How Associations Can Leverage the Power of Content and Social Media to Build Audience and Attract Members – Part 1

by Corey Post

Associations create value for their members in myriad ways, from education to networking.  And content marketing, coupled with the massive audience and low cost distribution of social media, offers a historically unparalleled method for associations to communicate and magnify this value.

Below is a general overview of how associations can begin to unlock the power of content and social media to both serve existing members and recruit new ones. 

Know Your Audience Through Personas

 In an increasingly noisy world, the creation of useful, audience relevant content will give your association the opportunity to build authority in the social sphere.  And through that authority, attract fans, followers and members.

I start my content creation efforts with the construction of personas – essentially representations of buyers – or in the case of associations, members.  A major goal of persona creation is to understand your customers so that you can generate valuable solutions and craft messaging that resonates with them.  Personas are developed using data and, to a certain extent, data informed suppositions.  As a result, persona creation is both art and science.

Essentially, you’re looking to generate a reasonably robust profile of a “representative” member, from education and position to demographics and work objectives.  Fortunately, as an association, you probably have a lot of useful data that you can mine, from your membership database to your web analytics. You might also perform online surveys and in person interviews.

Well-developed personas can help you understand both members and potential members.  However, they can be difficult to construct.  If you’d like some help getting started, contact me and I’ll walk you through the steps of building your personas.

Editorial Calendar

Think of your editorial calendar as your map, or guide, to content creation.  Basically, your editorial calendar will help you and your team envision the content creation process, stay organized, and marshal your resources as you build and distribute your content library.

At a minimum, you should have a calendar that will contain both “macro” and “micro” items.  Macro items could include upcoming events such as membership drives, holidays, and activities related to your industry as a whole.  You’ll use these entries to look ahead and prepare for individual calendar months in advance.  Conversely, the “micro” items will include lists of content ideas or titles, the content format such as video or blog post, the author, the editor, the release date and promotional activities.

You’ll also want to allow for content status, such as if an article is in production, in editing, ready for release, or published. 

Finally, it’s a good idea to track results of your individual content efforts.  You’d want to answer questions such as:

“Did the video on our legislation initiative get 30 views or 500?”

“Did our infographic on membership benefits receive 100 pageviews or 1,000?”

You’d attach these key performance indicators (KPIs) to your goals for a content piece so you can determine payback on your efforts.

Content Creation

 Personas and editorial calendars will help you organize and create targeted content.  Once you have a strategy, you can begin to develop initial content ideas.  You can start by answering the question, “What subject matters and topics are important to my audience?”

There are several tools you can use to help you ideate.  To begin, use your web analytics.  Look at what pages people are viewing on your site.  Examine bounce rate and the amount of time spent on a page.  Look for articles that generate a lot of feedback and comments.  The pages with the most reader consumption and engagement are often on topics that your audience finds of interest.  Take these topics and expand on them with related stories.  You can also run surveys and ask your readers what they want to learn about.

Other tools that you might consider are Quora.com, Google Trends and Google Suggest.  Quora will help you find questions…and answers…that are popular around a specific topic.  Google Trends will tell you about the popularity of keywords and terms.  And Google Suggest (which you’ve probably seen when Google tries to complete your search queries as you type them into the search box) will provide insight into information demand.

Essentially, data for content creation is everywhere.  You can find seeds for ideas and customize them for your members and prospective members using your personas.

Your Marketing Team and Resources

Association staffs have immense variability in size.  So the content resource budget and staff for a one-person association will most likely drastically differ from that of a 20-person association.  Regardless of your resources, when planning for content creation and distribution, you need to determine:

1) Who will prepare (write, edit, shoot, design) your content

2) Who will promote your content via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

3) How much you can afford, financially, to invest in production like video equipment, outside designers, software, etc.

Fortunately, knowledge and passion are often more important than gross resources.  So consider all your stakeholders.  Is there an event planner, intern, or volunteer who loves your industry, writes well, and wants to get more involved?  Reach out to people that both want to and can contribute.  As an association, you have access to a lot of talent – from speakers to veteran practitioners – that can allow you to scale your content program.

Your Blog – The Center of Your Content and Social Media Operation

Your editorial calendar and content ideas will feed your blog, which is analogous to the “heart” of your operation as most of your content efforts will flow from it through the social media platforms.  For example, if you were to announce a membership drive, you’d write about it on your blog and push snippets of that write-up to your Facebook page and Twitter account.

Before you set up your blog, you need to choose a blogging platform.  While there are a variety to consider, I like WordPress.  It’s free and you can host it on your own server.  Further, it offers a virtually unlimited number of design and functionality customizations through themes and plugins.  For example, plugins will give you the power to easily promote your content on all the major social media platforms so that you and your readers will be able to share your content with respective fans and followers.  In addition, you’ll be able to increase engagement through polls, surveys, and comments. Finally, WordPress will help you organize your content and make it more discoverable through its innate system of tags and categories.

Whichever blog platform you choose, think of your blog as the command center for content and social media.  Place your stories, videos, images, and events on your blog, which you own, and use it to populate your social outlets, which will drive readers back to you blog.

In part 2 of this article, which we’ll post next week, I’ll show you how to scale and promote your content.

Corey Post, a sought after digital industry speaker and writer, has over a decade of experience helping organizations build membership through social media, content marketing and SEO.  He’s the founder of content marketing and branding firm, Agile Leverage.  Contact Corey to provide digital marketing education to your association members through webinars and speaking engagements.

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