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Associations were Challenged by COVID-19. Here’s how 4 Associations Adapted with Online Communities.

Associations, Community Strategy, Customer Stories // See how four associations used their online member communities successfully in 2020. Spoiler alert – they’re all different.

Jenny Pan
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In April of 2020, we looked at how associations were supporting their members with online communities in the early days of the pandemic. Now that it’s been almost a year, we’re revisiting this topic again. In the past year, how have associations expanded and adapted their strategies to engage members virtually? How have associations grown their membership – and even earned event revenue, thanks to online communities?

We’re highlighting four associations who have each taken a unique approach to achieve their goals. Learn more about each one:

1. ASCE Moved Fast to Put Out Relevant Community Content for Members

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) — representing the civil engineering profession with more than 600 different committees — knew their thriving online community was a place for members to connect with one another. But in-person event cancellations due to COVID-19, the team needed a way to build engagement and support their members, fast.

Re-evaluating their digital offerings with help from the Higher Logic team, ASCE created tailored, personalized content focusing on relevancy, authenticity, and member feedback. They quickly launched new programming, including:

And they did all this with the technology they already had: their online community. It was easy for their team to quickly pivot to digital-first, running event registrations, automating email campaigns, and gathering feedback through their community.

Plus, they didn’t let fear of not doing things right get in the way of moving quickly to support members. In Tirza’s words, “For video content, we decided that if SNL and Jimmy Fallon could use home videos and Zoom to make content, so could we. It’s not the video quality you would have expected a year ago, but it’s relevant, and people care about authenticity.”

“Our motto throughout the pandemic was to ‘Be fast. Be first.’ We didn’t want to wait for it to be perfect. We’d tweak things as we went, but we knew we needed to move quickly to help our community. It’s about making the most of the technology you already have.”

Tirza Austin, Manager, Online Community, ASCE

2. NCDS Drove Growth with Members-Only Online Community

Around four years ago, members told the North Carolina Dental Society (NCDS) that they wanted a place to connect with each other. On top of this, the association started to realize that they needed to revamp their engagement strategy to acquire and retain younger members, especially as long-time members started to retire.

NCDS heard from member surveys that their younger member segment wanted to see tangible value and networking opportunities – which led NCDS to the idea of an online, members-only community.

This year, NCDS’s community, NC Dental Connect, became a hub of activity for members to share information around the pandemic, helping NCDS to show members special, tangible support in a time of need. NC Dental Connect saw 20x more community engagement during the pandemic.

Their community gives every member the ability to ask peers questions directly, share resources, and meet colleagues with similar interests. Making the community members-only has helped the association drive more membership growth since non-members don’t want to miss out.

“When somebody calls me and says, ‘Why do I want to pay for membership?’, the first thing I mention is our member community. It’s a dedicated, professional community where you can connect with like-minded individuals, ask questions, and learn from your peers. Members find so much value in being able to talk directly with their peers.”

Ryan Couch, Systems Manager, NCDS

3. NACCHO Used Online Communities to Create Vital Connection for County Health Officials

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) members, made up of nearly 3,000 local health departments, faced not only a strained workforce due to budget cuts, but an extraordinary public health situation. Their members needed a central location for information and a way to communicate with each other, but they were inundated with information during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

While NACCHO already had an online member community, they needed to make some changes to their internal tech processes and encourage more member adoption of the community before they could meet these challenges.

To solve this, NACCHO worked with Higher Logic to launch three new online sub-communities, centralize communications, and continuously monitor and adjust to ongoing and changing member needs.

NACCHO’s online community provided them with the essential building blocks they needed to serve their members, even as their offices moved to a virtual working environment. Their three new communities fit well with the unique considerations of their membership structure, e.g. providing information to all local health departments, whether they were dues-paying members or not.

NACCHO’s Level 3 (highest), full incident command structure, depended on their communities sharing important public health information, keeping staff informed and engaged, and supporting members during uncertain times. They saw a 400% increase in online community logins – and the CDC referred to NACCHO’s site as a resource during calls.

The association also sent out an email newsletter and digest, which supported the many members working in public spaces with easy, mobile access to information. Those files and information updates could also be password protected to limit access. For some counties, NACCHO was the only way for members to connect to Federal-level calls and information.

“We are 11 months into this project and still using our COVID 19 emergency community to post resources and to field questions from local health departments. It helps us to keep an ear to the ground while allowing our members to contact each other, easily.”

Angie McPherson, Website Specialist, NACCHO

4. MUSE International Earned Sponsorship Revenue with Virtual Event Communities

After Medical Users Software Exchange (MUSE) International (an independent software user group) canceled their annual conference in March, they needed a way to continue engaging their members and decided to move forward with virtual events.

Knowing that these events can be difficult to pull off, they enlisted the support of The Center for Association Growth (TCAG) to develop a series of virtual events that would drive engagement, create invaluable connections, and inspire members to continue learning together.

MUSE International opted for smaller, three-day events with three webinars per day that targeted specific tracks and member segments.

Using their community as the foundation, TCAG helped MUSE International build customized microsites and online communities for the virtual events, all fully equipped with personalized registration pages and messaging.

All session recordings and presentations were stored centrally on Higher Logic’s platform so that they were easily accessible and searchable both during and after the events. The conferences leveraged gamification to entice and reward members for participating in events and created “Virtual Homes” for vendors and attendees to engage in deeper discussions. MUSE International could even track participants’ activities to further optimize and personalize messaging throughout the events.

One event alone generated $17K in sponsorship revenue for MUSE International. Using Virtual Homes, sponsors had a dedicated, completely co-branded page to showcase product offerings, promote special offers to members, and engage with event attendees. Following the event, sponsors received contact details of event registrants as well as engagement and tracking reports to identify high potential customers.

“Everybody faces the issue of having to run virtual events now, but we still need to generate revenue. So how can we effectively bring sponsors into the mix while still providing value to members? We do this by creating dedicated communities and driving personalized, custom ways for members and relevant vendors to engage with each other in meaningful ways.”

Brett Wangman, President, The Center for Association Growth (TCAG)

These four associations are all using their member communities successfully – with a wide range of strategies and results. Could an online community help you support members, drive membership growth, provide vital connections, and increase your revenue?

Jenny Pan

Customer Marketing Manager

Jenny is a Customer Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. While she’s not at work, she can be found exploring the DC food scene, reluctantly doing cardio, and playing with her pup Potato.

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