You’d be hard pressed to find an event or association professional that has not heard of Amanda Kaiser. Amanda is a qualitative market researcher with a knack for unraveling the complexity and mystery that often surrounds association-member engagement strategies. Through her Smooth the Path blog and countless speaking gigs, she has helped industry professionals unlock new sources of value, richer experiences, and more meaningful connections with their audience.
When we snöballed SURGE Co-Creation, an event by Association Success at which Amanda was speaking, we were thrilled to observe that her customized landing page received the most visits out of all event participants. But considering her reputation for no-nonsense community building, we shouldn’t have been surprised!
We interviewed her to uncover some of her top engagement strategies for associations.
snö: Amanda, we have been following your blog and advice for years; you have undoubtedly helped “smooth the path” for countless association and membership industry professionals. What drives you to continuously develop and promote member engagement strategies?
AK: Thank you! I am fortunate because my work is so interesting. With each research assignment, I get to dive into the professional lives of people who work in very different industries and professions than I. Even though various careers come with their own set of activities (the daily habits of a surgeon are not precisely like those of a CFO), there are many shared experiences across the world of work.
For example, new members need to be assured they did not make a mistake in joining. New attendees usually feel a tad bit nervous at their first event. Merely hearing the word “networking” is enough to make some of us break out in a cold sweat. I learn something new about members, associations, and myself with each study I conduct, and I cannot help sharing these engagement strategies and insights with our community.
snö: You recently appeared at SURGE Co-Creation discussing the power of associations to problem-solve. Can you share some key takeaways from this talk?
AK: I love this topic because problem-solving is deceptively tricky. Take member engagement: many strategic problems that associations have are engagement problems in disguise. For example, we may assume we have an awareness problem; however, most association awareness is created through word-of-mouth. Engaged members tell their friends, colleagues, and peers, but disengaged members do not spread the word. Often associations do not have an awareness problem – they have an engagement problem. It is so easy to misidentify a strategic issue, which is why problem-solving is deceptively tricky.
How do you hedge against this inherent problem with problem-solving? One way is to learn about members differently. Skip the surveys and talk to them. Ask members about their goals, worries, fears, projects, and responsibilities. Stay curious and keep asking questions; the critical problems with your engagement strategies will soon reveal themselves.
snö: What are the 3 main challenges facing associations today?
AK: Extreme time pressure – association professionals, like most professionals, want to do more than can fit into one lifetime. It feels like every day, week, month, and the year is a race. There is never enough time to get it all done, which means we have to think very carefully and act on our priorities. Now more than ever, it is too easy to fall into the “busy but not effective” trap.
Transaction focus – members share stories with me, illustrating how our transactions are their experiences. We are distributing badges, but members are being welcomed. We are collecting dues, but members are deciding whether they made a mistake in joining. We are promoting the latest event, and members are overwhelmed by emails. Associations who make every transaction a great experience for members will boost member engagement.
Gaps in understanding – there is a wide gap in understanding between many associations and their members. Members have problems and associations have benefits. Members do not often understand how the association’s benefits can help them. We need to bridge that gap and show members how every one of our benefits is a neatly packaged solution for one of their pressing problems.
snö: How can association leaders be innovative in their approach to value and relevance in their engagement strategies?
AK: Association leaders can myopically focus the staff, the board, and themselves on members. Association professionals tend to get torn in two directions with administrative work, which keeps the association clicking along, and engagement work, which is what members want and need.
Administrative work is like binge-watching Netflix. It draws you in, and before you know it it’s 2 am on a work night. Association leaders can create more engaging associations by prioritizing engagement work.
snö: We snöballed this SURGE event, and it should come as no surprise that your landing page was the most popular out of all event speakers and partners! Congratulations on being SURGE’s top influencer. What was your strategy in using your dedicated snöball campaign to get this much engagement and reach?
AK: I am so glad that I helped bring some participants to SURGE. It is a great event, and I feel smarter every time I attend.
In the weeks before the event, I sent out a little flurry of tweets and LinkedIn posts. I do not know for sure, but I suspect what drove interest was the blog post I wrote: The Problem with Association Problems. Soon after the post published, I got lucky when a few prominent industry newsletters added the post to their publications, making it one of the most popular posts on my site at the time.
snö: How was your experience using snöball? If you were to change anything or suggest something you wish were included, what would that be?
AK: It was easy!
snö: Do you think snöball is a valuable marketing asset for associations looking to mobilize their internal community of influencers?
AK: I tend to promote the events that I’m speaking at, and snöball made it super easy to create posts letting the community know why SURGE is unique, what they would learn at my team’s session, and how to tune in.