Student conversion – few topics are as central to membership professionals these days. For years, we have all been seeking more effective ways to get students to pay attention, join, engage and generally love our organizations. We work with dozens of associations who represent hundreds of thousands of student members, and all are challenged in the conversion area. The highest rates we see are in the 30-40% range. Recently we’ve begun digging deeper on some of these issues and what we are finding is a little scary. For example, at one organization, an audit of a year’s worth of outbound e-mail found that over 5,000 students received 20+ promotional e-mail messages for products and services that students are not in a position to buy – conferences, seminars, publications, etc. We also found that students were 3X more likely to unsubscribe from the association’s list within the first four messages. The upshot? These students are savvy enough to know immediately that they’re being “spammed” so they get out quickly. It’s no surprise. In our research with students, we find that their needs and expectations of their professional organizations are pretty clear – help me connect to other people, get a job and give me (cheap or free) access to information that will help me do it better. However, associations are hard pressed to deliver the goods. Continuous e-mail promotion of products and services that have no relevance is a sure fire way to tell them that the association is really NOT the place for them. Personally, I think that the erosion of our brands, particularly with this younger set, is one of the biggest threats we face as associations. There is no more potent brand-eroder than spam. Will we wean ourselves from the narcotic of e-mail, or simply continue to blast out irrelevant messages into the ether? It sure will be an interesting experiment to watch.