Connecting Members With Online Community

While the Coronavirus pandemic has challenged us all, the impact on the NfP and charitable sector was pronounced. Events, benefits delivery, culture, and bottom lines were threatened across organisations. The UK professional membership sub-sector was particularly challenged. While in-person events were no longer possible, adoption of online community and member engagement platforms lag in comparison to other territories, such as North America.

From 15th March 2020, online facilitation of broad member sharing and access to programmes became an urgent priority for many UK membership bodies. The impact of the coronavirus crisis on professions served by individual membership bodies was significant, with committee work, special interest group (SIG) participation, online learning, and similar functions being urgently transitioned to virtual environments.

20K unique page views within first week of launch
119 new unique posts on launch day
10K logins within first week of launch

The Challenge

CIWM, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, is the voice of the sector representing over 5,500 individuals in the UK and overseas. Expedited launch of a robust online community platform for its members was initiated in late March. Adoption of a fully CRM-integrated community solution was achieved in partnership with Cantarus, a leading provider of online community and comprehensive digital services to the UK membership sector. The community launch was implemented over just 17 business days following the initial project meeting. Member adoption and engagement were immediate and substantial.

In May 2020 the community generated 22,000 page views with over 700 posts.

the CIWM connect forum

I am getting slightly addicted. It is transparent, open, engaging, full of support and some great technical answers for questions posted. Brilliant added value for members.

Gill Mulroe CIWM Fellow and community member

CIWM leaders and members quickly recognised multiple substantial threats presented by the coronavirus outbreak. By mid-March, it was clear that the impact on organisational events, training courses, and meetings, as well as the subsequent revenue, would be significant, but also that a dedicated channel for rapidly responding to the crisis was vital to organisational relevance during the pandemic. While resources and waste management are broadly vital to the economy, it is critical to pandemic response as signified by essential workers' status being assigned to sector professionals. Industry best practices and news evolved by the hour. With hundreds of members on the front lines, communication and information sharing among members to distribute these learnings was essential.

Members recognised this and reacted, requesting more robust member sharing opportunities from the organisation. A handful didn’t wait, starting up a Slack instance for a vital knowledge segment. Over 100 members and non-members signed up for the Slack channel within weeks. This clearly indicated that getting online sharing right was both a response to a threat and an opportunity for CIWM.

Well before the pandemic, key CIWM leaders and staff recognised the opportunities presented by online community. Gemma Smith, Head of Marketing & Communications, led review of community opportunities. “CIWM had been in touch with Cantarus for years”, Gemma confirmed. “In fact, the very last out-of-office meeting I attended was a MemberWise seminar by Cantarus on online community. The virus pushed online community adoption from a longer-term consideration to a high priority for us. Speed was essential – our member need was urgent, and members were adopting piecemeal solutions without us, so we knew we had to act fast.”

CIWM turned to Cantarus to seek pragmatic, expert advice on delivering a sophisticated online community offering as quickly as possible. Initial conversation centred on goals, member value, timeframe, integration, and price. Mark Eichler, Cantarus Chief Product Officer and lead community strategist, guided the process. “We understand online community, community strategy and related technologies intimately,” Mark said. “CIWM brought three final critical pieces to the project – capable staff, leadership buy-in, and member appetite. The combined CIWM/Cantarus team had all the elements to make the project a success in a very short timeframe”.

Cantarus listened and proposed a community adoption strategy tailored to CIWM’s needs:

Platform: Discourse

The leading open-source online forum platform was seen as the right fit for features and time to deliver. The open-source price point allowed the budget to be applied to critical integration work, branding, and support.

Integration: CRM

CIWM adopted iMIS as its CRM years before the project was initiated. We proposed providing an integration to populate the community, confirm member security, and utilise the existing login platform. Our technical staff would achieve the integration with minimal staff time and without staff interaction or support from the CRM vendor.

person working on a laptop

Community Strategy

CIWM and Cantarus confirmed key performance indicators for community success. Guided by Cantarus, the multipoint strategy based on industry best practices included:

  • Members Only – The future goals for CIWM’s online community include surfacing community content to non-members, with an initial focus on members to own “their space” before inviting in others.
  • Community Structure – An initial “all members forum” would offer a single primary place for members to interact and engage. Rigid segments for specific subgroups would be avoided at the initial launch and brought following initial adoption.
  • Community Management – Staff “owners” of the platform and specific tasks to perform across community lifecycle stages were confirmed; training provided.
two people in conversation
  • Seeding – Resources of high value are often the best conversation starters. The community would be pre-seeded with documents, links and conversations to ensure every community visitor’s first experience was of value to them.
  • Influencer Recruitment, Training & Tasking – Nearly all membership bodies have members and leaders who are well known and trusted. Recruiting these influencers to act on the seeded content and offer new knowledge enhances immediate value and establishes the community as a place for thought leadership.
  • Multi-part Launch Strategy – All available marketing resources, including the website, email marketing channels, public social media and the newsletter would be leveraged to drive adoption. Community management time commitment in the first two weeks would be increased and then tapered thereafter.

Following the initial meeting, we committed to an expeditious timeframe with a goal of 2 to 4 weeks for release.

With key CIWM staff, including CEO Sarah Poulter, taking a personal interest, the project progressed rapidly. Within two weeks the community platform was live, branded, and the initial integration performed. Key pre-release strategic objectives on content seeding were achieved and stakeholder recruitment had begun. Working closely as a single team allowed iteration on community and launch strategy on a number of points:

  • More categories for community conversations including a “strictly social” channel for non-professional exchange and sharing
  • A fully branded video tour of the platform offered to all members
  • A home page welcome banner featuring a personal greeting from the CEO
  • Launch day inclusion of an all-members webinar by CIWM staff and Cantarus
  • The launch timetable would be expedited

With evidence of the platform both looking good and working well, CIWM leadership noted that member engagement in other channels was on the rise. Respecting CIWM’s grasp of their member appetite and acknowledging the staff commitment to community management and support of adoption, it was agreed to speed up the timetable. Under guidance from Cantarus, multiple days were cut from the project launch timetable by limiting influencer support activities, pausing the integration sync, and delaying changes from UAT and other feedback to post-release without impact on quality.

The Results

Immediately following launch, it was apparent that the community offered a compelling and useful enhancement to CIWM member benefits. Reflecting a fully-formed community strategy, immediate utilisation was robust with member feedback strongly positive.

  • Time to Launch: 17 business days following project initiation meeting
  • 4,667 logins on launch day, over 10,000 within first week of launch
  • Over 20,000 unique page views within first week of launch
  • 119 new unique posts on launch day, over 300 within first week of launch

Our members were crying out for a way to connect and share knowledge at this difficult time. So, we teamed up with Cantarus and launched CIWM Connect. Hundreds of members immediately signed up and it’s growing every hour. Launch day was great: we had traction and member feedback is excellent. In the future all the team have a great answer to ‘what did you do during the Coronavirus pandemic?’ - we enabled the frontline resource and waste sector to connect, collaborate and keep up morale. The support from Cantarus has been invaluable.

Paul Sloggett Marketing Director & Community Project Lead

Want to know more?

Our Chief Product Officer, Mark Eichler, would love to chat with you about your online community needs.
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