The Visual Brain & Analytics for Associations: A Conversation with Julie Sciullo of Association Analytics

How can associations get more out of their analytics? What data really matters for associations to be successful?

Gather Voices CEO Michael Hoffman sat down with Julie Sciullo of Association Analytics — they went in-depth on analytics for associations, non-dues revenue, and so much more.

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Read the Complete Transcript:

Michael Hoffman:

Hi everyone. I'm Michael Hoffman, CEO at Gather Voices where we make videos simple. And I am joined today by Julie Sciullo from Association Analytics. Julie, thank you so much for taking the time out to join me today to have this conversation.

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, absolutely.

Michael Hoffman:

So before we dive in, you are somebody who's really immersed in the association world. And so we have a lot to talk about in terms of what's going on there, but start with just telling the folks who might not know what is Association Analytics? And maybe just give me a little brief story about how you founded this company too, because I don't get to talk to enough women CEOs. Let's just put it that way.

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, there needs to be more of them.

Michael Hoffman:

Yes.

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, certainly. So Association Analytics, our name sums it up. Certainly we do analytics for associations. And really what it is, is taking all of the data from your disparate data sources and putting them into one central place in order for you to get access to real time information. I guess the easiest way to put it is, if you look at my background, there's a bunch of dashboards. And so you could go on and you can see exactly what your membership's doing, what your business is doing. In real times you can make informed decisions. And certainly relevant in these times, which I'm sure we'll dive into.

Julie Sciullo:

And how I landed here, I was actually chief operating officer. The company's been around since 1999. So I'd love to say I founded it back in 1999, but I came on five years ago as chief operating officer. And then since then, the CEO and founder had... Which was also a woman though. So went from a woman-owned business to a woman-owned business, moved to California and retired. And I really saw this as the next opportunity for the association market. Shouldn't we all be making data-informed decisions? And it's really our mission to make that easier by bringing the technology and expertise and education to the market to allow associations and nonprofits to do so.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. It seems like they were a little before their time maybe, when they started the company. And everybody's talking about data all the time. And I think that it's not just about collecting data, data, data, right? It's about actionable data, right?

Julie Sciullo:

Absolutely.

Michael Hoffman:

And which is what this is all about, right?

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah. As association leaders, we have a ton of data. That's the one thing that we have. We hoard it sometimes. Sometimes we have too much of it, but what's really important is can you turn that into insights? Can you turn that into action? And that's when you're going to be able to impact your mission really. So those individual decisions that you can make that are actionable, that provide actual insights, can lead you to more profitability, more members. Which in turn, which used to be an ugly word in the association space is profitability and business decisions. And you're really seeing everybody come around, we need to. We need to be doing that in order to further our missions. And that's really the driving force behind what we do is to allow people to make those data informed decisions to drive their mission.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. And that's more important today than ever, right?

Julie Sciullo:

Absolutely.

Michael Hoffman:

Because many organizations have been just, most I would say, have had some major blow to their revenue, particularly around conference events, which are canceled or postponed.

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, absolutely. So it's funny even thinking back 10 years ago, it was "Okay, we need to diversify for membership. What do we do?" So everybody diversified to events, and now that this has happened, people are like, "Oh, no. We need to diversify from events." We have clients that 80 to 90% of their revenue was coming from one or two annual conferences. And so revisiting that real conversation of how do we diversify, how do we remain profitable and sustainable in any environment? We can't be so reliant on just one revenue stream. We really have to focus on diversification of our revenue and certainly year-round engagement. So it's not just about that one time of year when we're holding that event or putting on our flagship whatever it may be, we really need year-round and diversification.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. I think that's what I've been saying to our clients and anybody who will listen, "A diverse revenue stream is absolutely critical. You just can't simply rely on a single event the way people have." And my assumption is nobody wants to get caught flat-footed again, right?

Julie Sciullo:

Absolutely.

Michael Hoffman:

That there's a real sense of that. So how can data help us? Thinking about that, about our organizations, what can data do to help them understand their members well in what they want and what they need?

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, sure. So there are a couple of key pieces, and it's really when you bring them all together that you can really start to understand what's important? Because what you'll find very quickly is what's important to one member is probably different than to another member and you could start to build cohorts of people. And then it's all about how you communicate with them, how you market to them. And then certainly by listening to your members. I think that's something that we got lost in. And it really became about really these siloed departments inside associations, and not necessarily looking holistically and at the different ways that members are talking to us. So whether that's content or in a community or even call centers, that's all data that is very relevant that you can surface up so you can see what are members talking about?

Julie Sciullo:

And let's be very timely. Think about yourself as a consumer. How do you like to be marketed to and talked to? And what are you most likely to click on and buy and consume? It's usually things that you're interested in, not necessarily something you put on a survey and said... I actually come from accounting and finance. If you ask me, I might put on a checklist, "I'm very interested in financials." But am I really? No. If you look at my actual behaviors, it's probably vastly different. And so think about... One suggestion to everybody would be, "List out all of your sources of data." You have more than you think and think outside of the box and think of the avenues where you have members talking. Because that's what's really important right now and what's going to resonate with your members and non-members. Also very important, identifying those non-members or people.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. And I think that's interesting. That really brings me to the thing about content. The associations are content factories, because I think unlike other organizations, the wisdom of the industry lies with the members, right? The staff is really organizing the experts who are the leaders in that industry. And so hearing from them and what they're interested in, is really core and also gets lost. I think your point about silos is really a good point. You have your website. You have things like the communities, your private member communities. You have registration data from events. You have all kinds of things that people are doing that you never really are able to connect those dots, right?

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, absolutely. And more and more, especially in this environment, video, exactly what we're doing here. Video is such a rich data source that's often overlooked. And so when you have members coming together and talking, or you have content from a conference, a virtual conference, because that's what we're doing now, it's so critical that you capture that data and be able to leverage it real time. Which is often just an oversight, because it's not something that we've historically done in the association space, certainly.

Julie Sciullo:

And so really thinking about how that fits in and how that's a real data source with a ton of information. When you think about topics and experts and even connecting different experts together and building committees around knowledge centers, there's so much you can do with that. So what have you guys been doing with some of the video? And certainly I know from a data standpoint how critical, but what's the meat behind what you do before we pull it into the insights that we do?

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. I think that's right. It's like, what we're doing is enabling organizations to get a much broader set of members to be talking about their event or their industry or their experiences. I think about it all the time, how these websites from associations have things about the practice of whatever their industry or profession is about. But aren't enough soliciting the lived experience of all of the members and being able to have those members tell stories about their real experience that could enlighten and sometimes entertain other members and feel like a community. So it's different than things like if everything's this kind of polished, published thing, it's like, "Great. I'm a member of," like I've subscribed to the paper. That's different than saying, "I'm part of a cause. I'm part of a community that I care about."

Michael Hoffman:

And so a lot of our momentum I think, is coming from the idea that organizations need to move from very transactional ways of thinking. Like we've got to get people's butts in the seats for this thing or that thing, and saying, "We need to build community here. We need to listen to people. We need to connect people who should be connected to each other. We need to lift up the voices of a diverse membership because it's getting more diverse. We need to lift up the voices of young members so we can attract other young members," all of that.

Michael Hoffman:

And that's what we're doing with video. We're enabling really easy ways to capture and share back video. And one of those ways is now in these communities. So we've partnered with Higher Logic, and we've created something called Community Voices, which is a way to plug in video into your Higher Logic communities. So as you're writing a post, you can click a button that says record a video. You can record a video. And in that email, that digest that goes out, there's a thumbnail with a play button on it that anybody can do. And so you have the opportunity to get a lot more content and a lot more data, because a video carries a lot of information in it that would take a long time to write.

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, absolutely. That's really exciting. I love that. And it's funny, because I'm just thinking about different members and how they would use that all the time to talk to each other. It's just a different way to interact that I think is certainly very relevant in these times and reaching different members. There are a couple of things that made me think of. One, how do you know what membership is maybe underserved or not as involved? In one way you can certainly do that is by looking at the data and looking at what members, going to the community, what members are really active in your community? And just because people are the ones posting doesn't mean that there aren't other members that aren't posting, but are that consuming.

Julie Sciullo:

But if tapped, they would love to be part of the conversation. They might just have a different personality where they don't always want to jump in. And so when you're looking at analytics and really diving into the behaviors of people and not just the transactions that we've been so historically focused on, it's funny to relate that into data. We talk about that all the time. It's transactional data, which is structured data, and then looking at all of the unstructured data.

Michael Hoffman:

That's a great point. I look at some of these communities and I see there are dominant personalities who will speak up on everything and crowd out potentially emerging voices, more diverse voices, other things that the organizations need to visualize. And then they need to do some things that encourage those other people. And that's part of listening to saying, "We actually care what you think. We care what your experience is. We want to hear from you."

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, yeah. That, and then also in the community, what's really interesting is connecting people. So there's actually a visualization called a network map where you can actually see who the key influencers are around certain topics. And then connect them with people that are talking about it or just consuming the data. And so now I'm thinking if you can layer on top of that, even if it's small informal snippets of educational videos, how cool would that be? Where you now can start to push that out to those people you know are going to be interested in it. And when you're thinking about year-round engagement and really pushing your value proposition to your members and non-members, what a great way then to give them little snippets and nuggets of information from their peers really.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. That's great. Because it also breaks up the kind of communication that you usually get from the organizations. It makes it much more than a peer-to-peer experience, which is what you get when you go to these conferences. That's why people travel to something is to interact in that way and being able to do that's really good. And that's really what we're trying to do at Gather Voices, is enable the collection of those short pieces that can be shared in a variety of ways.

Michael Hoffman:

We're even seeing some clients thinking about how do you bring that into the continuing education stuff? So if you have a more formal educator talking about something, but being able to easily bring in a bunch of short videos that are people's real experiences on those topics in the real world, making that course a lot more interesting, a lot more engaging, a lot easier to recruit people. So, and again, and also in the process building community and not just again, being that transactional top-down thing.

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah. I think that's something that we should focus more on. So I'm going to put you on the spot. If you have certain ways that associations could be reusing content and certainly video content, something you're an expert in, how would one reuse some of their video content? Or what have you seen people do?

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. I think that there's a few differences, depending on the use case, but one is the ability to put a video into these communities. We don't see it a lot. And so that's something that's coming, and the Community Voices platform with Higher Logic, I think will change that. That's one thing. Obviously, social media is something that organizations really want to have some engagement on and rarely have a lot of engagement. Because they don't necessarily have interesting content, and video content is dominating social now.

Julie Sciullo:

Absolutely.

Michael Hoffman:

So the idea of being able to have content and the kind of video content that really works on social media is more informal, real content from members, not the overly polished, overly expensive content that a lot of organizations are used to creating. So I think there's new opportunities for engagement off your regular channels and on social media. And then the website is another one we see... Again, what we've seen, for example, in a course page. So you have a page about a continuing education course. Mostly 90% of the time, those pages are just a big block of text. "Here's this course." And you as a consumer look at those pages, and they all look the same. And it's like, "Okay, this is going to be another boring course or whatever."

Michael Hoffman:

When you have the instructor easily making a video saying, "Hey, this is why I'm teaching this. This is my background. I'm really excited to do it," you're going to get a lot more engagement. You're going to get a lot more signups. And then you take that video and you put it in the email that you're sending about that course, and you get a lot more click-throughs, open rates and click-through rates, go up. So email rates are going down. Email open rates, click-through rates, going down. When you promise video in a subject line, open rates go up. When you have a video thumbnail with a play button, click-through rates go up, significantly. And so if you can pull this video into your communication regularly, then you are again, number one, you're demonstrating that you're a forward-thinking organization that's communicating in the way that people want to communicate today. Really important to attract new members and create that vibrancy, but you're also creating that community. You're introduced... People are meeting each other.

Michael Hoffman:

If I'm watching you on video regularly, I feel like I know you in a different way. And when I see you in person, I'm going to have a different feeling about you than if I've never been exposed to your voice and your face and that experience. So I think we're really thinking about it as a broad opportunity to compliment all the text, which is everywhere with video content, which is what people want to experience.

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, absolutely. And we see that. I can actually validate that with data. And so we see that when we're pulling in all of the different data sources, certainly web analytics, social, that's a huge component of what people are looking at. And then ultimately, in the marketing module, you can see what's working, what's not, based on your action plans. So if an action plan is, "We're going to implement video and we're going to implement some of these strategies," we certainly see that data in real time starts to increase, not only some of the open rates and click-through rates, but leading to the behaviors that you want people to ultimately take. So it might be, you really want them to consume a piece of content or you really want them to attend a certain virtual event or webinar. And you can connect all of those and actually see the fruits of your labor in the data when you start to put these things into play. And video has certainly been one that's really been showing people ROI when it comes down to it.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah, that's great. I think we're seeing the same thing, which is really why our tools are being used by so many associations now. And what's interesting to me is how you connect that data. Our platform can automatically caption videos, which is extremely helpful for our clients. Even in a way that it's a lot less sophisticated than what you're doing to be able in our platform, to do a keyword search across your videos is a really powerful way to go, "Okay, are people using this language or that language? Are they talking about this or that?" And being able to provide insights, I think in a tool like yours, that's just exponentially more useful, because you can visualize that in different ways. And you can connect it to the other data that you have. So it's not just sitting in a silo.

Julie Sciullo:

Yes, exactly. So we would pull something like that in and perform text analytics. So you could then see what topics are trending. Then if you cross that with your membership, you could see, "Okay, what's trending in certain populations of our members and non-members?" So whether that's geographic, whether that's demographic, whether that's the breakdown of your member types, it just depends on how you would look at your membership, but it really starts to give you some true insight. And then you have to be able to take that jump into action. So it's like, "Okay, we noticed that this topic is very hot with our younger members. We're really trying to engage those individuals. Let's do more of that."

Julie Sciullo:

Or our members this year, so they just joined, and first year retention could be an issue for us. We may know that and have a gut feeling. Analytics can certainly tell us that, but we could put together certain campaigns around topics that those individuals really care about. And you will see your retention rates go up, when you start to communicate with people the way that they want to be communicated with around what they want to hear about. It sounds simple. And the data's all there, but when you sit down and try to put it all together, that could be a little overwhelming.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. And I think the actionable piece you mentioned is really important, right? And I'll say this, I think video and analytics can work together to do something that the staff of many associations have challenges with. Which is convincing either their bosses or the lay leaders, the boards, to take certain action. And to me, what you want to do as a staff member is say, "Let's hear from real people." So that's where video can come in. Because when you hear somebody say, "This is what I want," or, "This is what I like," or "this is what I care about," or use certain language, there it is.

Michael Hoffman:

And then data to be able to say, "This is what the data tells us," and get out of this, "Well, I like this. I don't like this. We should do this. We should do that." And you really want to change the conversation. You want to say, "Well, I don't really care." It's like, "It doesn't matter what you think or we like or whatever." It's like, "What does the data tell us? What do people want? And what can we show you?" And the idea of being able to do that with data, but then have it annotated with video, to be able to say, "Here's what the data says." And then let's... Here's our backup evidence, proof points in video. That's a really powerful way to make a case I think to say, "This is why we need to be using this content. This is why we need to be using these photos. This is why we need to encourage this conversation."

Julie Sciullo:

Yeah, absolutely. Even the speed that we're expected to make decisions now, this can absolutely allow you to make decisions with more confidence. Reggie Henry at ASAE always says it, "It allows you to have data confidence." And so not only that I'm thinking about when we're thinking about what we do and they actually have these drivers of change, one of their drivers of change is allowing humans to be more human. So to break that down a little bit, people sometimes get scared and say... I'm being extreme, but, "The robots are taking over." But why not allow the things, the technologies that are there, to do the mundane things that we don't like doing anyways. And then we can be humans and interpret that and be compassionate and have a personalized touch to our reach out. But why not let data inform that? Why not let the video we need as an outlet?

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah, and we need it to really... The promise of the potential of one-to-one communication requires a certain level of automation so that we can do this higher level thinking. I think that's exactly what you're saying.

Julie Sciullo:

Exactly.

Michael Hoffman:

And it's so interesting because you're using data, which people think of as more like the robots, to allow for human connection. And that's exactly what we're doing at Gather Voices. Our company values, as we've written them, the highest thing on our company values is being human, is really saying like, "We need those faces. We need those voices in the mix." But we need the data to be able to match those things together to know that this fits what people are interested in.

Julie Sciullo:

Exactly. Yeah, yeah. That's absolutely true. And then it comes full circle. You're putting faces behind it and making it really relevant for people, which I absolutely love the idea of.

Michael Hoffman:

Yeah. Excellent. Well, Julie, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation today. I think to me, it's super interesting. It's like the data and the video, you can see them as these extremes of again, the robots and the human, but it's not that way at all. They're really this incredibly complimentary set that together can be really powerful for this industry that really needs it right now.

Julie Sciullo:

Yes, absolutely. So thank you for having us. I look forward to seeing everything in the Higher Logic community and gathering all of that data and putting it into the ecosystem to show people what the 360 view really looks like. I'm really excited for this.


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