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How Does a Trade Association Engage Its Member’s Members?

Written by Carlos Restrepo, CAE on . Posted in Association, Community, Community Management, Social CRM for Associations


In a previous post I talked about the importance of developing a Code of Conduct for your community; the purpose of which should be to establish what your community’s participants can do, and to set the benchmark for your community’s identify.

That helps define how your community members can get engaged. Now, I want to explore another side of engagement – how do we reach our customer’s customers? For trade associations and businesses that cater to other businesses, it is often difficult to engage the much larger population associated with their direct members in a social environment. This creates the challenge of amplifying the message and value of your social community. As we all know, individuals make up communities and by dealing with just one company representative means the impact of your social community is minimized.

For all of you who are trying to mine into your customers portals, I offer these tips.

Are You Communicating Down?
Clearly communicate the value of your community to your member’s members by giving them talking points they can leverage as value-added propositions. Even I got a little lost on that one, so let me break it down:

  1. Work with your members to establish talking points they can use to entice their members/staff to participate.
  2. Provide communities of interests that will appeal to their constituency’s base.
  3. Continuously encourage your member companies to invite their members and staff to contribute to your newsletters and community announcements.
  4. Create a welcoming message that establishes the community as a “community of interest” with all invited to participate as a member benefit.
  5. Instill ownership in your messaging that clearly speaks to the individual and not the organization.

Remember we are trying to reach the individual two or more levels down from the member organization you work with on a daily basis, so identify the best way to communicate that to your members.

Do They Know They Can?
I have seen this across all types of communities, but in communities established by trade associations this seems to be even truer – do the members of the community know they can participate in the community? A simple question, but one we often take for granted.  Many times membership in a trade association is managed by a niche group, and/or not clearly communicated to the organization’s members or staff. As such, member organization employees have limited knowledge and access to the benefits of the trade association and often err on the side of caution and avoid participating. A community would fall under that category. What can you do about it? If you find out, let me know – that’s a million dollar solution!

 As it stands, I believe these tips can help (not solve) the situation:

  1. Communicate – see above and I really can’t emphasize it enough.
  2. Take advantage of your Social CRM to invite individuals associated with your member organizations to participate directly. NOTE: Understand your privacy guidelines and outreach practices. As a trade association you may have governance requirements that prohibit this type of activity.
  3. Remember the power of social – this is a networking opportunity and the community should foster these types of activities by being transparent and welcoming.
  4. Take advantage of the platform your community uses – with Avectra’s MemberFuse platform, for example, you can create targeted content that walks individuals through their first engagement moment. Show them videos of what they can do in the community and target the message to your customer’s customers.
  5. Work with your membership to demonstrate the value of the community to their members/staff. This may include participating at trade shows, setting up online office hours for their members/staff to ask questions within the community, or just create fun groups not directly associated with your organization’s core competencies just to get others in the door.
  6. Finally, create incentives for high levels of participation from your member organizations.  Some Incentives may cost you very little to implement, e.g. show discounts, featuring a member in your community, providing special badge ribbons for participation, etc.

In the end, the goal is always the same – get people to use the community by welcoming them to the community and showing them how it is done. Know your target audience, know your purpose and bring those two together to execute.


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Carlos Restrepo, CAE

Carlos spends a great deal of time thinking about nonprofits and their use of technology – focusing on association management software (AMS) and social communities. He works with nonprofits looking to maximize the return on investment (ROI) of their AMS or Social CRM. His blog posts present various tips and lessons learned, and create an area where others can discuss ideas. Carlos looks forward to sharing his musings on the strategic use of technology by associations.

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