We hear it often: one of the keys to effective member engagement and communication is getting the right message to the right people at the right time. It’s the kind of simple, catchy pronouncement that goes over well when you’re standing up in front of a group of your peers at an industry event.

But when it comes to putting it into action for your organization, it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. In practice, it typically involves the right systems, the right processes, and an awful lot of hard work!

In my mind, though, “the right people” is the part of the equation on which everything else hinges. As every good marketer knows, understanding the audience is an essential prerequisite for crafting any message, whether it’s a letter to your great aunt or an invitation to your association’s annual conference. In fact, I would argue that it’s simply not possible to craft a winning message without giving careful consideration to the needs, interests and perspectives of the intended recipient of the message.

So how exactly do you find the “right people” for your message?

If you’re a very small organization, you may already know which of your members you want to target with a particular message. But if you’re a medium-sized organization with thousands of members, or a large organization with tens or hundreds of thousands of members, coming up with a list of people whose characteristics indicate they would be receptive to a particular message gets considerably more difficult.

What makes it so difficult? One of the biggest barriers to identifying and targeting the right people with compelling messages to improve member engagement is not being able to get to relevant data that would help you understand who they are, what they’re interested in, and what they really care about. Getting good member data is a big subject, but here are three of the biggest reasons your data might be holding you back from engaging your members more effectively.

1. You haven’t collected the right data about your members

There’s no magic formula for getting to know your members and improving member engagement – it’s a complex undertaking that obviously involves a number of strategies and specific activities. But one key requirement for success is having access to detailed and meaningful data about your members that goes beyond just their names and addresses.

There are hundreds of relevant data points you could be tracking if you want to interact and engage meaningfully with a given member over a period of months or years. Where do they live? What events have they attended? What programs have they participated in? What other organizations are they affiliated with? What accreditation have they completed? What are their professional interests? Do they blog on specific topics or tweet about them? What about volunteering – have they ever volunteered to help at one of your events?

The problem is many associations haven’t implemented the appropriate tools and processes required to capture and store this data – so it’s simply not available for use by the organization. And this makes the process of tailoring the message based on the characteristics of a specific member or group of members nearly impossible.

2. You have the data but it’s scattered across many systems

For some organizations, on the other hand, a lack of data isn’t a problem when it comes to member engagement. They have lots of useful data about their members. The problem is it’s scattered across a number of different systems in separate data “silos”. These silos can be individual inboxes or hard drives or they might be any one of several systems you use to manage your association. None of these silos make for simple data collection and extraction, so the data remains largely inaccessible and unusable.

Data Sillos
It’s true, there’s often someone in the organization – the IT guy or the resident Excel guru – who can sometimes, with a great deal of time and effort, piece together the bits of data you’re interested in. But this method is not convenient or fast and leaves you at the mercy of colleagues who are in many cases too busy with their regular responsibilities to be of much help to you when you need it most.

3. There’s no way to group members based on shared characteristics

It’s clear that not being able to collect meaningful data at the individual member level has a major impact on your ability to find “the right person” and improve member engagement. It also presents a daunting challenge at the macro level. In other words, if you can’t identify the individual characteristics of your members, you’re going to have a tough time compiling groups of members who share the same characteristics.

Especially for larger organizations, the ability to easily and quickly define member segments based on specific shared characteristics is extremely important for tailoring an effective message that gets the response you’re looking to get from your members.

Image credit: Flickr user Patrick Denker

Jamie Boyes

Jamie is NetFore’s Vice President of Business Development