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Small staff? No problem! 4 Tips for Keeping Up with Content

We’ve all been there before: Reading a great blog post or sitting in a conference breakout session where the writer/presenter is talking about all these fabulous ideas you can implement as part of your marketing strategy. They sound great! They’re going to help with so many leads! So many new members!

But wait, how much do those fancy new strategies cost again?

And furthermore, who is going to implement those?

There are some really great content marketing ideas out there and some wonderful companies and organizations that have (what seems like) unlimited resources to carry them all out. But we’re not all in that same boat.

And so, this post is for you—the solo marketer for your organization (or one of the mighty few that are charged with all things marketing). Ideas for keeping up with content at a pace (and budget) you can handle.

Create a routine

This may sound simple, in theory, but we’ve all been there before. We say we’ll do something and, if we don’t write it down, it doesn’t happen. The same holds true with content marketing.

Make content a routine and stick to it. Set aside certain times during your day or week (really, block them off on your calendar) for content. Think about:
  • Setting aside 10 minutes a week for Twitter research and use that as a source to develop ongoing blog content, shared social media posts or topics for newsletter articles
  • Giving yourself 15 minutes a day: Log in to your online channels (ie: blog, social media, etc.) for 5 minutes at the start of the day, middle of the day and end of the day to check for conversations, mentions or comments that need approving or responding to. 
  • Developing a monthly content calendar that has all of your channels (including print, if needed) for content. I have a few included in my “Best Practices in Social Media” eBook.

Understand your audience

Even when we sit in the latest-greatest workshop about up-and-coming trends in content marketing, those particular tools may not be best suited for our audiences. You know your audience best. Embrace that and own it.

  • Define your target audience. There is no need to please everyone and honestly, you want to put the bulk of your resources where the bulk of your audience is
  • Choose the top 3 (or less) relevant channels where your audience is most apt to engage with your content and focus your efforts there.
  • Ask for ideas! User-generated content is great because it allows us to engage our audience AND it takes some of the work off of your shoulders for always needed to think of new, innovative and interesting content to post

Strategize

Are you putting content out there just for content’s sake? Content marketing is for the long haul. Think about some of these questions, make note of the answers, and keep them in mind anything you do anything that is content-specific.

Make sure your content marketing tactics fit with your organization’s overall objectives and goals. If it doesn’t, skip it and move on to another tactic. Content is fast-paced; it’s OK to move on when something isn’t working.

Be Consistent and Patient.

Rome wasn’t built in a day (yep, I used that analogy). But really, it’s important to remember that. You are only one person (or the mighty few) and it makes more sense to be phenomenal at a few things than it does to be mediocre at everything. Results will take time. While you’re waiting:

  • Don’t be afraid to re-purpose content. The article that everyone loved in your member newsletter? Turn that into a short blog post, a 2-minute video slide show, an infographic or a meme.
  • Plan ahead. This is where content calendars come in to play. If you know you have a huge event coming up next month, allow yourself time to schedule your content in advance so that you don’t lose any momentum you’ve built
  • Utilize scheduling apps. For instance, SproutSocial is an application that can be helpful in keeping content consistent and track ROI.


BONUS: When in doubt, delegate. There may be others on staff that can help with content strategies throughout the month. Ask your executive director to send you bullet points of the top 5 things they learned at a recent conference (and turn that into a blog post) or, ask your intern to take pictures of your latest new member breakfast (and share on Facebook).

It’s OK to start small and grow as your resources grow. There are lots of content marketing firms out there
that can help you get started with strategy as well and then give you the reigns to take over. Do what’s the best fit for your organization (and sanity!) and all will fall into place.

BIO  

This guest post was submitted by Melissa Harrison, founder and CEO of Allee Creative, LLC, a content marketing and branding firm in the Twin Cities. Melissa has more than a decade of experience in content management and strategy, branding and design, working with organizations to build strategic social media and online content strategies. Listed as one of the “Top 36 Content Marketers Who Rock” by TopRank and Content Marketing Institute, Melissa believes that organizations must adapt to what customers want, which includes using social media and creative online content to provide relevant, consistent information, in order to survive.  

Melissa is also a four-time recipient of the Hermes Creative Award and a regular speaker on the topics of branding, content strategy and social media. Melissa is also certified by Google Analytics Academy in Digital Analytics Fundamentals. Follow Melissa on Twitter.  

51 Shades of Gray (Hair)

One of the associations that we work with celebrated their 51st anniversary in 2014 at their Annual Conference and Trade Show.  After the big 50th Anniversary Extravaganza blowout in 2013, staff had to work hard to ensure that the 51st Anniversary was just as exhilarating, so that we harnessed the positive momentum moving forward.  While we were successful in making our 51st Anniversary Conference effective and exciting, we also noticed a trend that we may have been purposely overlooking.

As we started looking around the room at the 200+ attendees at the conference, we quickly realized that it was a room with 51 (or more) shades of gray hair.  Our members are aging!  This means that eventually (soon), they will be retiring and passing their businesses on to their sons and daughters or selling them to current employees or outside parties.  And many of these new owners will be younger and new to the industry and the association.  While we’ve enjoyed 50+ years of continued support from our current members, we can’t just assume these new owners will embrace the same principles of joining and supporting our association.

In order to ensure the continued success of the organization, we are going to have to strategically recruit and retain these younger up and coming members.  As our staff and board discussed this new “look and feel” that would be transcending on the association in the next few years, we knew we had to quickly get ahead of the game and create some new services and benefits that would have these newbies not only joining, but embracing and enjoying our association’s activities and services!

Here are some quick tips we’ve found that helped to encourage the younger generation to participate in our association:

Tip 1:  Technician Subscription – We developed a Technician Subscription Program that would allow up-and-coming professionals to try out and participate in our association without investing a lot of money and time.  Our Technician Subscription Program allows participants to receive all association communication (including the quarterly magazine), attend one educational seminar at the member rate and participate in other member benefits for a one year period; all at a very affordable rate.  We even offer quantity discounts off multiple technician subscribers from the same company.  Since we weren’t sure of the success of this venture, we decided to offer this as a subscription service rather than a membership type, which would have required a change in our bylaws.  Since its inception, we now have 28 new technician subscribers, many of whom are under 40 and excited to be a part of our association!  We see these 28 technician subscribers becoming true new members in the near future!

Tip 2:  Social Media Presence – Social media has become very important to the success of associations in today’s world.   Per USA Today, a recent study conducted for an online casino found that one in four people spend more time socializing online, via sites such as Facebook and Twitter, than they do in person.  This means that 25% of the population would rather spend time communicating online than communicating in person.  With this statistic (and the many others found online), we knew that we had to accelerate our social media presence in order to attract and keep our younger generations of current and potential members interested and excited about our association.  We did research and developed a weekly marketing plan to ensure that information was posted to our social media sites 2-3 times per week at a minimum.  We also worked hard to ensure that different information was posted on each of the venues so that visitors didn’t see the same posts on all of the social media sites.  Finally, we created an email newsletter called Agents of Change that we use to remind our current and potential members to visit our social media sites on a regular basis.  With this new focus on social media, our online presence has grown tremendously!

Tip 3:  Mentoring program – We are currently developing a mentoring program, where we will partner a more experienced (gray haired) member with a newer (younger) member or potential member.  They will communicate via social media, email, phone, etc. throughout the year and then meet in person during our Annual Conference.  Our goals with this mentoring program are two fold and include the sharing of a wealth of industry knowledge from the well-oiled professionals with the newbies and also the importance of supporting their industry trade association.  Only time will tell how successful this mentoring program will be, but we’ve already had some good support on both sides!

Tip 4:  Seminar Topics of Interest to Younger Audiences – Like most trade associations, many of the educational seminar topics we offer are driven by the rules and regulations of the state requirements for continuing education for our industry.  But we are lucky in that some of our required educational requirements include Business Practices, which can cover an array of topics.  With our new goal of attracting younger members, we have recently offered seminars like website marketing, online reputation management and online marketing to grow your business.  In 2015, we plan to offer even more topics (both in person and online) that are of interest to the younger audience and play upon their preferences to communicate and learn differently.  We have received very positive feedback in our post-seminar surveys about these new topics!

Tip 5:  Member Grandstanding –  In today’s world, we all love to share any and everything about ourselves on our personal social media sites, but very seldom does this information get shared with your association.    We are now encouraging our members and subscribers to brag about themselves and their accomplishments and to share this information with their association.  We are creating areas on our website, social media sites, in our magazine and other member communications to allow other members and interested parties to learn more about the association, members and industry.  This information adds a human touch to the association, but also may inspire others to share and do great things!

By implementing these tips and continuing to make many other enhancements to our association and the way we communicate with our members, our goal is that the younger generation becomes just as enamored with the association and 30 years from now becomes our new “50+ Shades of Gray!”


Thanks Amy for providing this post!

See you at #CSAE!


The 2014 edition of the CSAE National Conference & Showcase is almost here, and Greenfield Services Inc. is proud to be attending for the fourth year in a row!

Keep an eye out for Meagan Rockett, Director of Client Solutions who will be exhibiting at the show.  Association executives attending the showcase are invited to stop by booth #437 to pick up complimentary new resources:

  • Executive Summary of the 2014 Pulse Report on Membershi Marketing & Engagement Practices
  • Preliminary Program for the 2015 Engaging Associations Forum
  • Other resources to assist you in membership marketing & engagement
  • Our new overview of our full-service association management services

We will also have prize draws available at the booth – including a complimentary pass to the Engaging Associations Forum in July 2015! SO many reasons to stop by and say hello!  If you would like to set up a time to chat during the showcase, please email Meagan to schedule a time to discuss how Greenfield can assist you in achieving your marketing goals.

Safe travels to all attending, and we look forward to seeing you in Niagara Falls!

Why not raise your dues? Some strong - and weak - reasons to keep them frozen

It’s not at all uncommon for an ED or CEO of an association to tell me that they’re raising dues for the first time in a decade or so.

We all know that some products have been dropping in price, where there’s intense innovation in design or production (data storage; low-quality t-shirts). But for most goods and services, we expect them to increase somewhat, don’t we? Do you pay the same for a haircut or an accountant or a movie ticket as you did 10 years ago?

So why are associations so shy to raise dues regularly? They’re often concerned that this will seem like a massive change to their board and their membership. They are often right about the board, but not always about the membership – there’s not usually any kind of significant response at all.

There are indeed some good reasons to avoid raising dues – but there are also some weak ones, which are worth challenging if you hear them.

Six pretty good reasons to keep dues where they are:

  1. The bottom has really fallen out of your profession or your industry. If the economics are very challenged, e.g. if members are losing their jobs or going out of business, perhaps this is not the time for an increase in dues. (That said, it may be that this signals a structural change in your industry which may lead the way to a higher-dues association with fewer members, made up of the industry survivors – or the need to connect with other elements of the industry to sustain the organization.)
  2. You’re really struggling to prove any sort of significant value for members. Maybe significant parts of your membership value proposition have disappeared (e.g. a member benefit that used to be unique to you is now available from a competitor), or you have had some kind of noticeable and significant drop off in service levels. This is clearly a crisis that has all sorts of ramifications, but perhaps this is the time to focus on the fix, rather than a dues increase that you won’t be seen as having earned quite yet.
  3. There’s cheaper competition. This should lead the association to look at its cost structure and fundamental assumptions about operations, because if there are alternatives that are structurally able to offer the same services more cheaply, in the medium to long term that spells doom. 
  4. Your costs have gone down. If there’s been some kind of structural, permanent change to bring down the costs of your provision of services, maybe it makes sense to pass some of the benefits to the members in the form of frozen (or maybe even reduced?) dues. 
  5. Dues were set very high and you need to spend a few years normalizing. The question I would ask here is, how do you know they’re really high? By what benchmark?  
  6. You’ve got a revolt on your hands. If the organization is in some kind of existential political crisis that goes way beyond business as usual, this is probably not the time to focus on dues. 

4 reasons that aren’t so strong:

  1. Sheer inertia. I would suggest evaluating dues every year. They should be a part of your budgeting process, and absolutely part of strategic planning. Inflation alone means prices of your goods and services (rent, salaries, insurance, contracts, etc.) are going to be up around 2% per year - over a decade that means your revenue and your costs are mismatched by over 20%. And if inflation goes up (despite a long period of low inflation, some of us remember different times), this drive gets more intense. 
  2. You think you provide good value to members, but you aren’t telling that story well, so you are hesitant to ask for higher dues. The solution to that is to tell the story – communicate the value provided to members, in members’ terms. And then, look at raising your dues! 
  3. The Board isn’t functional enough to have that conversation rationally. Or the board and staff relationships are acrimonious and there isn’t the time or opportunity to initiate these discussions. These are obviously significant and broad problems. Perhaps the need to do increasingly urgent things like raise dues will provide some of the impetus to actually address those underlying organizational dysfunctions. 
  4. Non-dues revenue is often spoken of as a panacea for many things that ail associations, including the hesitance to raise dues. There is an expectation that non-dues revenue could make raising dues unnecessary. Now, this may be a good point. Some organizations can keep dues low through non-dues revenue, and that may be a sensible trade-off to make. But in many other organizations, increasing or even sustaining non-dues revenues isn’t all that practical. Don’t avoid raising dues before you’ve got the non-dues revenue actually flowing in.

Not raising rates handicaps your ability to throw money at any of your problems. Good organizations can wind up starved for the funds they need to do what they need to do. Raising rates is a completely viable option if you need to raise funds for the strategic options you want to pursue.

You do have to demonstrate value if you want to raise rates – and that’s the best way to sustain your organization anyhow. But if you do in fact deliver that value, don’t be shy to get paid for it.

Meredith Low provided this guest post.  She is a management consultant, focusing on helping organizations and companies understand how, when and where to grow in the context of fast-changing environments.  Her work with associations includes leading strategic and tactical planning, performing assessments to position conferences and meetings for growth and durability, and assessing the needs of members and other stakeholders.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Event Technology Delivers When You Know Your Audience

Associations get the best value out of event technologies when they commit to understanding and serving their participants, technology vendors Kevin Jackson, Pindie Dhaliwal, and Robert Thompson told participants during the 2014 Engaging Associations Summit.

Kevin Jackson, Senior Partner with Gormley, Ontario-based Biz-Zone, and Pindie Dhaliwal, Manager of New Media at QuickMobile in Vancouver, both positioned technology as a means to an organization’s larger objectives—so that associations must first decide what they’re trying to achieve, before seeking out the technologies that match their objectives. Robert Thompson of AV-Canada talked about innovative ways to use audio-visual and technology to engage attendees at face-to-face events.

What Do We Mean By Engagement?

Jackson said associations increasingly understand the need for deeper engagement, but the first task is to focus on target audiences: whether a campaign will focus on members, staff, partners, or all of the above. In an era of spam prevention and privacy protection, engagement can be risky if it’s done carelessly. But the rewards are sweet, since genuine engagement is also the gateway to wider reach, greater relevance, and more reliable membership renewals.

While a successful engagement campaign incorporates technology, Jackson said it also depends on skilful execution and a consistent focus on audience and purpose. He said associations can improve their own prospects for member engagement by planning for the changes ahead, spending wisely, paying constant attention to relationships and human resources, and never losing sight of the “minimal viable product” (MVP) that will serve members’ needs, in contrast to shiny new technologies that may not sustain their interest.

There’s Revenue in That App

With 1.4 billion smart phones in use as of the end of 2013, and more tablets sold than laptops, Dhaliwal said it should be no surprise that more than 80% of meeting participants bring their technology onsite. The disconnect, so far, is that only 9% of event organizers use mobile apps at their meetings, according to the annual FutureWatch survey produced by Meeting Professionals International.

Onsite apps can cut costs, while helping organizers measure onsite impact and extend the life of an event. And Dhaliwal listed 10 different pathways to revenue through mobile apps:

  • Sponsored splash pages
  • Sponsor listings
  • Featured sponsors
  • Sponsor icons
  • Rotating banner ads
  • Push notifications
  • Exhibition support
  • VideosSurveys
  • Gamification.

Click here for highlights of the 2014 Engaging Associations Summit and a sneak preview of the 2015 event.


Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One #Association That Has Created Change

This summer, I had the pleasure of connecting with Paul Smith, Executive Director of CACEE (Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers), due to a post I submitted through a LinkedIn Group.

My post in the group asked for an executive to "raise their virtual hand" and want to be interviewed by me on a change they have implemented within their organization.

Paul graciously provided his time, thoughts, and feedback on how his association implemented a major change in their operating structure.

In this article, Paul shares with me that his organization recognized a need to streamline processes, policies and procedures, how he received buy-in from internal and external stakeholders, the time it took to implement the change, as well as challenges and successes that were found as a result of this.

I encourage you to check out our free resources section, where the interview with Paul is located.  Please look for "Associations That Create Change (CACEE)".

If you are interested in being interviewed for an upcoming paper, I would love to hear from you.  Please feel free to get in touch.

#Association Concerns – And What To Do About Them…

In the recently released 2014 Pulse Report, our research found that association executives are working hard to bring their association into the age of engagement.  With 178 responses, we discovered that some of their top concerns are:

  • Misalignment of staff around strategic initiatives;
  • Overuse of marketing lists;
  • Risk-averse, tunnelled organizational cultures;
  • Relevance of educational offerings;
  • Declining revenues or membership numbers.

Amongst others…

What can you, as an association executive consider (or, implement) to help combat these issues? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Regarding the misalignment of staff; is this a misalignment or a strategic plan issue?  When creating your plan, or deciding on the initiatives that you want to implement; were your front-line team members (those who are in contact with your members and other stakeholders regularly) involved in the decision-making process?  It may be time to re-group with your team to ensure that they fully understand the program, or the plan, and get them on board to achieving your organizational goals.  That way, they can properly communicate them to your stakeholders daily.

  2. Your marketing lists – are they overused?  Or over-emailed?  As an executive, you may need to determine the difference… with the Anti-Spam Legislation in full force here in Canada, it has made your job to communicate with prospect members, sponsors, exhibitors and other stakeholders more difficult; if they did not opt-in, you cannot email them.  Have a look at other marketing methods – phone, social media, and yes – direct mail (it will likely make a bit of a comeback)…

    If it is truly overused list – the answer is to research new potential companies and prospects to market to.

  3. If you believe you are working with a risk-averse team, you are certainly not alone.  But there are organizations who have moved beyond that…in a recent article in Association™ magazine (produced by CSAE), Beckie MacDonald, with the Ontario Library Association states “The best thing you can do is try it and fail, because you’re only going to learn how to do it better”.

  4. If you have concerns on the relevance of your educational offerings – take a look at your suite of programs.  You already know that something isn’t right – look at program purchase history and determine popularity.  Don’t forget to ask your members – it may not be the program at all – it could be timing, location, etc.  Ask them as members what programs they would like to see offered to enhance their professional lives; and determine if it is feasible to offer it to them.

  5. And of course, to complete many of the areas above, it takes time, members and money, which was also a concern listed.  To retain members, you have to be engaging ongoing, and delivering value (in a way that means something to the individual; not the organization).  Retention efforts could be an issue – and I suggest having a second look at your process to see if there is anything else you could be doing at renewal time.

    If these boxes are checked, and you still are not clear on why your membership is declining – then it is likely time to find out.  A comprehensive lapsed member survey to uncover reasons for departure, their experience as a member, etc. will not only give you a sense of why they left, but it may bring them back.  It will also provide you with some fantastic insights on what could be changed to help eliminate this issue in the future.

The 2014 Pulse Report is now available online for download.