Is your association future-proof?

Member content needs are changing. Are you positioned to keep up?

BY Carla Kalogeridis
Publisher and Editorial Director, Association Media & Publishing

Serving as CEO of Imagination for the last 22 years and working with dozens of associations, Jim Meyers has seen a thing or two about what it takes to future-proof an organization. The agency—about 100 strong with offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.—produces strategic, creative, integrated content marketing programs that help associations increase membership, deepen engagement, and deliver results on short- and long-term business objectives. In this interview, Meyers focuses on the long-term business objective important to all association publishing teams: survival.

Let’s dive in on the deep end. How does an association guarantee its future?

When we think of future-proofing an association, we look at the four M's of membership value, myopia, millennials and message. But the first step is making time to envision your future.

Association content plays a big role in creating membership value. What do association publishers need to be thinking about in this area?

Associations aren’t the only game in town anymore. Community and conversation can form anywhere, and that’s eroding association thought leadership in places where they used to dominate.

It comes down to how to best position your association to serve members. How does your association become a disrupter, get there first with inside information, bring real context in a personalized communication platform? The goal is for members to get quality information that they can only get from you.

What about delivery of that content and timing? There are so many variables to figure out.

Omnichannel content brings a new cadence and frequency. Don’t rely on what you’ve done in the past. There’s competition everywhere. Associations have to disrupt their traditional ways of communicating with members.

You need to centralize your content strategy—no silos, no separate marketing budgets. Associations need an overall communications/marketing strategy.

And now to myopia—not a word you hear everyday.

It means lack of foresight, insight and imagination. It’s operating business-as-usual and failing to look at what’s happening around you, what’s coming down the road. Associations have to use their imaginations to successfully address demographic, economic and social changes.

So, what do you see coming down the road?

Get “national” and “American” out of your name. Think globally. Then, accelerate your action—get out of association time. Associations are still thinking about what to do for a social strategy, when the rest of the world is five years in.

Associations also have to stop being so risk averse. You’re going to fail at some things, but you’ve got to try new things to build your strategy and demonstrate the future “why” of your association.

What should association publishers be doing to better serve millennials?

Many associations struggle with a rapidly aging membership base and how to replace that membership with new members—younger members who expect information on demand, in real time and free.

The key with millennials is creating excitement and loyalty. Associations often find that millennials are not consuming the content they produce. You must identify and serve the unique information needs of millennials using Snapchat, podcasts, video. About 38 percent of millennials listen to podcasts—two times that of the national average.

Speaking of podcasts, Association Media & Publishing and Imagination have launched a new podcast series called associationNation. What’s got you excited about it?

Podcasts just keep growing in popularity, largely because of Bluetooth technology. You can listen to the content in your car, while working out or on a plane. Video is No. 1, but a member can’t engage with video all the time. Plus, advertisers are always looking for something new to do, and they are excited to sponsor a series of podcasts. Podcasts are a big win for the association and the advertisers.

Anything else we need to remember about millennials?

Give millennials a voice and authority to make things happen on the association’s content team. They get overshadowed by older, experienced team members. If you want to reach millennials, why not have them intimately involved in your content?

Use upgraded images that appeal to millennials, and don’t forget to incorporate diversity—the images can’t look all the same. Associations are often told to use images that represent their base, but millennials don’t relate to older white audiences.

And finally, messaging—what’s the message there?

Community complacency is the challenge. Associations often find themselves stuck with the wrong communication channels, the wrong frequency. Also, siloing. Everyone gives so much input to a content idea that it’s watered down—and no one wants to take risks.

Most important, your messaging has to be relevant. To know for certain that you’re creating relevant content, you’ve got to build detailed personas on your membership and audience, and most associations don’t do this kind of work. They average things out.

Any predictions about print and digital?

Print continues to be very strong. Associations hold on to their magazines very tightly. I see print making a comeback. There’s so much content in the digital space that it’s hard to get noticed.

How would you characterize the association publishing team with a secure future?

The association publishing team with a secure future is pursuing a long-term content strategy and is focused on content creation. The association will have micro-targeting and analytics capabilities. The association with a secure future also understands that engagement is a two-way communication. Not many organizations do engagement well. They’re still cranking out advertising content on social channels.

Carla Kalogeridis (carlak@arion-media.com) is publisher and editorial director of Association Media & Publishing. This article originally appeared in AM&P's Signature magazine.

published: May 23, 2017

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