A friend I knew in high school recently appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert thanks to his own initiative and antics. I suggest thinking about how the significance of his spontaneous celebrity selfies can inform how we understand our metrics for tracking member engagement.
Selfie Guy keeps a Facebook photo album of spontaneous celebrity selfies—and he’s snapped with some of the most celebrated, from New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio to former US President Bill Clinton. So when he was walking down the street and saw Stephen Colbert stopped in his car with the window down, he poked his head inside and selfied (photo courtesy of Will Harrel). That earned him an invitation to the Late Show.
It’s a fun activity for Selfie Guy and shows his friends who he meets—but does he actually “know” those people? Selfies have become a proxy to indicate relationships. Maybe he does know lots of famous people—yet maybe he doesn’t. His list of celebrity selfies doesn’t actually tell us. Counting his selfies per year is possible, but does not actually measure the depth of his relationships. Is association member engagement scoring ever like that? Measured and celebrated even though it doesn’t tell us the actual status of a relationship with a member?
Allow me another example that can inform our thoughts on measuring member engagement. Selfies are just the digital age expression of old-time autographs. As a Texas kid, my baseball glove had Roy Oswalt, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell—the pantheon of Astros greats—signed with a Sharpie. That didn’t mean I knew them better, even though I had more autographs than all my friends. It just meant I was better at persuading my dad to take me to the game two hours early so we could stand by the dugout. When autographs were first collected in the 1700s, they meant you had a relationship with someone—they wrote you a letter and signed it! Autographs as a statement and a metric have shifted dramatically in significance and meaning. In our associations, do we still use metrics that were great in 1993 but aren’t relevant today?
Peter Drucker, the great management consultant of the 20th century, is credited with the maxim “What is measured is improved.” That insight means what and how you measure member engagement has profound, yet often unseen, effects upon an association. What can a Colbert selfie or an autographed baseball mitt teach us about member engagement?
- It can be easy to measure something that looks and sounds cool, but doesn’t provide you with actionable intelligence
- It can be easy to game an established metric
- Out of date metrics don’t help your organization make good decisions anymore
1. Measure engagement that gives you actionable intelligence.
This often means measure to align with your association’s priorities. If Selfie Guy just wants to show he’s cool with the likes of Colbert, counting his celebrity selfies can be a good metric. If we want to know how much influence he has with those celebrities, we need to collect different data on his relationships. Just like it’s important to have the right tools for the job, it’s important to measure the right thing for your association and its priorities.
2. Don’t “game” your metrics.
With my autographed baseball mitt, I didn’t play any better than the other kids in Little League. But I could brag about all those autographs. I didn’t know more pro-baseball players or learn more baseball technique, I just knew how to get autographs. This is a trap your association staff can also fall into. Do you know how to spike open rates on a few emails the CEO cares about, but that doesn’t actually translate into more phone calls to lobby congressmen? Do you look at the membership renewal rate but ignore its manipulation by your autorenew membership category you added three years ago? You’ll have the most success with member engagement when you’re the most honest with yourself about what your data says.
3. Out-of-date metrics are for last decade’s decisions.
Just as the significance of autographs have changed over the past 300 years, you shouldn’t be measuring member opinion by out-dated methods anymore. Even if you have a digital measurement in your membership software, don’t “set and forget.” You must continually revisit this to keep it relevant. That is especially true for associations faced with complex challenges.
As we have said before, “Engagement implies the mutual exchange of value between an association and its members; the central focus of what associations are all about.” For something that important, you need a comprehensive, thought-out strategy that honestly evaluates what you measure and how you measure it.