By Evan Hendershot – Digital Marketing Specialist
Most associations use member stories to improve member retention and recruitment. And rightfully so, as 9 out of 10 people deemed customer testimonials influence their buying decisions.
But there’s a huge difference between the two-sentence testimonial that’s tacked onto your organization’s website and the stories that help members and prospective members connect emotionally with the subject of the story. It’s that real, honest human connection — one that focuses heavily on the member and not the association — that builds respect and admiration for your organization.
Rather than those less-than-believable talking head testimonial videos and bland one-liners on your association’s website, try shooting for quality over quantity. To help you get started, I’ve put together a list of lessons learned from my years as journalist to create stories that inspire current and future members.
How to Tell Engaging Member Stories
Step 1: Focus on What Makes Members Unique
Resist the urge to generalize.
When you’re on the marketing or membership team for an association with thousands of members, your first thought may be to find members who check all of the right boxes — whose story would appeal to the largest swath of members.
The thing is, people don’t love ordinary. People aren’t energized by what’s boring. Most members don’t want to read or watch stories about people just like them.
Your members likely joined the association to broaden their horizons and improve their overall professional skills. By sharing stories similar to the typical member experience, you’re depriving members of the full scope of benefits you have to offer. They won’t be exposed to the often overlooked advantages of being a member.
Step 2: Create Different Content for Different Mediums
Your website is not the place to publish a 2,000-word feature story about a member.
According to a study by Databox, most marketers said their website’s average sessions was only 2-3 minutes. That gives prospective members just enough time to navigate to your member stories and testimonials before they begin increasingly likely to lose interest.
The best way to ensure that the right message is getting across to prospective members is to clip these stories down to three or four paragraphs. Then, in your association’s email newsletter or print publication — places where longer-form content is expected — share those 2,000-word features that really dig into the details about your member’s experience with the association.
Step 3: Seek Media Coverage
As newsrooms shrink by the day, it’s more challenging to find a friendly journalist willing to feature a member. But as each reporters’ duties expand, there’s no doubt that many journalists are often on the hunt for a quick, easy and good article. That’s where you come in.
This step is all about seizing the moment. When your industry itself in the national spotlight, pitch a quick story about a local member who overcome a challenge or solved an ongoing problem. It’s a great way for a smaller marketing team to get someone else to write the member story for you. And as a bonus, a journalist’s perspective will add some much-needed third-party credibility to your member testimonials.
When it’s all said and done, just add a link to the story on your website, post it on social media, and there you have it.
Step 4: Visit Members Where They Work
We all know those testimonials recorded at an annual conference where members barely scratch the surface of the benefits afforded to them when they join your organization. Once you’ve seen one of those videos, you’ve seen them all.
Unfortunately, these member testimonials have a tendency to appear forced and coerced, even when they’re not. While these are fantastic to have in your back pocket, try to go a little bit bigger.
If your budget allows, try making member visits. Not only will you be better suited to set the scene and put the reader in your member’s shoes, but you’ll have far better photos and video of the member in their natural habitat, if you will. That’s much more interesting than a bunch of talking heads in front of a branded backdrop, isn’t it?
4 Quick Storytelling Lessons to Be Learned from Journalism
Here are a handful of quick tips to take the impact of your member stories to the next level.
1 – Don’t Feature the Same Folks as Usual
If you’re telling the same member stories over and over again, or continually feeding reporters the same sources, try changing things up. You have too many members with so many unique stories to focus on just a few.
2 – Share the Spotlight
As a reporter, I helped cover a 17-county region of South Dakota. Our subscribers were effectively our members, and if we were to neglect one town for too long, it would most likely impact subscription rates in that area.
Your association should try thinking similarly. If you forget to highlight members from other cities, states or nations, the members in those neglected regions may forget you, too.
3 – Be True to Their Story. Don’t Embellish for the Association’s Sake
It’s natural to try and turn a member’s story into an association story. But be careful to remember that members want to see how you’ve helped people like them, not vice versa.
4 – Cast a Wide Net
You’re going to hear the word, “no,” a lot more than you’d care to when asking members to share their story with the association. Or, members may not follow through with a request from the membership or marketing team. By casting a wide net, you’ll have far greater odds that more members follow through.
After reading this post, it should be clear that it’s more difficult to tell member stories and capture testimonials than those of you outside of the membership and marketing departments may have thought.
But if you want these member stories to be truly actionable, pushing prospective members just that much closer to joining the organization, it’s worth putting in all that extra time and effort.
For more member engagement and retention tips, check out our complimentary e-book, “Association Experts Share the Hidden Truths to Member Engagement.”
About the Author: Evan is the digital marketing specialist at Protech, and previously served as a reporter and assistant editor at a newspaper in South Dakota.