Purpose Before Pursuit: How Meaningful Engagement Changes Everything

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Associations have long held the maxim of members first at the heart of their activities — including their publishing. And although the philosophy of members first is second nature for many of us, understanding what members need first is a much better strategy — and a much more exciting opportunity.


Lou Ann Sabatier, principal for Sabatier Consulting, says when associations deliberately frame their engagement strategies — and therefore their content strategies — with the member at the center of everything, they begin to see even greater success.


The key is understanding what engagement really means and what it means for your members.


Sabatier says engagement is often misunderstood. Too often the lure of data pulls people away from what matters. “They want to talk about specific data from specific platforms,” she says. “Can you tell me how the number of clicks on your website advances your association’s goals? If not, then we need to be talking about what does.”


Part of the problem is that having a standard definition of engagement wouldn’t be helpful. “Engagement should be defined by the needs of the association,” Sabatier says. “If your association’s mission is to get people to attend webinars, then let’s talk about your webinar numbers. Otherwise it’s isolated data that can give us an inaccurate picture of success.”


For some associations, disseminating information is the most important thing. For them the only engagement they need is members opening the email or reading the white paper. For some associations, engagement means getting members involved in creating or changing legislation. Content to spur that kind of action is very different.


Without a clear picture of what purpose engagement serves, there cannot be a clear or effective plan to pursue it. The determination of both, Sabatier says, requires a full team effort.


“To be clear, associations are doing a good job, but for the most part they aren’t going deep enough,” she says. “This is not something that can be relegated to one person or one team. This shouldn’t be just editorial or membership or marketing. It needs to be top down. Everyone from the board down needs to be involved in defining engagement and then in determining how their daily efforts can drive toward that.”


An accurate and effective understanding of this framework can’t come solely from association staff nor can it come solely from the membership.


This article was excerpted from “Are You Pushing With Purpose,” Signature, June-July 2019. Signature is a benefit of membership in Association Media & Publishing. To read the original article, join Association Media & Publishing today.