AACC is a global scientific and medical professional organization dedicated to better health through laboratory medicine. We are a membership association and—like most associations—we constantly strive to bring more value to our members. In 2014, AACC launched its first online community for just that purpose.
Unfortunately, this first community platform had a number of problems. One serious issue was the platform did not support automated daily discussion digests. To resolve this, I created manual digests and sent these to members. In addition to being time-consuming, this meant members could not reply to the digests as a way of interacting with the community. Other concerns with the platform included an unfriendly interface that made it difficult for members to message each other privately and a mobile version that never worked properly – both of which limited opportunities for interaction.
I could see this platform would not work for AACC member needs in the long term. As a result, I spent the time remaining on the contract with the original vendor researching other options and learning what platform would really work to give our members a great interactive experience and increase engagement with the association. I was able to present these options to the management team at AACC and get buy-in for a change to Higher Logic.
After deploying the new platform from Higher Logic, the difference has been extraordinary. The new and improved capabilities translated directly into increased activity on the community, and when I compared activity during January, February, and March of 2016 to only mid-February to the end of March 2017, I found an amazing 150 percent increase.
I think that other organizations can use AACC experiences to help with their online community engagement. Here are some lessons I learned:
1. Do your homework. The online community platform you choose should, from the start, provide every opportunity for members to share, collaborate, mentor, and learn. To make sure your new platform will do this, go beyond a mere feature checklist. Attend seminars and webinars provided by vendors and talk directly to other organizations that have adopted the platforms.
2. Insist on automation. Fully automated daily digests are a powerful trigger for members to see what is happening in the community and stay engaged. Make sure they can simply reply to a digest as a way to interact with the community. By eliminating the need to log into a separate system, this encourages immediate responses, which in turn increases activity
3. Take advantage of mobility. Whether via a responsive, flexible website design or a mobile app, make sure your members can participate in your community remotely— anywhere, anytime—again leading to more activity.
4. Encourage private messaging. This very popular capability adds significant value to the AACC community, allowing it to serve as the go-to method for a lot of direct member communication.
5. Leverage subgroups. Make sure you can easily create an unlimited number of subgroups. We have now launched 43 of them, including our Open Forum and many related to chapters, topics of interest, and organization events. These subgroups significantly increase the value of AACC for members.
6. Reward engaged behavior. Having a platform with a number of ways to measure engagement is helpful if you plan to run an active member program. One successful key tactic for us is naming community ambassadors who receive special perks. This has encouraged more relationship-building and activity overall.
7. Personalize the experience. Now that we have a platform that allows for creating a unique dashboard for each user persona, we aim to convert more visitors into active users by personalizing their experiences within the platform. And with the ability to associate automation rules to these personas to encourage actions and behaviors, we’re exploring ways to lead more users down different engagement paths and track conversions from “lurker” to “contributor.”
I hope the lessons AACC has learned through our online community program transition between platforms can be useful to other organizations, as they work toward their community and engagement goals. I know we at AACC are excited to see what the future will bring.
Simona Ciampi, Associate Director, Online Member Engagement at AACC.
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