Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Creating Content that Works for Your Association

Shared by Becky Rasmussen of AMR Management Services 

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the first-ever Content Marketing World. Think of the best conference you have ever attended and how it left you feeling – energized, connected, inspired and excited to go back to work? That was this conference for me as a content marketing professional. Sitting in session after session led by some of the giants of the marketing world, surrounded by like-minded and creative individuals, I remember my excitement building about how I was going to rush back and put some of these ideas into practice. 

But I also remember a little voice in the back of my head. I tried not to listen to it, I tried to tell it to be quiet, but it was a persistent little thing. The voice kept saying, “That won’t work.” As an association management professional, I knew I would be outnumbered at this conference by corporate marketing professionals, agencies, content providers, media and even small business owners and freelancers. It’s not that associations don’t produce content (most produce a great deal) or that they aren’t any good at it (some of the most innovative work I’ve seen has come from associations.) But associations face some unique challenges, and as an association staffer, I’d be naïve to think these challenges don’t affect how I approach content marketing. 

1) We’re led by boards. We hear a lot about getting C-level buy-in for marketing strategies, but what about getting a board of 30 volunteers, many with little to no exposure to content marketing, to give their stamp of approval? Most association boards are not known for their agility or willingness to take risks, which can be a major hurdle for creating a proactive content marketing program. 

2) We’re volunteer-driven. For most organizations, the biggest challenge to implementing successful content marketing strategies is finding the time and staff resources. In several CMW sessions, it was suggested to look across job functions and departments to find employees willing to create content, which is a great idea. But in the association world where staffs are typically small, this strategy may depend upon successfully engaging volunteers in content marketing, posing unique challenges of its own. 

3) Content may be our ONLY product. In the corporate world, the success of your content marketing strategy should be measured by an increase in sales of your products or services. But what if your product is the content itself? At a basic level, most companies use the content they produce and distribute as a carrot to engage consumers. Discussions about giving content away make sense for companies because they hope it’s ultimately going to result in increased sales and profits. But for many associations, content is the carrot that is used to get members to join the association. If you give the content away free to all, what’s the incentive to join the association, particularly if there aren’t other tangible benefits? This issue is so prevalent in today’s world where content is so freely available that many associations are having to consider alternative membership models in order to remain relevant. 

4) We haven’t adopted a content marketing mindset. This is true for many companies as well, but I can only speak to my experience with associations. With small staffs and even smaller budgets, association professionals tend to be jack-of-all-trades – yet content marketing rarely falls onto anyone’s job description. Time and again, I see content focused mainly on singing the praises of the association and being delivered on the basis of an ancient publishing schedule, rather than really addressing the needs of the members and other relevant audiences. And while new content is continually being created, once it’s delivered, it’s often never seen again, instead languishing on a shelf or buried in an archive somewhere. 

But this particular “hurdle” presents a unique opportunity for those associations willing to step outside of their comfort zones. Cumbersome boards, tight budgets, membership fluctuations and limited staff are a given in the association world – those challenges aren’t going anywhere. But if we create and nourish a content-driven mindset within our organizations, these issues aren’t insurmountable –the only limit is our creativity. 

At this year’s Content Marketing World, I’m excited to be part of a special workshop that will be looking at exactly these types of challenges facing trade and professional associations and how we can still create a content-driven mindset. We’ll look at some of those ideas “that won’t work” for your association and turn them into real and practical strategies you can take back to your boards and staff. There’s still time to register for CMW and our hands-on workshop -- and we’d love to hear your questions, ideas and thoughts in advance. What content marketing challenges does your association face? 

For more information about content marketing for associations, I invite you to attend the CONTENT MARKETING/MANAGEMENT FOR ASSOCIATIONS AND NONPROFITS WORKSHOP at the 2012 Content Marketing World Conference. September 4-6, 2012. Columbus, Ohio. This is an awesome conference. You’ll come away with a ton of valuable tips and ideas. Save $100 on your registration: enter discount code SCDGROUP.

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