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Professional bodies and trade associations have a crucial role to play in promoting best practice in their sectors. They help member companies and individuals to become more competitive and achieve their potential, through a range of services. From hosting conferences and networking events, to publications, training, educational materials and technical advice; these organisations perform a variety of roles in the working lives of their members. As a result, they require digital solutions that can adequately serve the people they support.
Professional bodies act as the voice of their community, putting forward their collective views to the government, agencies, regulators and the media. But they also offer peace of mind and accountability to non-members. As such, a professional body’s website needs to inspire confidence to visitors, wherever they come from.
In a recent survey by Memberwise, over half of membership organisations reported an increase in membership in 2016/17. But while thriving membership bodies recognise the importance of digital, user expectations are evolving rapidly and without proper digital investment, these organisations could fall behind.
Through our in-depth understanding of the sector, and with reference to our work with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), we’ve identified a number of key factors for membership bodies and trade associations to consider when looking to improve the effectiveness of their digital presence.
The first thing many membership bodies need to demonstrate is value. How do organisations communicate the value of joining? And how do they communicate the ongoing value of subscription months, years and even decades into membership?
One way is to ensure that visitors consistently see content that is relevant to them. By focusing on the user experience and employing smart personalisation techniques, organisations can create more engaging and valuable experiences. The key is understanding the different user journeys a visitor may take through a website. Broadly speaking visitors will fall into four categories:
New members - need to be encouraged to sign up and be shown the breadth and depth of the organisation’s offering without being overwhelmed by information that isn’t yet relevant to them.
Current members - need to be reminded of the ongoing value of membership and be served with useful, relevant information as and when they need it, according to their special interests.
Long time / elite members - with plenty of experience in their field, these members have much to offer other users so organisations may wish to create an ‘elite’ tier of membership.
Non-members - may be seeking information on the organisation for peace-of-mind and assurance.
Mobile and tablet browsing has been growing rapidly for some time now, overtaking desktop for the first time in 2016. With more and more users accessing websites on the go, it’s crucial to offer a responsive digital solution that delivers information in an accessible and readable way, whatever screen it’s viewed on.
Due to the nature of their work, RICS members often find themselves working on-site in locations all over the country. As such, it’s likely that they will access the RICS website by tablet or similar device. It’s vital that the website serves content that’s relevant to mobile users, paying close attention to how they’re likely to use the site.
Another one of the digital challenges facing membership organisations is the inability to effectively measure digital engagement.
What content is being viewed? What’s being downloaded and shared? And which pages drive the most sign-ups?
The nature of a membership organisation’s work means that there’s often a lot of data split across multiple databases and silos; member data, event attendance, training and more. All of this data may be held in different places, and even different formats, making it difficult for membership professionals to glean actionable insight from user behaviour. There’s also a risk that by incorrectly storing data, organisations may be in contravention of the Data Protection Act.
This can often be the result of legacy CMS, CRM, due in part to the longevity of many membership bodies. But by integrating data systems into their websites, organisations can regain control of their data and use this holistic view to better serve their members.
Building a community forms a huge part of a membership organisation’s remit. Digital technology can be a powerful tool in bringing your audience together. But with a raft of channels, and audiences fragmented across them, it can sometimes be bewildering for members in search of easy, reliable sources of information.
Last year, Memberwise reported that around 30% of organisations now employ a dedicated person to manage their social media but they also estimate that messaging on social networks only actually reaches around 10% of members.
User submitted content can give members a voice in their professional community, allowing them to share experiences and offer support to fellow members. There’s also a chance for long-term members to share wisdom through Q&A sessions, web chats and more. A robust digital solution can offer the versatility to host all of these invaluable discussions in one place, rather than scattered across different channels.
Which isn’t to say that social has no place in community management; organisations can facilitate social sharing through their website, auto-generating social posts when users sign up, register for events, complete surveys etc.
Events form a huge part of an organisation’s community offering, but they can’t happen independently of digital activity; any events plan must be aligned and integrated with a strong digital strategy. Microsites and web apps can offer a useful hub of event information on mobile; the format in which most visitors will view content during your event. By offering such content, organisations can add massive value to their events while leading conversations and forging a tangible sense of community.
Modern users have become accustomed to self-serving through online banking and ecommerce sites. They should be able to update personal information, manage subscriptions and make one-off payments at any time of the day. But members don’t just expect to self-serve; they’re also used to self-learning.
So while they value the immediacy of a live event, they also desire the flexibility to learn at their own pace, offering the chance to run courses digitally as well as in person, making full use of videos and webinars, and making learning materials; syllabuses, slideshows, lecture notes and more; all available online for members.
Following an in-depth review of RICS’ Training and Events offering, this became the first part of rics.org to be redeveloped. Their previous Training and Events user experience was overly complex and the ability to book events was often hidden, meaning opportunities to generate revenue were being missed. Netcel helped to revamp the experience; simplifying, signposting and prioritising course information to keep members better informed.
The new Training and Events experience shows the degree to which digital can vastly improve the member experience in a way that reaches far beyond the website itself.
As websites become more advanced across the board, users’ expectations rise to meet them. Whatever the industry, there’s no time to stand still when it comes to digital technology, but for a sector as people-focused as membership bodies, it’s especially important that digital solutions are effective in spreading trust and confidence throughout the community and beyond.