We Need to Belong

Tap into the Power of Human Connectivity to Attract Long-Term Members

In their book The Blue Zones, authors Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain identified regions of the world where people live exceptionally long lives, many over 100 years. Not only are people living longer in these regions; they have fewer illnesses and enjoy more quality years of life. Once the authors narrowed down these “longevity hotspots”—from Japan to California—they looked for common characteristics that contributed to people’s long lives. They discovered just six key factors, one which was social engagement.

Hardwired to Connect

From our early origins, human beings have been herd animals, wandering in groups before eventually creating settlements and cities. Congregating kept us safe from predators, starvation, and the elements. Even with these ancient pressures long gone, we still feel the need to gather today—in churches, in stadiums, in book clubs, at sci-fi conventions, and in member organizations. We need to belong. And, according to the The Blue Zones, we’re better for it.

Among many benefits, including health and happiness, being part of a group makes us feel secure and more likely to show our true colors, thus facilitating even deeper, more meaningful connections with others. Vulnerability researcher Brené Brown put it this way: “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.”

Belonging Hypothesis

Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary developed a “belonging hypothesis” that suggests humans are hardwired to form bonds and are reluctant to break them. That means once you hook a member, you’re likely to keep them. The psychologists also pointed out that people prefer a few close relationships rather than many casual friendships. You must prove your value to members or they won’t have room for you in their circle.

Baumeister and Leary suggest two criteria for developing a sense of belonging:
  1. frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals
  2. engaging in these interactions within a framework of long-term, stable care and concern

Note that frequency alone isn’t enough to draw people in. Interaction with your members must be positive, and you must exhibit stability and genuine concern for their interests (not just furthering your own). If you’re pumping out regular e-blasts without considering the needs of your base, people won’t feel connected to you. They won’t let you in their loop and they won’t join yours.

Inspiring Connectivity

Our need to belong and connect is one reason member organizations exist. You offer security, support, and concern for people who are looking for those same things. People thrive in groups—but not just any group. That’s where inspiration comes in. Tell your stories, resonate with audience worldviews, draw people to you, and you’ll build positive, beneficial connections that last for years and years.

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Tap into the power of visual storytelling to inspire members, connect them, and demonstrate the value of your organization.

Tap into the power of visual storytelling to inspire members
We’re often told “A picture is worth 1000 words,” but we seldom stop to think about why that’s true.

Psychologists explain that when we see an image, our brain automatically places it in a greater context. We look for related objects. We scan past memories to draw associations with the image and make connections. We see a scene, not just an object. This phenomenon, known as Perception of Scene Gist or Scene Perception, explains why images are powerful triggers of emotion, connectivity, and decision-making.

Research conducted in 2008 by psychologists Monica Castelhano and John Henderson indicated that color further enhances our understanding of a scene and the speed of our understanding compared to black and white images.

Additional research shines light on just how powerful visual communication is compared to text:

Visual Power By the Numbers:
  • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual
  • 40% of people respond better to visual info than text
  • 70% of all your sensory receptors are in the eyes
  • People remember 80% of what they see and do and only 20% of what they read
  • Color visuals increase willingness to read by 80%

Our tendency toward visual communication is reflected in our current social media habits. Primarily visual platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest are among the fastest growing social media outlets today.

Every minute of every day:
  • 8333 videos are shared on Vine
  • 3472 images get pinned on Pinterest
  • 216,000 images appear on Instagram
  • 72 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube

All this data adds up to a pretty compelling case for a strong visual presence, online and off.

But where to begin?

Your visuals are an extension of your authentic brand story—a story you carefully construct to attract like-minded members and invite them into your loop of connectivity and inspiration. While consistency is important to ensure brand recognition, it doesn’t necessarily create a powerful, emotional connection with your audience. Choose images that do some “heavy lifting” to draw in members and inspire them with visual stories.

When you move your brand to online spaces, it’s wise to remember that human nature hasn’t changed but technology certainly has. To some extent, each platform influences our stories and our visual communication. You must remain true to your brand story, but you also have to satisfy algorithms to ensure your content actually gets viewed.

On Facebook, that means you need video. Recent changes announced by the platform suggest that images alone won’t help your business page views. Video proves your relevancy and increases your exposure. Videos on Facebook are shared 12 times more often than links or text posts combined.

Regardless of the platform, compelling visuals encourage sharing, a.k.a. the sincerest form of flattery. This is another opportunity for you to fuel the loop of connectivity and inspiration.

Don’t be afraid to update your images. You risk breaking the cycle of inspiration and connection when your look is outdated or irrelevant. If members can no longer relate to what they see, they’re not likely to tell themselves—or anyone else—a good story about your organization and its value.

You Still Need a Story

Of course visuals alone won’t draw members to your organization or fill your seats for a specific event. You still need stories to continue the loop of connection and inspiration. Google’s current algorithm actually favors web pages with 500 words of text or more and blog posts with 1600 words. Along with the search engines, human beings also need written content to help understand your greater brand story and the value you offer—to answer their question: “What’s in it for me?”

But words alone can’t accomplish all this either. Compelling, consistent visuals are an essential piece of your brand story. Combined with vivid storytelling, they make for seriously effective marketing as well as member engagement and connectivity.

You don’t want just anyone to join your organization. You want the right people who are eager to connect with your help. They are looking for you, and they’re hungry for inspiration and connection (even if they aren’t fully aware). Your brand visuals are a huge indicator that they’ve come to the right place, that they’ve found their tribe, and that great things are about to happen. If you’ve been getting just average results from your marketing, it might be time to up your visual game.

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How to Close the Circuit and Illuminate Your Base

We’ve talked about the endless loop of connectivity and inspiration that draws members to your organization and fuels your life-changing work. The loop is a little bit like an electrical circuit. For example, you must have a closed loop to illuminate a light bulb using electricity. No loop, no connectivity, no illumination.

Your organization also needs a closed loop to function. You need energy and connectivity to fuel illumination and inspiration—to power your work and continue to attract members. Your goal is to get members and prospects to say “Keep me in the loop” about your events, certifications, and products.

5000 Marketing Messages

Once people are in your loop, they’re receptive to what you have to say. Outside the loop, however, you’re competing with the “noise” of other marketing messages—some from competing organizations with similar offerings. Estimates vary, but research suggests we’re bombarded with as many as 5,000 marketing messages a day. That’s a lot of noise!

In order to be heard over all this noise, many organizations resort to shouting—using e-blasts, keyword stuffing, spray-and -pray direct mail, or other bullhorn tactics. They shout about networking, education, and certification using facts and figures. But these same organizations are often disappointed by low event turnout and declining membership numbers.

How do you Change Lives?

Once your members are in the loop you can share facts, figures, and details. But first you have to connect and inspire them by demonstrating the value of your organization and the benefits of membership. Networking, education, and certification aren’t benefits, they’re features. They’re your product. What you need is inspiration. What will your product DO for your members? How are their lives better because they’re a part of your organization? How will your certifications advance their careers, improve their businesses, and help them change more lives?

You Need Storytelling

We know the best way to accomplish a closed loop is through storytelling that connects and inspires. While very recent research is illuminating a lot of cutting-edge science about the human brain, our hardwired need to connect is as old as humankind. Best of all it never changes. Human beings are itching to connect, to belong, to be inspired. They’re looking for your organization even if they don’t know it yet. Your job is to let them know you exist and inspire them with stories that engage their brains.

First get people in your loop. Light them up. Then worry about facts.

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Connectional Intelligence

How to Drive your Organization’s Life-Changing Work by Harnessing the power of Connections

Did you know you have traditional intelligence, emotional intelligence, and connectional intelligence? Researcher Erica Dhawan partnered with business strategist Saj-nicole Joni to identify how relationships can drive innovation and breakthroughs. What they discovered was connectional intelligence.

Beyond IQ and emotional intelligence, connectional intelligence relies on conversations and community to generate results. The team explains that while connectivity is an innate characteristic in humans, connectional intelligence “requires intentional use to be unlocked.”

Here are a few ways you can use your connectional intelligence to rally members, drive attendance, inspire connectivity, and achieve your organization’s goals:

1. Know your audience AND the current situation in the industry.

To rally people around a cause, you need to know a lot about them, what their concerns are, and what’s going on in the industry and in the world around you. Identify how what you’re doing fits into the bigger picture. Dhawan calls this idea “understanding your context.” For example, if your members struggle to do business in a particular arena, do they need PR and marketing help or do they need to lobby community leaders for a better business environment?

2. Don’t be afraid of difficult conversations.

our organization exists to change lives. You can’t accomplish meaningful outcomes if you don’t dig deep to get at the heart of your members’ concerns. Ask tough questions. Investigate. Take feedback to heart. Rehashing the existing conversation isn’t enough. Talk about the topics people are afraid to bring up. Be vulnerable and be amazed at what you uncover.

3. Invite people into your loop.

Once you’re clear about your context and mission, get others on board. Engage people emotionally with dynamic storytelling campaigns over email, direct mail, and social media. Sponsor events that matter to your membership. Ask for volunteers. Encourage participation at your annual events or at smaller local events throughout the year. When people feel connected they’re more likely to be inspired by your message, which fuels a cycle of connection and inspiration.

Using your connectional intelligence means you’ll have to cut through the “noise” of competing marketing messages and demands on your members’ time if you want to be heard. Knowing your audience and telling stories that resonate with their worldviews is a great start. Once they’re listening, your job is to continually inspire and connect so you can further your organization’s core mission.

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5 Ways to Encourage Connectivity Among Members

Consistent branding is essential to connect all the people and parts of your organization. You need the same look and feel whether your members find you online or in line for the restroom. Consistent branding tells your members they’ve come to right place. But that doesn’t mean they’ll actually feel connected and inspired when they get there.

Once you have an established brand and an authentic brand story, it’s time to invite your members into the loop, where they can forge an emotional connection with your organization and each other. You need this connectivity not only to fill seats and build lasting loyalty but to inspire members and enable the life-changing work of your organization.

Here are 5 ways to get connecting:

1. Go beyond branding.

If your event theme is superheroes, imagine how connected everyone would feel if you handed out superhero capes for your opening reception. Promotional items have a shelf life that your other collateral probably doesn’t have. Wearables and vehicle decals are like little lighthouses for your organization. Get the most bang for your buck by giving true conversation pieces that unite your members.

2. Build online communities, not just online presence.

Your website is a repository of information—events calendar, key personnel bios, your mission statement, maybe even a blog. It is NOT inherently a place for people to forge meaningful, productive, emotional connections. For this you will need a forum that allows for conversation. Consider social media, a LISTSERV, Basecamp, or other platform that permits an exchange of ideas rather than a one-sided presentation of facts.

3. Organize special events at your conference.

Your whole tribe is already in town for your event. Why not make the most of it by adding unscripted networking opportunities? You might schedule a happy hour at a local watering hole or organize a first-timers orientation to welcome new members. Consider an “after dark” concert or entertainer to extend connectivity into the evenings.

4. Organize special events throughout the year.

Supplement annual national events with smaller regional affairs throughout the year. This might mean you host mini conferences or workshops in a few centrally located cities. It could also be much simpler. Consider sponsoring a team for a 5k or organizing a neighborhood cleanup day. These simple events can facilitate powerful connections among members by bringing them together for a common cause.

5. Tell stories. Before, during, and after events and throughout the year, tell stories.

Share them over email, on your website and blog, through the mail, and on social media. Feature your members, your staff, and anyone else touched by the work your organization does. Remember that when people hear a story they actually feel as though they are experiencing the events for themselves. Maintain a regular schedule to remind members of your value all year long.

It is interesting to note that we often use the verb “forge” when talking about connections. Forging connections implies effort and action. Connections don’t just happen; they must be made between your members and your organization. How will you fuel the fires of connectivity?

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8 mistakes you're making with brand storytelling

If you decided to give brand storytelling a try but you’re not really seeing results, don’t give up. Finding great stories is a good start. Now it’s time to fine-tune your storytelling to ensure your audience feels connected, engaged, and inspired (and moved to act!). Even if you’re a storytelling veteran, take these eight ideas to heart to get even more out of your efforts.

Mistake #1: Content for content’s sake.

You’ve heard the advice: You need content. So you’ve been wildly producing content, and it’s jam-packed with keywords. The trouble is, writing for search engines won’t help you make meaningful connections with your membership. Stick with helpful, relevant content that speaks to your audience’s current needs in a conversational tone. Chances are, the right keywords will naturally appear.

Mistake #2: Ignoring comments.

In the same vein as #1 above, maintaining relevancy is key to a successful online presence and a successful organization. Listen to what members are saying. What are they talking about? What are they sharing? It’s okay to find negative comments as long as they’re part of a productive, meaningful discussion. If everyone is complaining, or no one is talking at all, it might be time for a new strategy.

Mistake #3: No strong visuals.

So much compelling research suggests that to truly reach your members you need vivid color images that paint a compelling, authentic picture of your organization’s value. Take things to the next level with informative, helpful videos to encourage sharing and satisfy social media algorithms at the same time.

Mistake #4: Assuming technical content and storytelling don’t mix.

Just because the information you wish to convey isn’t as “exciting” as a consumer product doesn’t mean you can’t have great brand storytelling. Stories are carefully crafted based on the value your organization provides to your membership—and that is exciting. As an added bonus, choosing a story format for technical information increases the chances that your audience will remember the info.

Mistake #5: Not doing it enough.

Human beings are busy and easily distracted. Crafting a few great stories won’t be enough to draw all your members to you. Marketing research suggests that you need to reach out to a prospect 7 to 13 times before they’re convinced to make a purchase. You don’t need a new story every day, but you do need a comprehensive plan of direct mail, email, social media, and other promotions that you launch on a regular basis.

Mistake #7: Discontinuity.

Along with regular communication, you need to be consistent with your message. Use images with a similar look and feel. Use the same tone across all written communications. Include a hash tag specific to your organization and/or your events to help members and prospects connect the dots. Your base should be able to easily recognize you no matter where they encounter you.

Mistake #8: There’s no story.

Interesting facts, testimonials, and reviews are not stories. They are important, maybe even juicy, details about your organization and the value you bring to members. But keep in mind that a story has characters, rising action, a climax, falling action, and an ending. Even if your story is very brief, it should follow this classic arc in order for your audience to connect with your brand on a brain-deep level.

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The Power of Human Connection

Storyteller Wins $1 Million Ted Prize

Every year, the folks at TED Talks award a $1 million TED Prize to “a leader with a bold, innovative vision for sparking global change.” The money is intended to help winners “inspire the world” by making one ambitious “wish” come true. Past winners include an undersea explorer, educational researcher, epidemiologist, and astronomer, among others. The 2015 prize went to a storyteller, Dave Isay of StoryCorps.

Everyone Has a Story

StoryCorps collects and archives 40-minute interviews between two everyday people, usually friends or family members. Any topic is fair game. The project is based on the premise that everyone has a story and every life matters. Interviews might include general questions, such as a child asking a parent, “What’s the best advice you ever got?” They might be more specific. In one interview, a mother recounts her journey crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Another features the story of two parents who lost their son to a rare childhood illness.

To date 60,000 interviews with more than 90,000 participants have been recorded. Currently story recording is limited to select locations in the U.S. The TED prize will help Isay expand StoryCorp internationally.

If you’d like to hear some of the stories, you can tune in weekly to NPR. You can also visit to browse featured stories. The interviews are so important to American history they’re all stored in the Library of Congress. Isay suspects he curates the largest collection of the human voice every recorded.

Do Stories Really Matter?

It might seem like stories couldn’t possibly be as important as environmental conservation, modern medicine, or scientific research. Here’s an explanation from StoryCorps’ website that sheds some light on just how powerful stories are:

“We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”

Isay imagines incredibly powerful applications of storytelling—resolving wars, documenting history, combating prejudice, sharing wisdom, and more—all possible through simple, authentic human connectivity.

Why You Should Take Notice

It’s remarkable that the 2015 TED prize recognized the value of storytelling and its potential to change the world. We should take notice. Imagine how collecting and documenting your organization’s stories might change your community, your industry, or an even larger circle. Imagine if you could preserve the collective wisdom of your grey-haired members who are about to retire and take all their knowledge with them. Or maybe you should preserve the perspective of the next generation—to determine how you can best serve them. Who might you attract? How many lives might you change?

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7 Tips for Promoting Your Next Event on Twitter

Twitter offers incredible potential for event marketers to promote events and inspire members with meaningful content. And you don’t have to launch an elaborate social media campaign to get results. Follow these best practices to connect and inspire your base on Twitter—and maybe even see attendance numbers rise.

  1. Create an event-specific hashtag.
    This will help you track the conversation before, during, and after your event. You can find out a lot about your members this way. What questions are they asking? Which sessions are they talking about? What were their disappointments? Choose a hashtag that’s unique but easy to remember. Put it on everything—your direct mail pieces, brochures, website, a billboard…everything.
  2. Link to interesting and informative content.
    Share your organization’s blog posts, but don’t forget to link to third-party info that is also useful to your members. Your goal is to be seen as a resource.
  3. Be authentic and human.
    Even if your organization has a Twitter page, consider establishing pages for key leadership personnel. Your members want to see the human side of your organization, and a human profile pic (rather than a corporate logo) can go a long way in fostering connectivity with your base. Regardless of the type of page, tweet in a genuine, conversational tone.
  4. Be entertaining.
    Tweet a quote, a joke, or a beautiful image. Engage people emotionally. You might not get a measurable result from entertaining tweets, but they help to portray your brand personality and will eventually draw like-minded members to your organization.
  5. Participate.
    Be sure to favorite member tweets that catch your attention. Tweet @ members and prospects and retweet their interesting tweets. Talk with people, not at them. What saves Twitter from being a noisy crowd of people furthering their own interests is genuine human connectivity.
  6. Ask for the sale.
    Avoid being overly promotional most of the time, but don’t be afraid to ask members to renew dues, sign up for your events, or buy your products every once in a while. Mention early bird discounts or special offers to soften the message and make members feel like they’re getting special treatment by following you on Twitter.
  7. Integrate with offline promotions.
    Interactive storytelling can help you get more mileage out of your marketing. Ask a thought-provoking question in your direct mail piece and encourage members to tweet their answers. Ask for photographs. This interaction will not only engage members; it will help you tailor your event to meet their needs.

Having followers makes you a leader. While it seems like the goal on Twitter is to get as many followers, favorites, and retweets as possible, it’s wise to keep in mind that we must offer value to our base or they will find it elsewhere.

Twitter is just another extension of your authentic brand story. Make sure your language, images, and corporate identity on Twitter are consistent with the rest of your branding. Tell stories. Tweet professional images that represent your organization. Encourage a conversation with your base. The result will be connectivity, inspiration, and a stronger following online and in person.

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