For membership bodies, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed member retention under the spotlight more than ever. Many bodies are seeing their members' financial concerns and general worries for the future lead to an increase in membership cancellations.
While this is hopefully a temporary situation, the recovery will take time. Membership bodies will need to work harder and faster than ever to demonstrate their relevance and value, to retain members and entice back those who have left, in order to safeguard revenues and drive business growth.
The impact of home working
Working from home has become the new norm. It's very likely that this trend will continue long after the pandemic has been consigned to the history books as there is a growing realisation that the benefits far outweigh any potential drawbacks.
Remote working has a major impact on the way learning needs to be delivered and supported. Self-study, employee-driven continual skills development will become the new norm - certainly for anyone aspiring to develop and progress their careers. Right now, the learning technologies industry as a whole is seeing significant increases in the use of digital learning platforms.
While part of this will be due to the additional spare time people have, for example those workers currently furloughed and who can legitimately continue with their training, has there ever been a time where ongoing skills development has been more significant and indeed crucial for continuing professional development (CPD)?
Membership bodies have an opportunity to revamp and modernise their CPD offerings and develop, sell and promote new forms of online training to support their members' development and most importantly to deliver increased value for their members.
How to deliver membership value
So how as a membership body, can you maximise member benefits and membership value to ensure member engagement, retention and growth?
People join membership bodies to learn and develop in their chosen industry and profession. It’s vital therefore, to provide members with top quality learning resources and tools that combine to deliver a personalised learning experience, one that is tailored to the unique role, position and development requirements of the individual member.
Recommendations for delivering membership value
1. Embrace digital
Expectations are high when it comes to learning. There is a wealth of quality online learning materials out there. The sector specific content that you provide must match this in terms of the user experience it provides. Embracing digital is a must.
Some early indicators to consider include:
- Do you require the use of printed forms or spreadsheets for CPD data capture?
- Do you force the use of desktop browsers to access content i.e. do you *not* support mobile?
- Do your web interfaces look dated and struggle to work at all on particular modern browsers?
- Are your membership and content websites not yet fully integrated with your CRM systems to provide a seamless member onboarding experience?
If the answer to any of the above questions is 'yes', then the chances are that your offerings are in need of modernisation and you have not yet fully embraced digital. This is more important than ever as the younger generation of member joins your organisation.
2. Recognise that every membership body is different
No two membership bodies or organisations are the same. Each will have different drivers, face different membership needs, use different terminology, have various ways of setting targets and encouraging members, use different planning approaches, align with different skills and competency frameworks, have different certification requirements, different levels of membership and more.
For this reason, it's highly unlikely that completely 'off the shelf' solutions will meet your needs sufficiently closely. Equally, developing a solution from first principals is hugely costly and fraught with risk. A combined approach involving a ‘best in breed’ platform plus configuration, customisation and integration is key.
3. Align your learning with sector specific skills frameworks
Start by providing a library of quality, accessible and relevant content to your members. Many membership bodies already have a large library of valuable materials which can be provided for their members. It may be possible to encourage the members themselves to create white papers, reports and other valuable materials as part of their responsibilities as a member.
However, to avoid the real dangers of information overload and of overwhelming your members, you must be able to personalise your learning offering and align it to sector specific skills and competency frameworks together with varying membership levels and other relevant standards and qualifications.
4. Assess your member's individual needs
Provide the tools to assess your members against skills frameworks to identify gaps and promote the right content to help them easily achieve certifications and standards and complete their CPD.
Take this one step further by enabling comparisons over time to enable your members to demonstrate progression.
5. Consider the ‘freemium’ model
Consider providing certain content and resources free of charge. Encourage users by delivering a quality user experience and then provide additional resources as part of your standard membership packages. Then consider selling premium content by using eCommerce to open up additional revenue streams.
6. Prefer microlearning
Bear in mind that your members will want to access your content anytime, anywhere on any device. Traditional eLearning catalogues requiring desktop access are often dated and a general source of frustration.
Prefer bite sized, microlearning - content designed for mobile consumption. Mix things up by offering a varied blend of digital learning content including videos, podcasts, animations, infographics together with microlearning courses. Ensure the content has been built to support mobile.
Of course, building your own content is costly and time consuming, so enable connections to third party sources of quality content relevant and proven within your industry sector.
7. Offer a mobile App
Native Apps for Android and iOS devices can significantly improve the overall user experience for members accessing your offerings from their devices. Ideally, your Apps will also support your member's CPD logs, enabling them to record CPD activities without leaving the App. Mobile is perfect for many scenarios. e.g. take a photo of a course completion certificate and have that automatically generate a CPD record.
By making your Apps available via Google Play and the App Store, you also have a natural vehicle for promoting your offerings. Make some content free within the Apps and available before login. Use the Apps to deliver regular membership updates, personalised content tailored to specific members' career aspirations. Use a combination of manual and automated push notifications and CPD progress nudges at carefully considered intervals for example when members fall behind targets - all to help increase engagement.
8. Get social with your learning offerings
Develop and expand your online community by offering social learning solutions and let your members interact with one another while accessing your digital libraries of content. For example, let them like, share and comment on the content you're providing. This social aspect is particularly important during the current lockdown but will be important in the future too.
9. Encourage CPD planning and progress tracking
Equip your members with the CPD solution they need to plan, record and track their CPD. Encourage your members to spend some time at the start of the current CPD cycle (often aligning with the membership year for example) to plan and consider specifically which skills or competency areas that they should focus on with their learning activities for the forthcoming period.
Ideally, your CPD solution will then allow them to continually track progress against plan. Visual charts showing progress coupled with printable PDF reports let your members see tangible evidence that their learning is on track.
10. Consider gamification and rewarding achievement
Gamified learning experiences tend to suffer from bad press and they divide opinion much in the same way as Marmite does! You either love it or hate it
There is a balance to be struck, but with careful considering, elements of gamification really can provide encouragement for members and can motivate them to stay on target throughout the year. Simple elements such as visual progress trackers that show your current progress against your specific target (often based on points, numbers of reflective statements logged, or learning hours logged) can serve to encourage. Comparison charts showing your overall progress against peer groups can also be effective e.g. based on my cohort comparison I can see I'm in the top 15% of learners. I'd love to be top 10% or higher!
Also consider rewarding members when they achieve set targets e.g. a certain number of learning hours logged, a specific CPD points/credits target reached, or a set number of reflective statements logged - depending on which model is appropriate for you. Consider awarding a certificate on successful submission of CPD at the end of the current year. Or take things a step further and award an OpenBadge i.e. one that the member can share as part of their professional profile on LinkedIn and elsewhere. After all, CPD is a career long activity so the achievements and rewards should reflect that.
There's never been a more important time for membership bodies to emphasise the importance of their learning and CPD offering and the value that membership brings.
Embrace digital and work harder and faster than ever to deliver value to members, entice back those that have left, safeguard future retention and drive business growth, both during the pandemic and beyond.
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