Member-Based Associations

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Social Media: Member-Based Associations

An in depth search of industry sites, trade publications, and marketing sites did not uncover any cases studies specifically on how member-based associations successfully increased member engagement and/or membership utilizing their website and social media. However, we did find some helpful studies on associations who did accomplish those goals with other tools, and those are provided below. The strategies utilized by these associations could likely be adapted to be used on social media and/or association websites.

American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC)

  • The American Association for Respiratory Care is "the leading national and international professional association for respiratory care." AARC provides exam discounts, career services, education, and up-to-date industry news for members.
  • In the two years prior to 2015, the organization had over 18,000 lapsed members. Rather than focus on targeting new members, the association decided to focus on getting lapsed members to rejoin.
  • Sherry Milligan, Associate Executive Director of Membership was in charge of the campaign. The first thing they did was to analyze data both on what triggered people to become members in the first place, and what some reasons were for not renewing. Once this data had been compiled and analyzed, the target group was divided into segments, so personalized messaging could be used that was focused on what was most important to each segment.
  • People whose memberships had lapsed in the previous 3-6 months were sent emails that focused on online, continuing education. These people were directly invited to enroll as a member and sign up for a class.
  • People whose membership has lapsed in the last 7-24 months were sent emails that focused on enhancements and improvements that had been made to membership. In addition, they were encouraged to "take another look" at the association.
  • People in the first group had email open rates of 40%, while the second group's open rate was 33%. Overall, the campaign resulted in 800 members rejoining the association.
  • An important component of the overall campaign was the testing that took place prior to launching the final campaign. This involved changing the messaging, using more personalization, and varying the length of the message in order to determine what was most effective.

National Association of School Nurses (NASN)

  • The National Association of School Nurses was looking for a way to increase membership and renewals. The group had a tool at their disposal which allowed for easier segmentation of their target market.
  • SchoolNurseNet is the NASN's online community, which is mainly for members, but also has some content available to non-members. Using the data collected from members and from non-members who had visited the site. With this data, two segments were created, one of members who had recently let their memberships lapse, and another for any non-members that had visited the online community in the last 6 months.
  • By targeting recently lapsed members with a message that the association didn't want to lose them, they saw a 32% conversion rate of members rejoining the association.
  • For non-members, a single email resulted in a 7.8% conversion rate.
  • The campaign also sent a couple other emails that were targeted to different segments, and the conversion rate of these ranged from 6.7% to 10%.

Research Strategy

  • We began our research by examining the archives of professional trade publications to uncover case studies on associations that had successfully improved engagement and/or membership using either their website, social media, or both. Publications searched included Associations Now and Associations Universe. While this brought up some promising results, including case studies from the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), and the Colorado Cross Country Ski Association, digging deeper into the case studies found that either they didn't focus on websites and social media, or didn't focus on member engagement.
  • Our next strategy was to find a list of large membership associations in the U.S. so we could then look for case studies on specific groups. This led us to a list published by Job Stars of Professional Associations and Organizations by Industry. Using this list, we conducted a more targeted search for case studies of some associations on the list, including the American Society of Admnistrative Professional (ASAP), Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA), American Society of Appraisers (ASA), Club Managers Association of America (CMAA), National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC), and many more. While this did allow us to find a 2013 case study on the website redesign of the AsMA, and information on a name change for the CMAA, we did not uncover any case studies with the particular focus of interest.
  • Therefore, the case studies provided above focus on increasing member engagement and/or membership, but do not have a strict focus on using social media and websites to accomplish those goals.
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Social Media Best Practices: Prospective Members

Three best practices for associations to market themselves to prospective members on social media are determining where the prospects congregate, personalization, and word-of-mouth marketing. Details on each practice are provided below.

Determining Best Practices

  • To uncover best practices around how associations can market themselves to prospective members, we looked for information from marketing experts, associations that are having success on social media, and consultancies that work with firms on social media strategies. While this strategy found some limited data specific to associations, there was little on the type of content to use.
  • As was done when researching marketing strategies for existing members, we expanded our search to all types of member-based organizations, which provided some additional practices to consider. The practices included here are those that were recommended by multiple experts.

Know Where Prospective Members Congregate

  • Since this was covered in the companion report, Social Media Best Practices: Existing Members, it will not be covered in detail here. However, it should be noted that the same strategies apply for prospective members, and unless an association knows which platforms are being used by the people that are being targeted, none of the other practices will matter.


  • While it can feel overwhelming to think about personalizing content on social media, it doesn't have to be. Personalization is focusing on smaller groups of people, not individuals, and tailoring content to meet their needs. To understand how important it is, 50% of marketers in 2019 indicated that personalization was a key challenge on social media.
  • In order to reach smaller groups of people, there has to be a way to segment them. One suggestion made by experts is to segment based on style. The Canadian Society of Association Executives outlined four styles that can be found on social media: leaders/trend setters; influencers social beings, supporters, and thinkers.
  • To target leaders/trend setters, focus on content and offers that will make them feel in the know. This could include time-sensitive offers, exclusive perks, and VIP memberships.
  • Influencers social beings want to belong and enjoy social interaction. To reach this segment, highlight networking opportunities, video interviews, or opportunities to attend in-person events.
  • Supporters also like social interaction, but also want to feel like they are making a difference. For this group, focus on posts that provide opportunities to be helpful such as mentoring or volunteering.
  • Thinkers are the group that want all the facts before they make a decision, therefore, to target this group, focus on membership benefits and positive things current members are saying about the association.
  • Knowing who the potential members of an organization are can help determine the content that will be most effective in reaching new prospects. This may involve putting different content on different social media platforms based on the demographics of those groups.
  • As part of a personalization strategy, associations need to create a variety of content that can be deployed to the right group, at the right time, on the right platform.


  • A ranking of effective marketing strategies for growing memberships found that word-of-mouth was deemed most effective by 27%, while social media marketing was chosen as most effective by 7%. So what if they could be combined? That would be word-of-mouth marketing on social media.
  • Word-of-mouth marketing is when an interaction with a brand causes a customer to share their experience with others. While this was traditionally done in person, or on the phone, it now happens digitally, including on social media.
  • In addition to this interaction happening spontaneously, brands (or associations) can encourage this behavior.
  • To understand the importance of the strategy, it should be noted that 70% of consumers indicate buying decisions are influenced by what others are saying about a product or brand. It is easy to see how this could transfer to people choosing to join groups or associations.
  • Research shows that 50% of word-of-mouth marketing is done by 10% of people. For associations, this means paying attention to who on their social media accounts are consistently engaging and praising the organization. These people are the obvious choice to help spread the word about the association.
  • By courting these already engaged members and providing opportunities for them to become more involved with the association, groups can increase the likelihood that they will spread the word and create positive chatter which can result in more members.
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Social Media Best Practices: Existing Members

Two best practices for associations to market themselves to existing members on social media are determining the platforms to use, and being active on the platforms. Details on how to do this, along with specific examples, are provided below.

Determining Best Practices

  • To uncover best practices around how associations can market themselves to existing members, we looked for information from marketing experts, associations that are having success on social media, and consultancies that work with firms on social media strategies. This allowed us to uncover a few reports that were relevant to our goals, but the data specific to associations was limited.
  • By expanding our search to include all types of member-based organizations, not just associations, we were able to find some additional best practices. The practices included here are those that were recommended by multiple experts in the space.

Know Where Members Congregate

  • No matter what strategies are being used on social media, they can only be successful if an organization's members are on the platform. So the first step toward creating an effective marketing campaign for current association members, is figuring out what platforms to utilize.
  • One strategy that can be used to determine where members congregate is demographics. Sprout Social published an updated breakdown of social media usage by age, gender and frequency of use. By comparing the demographics of the association to the demographics of the various platforms, it can be determined where members will most likely be spending their social media time.
  • The next strategy is to determine the type of information members expect to get from the association. Is it videos of the work that is being done? Is it quick reminders about upcoming important dates? Or maybe it is the ability to connect with the association and other members. Whatever the reason, some social media platforms are better suited for different types of media.
  • Once a determination is made of the type of content members are looking for, this article from Entrepreneur can help isolate which platforms are the best fit.
  • Finally, be sure the association is clear on the goals for being on social media. For example, this may be to increase member engagement, reach more members, or find new members. If goals for a platform can't be stated, it is likely a waste of time to be on the platform at all.
  • Once the goals are clear, quantitative metrics can be attached to those goals to ensure that they are being met.

Being Active

  • If an association is spending time on social media, it is important that their content is being seen by the maximum number of people. This is where the platform algorithms come into play, and although each platform has their own rules for determining what posts are seen, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn all account for how active the poster (in this case the association) is when determining whether content is seen.
  • Activity may mean the number of posts, the regularity of posts, how quickly the association responds to followers, or many other metrics. If associations focus on posting regularly and in a timely manner, this will likely have the effect of keeping followers happy, which will increase their interest in the posts, and will hopefully result in increased engagement, which will also increase the chance that future posts will be delivered to them.
  • Responding to posts is actually an example of listening on social media and it can be just as important as posting. The key is showing members that they are being heard by engaging.
  • In terms of content, the goal should be to keep members engaged and happy. Some content that can help accomplish that goal are monthly surveys so members feel heard; urgent offers limited by time or number available so members feel they are getting something exclusive; post interesting topics that members have previously shown interest in; provide the information members need so they start to think of the association's page as an indispensable resource; and ask for engagement, using "caption this" posts or posts that ask for feedback.
  • Statistics show that 58% of internet users use hashtags, so finding ones that are appropriate for the association and using them can make posts more visible and increase reach.
  • It is also not always necessary for associations to take on all the social media tasks themselves. If there are members who are already engaged and promote the association, tap them as community ambassadors and allow them to create content.
  • One marketing expert suggests associations follow the rule of thirds for posting on social media: 1/3 of posts should promote member benefits, 1/3 should be spent engaging with the community, and 1/3 should focus on news and tips.