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Digital Trends for Membership Organisations in 2017

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The membership sector has been going through a massive (albeit slow) change, with many membership organisations taking brave steps into the rapidly changing digital world.  Websites have improved, mobile sites have been launched, user journeys have been analysed and re-configured, new e-learning tools tried and tested.  The fast-evolving technological landscape, coupled with a demand from savvy users, has lead to a shift in the way that membership organisations view the digital world. This has lead to a realisation that true wins can be gained from taking advantage of everything the digital world has to offer – Membership recruitment, engagement and retention can all be supported and improved with the right digital solutions.

We recently published a report on the State of User Experience on Membership Sites.  Based on this report and our work in the sector, we’d like to offer our view of the digital trends we are expecting to see this year.

A more personalised member experience

Digital platforms allow for a great deal of personalisation, which is a great asset to any membership organisation.  A website that is integrated with the organisation’s membership management system has the ability to provide unique and personal information for each individual member.  Users today are becoming accustomed to a high level of personalisation in their day to day online experiences (in every aspect, from online shopping to bank accounts to social media). They also expect to have the ability to control and self service online.  Just imagine if any member or stakeholder could log into your website and view information that has been selected and organised just for them, based on their preferences or past site usage.  The potential is endless – From simple membership renewal, exactly when membership is about to run out (with the click of a button), to personalised e-courses or qualifications, personalised information about events coming up in their local area, etc.

Leading figures in the membership sector described “inadequate integration of membership management systems (CRM/databases) and websites (CMS)” among their key challenges in 2016.  Awareness is growing for the advantages of an integrated environment, and we believe 2017 will see more membership organisations undergoing a process of system integration, unleashing a whole range of new features and personal services for their members.

A mobile-first approach

Ever since smartphones overtook desktops as the most popular device for accessing the internet in the UK in 2015, this trend has been strengthening.  The particular target audience plays a factor in how acute this trend is, with younger audiences leading this trend, but the general shift in usage habits is unmistakeable and is spreading into all user segments.  Google has been increasingly favouring mobile-friendly sites in search results and considers this to be a major factor in determining website ranking.

Businesses have been adapting to this change by adopting a mobile-first approach, which means that mobile devices are considered first and foremost when launching a new digital platform or service, working upward to larger screen sizes.  The membership sector still has a ways to go in this respect.  In our report we found that only half of the websites analysed were optimised for viewing on mobile devices.  However more and more membership organisations are paying closer attention to mobile and we predict that we will begin to see more of a focus on mobile devices within the sector, with some leading organisations adopting the mobile-first approach.

A focus on security

One of the findings in our report was that 50% of the membership sites analysed did not take any steps to ensure secure browsing (such as using https), even when payment details were required, and not all sites had the appropriate security features in place. Apart from posing a risk to themselves and to their members, this practice is likely driving away potential new members, as users are becoming increasingly aware of online security threats.  If this isn’t convincing enough, Google favours secure websites in their search results as well.

Today it is easier than ever to implement secure browsing and it is recommended to use HTTPs throughout the site (and not just during the registration process, as this leaves the site and your users open to potential attacks). Including icons on your site that indicate to your users that you are giving them a safe browsing experience will foster trust.  Interestingly, in the space between our publishing the report and this article, one of the websites included in the report has since made the transition to https.  We guarantee that in 2017 many more will follow suit.

A holistic approach to online platforms

In our report we found a large difference in the attention given to different areas of the website.  For example, membership organisations were categorically giving more attention to areas that directly impact member registration (for example calls to action and aspects having to do with the registration form), while other aspects received less attention.  But seemingly minor features like error messages, help prompts and FAQ’s can also dramatically impact your website’s performance and directly impact online member recruitment.

At times we come across instances where digital platforms are not unified in their look and feel or content, or behave as separate entities.  This hinders brand recognition and continuity.  We believe 2017 will be the year that digital platforms unify.  Membership organisations looking to build or enhance their online brand will likely take a holistic approach to their online platforms as well as their digital marketing endeavours to create a unified online presence where all elements work together to achieve the common goal.

An evolving approach to digital

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the world is a dynamic place.  Change is the constant and in order to succeed you must be constantly evolving along with it.  Luckily, websites and other digital platforms are geared for fast paced changes and updates.  It is often quite simple and quick to try different things, make changes and test again.  By measuring results in an effective way you can keep on top of what works best for your members and continuously modify to give them the best experience possible.

Keeping up with technological advancements and making the most of them will become more and more commonplace.  Some membership organisations find this difficult because of the nature of their legacy systems or the way that they are structured.  But over time, we believe organisations will find a way to become more agile, and be more open to testing and tweaking ideas to find the ones that work best for their membership community online.

We are excited to witness and take part in the digital evolvement of the sector in 2017.  If we can help you with your digital strategy or your website please get in touch below, and If you missed our report you can always find it here.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Morgana, Unsplash