Early last year I wrote an article about how it was time for associations to do away with what I called “vanity metrics.” As I explained at the time, “a membership director might brag that their association’s membership has grown by 20 percent, which sounds impressive, but it might be hiding a member retention issue.” And while it’s relatively easy to track how many members are leaving your organization every year, it’s much more difficult to discern why they’re leaving.

At the beginning of each year your members must decide whether or not they’ll renew their memberships, but not all those members will have engaged with your association in quite the same way. To begin to understand the amount of value members are extracting from your organization, you first have to get a better understanding for how they’re interacting with you. Some might have attended every event and webinar while others assiduously opened every email you sent and commented regularly in your LinkedIn Group. While some associations are good at tracking the former activity they’re not as good about measuring the latter.

So in order to strengthen the offerings that will result in increased retention, you first need to track member engagement from all levels, online and off. Below I’ve outlined three levels of activity your association management software (AMS) should monitor:

Basic Level

At the most basic level, your AMS should track all in-person activities from your members. For instance, you should be able to easily access data on which of your members signed up for a conference, a networking happy hour, or a class. These kinds of members are engaged enough in your association that they’re willing to leave their house and workplace and actually show up at an association-hosted function. Your AMS would also track which members signed up to serve on committees, leadership positions, and volunteer roles.

Online Interactions

Associations are increasingly developing more online communities and products for members to engage in when not attending offline events. For instance, nearly every association sends out regular email newsletters, yet not all associations track which members open those emails. An AMS should monitor who logs into a website portal or registers for a webinar.

Furthermore, if your association hosts an online message board or forum for members, any kind of engagement within that forum can be tracked. One of our favorite partners, Higher Logic, not only allows associations to create and manage their online communities, they also allow you to assign a point system based on different levels of engagement. For instance, a member who starts a new comment thread will receive more points than another member who just logs in and browses the comments. Your AMS should be able to consume these activities to add them to your member profiles.

Interactions in Communities You Don’t Own

Not all member activity is occurring on platforms you own and operate. Many of your members and prospective members are consuming, sharing, and discussing industry-related information across social media and online forums. Your AMS could potentially track, for instance, how many members are reading a blog post on your website and then sharing it on Twitter. There are a number of products already on the market that not only track mentions of particular keywords, but brand sentiment as well. And with Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn, there may soon be ways Dynamics CRM/365 users can track user activity on the platform.

Many of the tools for tracking this third category are still being developed. For instance, Microsoft Social Engagement allows you to “listen to and monitor publicly available social communications across public and managed networks administered by third parties.” But though the development of social media monitoring technology is still nascent, it’s important for associations to acknowledge that theses platforms are becoming an important engagement point for members. Ignore them, and you run the risk that these very social platforms will end up replacing your organization and the networking role it plays with its members.

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