After giving a presentation at Associations Forum’s Future Leaders Conference, Roslyn Atkinson was asked the same question by about half a dozen people. Here’s what small associations can do to improve their communications.

“We don’t have much budget. We’re only a small association. What are some simple things we can do to make our member communications better?”

I was asked this question by about half a dozen people after a presentation on content marketing for associations that I delivered at the Associations Forum Future Leaders Conference earlier this week.

Everyone had a similar story: they send out an enewsletter and some form of printed newsletter and magazine, but they’re not getting great member engagement. And they’re struggling to grow. One association I spoke to has 150 members but a potential market of 18,000 people in that profession.

So here’s what I told them – 10 things you can do straight away that could make significant improvements to your member engagement and growth.

Ensure your content is useful

Write a list of the main challenges for people in your sector. What are their problems – even if they don’t realise they have them? Then write a list of the things that people in your sector really care about.

Now write a list of solutions that your association provides. This is your sweet spot for content – it’s the kind of useful content that will resonate strongest with your audience. Ensure that everything you send out either solves a problem for them, or connects with the things they care about.

Tell stories

Promoting your convention? Find a story of an attendee from last year’s convention who loved it and applied what he/she learned. Interview happy exhibitors. Do Q&As with upcoming speakers.

Promoting the benefits of membership? Do a series of videos with members who have achieved positive results due to their membership. Tell their stories.

Promoting a policy initiative? Talk to members for whom this policy would make a significant difference. What impact will this have on them? Talk to their clients/customers. How will it help make their lives better?

Ramp up your digital content

Ensure that all the useful content you have is available on your website. Stories from your enewsletter, print magazine and press releases should all be on the site and available for anyone to find if they’re looking for it. This will also mean your content is available at any time, from anywhere. Your audience is mobile – they need to be able to read the content from their mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

Promote your digital content in social media

This will help drive traffic to your website. It will also make your social media updates useful and more engaging than ‘This is what we’re up to today.’

Create downloadable content to generate leads

Choose four to six topics that you could provide cheat sheets/guides/tips for. You probably already have these written but perhaps they were only used once – at an event, or in a journal article perhaps. Design these nicely and have them easily available on your website. Maybe even put them together into an eight-page pdf and call it an ebook. Promote it on your website, in your enewsletter and in your social media. Ensure people have to fill in a form with their name and email address in order to receive it – if it sounds useful enough, you’ll find that most people will be happy to do this.

Nurture your prospect database with an enewsletter

When you have a new prospect, do you send them a membership kit and then hope for the best? Build engagement and trust by sending them an enewsletter with content that is so useful and so engaging that they are compelled to become a member to access the other benefits you have on offer. (Note: ensure that your prospects have opted into receiving emails from you. They can always unsubscribe at any time if they’re no longer interested.)

Put the answers to frequently asked questions on your website

If a prospective member clicks on ‘Why be a member’, what do they find? Include more than a list of benefits and activities of your association. Use this landing page as a way to provide answers to frequently asked questions. You could even include this in a video, or have a video of happy members whose testimonials will address the common objections to becoming a member. Include big buttons to click or tap where you can sign up to an enewsletter or download an ebook of useful tips.

Give your enewsletter the best chance of getting read

From line: Don’t just have your association’s name. If a member is getting tired of receiving emails from your association, your enews will look like yet another one. Identify it as the enewsletter or by its name.

Subject line: Highlight an interesting story. If you only have ‘Enewsletter – October’ it’s much more likely that a busy member will hit delete.

Put different content in your enewsletter and your print magazine

Ensure enews content is timely, practical and easy to read within a couple of minutes. Put different content in your magazine – longer reads, more in depth analysis pieces. You can promote one or two magazine stories in your enewsletter if you like, but remember that in the end they are different platforms with different reading experiences (lean forward for enews and lead back for magazine). Respect your members’ time and attention: how much time can they dedicate to reading your enewsletter?

Works towards generating a return on investment

The six main objectives of member communications are: improving member engagement; improving member retention; improving the profile of your association in your sector; membership growth; increasing sales of your products and services; advertising sales. Which of these six are the most important for you? Are you providing content that works towards achieving these? You can use these to prove that your member comms efforts are worthwhile and actually generate a return on investment, rather than being a cost burden on your association.

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