Association Communications Benchmarking Series

Don’t Let These Member Communication Culprits Derail Your Association’s Content

By • September 28, 2018

According to the recently published Association Communications Benchmarking Study, an overwhelming percentage (84 percent) of associations believe they are good at creating relevant content in their communications. Yet at the same time, only 1 in 5 say they have a good understanding of their readers, member and advertiser needs.

So, where is the disconnect?

My conclusions include a few different culprits. Is your association guilty of any of these? Read below to find out what you and your association may be the victims of and some quick tips on resolving those challenges.

Culprit No. 1: Assuming Too Much About Your Members

Argumentum ad populum (Latin for “argument to the people”): An argument based on the premise that something must be true because many or most believe it to be true.

But you know what assuming does….

Perhaps your association, like many organizations, is guilty of assuming too much.  If you’ve never asked your members what they want to read, hear or watch, how do you know you are producing great content for them? Forty-one percent of associations who responded to our Benchmarking Survey say it’s a challenge to help members find desired information quickly. Another 45 percent report that declining reader engagement comes from too many competing content options. When deciding what to talk about in your member communications, shouldn’t you be 100 percent sure your content is relevant and something your members want?

There’s a big difference between you and your staff believing the content you produce is great versus what your members actually think. It’s time to take a real assessment, and think about starting to connect with your members to truly understanding their information needs, wants and preferences.

One way to identify specific disconnects is through a comprehensive gap analysis assessment. A gap analysis surveys your staff, association members and advertisers/supplier members to see where there are gaps in perceptions about the quality and direction of member communications. This approach can help bridge the divide between member needs, advertiser goals and your association’s objectives as it relates to content and your overall communications.

If you don’t have the resources to conduct something so robust, a simple survey through Survey Monkey, Qualtrix or another survey platform can still have a huge impact, as long as you are analyzing and making a plan of action based on the results, which brings us to our next topic.

Culprit No. 2: Not implementing survey results

Do you survey your members regularly but find its difficult implementing anything based on those results? This could be another possible reason associations don’t understand their members needs and wants. The survey is complete and you set it and forget it. What should actually happen when the survey closes is a group of selected people meet to review the results and conduct a full analysis, including opportunities and action plans. If you work with vendors to produce or sell advertising for your communications, they should be involved in this process as well.

Ensure you walk away from the meeting(s) knowing what you need to do to implement the changes your members or advertisers have told you they want. These action plans can sometimes seem overwhelming, but taking them one step at a time, and truly having a specific and detailed plan in place will help you stay on track and be successful. And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Implementing these changes and seeing progress takes time! Set realistic expectations and goals with you and your board.

Culprit No. 3: Not asking the right questions

This seems like an easy task, right? We know our members. We know our communications. We know what we should ask. But it’s a little more complicated than that if you really want to get the answers you seek. The key is to work backwards. What do you want the survey to accomplish? What are your goals? Surveys seek to provide you with information about how survey takers feel about particular topics and what challenges or recommendations they have regarding those topics. Make sure your questions probe enough that you actually receive new and useful information.

An example:

Ok question:

Would you be interested in ABC Association creating an e-newsletter for members only?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Better question(s):

  • If ABC Association created an eNewsletter, what would be your preferred frequency?
  1. Weekly
  2. Bi-Monthly
  3. Monthly
  4. I wouldn’t read an ABC Association eNewsletter
  • Rank from 1-5 the content features you would consider the most valuable in an ABC Association eNewsletter?
  1. Breaking industry news
  2. Association events
  3. Legislation and regulation updates
  4. Career opportunities
  5. Member profiles
  6. Other: ______________

As a general rule, try to steer clear of Yes or No questions. While those types of questions may give you some broad information, they’re not specific enough to help you make an effective decision. In the example above, the first question will certainly show you if members want an eNewsletter, But the second and third questions give more specifics to help you decide how often you should produce an eNewsletter and what kind of information it should contain (this is huge to help you with new and fresh content!) while also giving members an option to show you if they are not interested.

Utilize the features to customize your survey taker’s experience. For example, in the questions above, if someone chooses D, “I wouldn’t read an ABC Association eNewsletter,” set up a skip option so they don’t receive the ranking content question. It doesn’t make sense to ask someone who isn’t interested in the eNewsletter what features they’d like to see. You want members who would read it to tell you what they want.

Custom communications start with custom surveys. Fifty-seven percent of respondents say it’s a challenge to customize info for different segment groups but most survey platforms can do the work for you! You can use your survey platform to have different segments of members answer certain questions. One survey can act as two if you put each group down a different path based on your first question. For example:

  1. What type of member are you?
    1. Producer member
    2. Supplier member

In this example, producer members could be led down a survey path that asks their opinions about being readers of a magazine. Supplier members could be led down a path to see if they have advertised in the magazine before or have an appetite to do so along with questions related to their advertising preferences.

Culprit No. 4: Not Surveying Enough

The last offender might not be as obvious as some of the others, and that is associations surveying their members and advertisers, but not enough. Nearly 2 in 3 respondents indicated they do not survey their members every 12-24 months. In the ever-changing communications landscape, it’s imperative that associations survey their members annually, or at least every two years. Preferences, trends, goals, and directives can change every month, let alone every year. How can you keep up with your members and advertisers’ wants and desires if you aren’t asking them more regularly?

However, one thing to keep in mind as you survey members regularly is to fend off survey fatigue. Organizations send out many surveys. You need yours to stick. You need members to respond.

A few helpful tips to accomplish a higher response rate include:

  • Offer an enticing incentive, and no, that doesn’t mean just a gift card. Can a few select people win a free registration to your annual event? If it’s a survey to sponsors, how about a discount on an exhibit booth?
  • Make your survey as short as you can. While there is most likely about a billion things you could ask, keep your end goals in mind and how to accomplish them by asking in a concise and meaningful way.
  • Promote the survey length, time and incentive in your email and anywhere else you are announcing the survey. This key information will give your survey takers the reasons to take your survey.
  • Tell respondents what they get in exchange for their time. This is an important piece that often gets overlooked. Besides the incentive, what’s in it for your members or advertisers to take your survey? Will it help you craft a more relevant content plan that will benefit members? Will it help you craft custom sponsor packages to give sponsors more of what they are looking for?


The key to keeping members engaged, renewing their membership, and believing in what you do on their behalf lies in your association’s ability to truly understand what they want. When it comes to producing relevant content in your association communications, understanding is really as easy as just asking. Don’t assume your members will feel the same about an article or feature idea as you. Survey often enough to keep up with the constantly evolving communications world, ask the right questions, use features your survey platform to customize, and implement the survey results with clear, actionable plans and deadlines.

Has your association implemented any of these tips recently? What is your member feedback?

About The Author

Brianna Martin is a corporate marketing specialist with Naylor Association Solutions.