Have you launched a membership survey recently or are you planning to conduct one soon? If your association is like most, you formally ask your members about their preferences on a regular basis. You probably get some great intel about what your members are thinking – or do you?
Your members may answer survey questions with an “aspirational” bias. For example, they may hope they’ll attend the annual meeting but might not actually make it. Or your members may use the “in the best of all worlds” bias when answering questions. They may give your offerings high ratings because they think they should – and in the best of all worlds, they’d take advantage of them.
Good survey design, effective deployment, and an in-depth analysis of the results can help you determine what biases may exist in your survey and overcome them. Other strategies can help you improve your response rates and reduce the challenges of gathering data at a distance. You can even find directions for turning your survey data into actionable items as association priorities. What we’d like to suggest is that surveys don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
You might need to employ new strategies to flesh out your survey responses. You might need to dig a little deeper into member preferences. Or you might need to target a particular topic for in-depth research.
Here are 7 suggestions for creative ways to gather member information:
- Consult the data you already have
Your association management system can provide hard numbers about how popular an event is or how much revenue it generated. You can track membership to see where you might be gaining or losing members. If you compare actual numbers to what your members tell you with surveys, you can begin to test your assumptions about your offerings.
- Create personal points of contact
When we had to make radical decisions during the pandemic, many associations had the time (and staffing) to call or email their members. Trade associations were often able to call all their member companies to check in, ask what they needed and direct them to helpful resources. These associations proved that they cared about their members and their members shared their concerns about the pandemic, their businesses, and the association itself. However, personalized communication with your members should be integrated into your association’s goals – giving you time to reach out more often.
- Convene focus groups
One of the best ways to gather information is to ask a group of members to discuss a topic you (or they) want to explore. It’s relatively easy to create in-person focus groups at large meetings or digital focus groups with conferencing software. Make sure to include members of all backgrounds, age groups, and levels of involvement to get insight from all sides. Consider narrowing the discussion to one topic or a few topics that relate to each other. Move to a new topic if the discussion starts to repeat or fresh ideas dwindle.
- Pose quick surveys on your website or social media
Take advantage of your website or social media traffic to ask single-question surveys. It’s relatively simple to create a digital survey and share the results. Yes-or-no or multiple-choice questions work well in this application. If possible, you can provide space for comments or include a link to a space for comments. You want these questions to be thought-provoking You can ask fun questions to get your audience in the habit of voting and then move to more substantial issues. Be sure to record the responses.
- Pose single-question surveys during events
What would happen if you asked attendees at your next big meeting about the biggest failure at the conference? You might get complaints about the escalators going the wrong way (actually happened) or that lunch seating was inadequate, but you might also tap into valuable suggestions for your association. Your events team probably deploys formal surveys after the meeting or after each session, but with one-question queries, you can ask about large and small issues and get instant feedback. You might also consider providing a physical or digital place for attendees to leave messages for each other or any other comments they choose. Pay attention to what they submit; it could give you a valuable look into what your attendees are thinking.
- Host “Ask Me Anything” sessions
Do you ever have town hall sessions? In our experience, they can be sparsely attended but a high priority for boards of directors. That often translates into lots of prep work with low rewards – unless you have a developing emergency in your industry that drives high participation. Think about changing those town halls to Ask-Me-Anything sessions. You’ll want to choose a high-level insider to field questions, and it helps if that person has master-of-ceremony skills. You can base the session on a specific professional topic or about association or industry topic. Keep the session moving quickly.
- Make it a game with contests & giveaways
Incentivize your members with contests and giveaways that involve sharing opinions. If you already reward engagement, incorporate answering questions or sharing opinions in your established engagement program.
Now that you have new ideas for gathering information from your members, how should you begin?
Here are a few suggestions for starting:
- Start simple.
- Decide how you’ll use the information and feedback you gather, as well as how you’ll share the results.
- Make sure you have a process for reporting member feedback from all sources.
- Be sure to ask about issues your members care about or let them choose what’s most important.
- Identify data that will help you measure the impact of the feedback you collect.
When you do deploy your next formal membership survey, consider adding three questions each time to establish trends. (Kudos if you’re already asking regularly.)
- What is your overall satisfaction with the association?
- How likely are you to renew your membership?
- Would you recommend membership to your colleagues?
Of course, you can decide exactly how to phrase those questions.
We hope when you ask in new and different ways, you’ll discover new insights that help you serve your members better than ever.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.