Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lurkers & Mailboxers: same association member type but different generations??

From Mailboxers to Lurkers, most association members still "sit on the sidelines" watching.
During our panel session at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference (Marketing the Association in the Digital Era), someone – noting limited participation in association social media sites – asked why we advocated involvement in social media marketing.

Interesting question.

Which made me recall the “mailboxer” label and what it means for associations today.

When I managed the membership department of a large national association (back in the 1980s), we labeled the largest group of members as “mailboxers.” They joined to get our newsletters and magazine. They did not attend the annual conference. They did not volunteer for a committee or the board. They rarely, if ever, participated in a congressional call to action. During this “pre-Internet” era, a 2% to 3% response to a direct mail campaign was considered the gold standard by most in the association world.

Now that we’ve entered the digital era, most of us have taken to calling this same group of people “lurkers.” It is normally the largest group of members. They follow us on Twitter or Facebook but they rarely like or retweet. They may read our blog posts but seldom post a comment. Like the mailboxers of 30 years ago, this segment of our membership doesn’t really want to get engaged.

Think about it: What percent of your members attend your annual conference? Or, register for your webinar? What percent contact a member of Congress when you urge action?

So, where does this leave us? How do we measure our results?

A couple of weeks ago, several ASAE members were discussing the concept of a member engagement index. A possible tool that measures member engagement with your association. They referred to a 2007 Forrester Research white paper titled “Marketing’s New Key Metric: Engagement” that included a definition of engagement in 2007.

From Forrester’s perspective (as shared by Dean West, president of Association Laboratory Inc.) engagement consists of four important components.

Involvement - the "touches" between a person and the organization
This component of engagement is the basic approach of a person to the association. Common measurements would be web page views or requests for information. At this point there is no "back and forth" or purchase transaction.

Interaction - the contributions or back and forth between the person and the organization
Interactions represent the common "transactions" between a member and the association. Interactions would include becoming a member, purchasing a book or registering for a conference. Interactions go both ways though, so this area also includes volunteering or writing an article for the newsletter. Interaction is not only when the person requests and receives something from the association but also begins to contribute to the association.

Intimacy - the sentiment (likes or dislikes) of the person regarding the organization
Intimacy represents how the person "feels" about the association. Potential measures might include satisfaction or net promoter scores or "likes" on the association's facebook. Intimacy is indicative of a person's emotional commitment to the association.

Influence - the likelihood and strength of a person's promotion or advocacy for the organization
The influence stage is when the member (or other stakeholder) begins to actively promote the association, for example, through a member-get-a-member campaign.

When taken together, these four components represent a model of engagement that can be measured, tracked and used to guide business strategy.

Social media gives associations another tool to engage with members and further encourage communities. Are you finding tools to measure this engagement?


  1. I like how you emphasized the silver lining between "personal involvement" and "call to action" in this lurker-generation. I for one can be tapped to be an active participant if the causes of an organization will have a more direct and tangible impact to my involvement as compared to just facts and figures.

  2. Social media is indeed very helpful among business owners who use internet as one of their advertising tools. However, it is proven for that direct mail marketing is still one of the best and the most economical way to advertise or promote a certain business. The process of repetition also makes this strategy a success. This only means that sending mails to the same recipients in a span of time is effective.