August 26, 2019
Word-of-mouth marketing is the oldest and most effective marketing tactic. Even back in medieval times, if you wanted to know who sold the best oxen, you listened to the advice of friends and neighbors. Now, 83% of consumers say a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or family member makes them more likely to make a purchase.
You can use this powerful marketing method to recruit members to your association. It’s less expensive than other tactics, but does require time and effort.
During the 20th century, marketing and behavioral science became partners in the art and science of persuasion. Marketers started basing campaign decisions on behavioral science research. Social psychologist Robert Cialdini took on marketing guru-like status upon publishing his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
One of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion is social proof: we tend to do what we see others doing. Psychologists say this behavior goes back to our hunter-gatherer days. We follow social norms by adapting our behavior to what we see around us to remain or become socially acceptable. Otherwise, we might get kicked out of the tribe, a death sentence back then. These social precepts have been stuck in our lizard brain ever since.
Social proof can be amplified. It takes on even greater significance when we see people we know, like, or trust doing something, for example, our family and friends, or people we think are similar to us, even if we don’t know them.
Another amplifying factor is the behavior of experts and influencers. When social proof is combined with authority, another of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, you are many times more likely to style your behavior after someone else’s.
You’ve seen countless examples of social proof in action. Something becomes inevitable or desirable because we see other people doing or recommending it, for example:
Before you try out these word-of-mouth marketing tactics, make sure your membership experience is worth talking about. No one is going to rave about your association unless you offer an excellent membership value proposition.
Encourage members to recruit new members. Provide recruitment talking points for different audience segments, and tips that teach members how to talk about membership benefits and impact, not membership features.
Reward members who put their reputation on the line by recommending membership. They’re making an effort on their own time to reach out to a prospect, follow up, and perhaps even help them during new member onboarding.
Show appreciation by giving successful recruiters a promo code for an event or product, an invitation to an exclusive event, or other VIP treatment. Give them a choice of rewards: what appeals to one member may not appeal to another. If you know the lifetime value of membership, you can figure out how much you can afford to spend on a reward—probably more than you think.
Include testimonials in marketing messages and collateral. Make sure you use a testimonial from someone in the same membership segment as the prospect.
Collect testimonials in quick interviews over the phone or by email. Craft a testimonial based on your conversation. Paraphrase for readability but capture their language as much as possible—you don’t want all your testimonials to sound like the same person. Focus the testimonial on the selling points or value proposition for that particular audience segment. Ideally, use a “problem, solution, results” format.
Get the member’s approval on the final version and permission to embed a link to their website or LinkedIn profile—another proof of credibility.
Membership success stories are turbo-charged testimonials. When you hear a good testimonial, dig deeper so you can turn it into a longer story to share on your website/blog and in newsletters. Because these success stories illustrate the possibilities of membership, they are good for existing members to see as well.
Companies (like ours) use case studies (and video testimonials) to share client success stories. Your success stories can use the same format—problem, solution, results—to show how membership makes an impact. Make sure you collect success stories from all membership segments.
If you’re creating success stories from scratch, use a Q&A template to facilitate collection. Just like testimonials, paraphrase and edit member responses to transform them into compelling stories.
There’s no better advertising than members sharing enthusiastic photos and posts about their membership experience—the ultimate social proof. Make it more likely this type of sharing will happen by giving members an experience to talk about. Create “natural” and Instagram-friendly selfie spots.
People love an excuse to humblebrag. Encourage members to share photos about association projects and causes that move them, whether it’s a grand challenge or a community service project.
Conference hashtags are a standard now, but consider a unique hashtag for contributions to your professional community or participation in association activities, such as volunteering, social events, educational events, committee meetings, webinars, and online learning. Create a hashtag that’s related to your industry/profession, not just your association abbreviation, so it’s used widely.
Find new ways to spread the membership buzz. Keep an eye on pop culture and social memes so you can creatively tweak one for your association.
Get influencers to talk about your association in a positive way and you’ll amplify social proof with their expert’s seal of approval.
Focus on influencers who have a platform where they regularly share their opinions, such as a website, blog, or podcast, or a regular column on an industry website. Even a social media platform like LinkedIn or Twitter will do.
Show influencers how the association makes an impact on the industry and members’ lives. Invite them to a conversation with association leaders, or ask for their help with a mutually appealing project. Don’t just play “show and tell.” Ask for their insight too. How do they think your association could make a bigger impact?
Create situations where your loyal fans have the opportunity to talk with membership prospects. For example, ask membership ambassadors to find and hang out with prospects at events.
Real member photos are better than stock photos. Remember, you want to remind your audience that your membership is full of people just like them. If they recognize faces, all the better. But, make sure these faces represent all segments of your membership and target audience.
Show off statistics that illustrate your value, for example, market penetration, percentage of industry award winners who are members, and other industry accolades. Use only compelling stats; mediocre social proof is worse than no social proof.
People like belonging to an organization that everyone raves about—and association professionals like using software their peers rave about. See social proof in action in a case study that explains why one association gives MemberSuite their seal of approval. Here’s a hint: “After implementing MemberSuite, ACUHO-I’s individual membership recruitment rates increased by 45%.” There’s nothing mediocre about that statistic!