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The State of Digital 2019: The Results Explained

March 2019 5 min read

Digital Excellence 2018 is an annual MemberWise event for the membership and association sector. A conference with a digital focus, the event features over 50 educational sessions and hosts a variety of expert speakers. The conference allows sector professionals the opportunity to learn all about the latest digital achievements and get interesting insights.

As part of the digital expert panel at last year’s event, Cantarus CEO & Co-founder, Lee Adams, had his say on the results from the Digital Excellence 2019 survey summary report. This report is a statistically noteworthy piece of research conducted with 350 membership organisations and associations.

The panel covered a range of themes, from the results implications, to how these insights might guide current and future approaches to digital, to comparing the results with the global membership association sector. The panel also discussed the immediate and future steps which will need to be taken in order to optimise overall digital performance.

The first port of call was a conversation across the panel about what everyone believes will be next for the membership sector after reviewing the report, with the overall consensus centred around more personalised engagement experiences for members. This will be made possible with the addition of new features based on artificial intelligence and more intelligent use of data collection in general.

The panel then moved on to talk about what they found the most surprising results from the survey; discussions began with noting that few organisations actually have an engagement strategy. Only 30% of organisations have a formalised member engagement strategy or plan which includes details of current and future initiatives. Considering the report also shows that member engagement is the top priority, this is quite surprising – is it possible to meet the need for better engagement without having a proper digital strategy in place? Mark EIchler from Higher Logic spoke about the significance of engagement in terms of likelihood of renewals, as well as in terms of membership. However, perhaps encouragingly, the report does mention that organisations are beginning to take engagement more seriously; only a miniscule 5% have no intention of developing an engagement plan in future.

Another interesting result was that many organisations are unhappy with their projects. Organisations are willing to invest heavily in new systems, yet so many are still dissatisfied with the results. 25% of organisations have said they’re likely to replace their outdated systems within the next year. Only 43% of participants said they would recommend their current CRM system – quite a shocking statistic considering just how much time and money organisations invest into their CRMs. While this is an increase (up 5% from last year), it shows how much still needs to be done in this area on the whole.

On the flip side, the results showed an increase in satisfaction from organisations with their suppliers – more than 6 in 10 professionals have indicated that they are either very or most likely to remain with their current provider. This can be boiled down to things like better products, improved business solutions and an increase in technical skills within organisations. Thanks to the GEN X’s and Millennials, staff skills have improved as typically young people are more ‘in-the-know’ when it comes to all things digital, and therefore staff are more tech-savvy than ever before. As Lee discussed on the panel, putting on and attending conferences like Digital Excellence 2018 can be a really useful way to educate both suppliers and clients. Suppliers in particular have a need to understand where the gaps are, what is working – and what isn’t. That’s the key to these events, as Lee notes, they help us to gain a better understanding of each other and ultimately give us the ability to do a better job overall.

So, how much are we doing more engagement, how much are we just talking about doing more engagement, and is there a risk of engagement for the sake of it?

MemberWise Founder, Richard Gott raised a really interesting point about how engagement is often still seen as a buzzword – for instance, it’s thrown into the usual spiel of “it’ll improve your engagement… it’ll enhance engagement” to draw people in, rather than providing actual value or specifics. However, tools like AI and products out there do exist that can provide better insights on things such as member renewals and the reasons why certain members won’t renew. If we’re moving towards bigger and better engagement, the question definitely remains as to ‘are we there yet?’

Of course, there couldn’t be a digital panel without any mention of social media. So, how important is it really? Does it truly matter how many likes or retweets you get if they don’t mean anything of value in the long run? Social media presence within the sector has increased, with around 8 in 10 organisations regularly using social media as a way of driving traffic to their website, but a large proportion of memberships still don’t engage regularly with social media. At the same time, you may have different objectives for each of your social channels. Lee talks about how organisations might use platforms like Instagram as a tool for building brand awareness, so measuring engagement isn’t that important, whereas you might be using Twitter and Facebook for pushing sales and reaching users, so measuring engagement would be a necessity. Twitter continues to be the most commonly used platform (97%) followed by LinkedIn (83%) and Facebook (80%). Despite this investment in social media, only 3 in 10 organisations have a structured online social media strategy, but there’s still a general belief that social media engagement on the whole is increasing.

To wrap things up, the panel had one last chat around predictions for next year’s survey focus. There were a variety of potential themes from member value to new member acquisition to digital leadership, and interestingly, perhaps more of a focus on how organisations understand and accept risk and implement a fail fast culture.

Click here to download the full Digital Excellence Research Summary 2019 report.

Find out more about the next conference, Digital Excellence 2019 here. Registration will open in June 2019.


Written by Tabby Duff

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author unless explicitly stated. Unless of course, the article made you laugh, in which case, all credit should be directed towards our marketing department.