In the realm of membership organizations, success hinges on engagement, renewals, and the continuous influx of new members. Striking this trifecta of achievement is no small feat. That’s where participatory content steps in—a dynamic approach poised to redefine how membership organizations connect with their audience.  


What is Participatory Content? 

Participatory content – or participatory marketing – focuses on actively involving your audience in shaping your marketing efforts. This can include tactics ranging from surveys and polls to social media groups and virtual events. These tactics empower members to voice their opinions, share their personal insights, and eventually co-create content. [Ed. Note: We dive deeper into the concept of User Generated Content in the article, “Leveraging User-Generated Content: Showcasing Authentic Experiences to Engage and Grow Your Membership,” which you can read here.] By engaging your community in decision-making and content creation, you foster a sense of ownership and belonging, leading to increased engagement, member retention, and new member attraction. 


From Passive to Active Engagement 

At its core, participatory content is a paradigm shift from creating content for passive consumption to active engagement. Think of it as the opposite of the traditional one-sided communication model many of us were taught in school – and likely put into practice for too long. It’s about creating content that prompts members not just to consume but to contribute, discuss, and collaborate. Participatory content transforms your audience from mere spectators to enthusiastic participants, elevating their sense of belonging and ownership. 


While both participatory content and traditional marketing strive to communicate a message, the difference is in the approach. Traditional marketing often operates as a monologue — brands deliver a message, and audiences receive it. Participatory content flips the script, fostering a two-way conversation where members’ voices are heard, acknowledged, and celebrated. The goal isn’t just to inform but to connect deeply, turning your members into ambassadors of your cause. 


Interactive Content in Action 

Above we provided a few classic examples of participatory content – such as polls, surveys, online groups and communities, virtual events, and more. What these are is self-evident. I mean, who has never chimed in on a LinkedIn poll or sat in on a webinar? The larger question is why? Why should association marketers consider this new approach? And how can it help them be more effective at their jobs?  


Polls and surveys gather real-time feedback, helping associations gauge member sentiments and preferences. Quizzes not only offer your audience a pleasurable experience, they also serve as an engaging way to educate members on industry trends or association initiatives. Virtual events such as webinars or ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) events on platforms like Facebook Live bring members together in a digital space, providing networking opportunities and the chance to exchange ideas. Structured properly – for instance, requiring your audience to pre-register for a webinar or supply their email as part of a quiz – these tactics also serve up valuable contact information for your future marketing efforts. 

Crafting a Winning Participatory Content Strategy 

If you’ve read this far, maybe you’re thinking ‘Sounds great, where do I start?’ Implementing a successful participatory content strategy requires five key steps: 


1. Know Your Audience – Understanding your members’ preferences and interests is crucial. Leverage surveys, feedback loops, and social listening to gain insights into what matters most to them.


2. Diverse Content Formats – Variety is the spice of participatory content. Incorporate formats like polls, quizzes, user-generated challenges, and interactive webinars. Tailor your approach to cater to diverse learning styles and preferences.


3. Fostering Two-Way Conversations – Encourage dialogue rather than monologue. Respond to member contributions, acknowledge their ideas, and create an environment where their voices are valued.


4. Member-Generated Content Empowerment – Empower members to contribute their own content. This not only boosts their sense of ownership but also infuses authenticity into your initiatives.


5. AI and Personalization – Leverage AI to personalize participatory content. Use data-driven insights to suggest topics, timings, and formats that resonate with individual members.


Implementing participatory content isn’t without challenges, and it’s important to be cognizant of the possible down-sides. Make sure you develop a standard process for managing negative comments in your public forums, such as social media or on your organization’s blog. What criteria will you use to define ‘negative comments?’ What steps will you take when they occur? Do you respond to them or delete them immediately? How can you ensure this protocol is applied equitably? The American Marketing Association provides some best practices on their blog 


It’s also important to consider your process for responding to negative feedback you receive via online quizzes, surveys, or polls before you publish them. A good place to start is by assigning a dedicated staff member to be responsible for monitoring and promptly responding to the feedback that is received through these participatory tactics. At the end of the day, keep in mind that open communication and a transparent approach can help address these worries and build a resilient content ecosystem that retains brand integrity while also satisfactorily responding to the concerns and feedback from your audience.  


Putting it All Together  

Engagement, renewal, and attracting new members are the lifeblood of membership organizations. Participatory content serves as the secret sauce that can revolutionize these aspects. By inviting members to actively participate in your content, you’re nurturing a vibrant community. This sense of community breeds loyalty, turning members into advocates who genuinely care about your organization’s success. 


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Have you embraced participatory content in your organization’s strategy? We’d love to hear your insights and experiences. To see more stories like this, sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about association industry marketing trends, insights, expert advice, and more.