Member Engagement: Listening, Likes, & Leadership



Member engagement is a topic I often get asked about because it’s top of mind for most associations. In an ideal scenario, new members would consistently join your association, engage with your events and committees, and renew year after year. 

In reality, you’re in a constant battle to retain their attention. This is why associations actively work to offer unique value to their members. But a successful member engagement strategy based on value starts with listening, feedback, and leadership.


I recently recorded a podcast with Joel Goldberg, a well-known name in Major League Baseball and the lead announcer for the Kansas City Royals. Quick plug: Joel has an amazing story steeped in his passion for baseball and leadership that is worth sharing with your members if you’re looking for someone to speak at your next event. We discussed the importance of trust when building relationships and how trust begins with listening.  

We noted that there is a natural tendency to approach others through our own perspective and bias, and listening is the only true way to understand what makes someone tick. Listening becomes the origin of relationships and, ultimately, what we commonly regard as member engagement. Given that I’m suggesting that listening is, in essence, a “Top 3” when it comes to all things member engagement, it’s important to point out that it is not limited to just what members say.  

To have a real impact on member engagement, you must listen to what your members do. Do they follow you on social media? Do they attend your events? Do they read your magazine? Do they join your committees? Do they open and click your publications? Do they capitalize on networking opportunities with other members? Do they respond to your surveys? 

Once you listen to your qualitative and quantitative data that tells you what your members do, you’ll better understand how to engage. Oh, and don’t forget the most important element that follows listening…action. Once you’ve learned through the act of listening and empathizing with your member’s situation and needs, it’s time to respond.


Like, Love, Laugh, Support, Sad, Insightful, Unlike, Hate, Cringeworthy. Ok, I took some liberties with those last emoji reactions that don’t currently exist on LinkedIn, but I did it intentionally. I’ll get to that in a minute.  

First, these one-touch emojis exist because our transaction culture has adopted these as the simplest form of surveying those in our network, including our members. Why is it so important to survey our members? Because that is the guiding light that tells us if we are indeed providing value and fulfilling the mission that initially attracted our members in the first place. If you want to know how you are doing, you have to ask and be ready to do what we talked about in the first part of this message…listen. 

That brings me back to why I added a few seemingly unpopular emoji-related feedback options to the list at the top. “Likes” are wonderful and should certainly be celebrated. After all, who doesn’t like the affirmation of knowing they’re on the right track! However, I would suggest that there’s a more significant engagement opportunity in the negative feedback. This is a member who believes they are not being served in the way they expected to be and is telling you they want to be heard. 

While you may not be able to solve every problem your members bring your way, one of the following positives will certainly come from this: 

1) You fix the issue as quickly as possible, and the member is happy. Not only have you remedied the situation for your member, but you’ve validated their concern and given them a voice. Well done! Or 

2) You couldn’t fix the issue immediately, but you gained valuable insights into either how other members feel or are struggling with something in your industry. Take notes as this could be an early indication of a trend.


I’ve always been interested in rivers and how even the mightiest of moving waters had to come from somewhere smaller. This original source is referred to as the headwaters (or head) and often plays a key role in the make-up of the river. As you can imagine, if the headwaters are polluted, the rest of the river will be as well. If the headwaters are nutrient-rich and clean, then the health of the river has a much better outlook. 

Much like the headwaters, your leadership at the association plays the most vital role in the engagement outlook of your entire membership. As you make decisions around policy, communications, events, advocacy, pricing, technology, staffing, and so on, you need to look through the lens of engagement and ensure it’s woven into the decisions that will impact everyone (your members) down-stream.  

Also, always keep in mind that engagement is not about what you say, but what you do. My mother used to say, “Words are cheap, and deeds are dear.” If your leaders are truly engaging, your members will feel it. That’s what they will remember, and that’s why they will keep coming back for more.

Member engagement has proven to be a top priority, especially these past couple of years with all the changes associations have had to make. To ensure that your members experience the best your association has to offer, focus on building a relationship on a foundation of trust by listening, addressing their feedback, and lead by doing. 

If you want more tips on member engagement, reach out for a free consult.


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