by Christoph Sisson on March 8, 2017

How To Engage Millennials and Boost Association Membership

In their book, “When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business,” authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant enlighten their readers with four hallmarks of office cultures that are well-positioned to attract and retain millennial employees.

Increasingly, the authors found that these four hallmarks can also apply to millennials as association members — or prospective members. As part of our Making it Easier series for associations, we’ll home in on two of the four hallmarks that are most important for attracting and retaining millennial members to boost association membership, and to provide you with practical tips that help you engage this generation that has been the source of concern and confusion for many associations.

As a follow-up to our recent post on membership engagement scoring, let’s start with the fact that millennials are the largest generation in history, with twice as many millennials as Gen X’ers. As employees, millennials are just starting to enter their prime earning — and spending — years, meaning they represent a massive economic opportunity for associations. And finally, baby boomers are beginning to retire in larger numbers; associations need to acquire millennial members to maintain or increase their membership counts.

The trouble is that millennials experience the world in very different ways than the generations before them. For example:

  • From a young age, most millennials have been exposed to personal technology, and many owned their own smartphone devices before adulthood.
  • They don’t remember a time without the Internet, be it at home, in the office or out in the streets.
  • They came of age at a time when they could purchase virtually anything from their smartphone and have it show up at their home within two days.
  • Millennials are accustomed to ubiquitous access to information — virtually any question they want to ask is answerable in less than a minute, and they can easily find, contact and befriend people with similar interests through vast online social networks.
  • Their world has always been personalized to them, whether it’s their music playlists, news stories they will find relevant, customizable clothing, the next movie they’d enjoy, or products suggested to them based on previous purchases.

New Call-to-actionThis different worldview has puzzled those who seek to engage millennials in their organizations, whether as members or employees. Let’s talk about the two of the four hallmarks in “When Millennials Take Over” that can help associations attract and retain this generation of members.

USING DIGITAL: Embrace both the technology and the mindset that frees members to innovate, be proactive and remain agile.

As providers of authoritative information for the members they serve, it’s critical for associations to make their content available in a variety of digital formats to meet the needs of millennials. Gone are the days when association publishers could simply rip a PDF of their magazine, newsletter or journal and put it online for download. Even eBooks, with page-flipping features, are becoming outdated.

Since smart phones are the primary device for 92% of consumers, it’s a powerful device that brings digital and physical experiences closer together. Associations should think of mobile apps, websites, and real-time notifications as the core of their digital strategy.

Here are two examples of associations that have adopted digital publishing technologies to meet the shifting expectations of members:

  • The American Library Association (ALA) and Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) worked together to engage Walsworth to develop a custom publishing app that provides their members mobile access to professional development tools and content resources designed to help librarians strengthen their skills and further their careers.
  • The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) engaged Walsworth to develop a custom app to enhance member learning experiences with an integrated source of information for reviewing books, guidelines and certification. The focus of AHIMA’s app is to make it quick and easy to find, review sample pages and place an order for any of AHIMA resource guides and text books. You can learn more about this solution by reading our AHIMA case study.

BECOMING FAST: Anticipate member demands, identify and solve problems faster, and leap ahead of the competition.

Associations don’t have a reputation for being fast. They are methodical, deliberate, consensus-building organizations that are typically constrained by an annual budget cycle. This posture isn’t well suited to satisfying the needs of millennial members.

Becoming fast requires releasing associations from the constraints of how they have always done it, and implementing new management models that allow the staff to identify and solve problems faster — like their more agile for-profit competitors — to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.

Unfortunately, recalibrating an association to be fast is typically a political mess fraught with board and staff interests that have to be negotiated. But the sooner you start these conversations, the sooner you can begin the transformation to becoming a fast association. A facilitator or consultant can help in this process.

Another part of becoming a fast association is foresight: the ability to perceive shifts in your market, member demands and the broader economy. This has become easier to do as technology has improved. One simple way to anticipate needs is to examine searches that are made on your website, or terms entered into search engines that ultimately bring visitors to your association’s website. Qualitative research, such as focus groups, member visits and chatting up your advertisers or exhibitors is also an effective way of teasing out emerging trends.

As you reorient your association to be digital and fast, keep in mind that you’re not doing so at the expense of your boomer and GenX members. Many members of these older generations are adopting the attitudes and expectations of millennials. Increasingly, as you shift your organization toward millennials, you are — in fact — shifting your organization toward all members.

Topics: Blog associations Making It Easier
Christoph Sisson

Christoph Sisson

Christoph is a marketing and customer-experience practitioner who is committed to understanding customer needs and business objectives. As marketing manager for Walsworth, Christoph enjoys informing customers about solutions that can improve their success.

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