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#Association Executives: Why Member Segmentation is Important

#Association Executives: Why Member Segmentation is Important
I recently registered to attend and exhibit at an upcoming conference.  As an exhibitor, we receive lists of conference attendees to market to prior to the event and encourage them to stop by our booth.

Because I registered for both the education and the trade show, I have been placed on the attendee list that sponsors and exhibitors are receiving.

In the last three weeks, I have received three emails inviting me to stop by a fellow exhibitor’s booth.  All are offering prizes, and inviting me to stop by and enter their draw.

What is wrong with this scenario?  Besides the fact that the emails are generic, not addressed specifically to me, and do not offer any real value, I have no business for them!

Not only are they wasting their time and effort, but they are wasting mine.

Yes, I have blogged about this before, and I think this is more indication of the increasing laziness amongst industry suppliers.  Segmentation is SO important; as it’s been proven time after time that it’s the single easiest way to increase marketing ROI.

What could the association have done to stop suppliers from emailing to the wrong people?  It starts with the conference registration (simple check boxes help):

  1. Ask whether the person is  an industry buyer, or a supplier;
  2. For buyers, ask about what products and services they might be interested in so your suppliers can market appropriately.
  3. If supplier registrations, ask whether they may have business potential for any fellow suppliers, and if they do, list general categories for them to check off.  
  4. Ensure that your exhibitors/sponsors have signed off that they ONLY will market to individuals who have potential for their products/services.

Back to this conference, I also have a copy of this list, and will be sending my own email.  Because it has not been segmented for me, I will have to do it myself.  This takes time, but I believe this is necessary to ensure that I maintain the level of respect for our company, and our brand.  I just wish the association would elevate their brand by providing that service for everyone…

Simple segmentation can solve a lot of frustration for your conference attendees.  It can be done easily by asking the right questions in “check all that apply” formats.  If you are looking to get started on segmenting your members, a quick survey will get you started.

If it could be done so easily for a conference, can you imagine what it would do for your other communications?  Perhaps raise engagement levels with your members?

#Association #Eventprofs: the Canadian Meetings Industry needs YOUR help!

#Association #Eventprofs:  the Canadian Meetings Industry needs YOUR help!
Meeting planners and Canadian event venue managers are being asked to show support for the meetings industry by participating in the 3rd edition of the Canadian Economic Impact Study of the meetings and events industry (CEIS 3.0)

We are pleased to announce that the online questionnaire is NOW OPEN and you can participate by clicking here.  Please submit your responses and spread the word to your industry colleagues!

The study is supported by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Foundation, the MPI Foundation of Canada and its partners, and will quantify the number and economic impact of business events that took place in Canada in 2012.

Anyone (regardless of your home country) that organized a business event anywhere in Canada in 2012 is invited to participate.  You do not need to be a member of MPI, or be a “professional” meeting planner.
We do recommend that respondents have their 2012 year-end results on hand to help streamline the process.  To view the PDF version of the questionnaire to help you prepare, click here.

The MPI Foundation awarded this landmark research project earlier this year to the consortium headed by Maritz Canada, along with The Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council and Greenfield Services Inc.

Why is this important?  It will enable the Canadian meetings industry to articulate its value to governments, investors and other stakeholders, and will help advocate for a favourable business environment.

Stay tuned on Twitter for updated by following the #MPICEIS hashtag.  Should you have questions regarding the study, please do not hesitate to contact Doreen Ashton Wagner, by email or by calling 866-488-4474 ext. 4512.

Thank you in advance for your support in this research to benefit the entire industry in Canada!

Six Tips to Magnetize Your Association’s Website

This post was co-authored by Doreen Ashton Wagner, Chief Strategist and Jeff Chabot, Web & E-Marketing Programmer with Greenfield Services.

In a previous post we discussed the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to ensure prospective members, sponsors and other stakeholders easily can find your organization online.
With search engines now including social media into their algorithms, how your users feel about your website is increasingly important to how it’s found.  The more users like and recommend your website on social media, the more popular (and higher-ranked) your site will be. 

The user experience is becoming paramount to how your site will be found.  Here are six tips to guide your journey as you improve your website’s appeal;
  1. Be the client: The easiest way to improve a user’s experience is to become the user. Put yourself in the shoes of the particular clientele you are trying to attract.  If you serve different markets, you should divide your website according to those segments, using language and imagery that appeal to each stakeholder group.  This might mean addressing your different membership categories, buyers vs. sellers, or professionals vs. the general public.
  2. “Survey” the land: One of the biggest tools you have at your disposal when determining what makes your site tick is your existing clientele/membership. Why not ask them what they like and don’t like?  Send them a quick survey asking them questions about their experience on your site.  Better yet, interview them and find out which sites they love and why.
  3. Keeping your website copy direct and to the point: Too many words on a page will discourage visitors, many of whom are now using mobile devices to look up information.  What looks reasonable on a desktop computer often is too lengthy on an iPhone or tablet.  Keep copy to 250 words or less, with shorter sentences and at least one paragraph break.  Provide more information in downloadable resources, allowing users to pick and choose their desired level of detail. 
  4. Calls to action: Calls to action are attention-getting buttons and response boxes that allow users, at a glance, to download, sign up or shop without having to navigate the whole site.  Such mechanisms also enable you to “gate” content.  This is when you require a visitor to provide their name, company, email and any other information before they can download the resource.  Typically you do this only for those resources that are truly “higher value” pieces, such as white papers, case studies and educational checklists.  And remember to ask permission to continue sending information by email, if that is what you intend to do.
  5. Help, I need a compass!  Navigation is one of the easiest ways to improve your user’s experience.  Ensure visitors always know where they are on your site by: 
    • Providing clear top-level navigation, and keeping sub-levels to a maximum of two;
    • Having sub-level pages open in a new browser window or tab so the visitor can always see where they came from;
    • Adding a site map;
    • Having your contact information on every single page so visitors can easily reach out with any questions.
  6. Be a Fashionista: Improve your site’s user experience by applying what you liked on other websites.  We’re not suggesting outright copying of entire pages, but adapting some elements of design or navigation from popular sites can be a great way to upgrade yours.  It’s like reading a popular magazine and noticing what are the dominantfashions; it helps you stay current!
Magnetizing your website so that prospects find you and decide to do business with you is an ongoing business requirement.  Gone are the days when you could put up a website and forget about it for a few months or years.  If your site isn’t being continually updated and tweaked, it will quickly lose its luster.  

The Community Manager in Your Organization’s Future

The Community Manager in Your Organization’s Future
At a time when many associations have had to cut back their communications teams, the world of social media strategy is delivering a one-two punch.

Not only should you expect to expand your communications activities in the not too distant future. It’s more than likely that you’ll be hiring for skills that hadn’t even been fully defined two or three years ago.

The Rise of the Community Manager

In February 2012, Mashable published an excellent infographic that laid out the key job functions in a social media team, along with the salaries different team members could expect to receive in the top 20 U.S. markets. The focus was limited to one country, the salary scales may have been debatable, and in any case, the numbers are out of date. But the chart shows what an integrated social media presence should look like—and places the community manager at the heart of the operation.

Earlier this year, Mashable digital strategist Ryan Lytle laid out 10 key qualities of an effective community manager. His list included:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Good judgement
  • Empathy
  • Dedication
  • Organizational skills
  • Adaptability
  • Level-headed attitude
  • Background in analytics
  • Ability to enable the community
  • Passion for the brand.

Oh, and it helps if they’re faster than a speeding bullet, and have video of the last time they jumped a tall building in a single bound. But that’s another blog for another day (and maybe another universe).

It Takes a Team

Lytle’s list points to a tough reality that will make it even more challenging for organizations to gear up their social media programs: you won’t likely find one social media manager who can do the whole job.

Although the 2013 Association Communication Benchmarking Survey by Naylor LLC and the Association Adviser tracked an increase in associations’ social media activity, more online contact doesn’t necessarily mean that time-challenged communications staff are getting out to meet members face to face. Or that a great writer who prefers the company of his or her keyboard will particularly want to communicate in person.

A community manager might do a fantastic job of juggling the day-to-day demands of a multi-platform social media campaign, without having the skills or inclination to develop the audience targeting strategy that makes the campaign worthwhile.

The communications strategist who produced the original campaign plan might not have the right skills or temperament to deliver it.

And you might have to look elsewhere in your organization, or call in an outside advisor, to find the expertise in analytics and evaluation to measure the campaign against its original objectives.

The Staffing to Do the Job

All of which adds depth to Naylor’s and Association Adviser’s argument that an effective communications program needs the right staffing.

“Rather than assigning administrative or IT personnel to maintain your online or social presence, as 46% of associations did in 2011, argue for a larger budget so you can hire true communications professionals,” they advise. “The key is to have communication experts—not best available staff—handling your all-important member communications.”

If your organization lacks the staffing and volunteer base to get the job done, they add, “look to freelancers and other outsourced publishing partners who have expertise in your industry or profession.”

How to Listen to Your Members All Year Round

How to Listen to Your Members All Year Round
There’s never been a better time to run an association that faithfully, consistently listens to its members and delivers on their needs and expectations.

With the right strategy and skills, your organization can delight its members, sponsors, and other stakeholders by anticipating, understanding, and helping them address the issues that matter to them the most—just by listening and responding, all year round.

Last week, we talked about  using annual surveys to keep track of members’ interests and priorities. While there’s no replacement for the solid baseline data that a survey provides, the world is moving much too quickly for an annual check-in to keep up.

A Continuous Conversation

But here’s the good news. More and more associations are making use of a listening platform that is probably unprecedented in what it can achieve. That platform, of course, is an association blog, supplemented by an active presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, or Pinterest—wherever your members and stakeholders already gather.

There’s a nice symmetry in the fact that, while social media have helped create the expectation that we’ll be constantly “on” in our two-way communications, they’re also the ideal tool for building and sustaining member communities.

In framing those conversations, our friends at Naylor LLC urge association communicators to “think more like a membership director, less like an editor.” You can do that by delivering “connections, tools and insights to help members do their jobs better, to help them build their businesses or careers, to help them learn industry best practices from a trusted source, and to appreciate the lobbying and advocacy efforts you do on their behalf.”

Some Best Practices Emerge

Social media is still a new enough domain that best practices are still taking shape. But here are six steps you can take to build your online presence into the continuous conversation that you and your members need:

  1. Always, always plan your communications based on what’s in it for your members, rather than a short-term view of what’s in it for you. For any organization that exists to serve its members and stakeholders, remember that the best way to serve your own interests is to look out for theirs.
  2. Don’t feel you have to be first with the news. Your members might receive bulletins from dozens of sources, but as Naylor notes, they “look to you for trusted insight and analysis about how important industry developments will affect them directly.”
  3. Strike the right balance in your blogging and social media posts by taking every opportunity to talk about and credit your online collaborators. For every post, tweet, or LinkedIn update that talks about your organization, schedule four, six, or 10 that focus on and build your wider community.
  4. Respond promptly when you receive comments on your blog, and set aside time at least once or twice a week to read and respond to your members’ and partners’ social media activity.
  5. Pay attention to comments and criticism. If you see an opportunity to change or improve your operations, seize it—and acknowledge the source of the good idea. If you see controversy brewing, it’s far more effective to open an honest, forthright conversation than to close ranks.
  6. Recognize that a social media presence takes time. Thankfully, organizations are abandoning the myth that blogging, tweeting, and other social media activity can be assigned to an intern as a lunch-hour activity. Social media can and should be one of your most important platforms for effective two-way communication. They’ll meet that potential when you assign the right resources to get the job done.

Declutter Your Communications with Members in Mind

Declutter Your Communications with Members in Mind
When you decide it’s time to declutter your desk, your basement, or your project archives, there’s a basic principle at work: Keep what’s useful, and trash the rest.

The same applies, with a slight shift in focus, if you’re trying to keep association members engaged: to capture readers’ interest and build a loyal following, decluttering means relentlessly purging any content that isn’t useful to them.

This useful metaphor comes to us courtesy of Naylor LLC and the Association Adviser, producers of an Association Communication Benchmarking Survey that reached 395 respondents from across the United States. A key problem, they report, is that associations are forgetting to ask what’s in it for their customers when they plan their communications campaigns.

“While most associations are pre-occupied with ‘cutting through the clutter,’ very few are clear about their strategy for how they’re going to break through,” Naylor writes. “If clutter is your biggest concern, you have to know what members and advertisers are expecting. And the only way you can really know is by asking them directly, either on the phone or face-to-face.”

The Cost of Not Listening

There was a time when associations could survive, even thrive, by treating members as a single, homogeneous audience, making broad assumptions about the information or education they needed, and setting out to deliver it.

There were few other sources of the education, certification, or business networking members needed, so a one-size-fits-all strategy was successful enough.

Those days are gone, and they aren’t likely to return. There are more generations in the workplace, each with its own needs and expectations. Knowledge and networking are a few keystrokes away for anyone with an Internet connection.

Associations can still make themselves indispensible by understanding their various audiences, then aggregating and organizing a huge volume of incoming information to meet their members’ specific needs.

But that takes us back to the small matter of cutting through the clutter. If an organization doesn’t get this right, no one benefits:

  • Members get tired of settling for content that is unoriginal, uninspiring, or too generic to reflect their needs and experience.
  • Decision-makers in members’ own organizations are less likely to pay for the next activity—whether it’s a luncheon, a conference, or a membership renewal—if they don’t see the benefit.
  • Sponsors get impatient if they see fewer participants at events, slower response to their advertising, or less overall enthusiasm across the membership.
  • The association loses dollars, momentum, and credibility at every step, so that a failure to declutter eventually becomes a serious threat to the organization as a whole.

Just Ask the Audience

The good news is that this is an easy problem to solve. The great thing about asking members what they want is that they’re often eager to tell you.

Many of our clients conduct annual or biennial member surveys to gather feedback, test new ideas, make sure their programming is on the right track, and adjust as needed. Timing is all-important: nobody likes the feeling of being surveyed to death, and your survey will fail if you ask too many questions, or if it looks like some of the questions have no purpose.

But with the right survey design, you can gather valuable intelligence, segmented by target audience, and translate members’ responses into creative, effective programs.

It’s important to keep faith with the people who took the time to complete your survey by reporting the findings—in a research report or white paper, probably with a series of supporting blog posts, and almost certainly in one or more infographics. If you’re having trouble with the survey itself, you shouldn’t hesitate to call in the professionals to advise on design or boost your members’ response rate.

And speaking of surveys…if you haven’t yet completed Greenfield’s 2013 Pulse Report questionnaire, you still have a few days to respond. Click here to get started!