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Social Media Marketing: So Much More Than Just the Technology

Social Media Marketing: So Much More Than Just the Technology
In our day-to-day conversations with clients, it’s exciting to see more and more associations recognizing the urgent need to build their presence on social media, or to build up their existing profile.

But too often, in the rush to embrace one of the hottest, most promising new tools in marketing and communications, organizations are asking the wrong questions, making poor choices, and building social media campaigns that disappoint rather than delighting them.

That’s why I was so pleased to see a series of white papers by Avectra, a U.S. software vendor that took a hard look at the strategy and return on investment (ROI) behind social media.

“Many associations have invested time, energy, and budgets into building a strategy that allows them to engage both members and prospects through social media,” Avectra noted in the first of three papers, 7 Myths and Realities of Social ROI for Associations [sign-up required].

“Measuring social ROI, however, is an ongoing challenge for executives seeking to prove the channel’s value to board members and other key stakeholders within the organization.”

Starting Off on the Right Foot

But to get that value, associations have to start out with the right assumptions about social media campaigning. One of the most important, as Avectra said, is that “social CRM (customer relationship management) is a philosophy and business strategy supported by technology,” not just a technology tool.
(Before we go on, just pause and read that again. How often do you expect a software company to tell you that your next big buy isn’t primarily about the technology?)

“Certainly, Social CRM needs to be supported by the right technology platform,” the company stated, but the strategy goes much farther. “It’s about getting the entire organization onboard with the idea that Social CRM collects and uses social data to engage the member in a collaborative conversation, in a way that is mutually beneficial and trustworthy.”

The white paper urged readers to build strategies for “thoughtful, strategic, authentic engagement,” rather than leaping right in to open accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn: “A ‘throw it at the wall and see if it sticks’ attitude is not a social strategy,” but if the strategy is right, the measurable results will follow: “Social media can offer true ROI, but only with a thoughtful, data-driven strategy behind it.”

Acting As If It Matters

For many Canadian associations, the first steps are a bit more basic. In its 2012 Pulse Report, Greenfield Services discovered that three-quarters of Canadian associations were treating social media management as a part-time task, assigned to a staff member with other responsibilities. Only 4.6% of survey respondents came from organizations with full-time social media managers.

“A part-time social media manager can do great things with enough time and the right training,” Greenfield noted. “However, a general understanding of the association sector suggests that many of these ‘accidental’ or ‘occasional’ managers are still finding their way on social media while they juggle competing job priorities.”

What are your biggest challenges with social media management?

Have you had a chance to define the ROI you expect from your social platforms? How are they performing against that standard?

Creating Value for Members

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. 

When’s the last time you talked with other association professionals about how to create value for members? 

A few weeks back, I was at a CSAE Trillium Table Topics event, where we got the chance for facilitated discussions in small groups, and one very interesting topic was “creating value for members,” facilitated by Chris Larsen of the Human Resources Professionals Association, with a great group of people from across the association spectrum.

The discussion uncovered a few ideas which I thought were worth sharing – and one overarching theme. The ideas first:

  • Make sure you’re thinking of members’ emotional interests:
    • Credential programs can really help members get feelings of value from others they deal with (their employers, or customers), and can lead to them feeling supported by the association.
    • Save members time and make them feel capable by curating content for them – this can be as simple as someone pulling the most relevant stories from a news-feed and repackaging it out to the membership in the form of an email. 
  • Having said that, you also want to appeal to their rational side. One way to do this is to quantify the value of a credential, e.g. by comparing salaries of credentialed vs. non-credentialed professionals.*
  • Create loyalty by sticking with members through employment changes: 
    • Consider a reduced dues strategy if your members might be on leave or out of work, to retain them through changes in employment status. 
    • Are there ways that out-of-work members can support other members in the meantime? One example was a hotline to provide advice. What could work in your association?
    • Run a job board open only to members. 

Hands-down, though, the most significant theme that emerged – and it’s certainly not a new one – was to talk to your members and prospects. Early. Often. Repeatedly. In as many ways as you can manage.

Many people around the table had suggestions and stories that related to insights they got from telephone campaigns or interview research, which they would not have been able to get any other way. Even an annual survey is best augmented with direct purposeful conversation, by adding qualitative interview research, in order to hone in on the priorities, needs, and interests of both members and prospects.

Be open to the idea that these discussion are not going to tell you what the topic of your next course should be; but rather, could lead you in a whole new direction. There are a million ideas about what members might value. Make sure you have an idea of what your members do and would value, and take a creative approach to creating and delivering it to them.

* The quant geek in me can’t help but note that are going to be a whole bunch of confounding issues in this kind of data; for instance, being committed to the industry and profession, being dedicated and capable enough to achieve the credential, etc., all might contribute to the higher salaries. So use this kind of data with care, and don’t exaggerate the claims, for fear of losing your credibility, particularly in a quant-oriented environment.


Using Twitter for Events – Part 1: Preparation

This post was written by Gwynydd Murray, Client Care Specialist with Greenfield Services.

The importance of social media is undeniable, and Twitter specifically can be used as an effective event promotion tool for associations. In my experience as a third-party Social Media Coordinator, there are some things I have learned that will help even the most novice Twitter user when it comes to events.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I am not yet 30, but this does not mean anything in terms of my social media prowess. So many people use their age as a reason for not giving Twitter a try, but with the right fundamentals anyone can get what they want from social media. Two years ago, I was not familiar with Twitter at all. I have had to learn from scratch, and most often trial and error is the best teacher.  Age should not be a factor when looking for a social media expert, it should be based on knowledge and expertise.

It may have become a clich̩, but the Scouts had it right Рalways be prepared.

In terms of using Twitter for events, the first thing to consider is preparation.

Create a following. The more people online, the better, but you need to be strategic. Use membership lists to find the appropriate people on Twitter beforehand and share pertinent information to get people involved. Looking for volunteers? Is there a change in schedule? Are there special rates? Without a growing media, the day-of work will not reach everyone it can. Keeping the association members and potential attendees in the loop is top priority.

Your event should have a hashtag (ie: #event2013) and that hashtag should be expressed in multiple sources. Of course, use it as much as possible on Twitter, but also try to get it out in event literature, such as emails to attendees, the event website and program.

Keep the lines of communication open with the host. If you have questions, you need to know who to go to for answers and you really do not want to be responsible for misinformation. Things change and come up out of the blue, so know where to get the most current and accurate information – not just the internet.  If you are doing social media for a client, you need to know what their ideal is. Do they want to see a lot of photos? Do they want a particular message out?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but a “low-tech contingency” is imperative. Technology can be fickle, so some basics need to be accessible regardless of power-shortages, worn-out ink cartridges, or password protected Wi-Fi.

  • Have a hardcopy of the Program printed ahead of time. You can mark up the floor-plan with “not to miss” exhibits; as well as know the schedule, sponsors, and speakers to keep track of. 
  • Compile a list of important Twitter handles. This can include sponsors, keynote speakers and facilitators, exhibitors, and suppliers.  A hardcopy list will prevent mistakes (ie: @GwynMurray can accidentally be attributed to @GwynyddMurray). You cannot always maneuver straight from Twitter, so even the preprogrammed handles from pre-event Tweets may not be right at your fingertips, unless you’ve got a list printed. This is also a great source for ensuring no one gets forgotten, in that you can tick off each necessary box as you go. The less guess-work the better.

Simply speaking, Twitter prep is very important and may take more time in the first place, but it will make the day-of more efficient at any event.

Stay tuned for some additional advice about how to optimize your use of Twitter for events.

Using SEO to Make Your Association Website Searchable

This post was written by Jeff Chabot, Web & E-Marketing Programmer with Greenfield Services.
Using SEO to Make Your Association Website Searchable
The internet has become the primary source of information for members and non-members to find information prior to making decisions on membership, conference registration and certification - stakeholders expect to find what they are looking for with minimal effort.

Unfortunately too many organizations’ websites that are not meeting expectations.  Research has shown that badly designed websites cost business – a Forrester Research 2012 study reports that when a consumer cannot find what they are looking for online, they switch to other more expensive method to obtain information.  This can be calling into a toll-free number or switching to a competitors’ website that has the information readily available.  Some even simply give up and never make the purchase.  While this is a US-based study, based on consumer trends, we can reasonably assume that similar statistics and information would be reported in Canada – and be relevant to the association market.

In short – the easier it is to find information on your website, the better. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a crucial step in ensuring that you are found – and found first.

SEO increases the visibility of your association’s website through online search engines (such as Google).  While SEO is constantly changing, this blog’s intent is to focus on some top priorities for associations to consider:
  1. Content:  The content on your website should be unique, and provide value to your members.  Associations should refrain from making it too promotional in nature; instead, educate members and other stakeholders.  Creating and publishing content on your website will help your association build your brand presence, and position your organization as the go-to industry expert.  Search engines love content.  
  2. Be Social:  Social media networks are now included in search results.  Take a look for yourself – look up a contact’s name, and you will likely see their social media pages in the search results – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest…. If the person is on those networks, they will all appear.  Becoming a social association is a great way to enhance your visibility online.  
  3. Build Links:  If you are looking for other ways to get people to find you online, building links is another great option.  Like-minded organizations, blogs, publications are all in a position to help your website out.  This can be done by commenting on blogs and articles, referencing your association in an article that is published on someone else’s site, starting a discussion on a relevant group, etc.  While this takes time, it is is another key strategy to boosting your visibility.  
  4. YouTube: The question “How many people have smartphones?” will very soon become “How many don’t?”.  Viewing video has become so much easier.  Have you visited YouTube lately?  You can search almost anything and find a video describing how you can get any job done.  When considering this for the association market, you may want to create videos with members describing the great work your organization is doing, testimonials on your certification programs/conferences, messages from your president, and your “about us/history”.  This doesn’t have to be professionally produced either.  Just make sure you have good lighting and audio.  The point is, having video will give you more visibility.  
  5. Mobile:  It is anticipated that by 2014 online searches with mobile devices will surpass desktop searches, so it extremely important that your association is ready.  A website should be programmed to render properly for mobile users.  If your site doesn’t have a mobile version or doesn’t have “responsive design” then you need to put that in your budget NOW.
SEO can be a complex and daunting task.  As an association executive, you must prepare yourself by aligning with companies who can help you move the needle, or prepare to educate your internal IT/Web department to be on top of the new trends.


Don't Listen to Your Board!

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. 

Don't Listen to Your Board!
“Oh, I’m not really a good person to ask why people don’t join. I don’t know why people don’t. I don’t get it. Why wouldn't they?”

I hear this from association board members all the time, and it’s a nice encapsulation of the paradox of their devotion to the organization.

Associations rely on the passion and commitment of their senior volunteers – it is absolutely critical to success. But when it comes to decision-making, it’s precisely this enthusiasm that can pose a serious challenge.

The most senior volunteers, the people who are supposed to be the organization’s conduits to the community they serve, are generally exactly the wrong people to ask about how to expand its appeal. They love the organization so much that they have trouble fathoming why anyone wouldn't join. (And savvy board members are well aware of this.)

Even if you were nearing 100% market penetration, your board members would not be representative of your membership base. They’re far too committed, by virtue of being volunteers. And in the majority of associations, where market penetration isn't anywhere near that high, your board members may be unrepresentative of the field by virtue of the fact that they’re members at all.

In either type of organization, board members also often too senior, in the sense that they tend to be in leadership positions in their field, highly accomplished and networked – that’s how they got onto the board, after all. That may or may not mean that the board skews older than the membership, as well (the ASAE reports that 77% of boards have no members under 30).

So, assuming you want to expand your membership base, what can you do to make sure this doesn't become a problematic paradox for your association?

  • Get solid answers. Ensure you commission – and use – solid research on stakeholder needs. This means non-members as well as members, as well as other commentators (sponsors/industry partners, other associations, and so on).
  • Get a wide range of voices at the table. Look at how you can get representation from diverse types of people – especially younger members, but also other categories. Would that mean a student board seat, regional advisory groups, specialist representation on committees, or something else?  How do you get diverse voices around the table when decisions are actually being made? 
  • Challenge the use of “anecdata” – anecdotal information substituting for a broader fact base. Leaders should consistently demonstrate recognition that their personal perspective is limited. It’s valuable for Board members to bring in their own perspectives, but ideally they are used as nuance and context and sense-making for existing data, rather than the only source of data.
  • Expect some disruption. Think about – and question – how you will actually use all of this input. If you go to all the effort of gathering information and consulting people, but then don’t change how you make decisions, you've wasted your time – and squandered your goodwill with the people you’ve asked to consult with you. The data you gather may lead to some uncomfortable or challenging conversations; not necessarily a bad thing. 

If you want to grow and build your organization beyond those you've already been able to convert to the cause, those you've converted aren't your most important audience. You need to set up systems and habits so that you hear from – and listen to – those who are.


Leadership in the Toughest of Times

Client Feedback
When associations fall on hard times, their staff and volunteer leadership may have to make the toughest of decisions: whether to transform the organization into something new, shrink operations to the brink of irrelevance, or sell off the assets and close the doors.

The conversations are bound to be difficult, and there may not be an obvious “right” answer. But one thing is crystal clear: A moment of crisis does call for smart, effective, sensitive leadership.
Shelly Alcorn, author of the Association Subculture blog, covers this territory in the last of five posts on associations in peril.

“We may not necessarily be out of sponsors, members, or even hope,” she writes. But  “the organization faces a potential death spiral—lurching from cycle to cycle, paying what bills they can, and myopically focusing on meeting short term obligations.”

She continues: “New programs may be necessary but out of reach because of staff layoffs or lack of investment capital on hand. As cash continues to tighten, choices become narrower and the ability to provide value becomes a practical impossibility...”

Shelly is describing a moment of decision that will make or break any organization that experiences it. We’ve seen some associations come through the fire and emerge stronger, but not all have fared as well. Consider these scenarios, and decide which is the better recipe for success:

  • Association #1 understands that cash is short and prospects are poor. The board of directors goes through a strategic planning process that produces 14 scenarios for the future. To collect input and build buy-in, the board decides to circulate the 14 options to members, then make some tough decisions after all the feedback is in.
  • Association #2 has the same moment of realization that something has to change, and soon. The board reaches out to members with a clear statement of the problem, a recap of the organization’s core values, a checklist of program priorities that could guide the next five years of operation, and a request that members indicate which items matter most to them—and why. Based on the response, the board builds three scenarios for future operations, then digs more deeply to decide whether any or all of them would keep the organization viable.

Both approaches recognize the seriousness of the situation and seek member input on next steps. But in the second scenario, the board takes a leadership role and translates members’ priorities into an action plan—if it turns out that any course of action will bring the organization back from the brink.

Here’s hoping that this post does not describe your association’s current position. But if it does, now is the time for your board and executive staff to take the lead.