In a perfect world, your association provides such value to members that you don't even need to recruit. Members rave to friends and colleagues, and the membership simply sells itself.

Our reality tells a different story, though, and membership marketing is a vital component of any association's existence.

Word of mouth has always been considered the most valuable marketing, and that remains true for associations. Just about half (49 percent) of all associations surveyed in MGI's benchmarking report cited personal recommendations as the most effective channel for recruitment — beating out email, the association website and direct mail.

However, outside of member-recruit-a-member programs, it's difficult to coordinate a word-of-mouth marketing plan.

Some good news is that business and communications are growing more digital by the day, which is opening up new opportunities to impact and supplement recruitment marketing. Associations can't stand by with the same tired marketing efforts. It's important to take advantage of new digital marketing avenues like data-driven targeting and social media (which can be crucial for reaching a new generation of potential members), while refreshing traditional methods.

Not your father's display advertising

Say "display advertising" and most people probably think banner ad. That may have been true in the past, but these days display is far more than that.

Thanks to persistent advances in technology, the life and reach of digital display efforts can be extended. Display advertising is just starting to blossom in the B2B space, and the tactic can prove beneficial for associations when used effectively. The key is getting those display ads in the right places, which can be accomplished more efficiently than ever thanks to data-driven persona and behavioral targeting, and by taking advantage of retargeting.

For example, many associations cite LinkedIn as, at minimum, indirect competition. The popular networking site offers professionals a place to meet and exchange resources and information potentially mitigating some of the leading reasons for investing to join an association. The International Coach Federation saw it a little differently.

ICF knew from research that 97 percent of its members were active on LinkedIn. Chances are, the association accurately predicted, there are plenty of potential members also in those communities who just need more information or gentle persuasion to join.

"It stood to reason there might be a lot of other people who have similar attributes who were on LinkedIn but just weren't members yet," said Michael Voss, director of brand management at ICF. "I think that's how we viewed it. I don't think we viewed LinkedIn as competition for us."

Instead, they turned it into fertile recruiting grounds. ICF opted for display advertising on LinkedIn (where it also already had a company page and group), targeting more than two dozen groups with ads, sponsored messages and updates in the LinkedIn news feed.

The result was almost 1,900 new members. The marketing effort cost ICF $25,000, but at $245 in dues revenue per new paid member (totaling over $450,000), it's not hard to see the return on investment.

It also helps to augment your display advertising with custom landing pages. Don't just point every display ad to your home page. A user clicked on that display ad because something in it triggered his or her action.

Maintain landing pages that cater to and expand on the information teased in those ads and, of course, offer a call to action for membership on the landing page. Even if a visitor to your website doesn't join on that visit, you've still gained another valuable asset for recruiting: a person who showed interest in your association. Now you can retarget them.

Retargeting with display

You may be familiar with the concept of retargeting and not even know it. If you've ever shopped for a specific product on a website, and then later noticed an ad in your web browser reminding you that you didn't purchase that product, you've been retargeted.

The concept for associations is similar. Many nonmembers may visit your website for various reasons. Maybe they clicked one of your display ads, maybe they're looking for professional opportunities in your field or industry, or maybe they're taking advantage of your content. Regardless of the reason, you want to convert those visitors into members.

It's now possible to tag your association's website visitors to with a retargeting pixel so that, in the event they don't join immediately, you can continue to personally reach them with targeted display advertising touting your benefits.

Social media

When it burst onto the scene, associations were desperate to make social media work for marketing and recruiting. To some end, it's still a work in progress, and few would likely boast they've mastered it. One of the best ways social media can aid recruitment is through a content marketing strategy.

Producing new and relevant content helps establish an association as an expert source, and it's likely your organization is already producing that content. Use social media to distribute the content and drive prospective members back to your website.

The association website was cited as the third-most important marketing channel, and social media can help drive people there. Once there, prospective members can see all the resources and value you have to offer, and you can also take advantage of aforementioned retargeting capabilities.

Social media in itself may not be a highly effective recruitment tool, but can be a useful supplement for efforts you already have in place.

This article is an adapted excerpt from the MultiView ebook "Modern Practices for Member Recruitment and Retention." See below for more information.

New ways to grow your membership

Getting more members in the door and making sure they renew is a neverending task for associations. As competition grows and membership becomes more fragmented, constantly innovating new ways of engaging your industry is a requirement for staying relevant, and this ebook helps you do that. It specifically covers:
  • Real tactics associations have used to grow membership
  • Strategies for creating more membership options
  • Digital marketing tactics for reaching potential members
  • Marketing ideas for engaging your current membership and encouraging them to renew
Download the free book now