A recipe for running a successful association

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This post is for associations that are in emerging industries with niche expertise.

I’ve had clients that want to tap into social media but the nature of their business makes it a challenge. I often recommend that they tap into professional associations within their industry and then develop a content strategy that makes sense. (Associations should be thought of as niche social networks with members that have aligned passions and similar needs.) The issue over the last 10-20 years has been that associations are losing membership, stuck in an era of monthly email newsletters and no real connection to the people that are driving their industry. I created this recipe to help anyone trying to build out an association with deep engaged relationships.

Members only Slack Channel – The reason people join associations varies widely. Discounts, education/training credits, industry news, etc. Today, with social media being the primary medium, association members expect board members to share their unique perspective on the industry and trends that they’re seeing. Information that helps them add value to their company.  This content is essential and without it, the association will remain very shallow in terms of engagement. The content strategy should look like this.

  • AMAs with Board Members – Ask Me Anything sessions can be incredibly engaging, allowing association members direct access to board members. A chance for them to ask specific questions related to their role within their company. This access combined with a level of transparency is a necessary element in any trust-based organization.
  • Board Members create content – Blog posts are a great way to share a board member’s perspective, allowing them to focus on their area of expertise. When I say blog post, the majority of people think of written content, but with the transition to mobile first, video could/should be considered the primary delivery format. It cuts down on the time to create and is easily digestible but takes time to “find your voice”. A 30 second video from a board member. And, since video is easier, they can deliver content with more frequency. This should be featured on the site as well.
  • Networking channel(s) – Members want to talk to other members and maybe even competitors. You should facilitate that.

Decide early on a content strategy – There are three flavors of B2B content strategy to consider.

  • Trusted source – This requires 24/7 coverage of the industry and requires very little in the way of original content. The organization is tapped into Twitter, Google Alerts and niche blogs, sending out information as it happens. (Yep. Sundays as well.) Board members involvement in this model is minimal. They can help by sharing content that should be distributed with the community.
  • SMEs – Subject Matter Experts are an essential part of any community and the benefit that they provide is perspective. They understand the ecosystem and provide their expert opinion on where things are going. Invaluable.
  • Thought leadership – This is someone that helps shape the direction of the industry. (Think keynote speaker.) It’s amazing to have a thought leader participating in the community but it’s a very real challenge given the demand on their time.

Note: The content strategy chosen will largely depend on who the board members are and their strengths/availability. And obviously, mixing it up is suggested.

Events – Nothing solidifies and community like a F2F event. Below are several issues and potential resolutions if you host events.

  1. People don’t have time – Time is the limited resource, especially if you have a family. If you’re running a F2F event, you should consider positioning it as a family-focused event. “Bring your husband and kids. Stay the weekend!” This will immediately differentiate it from your standard conference and makes it easier to sell at home. This also makes it more of a “retreat” than an conference and because of this, location is essential. It needs to be somewhere you’d actually like to take your family to. Vegas
  2. Conferences suck – The vast majority of conferences are simply terrible – in content and/or delivery – and an association has to commit to quality: long-term. If you can’t commit; don’t do it and potentially focus on webinars. (A hybrid model of F2F and webinar is probably best to keep members engaged.)
  3. They’re expensive! – You’ll need to find corporate donors to fund your F2F retreat. Membership fees will cover some of it but if done right, you’ll need incremental donations of $20k – $50k. (Donations may in fact, be a prerequisite to be up for election to the board.)

Job Board – Every industry needs help finding qualified people and the vast majority of job boards are way too vanilla. You have the unique opportunity to connect employers with the right employees. Job boards have evolved over the years with Glassdoor and other startups featuring additional insight into the company culture, which is an essential element when considering the candidates success in that organization. Hiring is the most essential element for all businesses. Be the trusted source.

Certifications – Unless you’re in a non-technical industry – which I’m not sure exist – you should offer certifications. The content for these certifications will require constant monitoring/updating to ensure quality. This is great way to stay connected to your industry. Also, how the educational content is delivered should also be well thought out. A very real investment may be needed based on size of the market and demand. (These certs also should be featured on your job board and it’s wise to work with employers to establish these certs as the industry standard.)

Lastly, make sure the board is engaged. Most of the strategies outlined above require significant board participation and without it, you’ll struggle to provide any real value. If I had to prioritize the elements listed above, it would look like this based on demand, effort, cost, etc.

  1. Slack
    1. Association Content
    2. Networking Channel
    3. Board Member AMAs
    4. Board Member Content
  2. Certifications
  3. Job Board
  4. Event
By Michael Myers

I’m an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I’m currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, cycling, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive + surf. I’m passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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