Association Communications Benchmarking Series

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: 10 Years of Association Communications Benchmarking Webinar Q&A

By Sarah Sain, CAE • November 30, 2021

On October 21, Naylor and Association Adviser hosted “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: 10 Years of Association Communications.” In the hour-long webinar, we looked back at where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed through the lens of the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report. We reviewed important trends that have shaped the association industry over the past 10 years, took a scan of today’s environment, and discussed how to create an effective communications strategy for your association in 2022 and beyond.


Here are several questions we received from our webinar audience. Because we didn’t have enough time to answer every question, we’re providing many of those answers in this article. (Didn’t get a chance to attend? Download the full Benchmarking Report and Webinar here)


We launched our online community in 2020. Were we too late?

Definitely not! It’s never too late to start offering a benefit that meets a member’s need. Now that you’ve launched your online community, I think the question (or questions) to ask yourself is more around how you make sure that it provides the resources and engagement needed to be considered a success. I would recommend checking out Higher Logic’s The Ultimate Guide to Building a New Online Community. Many of the steps they recommend taking before you start an online community should be revisited on a regular basis. For example, know your organization’s goals for your online community and clearly understand what success looks like. That’s not a one-time deal. As your organization’s goals change and shift, so should your approach to your online community – and any other benefits you offer members.


Why the rise of LinkedIn?

Social media overall grew in value for the association executives surveyed for the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report. Twitter was up 9 percentage points, Facebook up 7 percentage points, and LinkedIn up 12 percentage points in those respondents who found the channels “extremely valuable” – quite a leap in one year. LinkedIn, specifically, has expanded far beyond hosting online resumes and has become an active professional networking site where users can share their thought leadership and expertise. That, combined with its platform for online training and development via LinkedIn Learning, have made it a force to be reckoned with.

The pandemic changed the definition of work for many people – many employees began working remotely, while others faced layoffs and furloughs. As we’ve emerged back into the workplace, the job market has become rife with new opportunities for growth and the chance to build a new career. LinkedIn is in prime position to facilitate professional connections and conversations that are helping many individuals find the next step in their careers.


Why is sponsorship being looped in with communications throughout the survey?

While the benchmarking survey focuses largely on communications best practices and trends, we also look at how aspects of an association’s operations – staff, technology, and sponsorship among them – tie in and relate to how an association communicates with its members. The fact of the matter is that sponsorship is related to communications and marketing in a variety of ways, including your promotion of sponsors and what types of packages that you offer.

Particularly as many events went all virtual in 2020 (and in some cases in 2021), associations looked at new ways to provide their sponsors value, including advertising in print and digital communications, video and webinars, and sponsored content. All these options put your sponsors in front of their key audience, while also giving them new ways to support the association. Continuing to provide that level of customization beyond the “gold/silver/bronze” package will only serve to attract sponsors in the future as your association proves you put their needs front and center.


We’re only starting to build out our career center content. Where do you recommend we start?

A career center is much more than a place to search for your next job or find your next new hire. A career center is a content hub where job seekers and employees can find education, information and resources that help them as they seek out career changes and industry best practices.

Before you begin, consider who your audience is on your career center. You likely will want to create targeted content for a few audiences, including students and young professionals, those looking to advance in established careers, and employers looking to hire. Each of these groups will be looking for something different from your content – resume writing and interview tips for students applying for their first jobs, requirements for certifications or how to be a better manager as members grow into their careers, and onboarding assistance and information on how to make the first day a great one for employers.

In terms of the type of content, everyone who visits your career center is looking for how to take their next steps, which means how-to articles, checklists, templates are particularly helpful. As are success stories and case studies if you have members willing to share their career journeys. (We do love to learn from each other about what’s worked!)


We’re not successful at getting engagement on social media. Can you share tips on how we should be creating content? Any suggestions for templates to help us create a social media plan?

It can feel futile when you put time and energy into social media and the likes and shares don’t immediately add up. Most organizations or individuals don’t go viral and wake up to a million new followers; instead, they consistently build an active following over time through consistent posting. That said, there are a few things you can do though to make sure your social media is hitting the mark for your members.

First off, ask your followers what content they want to see on social media. It can be part of a regular member survey, a quick poll on Instagram stories, or even a simple post on Monday mornings: “What do you want to see from us on social media this week?” Maybe you’ll hear they want a photo gallery from last week’s conference or an advocacy update on new legislation … either way, when you know your members’ needs, you can deliver.

Secondly, understand your analytics. Social media analytics can provide a wealth of knowledge that help you post great content, but also make sure that it goes live on the right days and times to capture your audience’s attention.

Finally, always include a photo, call to action or question that encourages interaction and engagement. And don’t be afraid to have fun with it!

Smartsheet has some great social media plan templates that can also be customized to fit your association’s social media strategy, but keep in mind that social media strategy should include some flexibility as well. Leave space in your plan to react to what’s going on in the moment when it’s required.


While more groups are streaming their events, is a growing number of members really looking at them?

Currently, yes, there is still an audience for streaming of live events for several reasons. Some countries and even regions of the United States still face restrictions due to COVID-19, while on an individual level, some people are still not quite ready and comfortable attending large events. Budgets for travel and conferences remain tight as some industries recover at a slower pace than others. Plus, virtual and hybrid events are also simply more accessible to a portion of your members, including those with disabilities.

Whether long-term streaming for live events – in full or in part – is a viable option for an individual association is something they’ll have to watch closely in the years to come. Does your streaming audience increase or decrease as time goes on? How do you price streaming a conference vs. in-person attendance? How can you provide interactive elements or networking value for virtual attendees? These are all questions associations will grapple with and weigh in the coming years.


We hope you found this year’s report and webinar helpful as you build out your communications strategy for 2022 and beyond. We are always here to help chat through your plan! Schedule a meeting today.