Put the Personal Back in Your Technology

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How to make your member engagements more individual, targeted, and relevant.

Every time I log onto Facebook and it serves up photos of "people you may know" who aren't anyone I've ever met, I become a little disappointed. Don't you know me by now, Facebook? Personalization is expected online today. I expect Amazon to recommend something I want to buy based on my past purchases. I expect NYTimes.com to suggest something I want to read based on what I've read before. I expect websites I frequent to say "Hi, Carolyn!" because if they don't, I must not matter to them.

The internet's biggest companies realize that personalization builds loyalty, and personally relevant content improves how consumers feel about a brand.

According to the global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, "Brands that create personalized experiences by integrating advanced digital technologies and proprietary data for customers are seeing revenue increase by 6 to 10 percent, and two to three times faster than those that don͛t."

And there's a growing belief that this consumer trend is affecting associations. According to a study by the association management company Abila, "Today's members have higher expectations of how technology can be used to personalize their experience with organizations to which they belong."

The good news for REALTOR® associations is that personalization doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. True, the personalization efforts at large brands include dedicated personnel, sophisticated big data design, behavioral analytics software, and artificial intelligence, but there is a wide range of opportunities to personalize your association's interactions with members. You're probably practicing personalization already.

The first step, though, is to ensure that your association staff and leaders buy into why personalization is important. The self-service online portals you've invested in that enable members to pay their dues, register for classes, watch webinars, and earn CE credits without ever talking to a staff person are important advancements in your association management processes, but they have one drawback: lack of human interaction. Personalization, studies show, gives members a sense of community and identity; they cease to be one of the masses and instead become an individual with unique wants and needs that are being addressed.

A recent Accenture Consulting study found that 55 percent of nonprofit donors would give or volunteer more in exchange for a more personalized experience.

It's easy to see how personalization (based on past activity or accomplishments) can drive participation, attract volunteers, draw attendees to events and classes, and boost involvement in legislative calls to action and investment in RPAC.

Here are a number of ways you can ensure that the personal remains at the forefront of the membership experience.

Create customized content and exclusive offers

Instead of sending the same email newsletter to all members with the same news and information, segment your membership list according to a range of factors, such as new members, top producers, conference attendees, active volunteers, and broker-owners.

According to the Community Brands Digital Member Study (2017), nearly 70 percent of surveyed members expressed interest in receiving personalized content based on their past activity—this is especially true for millennials and Generation X members.

For one member who is a top producer, for example, a personalized newsletter might include an exclusive invitation to register early for an event. Members who attended your conference may be interested in presentation slides, while those who didn't attend likely won't be as interested. Offer personalized session and event recommendations based on previous class attendance or experience level.

Kyla McKown Barcus, director of communications and outreach at the Kansas City Regional Association of REALTORS®, uses the Click Dimensions product within the RAMCO member management system to regularly conduct targeted member communications. "We have automated drip email campaigns for segments, such as new members who receive a series of 20 emails over a four-month period," she says. "We plan to do much more segmenting and our hope is to be able to use both our association data and MLS data to customize our messaging. For example, we hope to launch education promotions based on both previous class attendance and agent productivity markers to send more personalized CE recommendations."

Invite members to choose their personalization

Tailored email newsletters help members get information only on the topics they're interested in and most likely to engage with instead of updates that don͛t apply to them. But be careful not to pigeonhole members without their input. Your new member may not be new to real estate, and your older member may actually have been inactive for the past decade and needs to be brought back up to speed. Ask members to fill out a form or otherwise opt into personalized content.

Christy Broccardo-Grove, digital media manager at the Illinois Association of REALTORS®, offers several communication subscription options to members using the RAMCO email platform.

Julie Franzese, director of communications and marketing at the Greater Rochester Association of REALTORS® in New York, recently launched an online portal where members can log on to a personalized page to pay their dues and register for classes. The portal (a new feature in their MMSI membership software solution) also has personalization capability, enabling Franzese to select groups to target for messages. "A recent message about appraisal classes was posted only to the portal of our appraiser members," she says, "and soon, we will have the ability to show members the classes and events closest to them since we cover a large geographical area. We love the portal, and our satisfaction rating with respect to communications on member surveys has increased by more than 20 percent."

Collect data on members and reflect it back to them

If someone won your REALTOR® of the Year Award, always identify their communications with that information. If members serve on a committee, always identify them with their involvement. The same goes for Golden Rs, leadership past and present, and designation holders. Show members that you value their accomplishments and contributions.

Not every membership database system or email newsletter software is set up to automate personalization today, but as the trend continues, expect the technology to become cheaper, more sophisticated, and more available. Start collecting the data about your members now that you'll need to build effective personalization in the future.

Never pass up the opportunity to interact in person

It may sound obvious, but personalization can be as simple as listing your phone number or office location on your website and inviting members to call or stop by. The Miami REALTORS® "contact us" website page encourages members to visit "your beautiful Miami headquarters" in person and enjoy a "great cup of Starbucks coffee." Many associations, including the Chicago Association of REALTORS® and the national association, offer a live chat option online for members who just need a bit of personalized assistance on demand.

Engage members where they are most comfortable

A multichannel approach to member engagement creates a more relevant and personalized member experience. Just imagine how impersonal a text message seems to a member who doesn't text, or an invitation to join a Facebook group sent to a member who doesn't use Facebook. By using questionnaires and opt-in preferences, you'll learn which channels will be most effective to reach and engage members.

Invite members to like, dislike, rate, and comment

Personalization is a two-way street, meaning that members want you to see them as individuals with likes, dislikes, and opinions, so let them express these wherever possible. The Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS®' website is built on a platform that includes a comment field under each article. However, if managing members disparate comments isn't feasible, try posting a quick evergreen "how was your experience with us today?" survey on your website with a link from your emails. This feedback mechanism shows members that you're listening, and it can help you identify and resolve issues before they escalate.

Show your personal side though video

You've probably heard that video is one of the hottest and most effective ways to engage with members. You may even have a weekly or monthly member video that you or your association president posts on YouTube. Take your videos to the next level by customizing them for different audiences or create a monthly video for new members or an exclusive brokers-only market update. Video is very personal by nature, so be yourself in videos, friendly but professional. Introduce staff and give members the opportunity to get to know leadership, as well.

Don't anonymize your social media

Facebook is naturally one of the best ways to personalize association communications because, although the messages aren't often to an individual, they are from real people. However, many associations have branded accounts that take the personal out of the platform. Although consistency is important in messaging, rally leadership, committee members, and volunteers to help spread news about association products and services from their personal accounts.

Send greetings and congratulations

Facebook sends you a birthday greeting, so why not send one to your members? Bob Jones, director of communications at the Dayton Area Association of REALTORS®, uses his member management software to wish members a happy birthday and a happy anniversary of joining the association. Look around and find the personalized experiences in your daily life and extend those to your members.

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