Taking the findings from our latest industry-leading research programme, Re:member, here are Think’s seven top tips for tackling the New Year head on

Everyone’s still talking about AI

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the future of membership communications has been the topic of the year for numerous organisations, with many anxious to ensure they’re making the most of the technology.

From intuitive chatbots to informing quick-to-market SEO content, membership bodies are experimenting with new ways to engage with their members. Some are even talking about building their own large language models. But is this the best place to start or do we need to go back to basics?

AI is undoubtedly a powerful tool for sourcing and collating information for membership – but it can’t find and best use data if that data doesn’t exist – or isn’t organised in the right way.

In the latest Re:member survey, Think’s membership research programme, bodies were universal in their realisation that the quality of the data they hold – be it membership information or website analytics – is not as good as they would like it to be.

Just 6% of consumer organisations and 3% of professional bodies rated the quality of their dataset as ‘excellent’.

To allow AI tools to work to their full potential, organisations need to ensure that their data foundations are firm before overcommitting to new horizons.

Examine your user journey

For many membership organisations, how members perceive them begins and ends with the quality of their website.

The ability to bring members into a platform and provide insight and membership benefits in a quick and efficient manner is essential.

There are a number of elements to this – from intelligent welcome emails and tailored social posts through to page speed and on-site user experience.

Many organisations are battling with the question of when to put member content behind a data wall – with the dual concerns around ease of access and locked benefits for paying members a double-edged sword.

To that end, it’s perhaps no major surprise that organisations are striving to improve the quality of their gated content; 59% of professional organisations captured in the Re:member survey indicated that they would be investing more in such content this year.

There may be no hard and fast rule for all, but organisations need to find confidence that they are providing easy access to relevant content, without giving away too much for free.

Dig in to human psychology

Members of organisations have lives and expectations outside of their association with their membership bodies. They want to laugh, be moved, be inspired and feel important.

Membership marketing efforts need to consider the types of engagement that members enjoy in their day-to-day lives and try to introduce some of them into their strategies.

Whether you’re engaging with friends on social media or looking for a white paper to help improve your business practices, the psychology of that engagement remains the same – people want to feel included, valued and part of a community.

Too few organisations consider these foundational pillars when introducing new members. A welcome series of emails is something many bodies could consider to help nurture positive feelings and value among those experiencing membership for the first time. Some 59% of consumer organisations either have no programme of this type or only send a couple of welcome emails in the first month of membership.

The honeymoon period is such a valuable phase for organisations, and too few are maximising the opportunity.

Make it personal

The pandemic prompted a seismic change in how membership organisations were expected to communicate with members.

Some legacy initiatives were forced to take a back seat as digital-first methods of communication took centre stage – the growth of webinars and a bigger focus on social media has been felt across the board.

As some version of a new era takes hold, many of these new initiatives have held firm, but organisations need to remember the importance of the human touch and personal experience.

Sensitively considered emails and web experience can form part of this, but many members are anxious to get back to in-person events and dinners to help communicate with like-minded individuals in real time.

Membership – done well – is a journey and the ability to sit side by side with colleagues and friends is a significant part of this experience.

Community is everything

The ability to spark conversation and build relationships between members has never been more important.

Organisations are working to understand how best to deliver this for members and all channels have a role in making this a reality.

The ability to share knowledge and provide opportunities for collaboration – particularly among professional bodies – is often an unspoken, but pivotal part of the member offer.

Some organisations are experimenting with dedicated forums and apps to aid in this – a throwback to the early 2010s when these platforms were commonplace – but there are a myriad of other options for sustaining a healthy and burgeoning community.

Some organisations report legacy anxiety around post-pandemic meet-ups, but others crave them, so listen to your members and shout loudly about your community offering.

Make sure your emails deliver

Despite being the best way of reaching members in 2023 (76% of professional organisations rate the platform as either ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’), email remains a key area for improvement and investment for virtually all organisations.

Too few organisations innovate with their email programmes – the opportunity to split-test headlines, send times and email duration ought to be areas of constant evaluation as the resource required to generate an intuitive email strategy makes effectiveness paramount.

Another struggle is the feeling that constant noise is better than a measured, sustainable strategy. Frequently, organisations commit to daily sends to – theoretically – give themselves more chances to reach the unengaged or sceptical.

Instead, think more about what it is you’re trying to achieve, and measure appropriately. Can your time on the email hamster wheel be better spent with a more measured strategy and a presence across different platforms?

It’s never been more important to stand by trusted knowledge

Members place great trust in their bodies to give them a considered perspective on what is happening in their industry and community.

Every communication sent under your name needs to be considered with this relationship in mind. Take a moment to think about the membership perspective on what you’re discussing – are there established or fresh voices that help you talk with authority? Only 23% of consumer organisations believe that they have a clear content strategy in place.

As the AI train continues to build up steam ahead of 2024, what do you want to be known for? What can you say better than any machine? And, ask yourself, if a robot was reviewing your output, how would it summarise what you stand for? 

If you’d like to be kept up to date with Think’s regular membership insights, receive exclusive invitations to our best-practice webinar series and uncover trending themes from our industry-leading Re:member research, please sign up to our newsletter.

To find out more about how Think can help transform your member communications, please contact Hannah Sarsfield at hannah.sarsfield@thinkpublishing.co.uk.

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