MCLEAN, Va. – Four in five associations think at least half their member communications are ignored, but 86 percent think they are good at creating relevant content. Only 28 percent of associations think they are using member data wisely enough to deliver a customized member experience, but more than half are conducting member communications surveys at least once every two years. Just 27 percent of associations awarded themselves a score of four out of five when asked how well their communications are integrated, but more than half feel they have the tools they need to improve readership.
These are just a few contrasts found in the 2016 Association Communications Benchmarking Study, an annual survey of the state of association communications conducted by Association Adviser and Naylor Association Solutions.
Naylor has partnered with 11 member organizations of the Association Societies Alliance since 2010 to conduct a comprehensive annual study that focuses exclusively on the communication tools, strategies, best practices, resource investments and gaps of membership organizations. 2016 is the fifth year the survey has been completed. Respondents represent small, midsize and large trade associations and professional societies from an array of industries.
Association communicators still struggle to communicate clearly and effectively
For the fifth consecutive year, association communicators ranked “combating information overload” as a top communications problem. Sixty-nine percent of respondents chose this issue as a main concern regarding their communications; 54 percent reported the same in 2010. One reason for this issue could be self-made: On average, associations are communicating with members an estimated 30 times a month via print, online, social media and video, up from an estimated 26 times a month in 2015. The survey found that new print and video pieces are published just once or twice a month, while associations are trying to reach members via social media 15 times a month.
Other noted communications challenges are communicating member benefits effectively (67 percent cited this issue), engaging young professionals (55 percent), customizing communications for member segments (55 percent) and overcoming technical barriers (45 percent).
Non-dues revenue becoming a larger issue
Although 86 percent of respondents claimed they are good at creating content relevant to their members and industries, more than half (54 percent) also said they have trouble generating significant non-dues revenue from their publications.
This struggle could be closely related to the fact that less than one-third of respondents claimed they have a process in place for measuring member engagement with their communications, and nearly half (48 percent) said they consider their ability to measure their communications’ effectiveness a serious or significant problem. A lack of confidence in the ability to show sponsors or advertisers a return on their investment with an association publication can hinder an association’s enthusiasm to pursue non-dues revenue opportunities.
Less traditional communication channels gain ground
Traditional conferences and face-to-face events continue to rank as the most highly valued communications channel for associations. Ninety percent of survey participants consider conferences and other events “very” or “extremely” valuable, and they gave this channel an average rating of 4.61 (out of five). Other traditional communications channels, such as newsletters, magazines and member directories, continued to rank highly among the association professionals surveyed.
However, recently mainstreamed platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, webinars, online video and online career centers, gained a positive perception. This was the first year Association Adviser asked survey participants to give their opinions about the usefulness and value of these new channels.
“Job boards are typically one of the most-viewed webpages within an association’s main website,” said Carrie McIntyre, vice president of technology solutions for Naylor. “Because of the high traffic job boards generate, it’s not surprising that associations are starting to consider them a valuable communications component. Associations now are placing additional resources like upcoming and recorded webinars, professional development class portals, salary surveys and other career-related information within their online career centers to better serve the members already gathering there.
Print still going strong
Respondents ranked member magazines as the fourth most-valuable communications tool for associations, down from second in 2015. The survey found that one in four associations still communicates with members multiple times a month via print. In comparison, respondents ranked the digital eNewsletter and online member directory second and sixth, respectively.
Legacy member communications channels, including live events, print magazines and eNewsletters, continue to be among the most highly rated.
“Different segments of your membership will want to consume information differently,” said Jill Andreu, Naylor’s vice president for content strategy and development. “It is important to have a digital version of the magazine and also to push the content from your magazine through other digital channels such as your newsletter, website and social media,” she continued.
More work ahead, but respondents remain positive
“More than half of our respondents felt they could improve member engagement with their communications by improving their ability to customize messages for different member subgroups, by understanding the value of relevant content, or by getting a better handle on member needs and goals,” Andreu said.
Associations are also wisely using the communications budget they can afford. Fewer respondents plan to launch new communication channels in the near future compared to this time last year, but more communication professionals plan to focus on improving the quality of their existing publications, upgrading their publication tools or processes, or hiring more staff dedicated to member communications.
Visit www.naylor.com/benchmarking for access to the complete Association Communications Benchmarking Study and to complete the survey yourself. Survey participants can immediately see how their results compare to their peers and receive a report card detailing how their responses compare to industry best practices.
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About Naylor Association Solutions
Naylor Association Solutions provides products and services that drive member engagement and revenue for 1,800+ associations in North America. Founded in 1969, Naylor helps trade and professional associations drive member engagement and revenue by offering an array of solutions, including communications strategy, content, print, digital, video, full-service event management, advertising, sponsorships and exhibit sales, career centers, online learning, association management and association management software (AMS) solutions. It’s not what Naylor does that makes us unique; it’s how we do it. Our team is committed to customer service, has a strong sense of integrity and possesses deep expertise helping associations achieve more success. Naylor’s headquarters is located in Gainesville, Fla., with additional offices in McLean, Va.; Alpharetta, Ga.; Darien, Conn.; Schaumburg, Ill.; and Winnipeg, Canada.