Measuring success in your online community can seem arduous, especially if you don’t know what to look for. Lori Gracey, Executive Director, Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA), and Claudia Preciado, Director of Engagement, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), share how their associations have replaced outdated technology and employed best practices for utilizing community software to boost community engagement and retention.
Lori, whose specialties include instructional technology management, visioning, technology planning, and professional development, has been with the TCEA for 13 years and leads a team of 20 as the Executive Director. TCEA is dedicated to the improvement of teaching and learning through the use of computers and technology. At more than 60,000 members and counting, TCEA is a member-based association that works with individuals who are interested in using technology for learning. Their primary focus is on integrating technology into the PreK-16 environment and providing their members with state-of-the-art information through conferences, professional development, newsletters, social media, and collaborations with higher education and businesses.
Claudia is a transportation planner that is passionate about improving sustainability, livability, and mobility in cities. As Director of Engagement, Claudia leads NACTO’s strategy and approach to engaging members, advancing our goal to connect, challenge, and champion the city transportation professionals working towards equitable, sustainable mobility policy and people-centered street design.
She brings a decade of experience working with hundreds of local transit agencies and cities in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Prior to joining NACTO, Claudia led Partnerships at Remix, and held previous positions with Nelson\Nygaard, Los Angeles Metro, and the City of Los Angeles. With both a private and public sector lens, Claudia’s career is at the intersection of transportation, equity, sustainability, and innovation.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is an association of 91 major North American cities and transit agencies formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices and cooperatively approach national transportation issues.
NACTO’s mission is to build cities as places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life.
For NACTO, their mission is their true North – what they are working collectively to achieve. Fostering community, centering justice, striving for impact, and leading with imagination are four core values NACTO has mobilized for their organization, which offers the perfect foundation for the need for an online community like Mobilize.
TCEA also uses Mobilize. Because of the platform, they’ve seen a boost in engagement and retention. Community is a process, not a product, and they’re focused on engagement, belonging, and outcomes. Their community is a safe space where people can ask questions, share resources, and celebrate success.
TCEA uses its community platform to help its members combat isolation. They have more than 40 different groups. They’re divided by job title, roles, interests, and geography due to hosting and having local groups.
They started with a listserv with limited functionality and a tremendous amount of staff management time that needed to be dedicated to it. They then tried to transition to a new AMS community platform and it failed. The members hated it and threatened to go back to the listserv. So TCEA’s team started testing other platforms on the marketplace, found Mobilize, and made the choice to transition. TCEA started by implementing a small pilot group and it was met with such success, that they ended up transitioning the rest of their community in quickly after. The additional accessibility Mobilize offered, while still catering to the members preferring the listserv format with offering a similar option, gave way to allowing for improvement and sealed the deal for them.
Claudia echoes Lori’s words, by saying that ten years ago, NACTO started with a handful of cities, and they now have more than 90 member cities. Mobilize and its community platform has been a critical element in helping optimize and boost growth and engagement amongst its community members.
Additionally, it’s a key component in helping facilitate conversations and communication. Claudia states, “We were recently hosting an event in Boston, which was affected by rail shutdowns. The platform helps us ensure emergency response communication best practices are executed properly while connecting seamlessly with all members, no matter their location.”
With the NACTO community continuing to grow from a small group of people to almost 100 agencies with thousands of individuals, their previous processes weren’t sustainable. Mobilize allowed NACTO to be able to attain the dynamic, individually driven and community-focused system they sought out. The ability to now focus on individuals, groups, and resources has been a vast improvement for their organization.
Lori describes some best practices for using community software to ensure success. Defining clear goals before starting your search is imperative when deciding on a new software to make sure it serves the people properly. “You need to define what is it your staff needs and what do your members need.” Making sure your community software covers all of your users’ needs will ensure you’re meeting the needs of your members, while lessening the need for staff to manage the moving parts of the community. Once that was clear, TCEA was able to design the community with all the necessary community features they required. Give the community members the platform they want to use.
How do you utilize community software to boost member retention and engagement?
Lori spoke on how they utilized surveys from their members on what value they receive from being a TCEA member to shape how they approach their community engagement. With that information, they were able to improve their webinar engagement by transitioning from an outdated email send to creating a group in their community. This group allowed members to easily access all webinars by creating a searchable database and tagging the resources for future reference. Lori also mentioned the addition of the Data Studio has allowed staff to track what members are talking about, what they’re searching for, and groups that aren’t as engaged. This has helped them to identify which groups may need support, as well as identify possible influencers in their community to be able to reward and encourage continued engagement.
Strong retention is the result of pulling data to find out what people are talking about and shape your content around it, whether it be future webinar topics or even sessions to plan for conventions. Retention also stems from members knowing that they have the support they need when they need it. Being able to access a community of staff and other members waiting to answer any questions increases the likelihood that users will keep participating. Lori also mentioned the importance of implementing new types of content to influence increased participation, such as community Q&A’s and live videos.
Claudia stated that NACTO has similar stances on retention and engagement. Focusing on providing value to members is their top priority, so having community software that facilitates that is crucial. Being able to track highly engaged groups and others that need more support in the initial development stages has been a game-changer. Creating segments based on topic areas has been key to increasing targeted engagement, and instructing staff to jump in to spark conversation with relevant news and chatter has shown a great improvement in overall participation. On the flip side, recognizing the groups that have taken off and are self-managed is just as easily overseen because of the dynamic platform Mobilize offers.
With the many benefits of enacting and community software paired with how simple it is to get started, it’s a win-win. Creating an online community offers the opportunity to create regional connections that transition to in-person relationships. These connections have the potential to turn an online community into in-person connections giving the ability to bridge the gap between different levels of experience within your community to create an open learning forum for all.
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