Taking Control of Your Association's Third-Party Data

April 28, 2021
Thomas Altman
Taking Control of Your Association's Third-Party Data

We spend a lot of time talking with association leaders about their data quality. Even though there seems to be no end of information that you can gather about your association membership, a big concern we hear all the time is, “Is my data good enough to make predictions from?”

That’s a topic that we are really excited about tackling, and it’s actually the subject of our webinar coming up next month.

But, as a partial way to answer that question, there’s always a concern with third-party data—how much is too much, which sources are valuable and valid, and how can your association access this data in a way to make it useful?

Two Kinds of Third-Party Data

Before we can really launch into answering those key questions, it’s important to understand that there are actually two types of third-party data that most associations deal with on a regular basis. 

  1. Association-managed third-party data
  2. External third-party data

The difference between these two things is all about control. 

With association-managed third-party data, your association has a bit of ownership over the data, even though it’s being gathered by an outside source. Examples of this type of third-party data include: 

  • LMS insights
  • Forum and CMS data
  • Event data
  • Email marketing / newsletter data
  • Social media data (Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn analytics)
  • Google analytics

Truly external third-party data is information that you have no control over, but still can potentially illuminate your membership and give you more powerful predictions about their behavior, motivations, and likelihood of success within your organization. Typical kinds of data that fall into this category are: 

  • Census records
  • Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED)
  • Public records (housing records, voter registration records, etc)
  • Credit scores
  • Medical licensing information

In this case, members are not producing the information from any interaction with your association. The data is just simply there, waiting to be collected and added to your database.

Both of these types of third-party data are excellent places to get new information about your membership so that you can better understand who they are, why they are gaining value from your association, and the kinds of people who will also benefit from your organization.

Collecting Third-Party Data You Own

Once you’ve identified all the sources of data that you both own and don’t own, it’s time to think about how to gather and then use that information to accomplish your goals. There are several steps to this process, and it requires collaboration from several different sections of your association. 

Marketing. Here, you can get insights about how people interact with your online and offline products, social media and digital marketing, and individual outside campaigns. Specific data sources include event registrations, email marketing, forum and CMS data, social media analytics (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), Google Adwords and Adsense, and referrals from unique campaigns for radio, television, billboards, or other campaigns. 

Membership. This information is crucial for developing predictive models of your membership and includes raw membership numbers, loss and retention, and engagement information (how often they attend events, participate in discussions, etc.). A lot of this information can be found in-house, but you may have third-party vendors that you need to go through to get data about event attendance or membership registration. 

Technology. Especially now, membership engagement is very web-driven. People haven’t been able to come to many face-to-face events or meetings, so a lot of that data is being collected via your LMS and other digital tracking methods. Work with your IT department to gather information about member engagement such as how often they’re on your site, how engaged they are in online discussions, or the last time they logged into the member portal.

Managing Data You Don’t Own: How Much, What Kind, and Why?

When it comes to supplementing your association-owned data with some of these outside sources, the most important thing to consider is your goal and your specialty area. For example, an association that is focused on the healthcare industry may not need data about voting registration, but a philanthropic association with a political bent might find that to be very helpful in profiling their members. 

Consider these three guiding questions when working with outside third-party information: 

  1. How does this information “fill in the gaps” of what I need to know about my members?
  2. How reliable is this information? 
  3. Is it accessible enough to provide real value in exchange for the time it will take to gather it? 

Once you know the answer to those questions, it will be clear which sources are worth mining for additional information and which ones are just not worth the time and effort. 

RELATED ARTICLE>> The Best Member Data to Feed Your AI Model

Collaboration: Your Secret Information Weapon

One of the things we don’t see associations doing nearly enough is developing collaborative information relationships to enhance and supplement their data. 

Of course, the gut reaction of most association leaders is to hold their member data close to their chest. Not only are they worried that their sensitive data might not be as safe as a potential partner claims, but there are the legalities—can you even share that information without specific consent from members?

The answer is, you can make these collaborative relationships safe and ethical. It just takes an extra step or two. 

Keep in mind that the goal is to gain a holistic view of your members. Going to a parallel organization (not a competitor) who serves the same group and interests and sharing information on your common members helps both of your associations and the member in question. Why? Because you get a better picture of that member’s needs and both of your organizations can better serve them. 

But what about the legalities of this type of information collaboration?

We are not ones to give you complex legal advice, so that’s not what we’re going to do here. But, consider your information policies. Is there a way to allow for discreet information-sharing under the right conditions? Probably. 

And even more important is this: It doesn’t take a lot of detailed identifying information to get real value from a collaboration. Even top-level overviews of membership numbers, engagement, or demographics can be very helpful for both your associations.

The Takeaway

Managing your association’s third-party data is a big part of having a proactive plan to develop predictions about how to best help your membership. By taking advantage of all third-party data resources available, you can get a better picture of who your members are and how to help them be more successful in you association. 

If you have questions about how to gather the right data (or how to remove it from a difficult system or process), that’s what Tasio specializes in. We work with association leaders to gather the right data to make informed decisions about the future and get a better understanding of where your association stands right now. 

Connect with us to learn more about what services we offer for third-party data collection and analysis. 

Thomas Altman

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