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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.