The Bottom Line
LinkedIn can be a very effective tool to acquire new members for your association at a lower cost, especially when compared to some of the methods more commonly used today.
How do I know when to use LinkedIn?
Depending on the level of your membership dues, using LinkedIn as a highly targeted one-on-one membership recruitment tool can be an excellent strategy.
Two factors are key in deciding how much time and effort is justified in a LinkedIn one-on-one member recruitment campaign:
a.) What is the lifetime value for one member?
b.) What is the total cost of acquisition for one member?
Lifetime Membership Value - what is a member worth?
For example, for a trade association that charges $10,000 for an annual member company to join and that expects members on average to remain in the association for 5 years, produces a minimum of $50,000 in dues revenue. Add to that income from the sale of education, training, books, events and other items and you could easily arrive at an average $75,000 or more as a lifetime value per member.
For a professional association, the calculation will of course be different but it is still equally relevant. Assume an annual membership fee of $300 and an average retention period of 7 years and you arrive at $2,100 in lifetime membership dues receipts. Add in the participation of live and virtual events, training, education, books etc. and this can well exceed dues revenues over the lifetime of the membership. We'll assume conservatively that it is only equal the membership fees for a lifetime total of $4,200 for every new member recruited.
Cost of acquisition - What does it take to gain one new member?
Associations regularly run membership recruitment campaigns. These can consist of direct mail, email, Search and Pay Per Click advertising or telephone direct recruitment campaigns as several examples.
Regardless of what type of campaigns you are running, it is important to know a.) what is the rate of conversion and b.) what is the actual cost per new member for the campaign?
Let's take a look at a Pay per Click keyword campaign that you might be running on Google (they call these campaigns "Adwords"). In an Adword campaign you would select one or more key search terms (single words or phrases) that you think your target group would search on in Google and write a short three line ad. Here is an actual example of an ad using the keywords "Membership Recruitment".
Let's assume that we are paying $3.00 per click for our ad on Google and that we convert "clicks" into members at the rate of 5% (a pretty high actual rate of conversion). That means we are paying $60 to acquire a member (20 clicks X $3.00 ea). If the actual conversion rate is more like 1% we are now paying $300 (100 clicks X $3.00) to acquire one member.
This simple calculation shows why it is critical to choose the right keywords, know how much you are able to pay per click and to maximize your conversion rate from clicks into a paid membership. Your actual results will depend on factors unique to your association.
First step, make some conservative calculations to understand your cost of acquisition.
Note: You would use the same approach to calculate your cost of acquisition for other channels. For example; with direct mail, you would calculate your total costs for design, printing, distribution (postage) and any other directly related costs that need be allocated. You would then divide these costs by the number of new members to arrive at a per member cost of acquisition.
If we paid $2,000 for a designer, $5,000 to print 10,000 pieces, $4,500 for postage at $0.45 per piece to mail and $1,000 for handling we come to a total of $12,500 for this campaign. If we recruit 200 new members as a result (a conversion rate of 2%), we are paying $62.50 per member for acquisition ($12,500 costs divided by 200 new members).
Is LinkedIn a more effective and efficient member recruitment tool?
The beauty of using LinkedIn as a one-on-one member recruitment tool is that you can use a very highly targeted approach to identify and contact well qualified prospective members. This in turn can justify the dedication of staff time to use this approach as opposed to Search and Adword marketing, direct mail or any other more general broadcast channels you are currently using.
Let's assume we are a trade association and we know which companies we want to convert into a member but we do not have good information on who to contact in the company? Using Advanced Search for People in LinkedIn, we can identify everyone that works for a target company and see which position they currently hold.
The Advanced Search function in LinkedIn allows you to use any number of filters to find your prospective members, using a combination of keywords, job titles, company names, geographic location (right down to a specific zip code!) and many other criteria to narrow your search.
In this example, we want to find all current employees from "Diversified Clinical Services".
This produces a result that includes a Company Profile Page as well as a list of more than 400 employees that work for our target prospect company. If we are interested in employees that make purchasing decisions, we can easily identify the people we want to contact:
Making the connection
The next step is to contact our prospective member directly in a professional and positive manner. It is necessary for you to have a premium account with LinkedIn in order to take full advantage of the tools available to you, in particular, the "InMail" system. InMail allows you to send a personal message directly to another member of LinkedIn. Although not all LinkedIn members accept InMail, most do.
Craft a message that allows your prospective member to get some useful information and to find out more about your association for free and without the feeling of being a "sales pitch".
How to convert prospects into Members
Using LinkedIn's advanced search function you can invite prospective members to join your LinkedIn group(s), subscribe to your newsletter, download useful information or to join your associations private social network. All of which can be steps towards recruiting another new member.
Because you are able to really target a very qualified potential member using this approach, you will find your conversion rates higher than general mailings or pay for click advertising. If it is done right, using LinkedIn for targeted marketing as described above can be done efficient with from only 1 -4 hours per week. By using a template and saving your search criteria as a "Saved Search", you can send as many as 25 targeted messages in an hour.
Assuming you are using staff time that costs $60/hr, if only two of these contacts converts to a member, you are now paying only $30 or roughly half as much for member acquisition as the other examples cited earlier.
Even though your are initially reaching a smaller audience compared to mass email or direct mail, your results in terms of actual member recruitment can be much more effective when using LinkedIn as a one-on-one communications tool.