Part 3 of our 2017 Association Communications Benchmarking Study series
Why become a member of an association? This is the golden question asked by so many association executives as they seek to retain and attract new members to their group. And while there are many reasons an individual or company would be attracted to association membership, having access to the most relevant industry information is at the forefront of their minds.
Providing relevant and engaging content for members should always be at the top of an association’s communication strategy. Members look to your association as the voice of the industry and as somewhere they can collect information from a trusted source. In our 2017 Association Benchmarking Survey, “communicating member benefits effectively” was reported as the No. 1 challenge associations face today. Your communication pieces, whether a magazine, newsletter, online buyers’ guide or other information source, should be promoted to your members as one of the most highly regarded and valuable member benefits your association has to offer.
In 2016, 80 percent (4 out of 5) of associations said their members ignore at least half of their communications. Why?
- 67 percent said their members tell them they are too busy
- 56 percent of associations say they don’t segment or target their communications well enough
- 45 percent said there are too many competing options for association content
- 47 percent said they thought the association could do a better job at promoting member communications as a member benefit
These numbers prove there are challenges facing associations of both understanding member informational needs and ways to properly promote association communications as a membership benefit. If potential or existing members don’t know about the information services your association provides, they might decline to join or renew membership.
Member Communications Are a Valuable Member Benefit
An association’s print publication is one of its most valuable forms of communication, as it includes timely and relevant editorial content specifically for members. Magazines and directories can be distributed in a traditional print format that members keep in their offices and share with colleagues and/or in a digital edition where members can share articles via their social media pages.
Online communications, including newsletters, apps and websites, are increasingly popular with members today because they allow access to timely information right at members’ fingertips. Whether at their desk or on their smartphone, members can find out what news is affecting their industry, communicate in real-time with colleagues, and immediately register for educational sessions and conferences.
Know What Your Members Want to Know from Your Communications
But in the 2017 Association Benchmark Survey, roughly half of association respondents felt they could be doing a better job of promoting their communications as a member benefit, and two out of three said members tell them they are “too busy” to engage. Considering this data, there are several ways to ensure you are acting on your members’ needs and also promoting your communications effectively.
Associations should use a variety of tools to determine the information needs of members, their demographics and their interests with regards to editorial content and preferred method of receiving communications. These include:
- Member satisfaction surveys: Sending an annual survey to your members not only provides your association with great data about how your members interact with your communications, but also further promotes what is available to the respondents of the survey.
- Focus groups: Invite a group of members for a luncheon to discuss their thoughts about your communications. Face-to-face interactions usually encourage a great dialogue and reveal some issues you may not already know about.
- Your website and social media platforms: Create a short poll or an email button on your online communications asking members what they like/dislike about your media program. This method is easier for respondents to answer quickly, and the response rate can be much higher than formal surveys.
Once you’ve received feedback from your members about their information needs and interests, ensure your communication strategy and goals reflect your findings. Send a note via email or on your website sharing what sort of member communications results you found (putting this information in an easy to read infographic is one reader-friendly way to do it) and assure members that they are being heard by revealing the steps your association will be taking to respond to their communication needs. Mention the ways these topics of interest will be featured in upcoming publications, during meetings, and at workshops or conferences.
Promote Member Communications as a Member Benefit
Thirty-five percent of associations say maintaining their position as their industry’s top information source is a communication challenge. This proves how imperative it is to properly promote your association’s communications to your members. Make sure you are cross-promoting your communication channels as much as possible and frequently refer members to them. Here are some ways to cross promote your communications:
- In your print publication, such as a magazine or directory, promote your newsletter with a short article about its benefits and features, or create an eye-catching advertisement.
- In online media, such as a newsletter or website, prominently link to the digital edition of the magazine (don’t make members look for it) and refer to what exciting editorial will be featured in upcoming issues.
- Use your social media channels to promote past articles of your magazine or newsletter, especially if the topic is a perennial issue. Graphics earn more attention than just text, so include an exciting image and link directly to the magazine article.
- Promote your online buyers’ guide, digital edition or mobile app in your magazine and newsletter with a small blurb explaining its benefits.
- Include promotional material at your conference or event that endorses the benefits of all of your member communications – for example, a banner stand, a flyer in attendee bags, slides on a projector screen, or branded giveaways.
- Send out a copy of your magazine and a marketing piece promoting your communications as a key member benefit when reaching out to new members and with your renewal packages.
Members want to be heard and as the voice of the industry, associations should be there to listen. If you want your members to value your communications and refer to them as a top reason they join your association in the first place, don’t shy away from asking them for feedback. Once your content and sources are in line with their needs, and you are promoting them effectively, membership growth and retention will fall right into place.