Associations have never before had more ways to communicate with members. There’s print, online, video, email, podcasts, events (yes, in person and virtual) and social media. The opportunities can feel endless (and intimidating) with new platforms and channels being introduced and embraced all the time, in addition to existing media that remain highly valued.
According to Association Adviser’s 2020 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, associations are taking advantage of many of the tools available to them to get out their message. On average, associations communicate with members an estimated 31 times per month; that’s a slight increase from 2018 and 2019.
Yet, despite the high frequency of member communication touches overall, many associations say they struggle to articulate their membership value proposition, and they admit that breaking through in an environment where information overload abounds is still, after nine years of survey data, their top challenge.
Members – in a year when they’ve faced a global pandemic, a transition to remote work in many industries, economic uncertainty, calls for diversity and inclusion in our systems, and a divisive election – feel overwhelmed. The constant stream of information is leading many to experience communication fatigue.
Therefore, associations must set a high bar for their member communications. They need to communicate with members with clear and concise messaging through effective and impactful forms of media. Anything less will have members tuning out.
Here are four things your association can do today to make sure your member communications rise above the clutter and shine through to members.
Focus on relevant content.
More than half of our benchmarking survey respondents this year said they must do a better job of understanding why certain content “resonates with members.” It’s vital for your association to understand your members’ content needs and preferences so they find value in your communications. Look for ways to strategically deliver content in the right platform and at the right time that answers questions, solves problems and tells a story.
Your members can find nearly anything they want to know on the internet– resources and information are plentiful. But you want them to seek out that content from you as a trusted source and the voice of your industry. The way to do that is through high quality, timely content that is engaging and relevant every time.
2. Customize on a deeper level.
While it’s tempting to lump members into age groups or by job title and call it a day in terms of message customization – and we certainly won’t fault you if you’re just getting started customizing content for members – keep in mind that no two members are exactly alike. Creating a more engaging membership experience, and thus a more loyal membership, is worth the work of researching what different types of members need from your association so you can deliver a more personalized experience.
Use the technology you have available to gather information about your members’ habits – events and webinars they attend, resources they download, and how they engage on social media or within your online community. You can use your association management software (AMS) or member data platform to find this kind of information. Compare that with survey results and have conversations to probe further into what the data is telling you about their preferences and which of your association’s benefits and services might resonate most at different stages throughout their member journey.
3. Stick to a schedule.
Most associations go into each month with a strategically, thoughtfully prepared content calendar that sets limits on how many times you’ll reach out to members so as not to overload their inboxes. But before you know it, you’ve added a handful more emails, a dozen more social media posts, plus that new blog you’ve wanted to start. While it’s well intentioned, set boundaries around what can be added to your content calendar that wasn’t planned. If your plan is to send a weekly newsletter on Tuesday mornings with all your member updates for the week, send the newsletter on Tuesday mornings. Don’t move it to Wednesday, and don’t add an extra issue on Thursdays. Consistency is key and something your members will appreciate.
Plus, requiring your team to plan and add communications to your calendar in advance gets the whole team looking ahead. Having a confirmed and solid plan in place with the time to produce quality content can also help prevent your staff from becoming burned out, since nearly half of the associations we surveyed said their communications teams are understaffed.
4. Keep your members front and center.
While one of the recommendations we make based in this year’s benchmarking report is to make data-driven decisions – and we stick by that recommendation – don’t forget that your members are people, not numbers. Your messaging should strike the right tone for the subject matter at hand. At times, that tone will be serious and with an urgent call to action, but there will also be times when a more conversational approach and a healthy dose of humor is needed.
Membership, after all, is a relationship. And that relationship grows stronger through listening to each other, learning from each other, and showing each other mutual respect when we engage and communicate.