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Community-driven audiences in the digital world


Maintaining an engaged community around your association is becoming increasingly challenging. Online communities are a valuable asset to meet members’ and stakeholders’ needs for trustworthy information and peer-to-peer interaction, but also for your member acquisition and retention efforts.  

Now more than ever, associations have an active role to play within their professional communities.

In the chaos of messages and information swirling around on the web, professionals are turning to their associations as an authoritative and reliable source for guidance in navigating this uncertain period. Many associations have been pivoting and innovating their strategies to answer to their members’ needs.  Finding new ways to drive engagement online has been a top priority, with 92% of association members surveyed by the Association Trends 2020: From Disruption to Opportunity study saying they most value community building initiatives through online networking and forums. Being able to connect and interact with like-minded professionals who are experiencing the same challenges is a terrific driver of engagement, but also of growth for the association in terms of member acquisition and retention. 

So how can you create and nurture an online community that meets your members’ and stakeholders’ expectations and needs?  The first step is accepting that those are changing. Adapting to technology solutions doesn’t mean that an association is no longer relevant; it just enhances the way your association will interact with its community. 

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Driving engagement in online communities 

A community is where members (and non-members) are collaborating, networking and connecting. Content is one aspect to drive engagement, networking, career advancement, access to research and continuing education. But just because an association creates an online community and shares its content does not mean members will sign up and contribute or spend time in it.  What will make the difference is approaching it not as a space to achieve your organisation’s goals, but to serve your community.  

Providing value first is key to earn a loyal audience and then eventually sell memberships or event subscriptions. How? Offer engagement models that work for each community member and are based on his/her professional profile and interests, driven by data, while your role is the one of facilitator providing guidance, infrastructure, and content. 

  • Create sub committees and special interest groups per industry sector to generate more interest and increase connections. 
  • Give clear and concise community guidelines. 
  • Congratulate and recognise active members and contributors – they are your best advocates. 
  • Make sure to involve Gen Y and Gen Z. They will enjoy connecting with more seasoned professionals. 
  • Focus on positive reinforcement with the use of gamification. 
  • Track inactive members and collect their feedback to adjust and improve. 
  • Make it a safe, positive and comfortable place to exchange and express opinions. Having a human moderator can help achieving this result. 

The benefits for your association 

Online communities also bring benefits to your association in the form of data and revenue.  Associations managing online forums surround their members in a branded space where they can also have access to your products and event announcements. And the online space gives access to member data, behaviours, and metrics that can be used to make sure you’re still providing value and allow you to pivot if expectations are changing.  Building an online community to foster human connections at the heart of your association is a smart strategy at a time when we’re all seeking support both from our peers and from credible organisations.  

Associations that are looking for ways to grow their engagement and influence should explore online communities to drive engagement and provide value to their community.

Is your association struggling to keep members and stakeholders engaged and it is ready to explore new opportunities in the online world? Get in touch with our association consultants Barbara Calderwood, Director Association Solutions & Communities, MCI UK or Emily Stanton, Manager Association Solutions & Communities, MCI UK to learn how we can help you meet your members’ needs. 

Sylvia André - Chief Creativity Officer