Social media and membership retention

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There’s a maxim in the union movement that I’ve heard (and repeated) that it’s five times more difficult and expensive to recruit a new member as it is to keep an existing one. Membership retention is the second side of the growth coin.

Almost every Australian union that I’ve had dealings with do recruitment fairly well, with five percent or more increases in “joins” each year. The trouble comes in retention — and this is where a lot of unions are now turning their attention to.

If you want your members to stick around, your union needs to be relevant and build a relationship with them. Of course, all the organising and campaigning is important, but unions can’t run campaigns everywhere, at every workplace, all the time.

However, there is a way to reach your members, demonstrate your relevance and build a relationship with members who may not be feeling the love of an active campaign.

How well do you really know your members?

Digital campaigning lets you reach members easily and cost-effectively — and most importantly, in a personalised and relevant way. People share a lot of information on social networks like Facebook or Twitter (or even — dare I say it — Pintrest). However, if you’ve set up your website and email marketing service correctly, you can also provide members with relevant information based on their online behaviour (i.e. the pages they visit and links they click).

This information can augment your digital campaigns. The more personalised and relevant they are, the more likely your members are to engage.

Here’s a few ideas to try to engage members who maybe haven’t heard from their union in a while.

  1. Reminder emails: Email marketing software like MailChimp let you set up a pipeline of emails to members based on their email behaviour, or calendar events. Setting up a series of emails to prompt contact with members will help keep them engaged. For example, setting up a new member survey for new members in non-priority areas will go a long way towards helping those members realise they’re valued.
  2. Anniversary thank you emails: Research I’ve seen at a few unions suggests that there are several milestones for new members, such as the first three months, six months, twelve months. Set up your email campaigns to send “thank yous” from the union secretary or local branch officials for their joining dates. You could also consider a birthday email if you have that information (and it is probably available on Facebook).

Social media and digital campaigning is also an effective, inexpensive way to gauge your members views. By listening to the comments left on your social media accounts, and elsewhere (using tools like Twitter search and Google Alerts) you can get to know your members.

Social media may seem like a wall of white noise, but over time you can start to learn what to listen for and who to take seriously. For you union communicators, it’s important to keep the lines open with your organisers. I remember a person on Facebook who constantly left critical and abusive comments on our Facebook updates — but by checking with the local organiser, I found out that he was a serial pest and not to be taken to seriously. And often supportive members will come to your defence.

Can your membership system handle it?

I’ve had personal experience with several union membership systems, and mostly they seem to be geared around the financial side of things: tracking financiality and processing payments. Only one union database I’ve seen has any of the useful features that characterise modern customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

The linchpin for digital campaigns is a good database — ideally your membership system — which records your multiple contacts, both online and offline. It will be very difficult if your organising, email, web, membership and social databases operate in silos. Your membership data is your union’s largest and most important asset!

Of course, social media is not the be all and end all of membership retention. Unions need to remain relevant through organising workers and empowering them to win. Ultimately, this happens on the ground in the flesh, not online in the cloud. The purpose of all the online campaigns that unions do is to win in the real world.

Note: You can wash your membership list through several services that trawl various social media sites for this kind of information. Assuming your membership system can handle it, check out a service like Flip Top, which integrates with MailChimp.

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