Association Communications Benchmarking Series

Q&A: 2018 Association Communications Benchmarking Webinar

By Association Adviser staff • November 13, 2018

During our webinar about the current state of association communications, our attendees brought up numerous questions about recommended strategies, tactics, platforms and communication practices. We’ve compiled answers to questions posed during the Q&A portion of the webinar as well as submitted questions that our team ran out of time to answer.

Have additional questions? Submit them in the comment section below!

Download a recording of the 2018 Association Communications Benchmarking Webinar, “A Balanced Approach to Member Engagement,” here.

How can you effectively target communications without good data?

It’s harder, but possible. Hopefully you have a general idea of who your membership is based on membership or event registrations. Use your observations about the type of professionals you see at meetings and events as a starting point for segmenting your membership and coming up with communications that speak to those segments.

Next, start a membership survey or a publication-based readership survey as soon as possible. We recommend surveying your members about their demographics and preferences at least once every two years, but preferably once per year. Ask what parts of their membership they value the most and which aspects of their membership they use the most, so you know what keeps them engaged with your association and more likely to renew their membership.

What are best practices for deciding to launch a private online community?

The answer will differ slightly depending on your membership size and industry. Medical professionals probably have a different use for an online community than construction workers. Your members’ profession is going to determine how they learn about an online community, how much time they have for it, and even how they access it. Best practices would be to ask members in a survey if they’d like an online community. Would they use it? How often? What features would they like to see? For example, would they want it to be more of a networking platform? Would they like it to integrate with the association’s website or career center? Would it be convenient to be able to register for events on an online community?

We’ve had some associations try an online community only to find that members didn’t want to change over from gathering on a LinkedIn or Facebook group. Don’t make the mistake of investing resources in an online community that’s not wanted. Meet your members where they are if they already have a strong online group on another platform, and offer your association’s resources to support that group so it can remain as useful as members want it to be.

Blogs have gone through changes over the years between being short and now they seem like they are much longer. What is the best practice for use and length?

Look at your data analytics platform for your website and let data about which articles are most popular guide your decisions about the type and length of articles you should post on your blog. If people aren’t staying long on your blog, that could be a hint that your readers want shorter content. A lot of blogs have moved to shorter forms of content because readers are looking for quick-hit information. Article formats like Top 5 or Top 10 lists are popular social media posts that give readers easy-to-absorb information and help them digest important information you want them to see even if they’re on the go.

Offer short information, but scatter it with longer-form pieces in your blog that offers a more in-depth look at complex topics. Tease these longer pieces in your print magazine, your newsletter, and other communication platforms so that readers know detailed information is available when they have time for it. This cross-platform integration of your communications will remind members of all your communication channels and boost readership on all platforms.

You can also have more than one blog – one can host short, quick updates while the other features longer pieces. Members will quickly figure out which blog suits their information needs based on the time they have, the topic they want to know more about. The appropriate length for an article will then depend on which blog you want to use.

Do you have a recommendation for a texting software platform?

With cell phone ownership at 95 percent of American adults, texting can be an easy and effective way to reach your audience with short, important updates. The right texting platform will depend on your membership size and messaging needs. Some mass texting services charge per message while others charge a fee based on the size of your phone list. Visit CallFire or EZTexting to get a better idea of what text messaging platforms offer and at what price.

Given the bad PR Facebook has received recently and increased concerns about hacking into the site and stealing confidential information, do you think associations will begin to use this social media platform less than before?

We think everyone is being more cautious with the information they post on social media, including associations. Association boards and leadership should discuss the type of information they want to post on social media and what safeguards they should enact to protect members’ personal information. They should do their due diligence to ensure that the data they store is kept in a safe way because it’s a great responsibility to protect members’ data.

We don’t recommend soliciting any sensitive member data on social media platforms because associations don’t control the security of those platforms. Social media is not the appropriate platform for collecting and storing personally identifying or sensitive information. When it comes to storing or using personally identifying information online, work with your AMS or CMS vendor to review security protocols in place and test how secure your association’s information is. Run security diagnostics so that your association’s leadership has the peace of mind that everything possible is being done to secure and protect member information.

How do you recommend managing all the targeted communications for small budgets/staff?

The more you customize your information, the more it can become overwhelming to track and organize all of your content. If having a content management system isn’t an option for your small association, take advantage of free platforms like Google Drive that groups can easily share from multiple locations. Shared drives or documents stored online are especially good for ensuring your marketing and communications staff doesn’t become siloed from the rest of the organization. Check with your AMS vendor if they offer a module or solution for managing content. You might be paying for it already, so why not learn how to use it to your added benefit? Whichever organizational tool you use, check in with all stakeholders regularly so you can be sure you’re covering all relevant content areas and repurposing content as much as possible.

Our CRM has the ability to capture lots of demographic info about our members, but it’s difficult for us to build these asks into our online join process. Any tips on how to encourage members to volunteer additional information that will help us customize for them?

This is an easy one! Sounds like the issue is that it’s not easy to ask about all of the demographic information your AMS can handle right when a member joins. If that’s the case, consider sending a “new member survey” a couple weeks or a month after a new member joins your association. Tell the new member you want to check in with them, that you’re glad they’re now part of your association, and that you want to get to know them a little better. So would they fill out this member survey and tell you what their professional interests are? Follow the email up with a phone call to let the new member personally know your association really does care about their professional interests and needs, and wants to better segment communications with them so they receive relevant communications messages from their association. Hopefully, this practice will help engage your new members further and keep them on the new member high longer.

What strategies are associations using to increase their revenue from their advertising in printed publications?

It’s not necessarily a new strategy, but one that we have found helps advertiser engagement is to establish an annual content plan before reaching out to advertisers and sponsors. They usually want to know what topics will be featured in a magazine or newsletter so they can plan their ad copy around a theme or special section. Arm your sales representatives in advance with your editorial plan so they can tell their advertising prospects which member profiles, association news or special topics they can expect to see. A strong content plan usually leads to stronger content around which advertisers feel comfortable advertising. Time spent creating an editorial plan is time well spent.

Additionally, consider offering a variety of ad placements that fit budgets large and small. Small to midsize businesses might not be able to afford your full-page ads but can afford to support your association through a business card exchange section or a marketplace/classifieds listing.  Sponsored content sections that revolve around a special association event, such as a milestone anniversary or a longtime leader’s retirement are popular with advertisers wishing to show their support for your association.

What is the industry standard for member survey responses? Do you have any recommendations for standard member surveys? We struggle with people completing a survey and then generalizing this data across membership.

How many responses you should aim for depends on the size of your association. Ten percent of your survey universe (the total number of people you want information about) is usually an accepted standard for the number of responses. However, if you have a very large association with thousands of members, and your engagement rates are typically lower than 10 percent, you could aim for 5 percent or less and the raw number of responses would probably constitute a representative sample of your membership. All member surveys are a sampling of your membership; don’t expect a majority of members to participate.

Ask prominent members of your association to help solicit survey responses – board members, association staff and other influencers. Offer an incentive such as a small gift card for every participant who completes the survey or raffle off a larger gift card among all survey participants. Reach out personally to friends and colleagues to ask for their participation. Personal contact sometimes yields better engagement than a more impersonal email.

As for survey content, we use a survey question bank of tried-and-true question formats that have proven to earn a high rate of responses. Our question formats are usually multiple choice or ranking-style questions (“rate this on a scale of one to five”) because those are easier to answer than open-ended questions. Again, the right type of survey content is going to depend upon the type of information you want to collect and the willingness of your individual members to answer.

Did the survey explore the use of video? Are we seeing more use of video or is this number relatively stable?

The full benchmarking report has more detailed information about what associations think regarding video. Video was No. 6 on the list of communication types associations having a hard time producing it consistently. Additionally, it looks like 62 percent agree that they are still capturing their events live with video.

Ernie Smith explains how online video is “the perfect way to dive deep into the niche, to learn larger lessons, and to build an engaged audience” in this recent article for Associations Now. It’s worth a read if you are considering adding video to your communications or upgrading the video portfolio you have.

Do you have any great resources for developing an overall strategic communication plan?

Yes! The Association Adviser website has plenty of articles about content marketing best practices. Also, Naylor’s content strategists can work with you one-on-one to assess where your association’s communications are, where you’d like them to be, and how to move in that direction.

Check out our free eBook, 10  Secrets to a Winning Communications Plan, for 10 tips about creating high-quality communications that will guarantee your message is one that makes an impact.

The Content Marketing Institute is a great resource for associations looking to develop more integrated content across issues and platforms. Some of our other favorite resources include Marketing General, (because we firmly believe that your analytics should inform your content strategy), and Marketing Profs.

Our non-dues revenue has increased, but we’ve also had to hire additional staff in order to make it a focus. How do you balance earning new revenue with the cost of resources to make that happen?

This is definitely something to consider. Just over half of associations reported in this year’s benchmarking report that their teams feel understaffed, so creating a new non-dues revenue program will likely require additional people or resources. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to do it alone. There are partners out there that can take on a majority of the costs for their services while enabling your association to earn non-dues revenue. Research your options and make sure to ask specifically about the cost vs. revenue benefit.

If you do add staff to oversee your non-dues revenue program, make sure to account for all costs when you set your goals and budgets for the program. Keep an eye on costs going out and revenue coming in to make sure your financials are in alignment.