What 15-Year-Olds Can Teach Associations About Content Strategy

By • July 6, 2014

Jill Andreu
Jill Andreu, Naylor Association Solutions

A colleague recently told me a story about how his 15-year-old daughter carries out her content strategy on Instagram.

She doesn’t call it “content strategy.” She simply calls it “posting photos on Insta.” (Other parents out there probably recognize this slang.) But my colleague noticed that one afternoon, after his daughter snapped a “selfie” of them together, she didn’t immediately post the photo to her Instagram account as usual. At first he thought she didn’t like the photo enough to post it online, or that she was embarrassed to post a photo of herself with her dad. When he asked his daughter why she was holding onto the photo, she replied that most of her friends were not on Instagram until after dinner. If she posted her photo too soon, fewer people would see it. She was waiting until the right time to post it for maximum exposure.

Just as in traditional journalism, you need to know your five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why (and How). LilTweetablesSmall

Social media is a two-way communication channel that makes it fast and easy to address the five Ws. If you’re stuck in a one-way zone, check your directions. LilTweetablesSmall

Communicate in the spaces where your members feel comfortable, where they feel valued, and where you know you’ll get the results you want. That includes face-to-face situations.

Don’t forget to measure results accurately and consistently. Associations should continuously take stock of reactions to their content and adjust accordingly. Members want to see that you care.

Later that evening when she uploaded the photo, she also tweeted it and checked Instagram several times to see how many people had liked or commented on the photo.

My colleague’s teenager didn’t call her plan “content strategy.” But let’s review what she did:

  • She waited to post her photo (content) at a time when she knew her friends (audience) would be online.
  • She used the platform most popular with her audience.
  • She cross-promoted it through another social network (channel) where her audience spends considerable time.
  • She measured the results swiftly and regularly, and likely started planning her next post based on feedback she received.

As simple and natural as her activity seems, she had a definite content strategy.

What can you, the communication professional, learn from my colleague’s daughter?

The Five W’s

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Are you trying to reach your members where they already gather online?

Know your five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why (and How).

Who is your audience? Social media’s two-way communication easily answers the question of who sees your content.

What do they say about it? Do they respond more to certain types of content? Stick with content that earns more “likes” and comments. Make sure you’re broadcasting what they need as well as what they like to see and hear.

When do they consume your content? Are you sending emails or posting information online during a window when your audience is online? Most analytics tools allow you to view the times of day in which people interact most with your channels.

Where does your audience congregate? Are you making an effort to reach them in their preferred places, or are you settling for lesser-used platforms that you’ve always used? Make it easy for your audience to see you and engage with you. This could be on a certain social network, within their email inbox, somewhere offline, or a combination of all three. Don’t neglect the power of face-to-face interaction, even in today’s digitally networked world.

Why are you communicating? Does your message contain valuable, useful information, or are you posting something just to make noise? Most audiences will forgive, and even enjoy, the occasional “fluff” post that doesn’t say much but still entertains. But abuse that attention from your audience, and you’ll see followers leaving for someone who better communicates to their needs.

Finally, how are you reaching your audience? Similar to where, HOW you reach your audience matters if you want to encourage a two-way dialogue that provides genuine feedback and the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship. Are you publishing your most important content in your members’ favorite places? Even content that is not “A-list” deserves some exposure. Another colleague’s teenage son calls secondary platforms like Snapchat “the JV squad.” His photos that aren’t Instagram-worthy, or that are too private to broadcast, go on other social media outlets. The photos still receive an audience, but their placement subtly conveys the message that their content isn’t a priority or an important idea.

Communicate in the spaces where members feel comfortable, valued and where you know you’ll get the results you want—whether that’s likes, replies or more in-depth actions such as event attendance or program participation.

Content: the struggle is real

AM&P Annual Meeting 2014
The author, left, with Tom Smith of ACI-NA and Sarah Patterson of Association Media & Publishing.

I recently spoke about bridging the communication gap at Association Media & Publishing’s 2014 Annual Meeting, and it’s clear that association communications professionals struggle somewhat with their content strategy. They understand the Ws and have the talent to deliver, but buy-in from members seems to be a challenge. I shared with them a term we use at Naylor when training new sales representatives—the WIIFM. Our sales reps can’t just make a pitch and hope what they said resonated with the customer. They have to provide a WIIFM—what’s in it for me? The same holds true with communications. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader/member. What are the takeaways from each communication piece?

Lack of support from within their own association walls also was mentioned as a communications strategy struggle. If content is king and member communication is necessary for engagement and retention, how can the needs of the communication department fall to the bottom of the priority pile? One individual mentioned that she would never be “allowed” to talk to board members. Really? She is a key representative of that association, and she needs true feedback to properly steer her content strategy. Surveys are crucial. I often say, “Give members what they want, not what you think they want.”

Measure your content results

The last step in this loop is measuring results. My colleague’s daughter checked the online reaction to her photo several times during the evening, and likely in the days after she posted it. The feedback she received no doubt shaped her plans for her next Instagram-worthy photo.

Associations should continuously take stock of reactions to their content and adjust accordingly, as well. Content analysis can be as simple as comparing open and click rates, reading and discussing online comments, or talking with members in person about your communications. Finding out what your membership wants from your association also can take the form of a more in-depth communication gap analysis that delves into member demographics, information needs and communication preferences.

Whether you call it a “content strategy” or simply “posting stuff online,” to communicate successfully, everyone needs a plan. Take time to think about your communication activity today. You might even ask the nearest teenager for advice.

Jill Andreu, Naylor’s vice president of content strategy and development, is responsible for the overall strategy, direction, leadership and management of Naylor’s editorial department. Jill is also responsible for execution of Content 360, a program that provides content strategy and leadership to the association marketplace.