How to Help Your Members to NetworkApril 7th, 2017 | Share on:
What attracts members to your organisation, and what makes them stay? The feeling that they are getting something out of their membership. One of the main benefits that people typically seek from joining is networking opportunities.
Networking provides value to your members in the form of social capital, meaning the value of who you know. Professional contacts, potential new clients, mentors - there are many examples of social capital that your members can gain through networking.
Increasing social capital is particularly valuable to young professionals. 93% of respondents under 40 in the Professional Organizations Study acknowledge that social capital is important to their professional lives.
If you can enable your members to network in a way that corresponds to their needs, chances are that this motivates them to stay engaged. So how can you help your members network?
Identify the networking needs of your members
First, you need to understand what your members are looking to get out of networking. If your organisation is a B2B network, the primary aims might be to gain contacts that will lead to new clients, or to exchange industry information. For other membership organisations it might be more important to help your members build potential collaboration links, making friends, or finding a mentor.
The key is to think of networking as a service you provide to your members based on their needs. So what makes your service unique? LinkedIn already exists, so what is special about your organisation and its networking opportunities? The intimacy of a smaller community with shared values is a start, but you will still need to work to enable member interaction.
Meaningful interaction - online and offline
One way of providing your members with unique and meaningful ways of networking is through events. Members will rarely connect with each other unless they have already had an encounter, online or offline. A World Bank study showed that repeated interaction builds social capital in organisations.
Events help your members with the initial encounter because it brings them together around something specific. Regularity is important in order to structure networking opportunities and give your members meaningful and repeated encounters.
Andrea Murphy, community team manager at Meetup says “You really want to set that cadence so they know the ebbs and flows of activity in the group.” When events are sporadic, “people don’t know what to expect.”
Events are not limited to conferences, lectures, or drink receptions. The benefits of events networking can also be achieved online, through for example video calls, webinars, or live chat sessions on specific topics.
RESULTS UK is an example of a geographically dispersed association that provides networking primarily through online channels. RESULTS UK helps their members to connect by organising monthly conference calls. The conference calls always include a guest who members can ask questions, increasing incentive to participate in the call.
Remember that online and offline networking complement each other. Something as simple as providing attendee lists to help people connect online before and after events can go a long way.
Give a push
Whether your networking happens online or offline, your role is to give enough structure to incentivise your members to talk to each other. At events or webinars, gathering your members around guest speakers is a good way of encouraging structured conversations on topics that you know your members want covered.
Ask for input on what your members would like to see at online and offline events to make sure that you’re concentrating on what really interests them. After an event, make sure to follow up afterwards to ask how they found it.
Perhaps most importantly, give time for your members to simply chat with each other. Live events might lend themselves to this more naturally during coffee breaks and post-event drinks. However, there are ways of achieving this element online too. For example, you can set up a special forum in your online community for people who attended the same webinar.
Mentorship programmes can also be a concrete way of connecting your members. Many associations, such as the Professional Women’s Network, have long incorporated successful mentoring programmes for their members as part of their networking activities.
Connecting members to each other and to your association
The social capital gained from networking is crucial and attractive value that your membership organisation can provide members. You can help to bring your members together by providing the right platforms and structure. Events, structured online sessions, and mentoring programmes are ways to help your members connect with each other - online and offline.
It is likely that the more social capital you help your members acquire, the more they will want to stay, engage, and spread the word about your organisation. At its best, networking means a win for all.