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How Associations Are Using Community to Support Their Members During COVID-19

Associations, Community Strategy, Retention, Customer Stories // Communities are helping association members professionally and personally during the COVID-19 public health crisis, and the engagement numbers show it.

Elizabeth Bell
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Over the past month, as our customers shared ideas about responding to COVID-19 in our users community, HUG, we noticed some simple but impactful ways these professional associations are using their communities to support their members and their industries.

And it makes sense: In a time when we’re all craving connection, what’s more perfect than a community dedicated to your success and your industry?

We spoke with a few of those customers to hear more about their initiatives, and we’re sharing a few of these observations with you, to encourage you and maybe inspire some ideas for your own organization.

We’re sharing four ways we’re seeing communities used to bring connection and enhance these professional associations’ missions during these times.

Community Engagement is Skyrocketing

Over the past month, community engagement has jumped for many of our customers, indicating that members are relying on their association communities as vital sources of connection and information.

At the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), members are turning to their online community as a source of connection and education, seen in their rising engagement metrics. Overall logins were up 109% in the last month, and new member logins – people checking out the community for the very first time – was up 149%.

While they’re there, they’re posting more discussions (posts were up 48%) and engaging with content (library views saw a 100% increase and library downloads went up 122% since February).

The American Staffing Association (ASA) saw 3K additional logins in one month, and the Foundation for Manufacturing Excellence has seen total logins jump by 320%, discussions grow by 470%, and library downloads increase by over 600%.

But the increase in engagement isn’t the only sign we’re seeing that communities are a key communication tool for associations, their members, and their industries.

Welcoming the Whole Industry to the Community

Multiple associations have made the decision to move their communities from members-only to open to any industry professional.

Note: We see associations go both ways with keeping communities open or making them private. It depends on your strategy: Keeping it open has distinct organic search value for search engine optimization (SEO) and can allow many voices in the conversation, while keeping it members-only can create a more intimate feeling and be a draw to sign up for membership.

The American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) already had a plan in the works to allow non-members to sign up for a trial of their community, ASPE Connect, but relaxed some requirements to make it easier due to COVID-19. Since launching that initiative on April 6, they’ve already seen 30 non-members and previous members sign up. In addition, they’ve seen a 51% increase in total logins when comparing February to March.

Jill Koronkiewicz, Director of Global Engagement at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), told us about their plans to open their community to the industry, which they did on April 1.

She said: “We’ve seen great interactions among ACTE members in the community since launching end of January. Given the challenges the corporate travel industry is facing, we felt providing that platform to all industry professionals, regardless of membership status, would help keep us all connected and engaging with one another during a time when in-person events are not possible.” 

This benefit to the industry has proved welcome – they added over 40% more participants to their community in just one week.

In just that first week, engagement has spiked:

  • ACTE saw almost 50% of the number of posts they had seen in the whole month of March
  • Average replies per discussion thread were already over the first quarter average
  • Library downloads this week were almost equal to the downloads they saw in the whole first quarter

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has also opened their community to non-members. Tirza Austin, their online community manager, said: “We have made our forums available to non-members. It’s important that our organization support the profession as a whole during this difficult time. We also created a COVID-19 resource page with resources from across our organization on a Higher Logic microsite.”

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Members Supporting Members, Personally + Professionally in Their Professional Associations’ Communities

At the American Public Gas Association (APGA), a professional association, Director of Digital Strategy Margaret Hager mentioned that members were discussing why soap and water effectively kills coronavirus – which isn’t your typical industry discussion, but a great example of organic connection and a virtual water cooler moment that contributes to more education around COVID-19.

APGA is also hosting virtual roundtables three times a week, averaging around 120 people per call, who weigh into to share examples of their communications and how they’re abiding by local guidelines. APGA uses the community as a place for members to ask additional questions.

ASPE’s community has one thread where members are sharing how COVID-19 is affecting them, which already has 43+ replies. In addition, Pam Rosenberg, Director of Education and Certification, mentioned that some chapters are donating to one or multiple food pantries and increasing their support for each other in the community, a great example of community helping people come together.

Taking Conferences and Events Virtual

It’s been hard for many of us to see our in-person events disappear. But these associations are using the tech available to them to go virtual and continue delivering engaging experiences.

  • ASPE has been working with its local chapters to help them host their chapter meetings virtually, using their integrated learning management system and community (you can learn more about that here). In one of their recent chapter webinars, a special surprise guest speaker kicked off the webinar with an explanation of how the medical gas industry is adapting to the needs of patients and plumbing engineers and designers.
  • We mentioned APGA’s virtual roundtables – they’re using the community to help their members, municipal employees that run their city or community’s gas department, to get updates on federal legislation and ask questions of each other about how they are handling their operations during the COVID-19 crisis, and guide members to the community following the discussion.
  • ACTE is beginning a discussion series where they’ll share about upcoming changes in policy, duty of care and traveler safety, and they’ll make notes available to all members afterward in the community.
  • ASCE’s members who run were discussing running plans for one of their upcoming conferences – and the community thread turned into a great discussion with lots of pictures, even though members couldn’t make their in-person plans happen.

The Continuing Value of Community Engagement

Over the past month, we’ve seen so many examples of how online communities are vital for our customers.

Our customers are doing great things to help their members right now, and we’ve been so encouraged to see online community as a tangible source of connection and support for them.

But community’s value in a crisis is just a small example of the impact online community has had for these associations and their members. Having a digital home for their members, where members know they can go for support and resources, has allowed these associations to pivot their strategies to support their members and even the rest of the industry.

Elizabeth Bell

Content Marketing Manager

Elizabeth Bell is the Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.

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