engagement scoring tools into their products (e.g., Avectra, Aptify, and TMA Resources, to name just three). And even if your current vendor doesn’t provide this technology built in, some simple data warehousing offline (e.g., in Excel spreadsheets) can achieve the same results. I’ve had several clients do just this with great success.

As associations become more sophisticated with their data management, measuring engagement will become a common practice. Understanding and overcoming these three hurdles will get you there faster.


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