Posts Tagged ‘associations

24
Feb
15

Feel the love

word-of-mouthA few months ago, I was looking for a kid-friendly, clean, affordable place at which my family and I could eat during a weekend getaway.

So the first thing I did? Turned to Yelp for customer reviews. I didn’t want marketing speak, but instead the pros and cons of dining experiences.

I did the same thing a few weeks later while looking for a hotel.

The point is: Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool. And it’s often overlooked.

But an e-book by WebLink spells it out for associations.

According to “3 Keys to More Referrals: Leverage Your Member Love,” engaging happy members can be a powerful member recruitment tool. Although research points to higher member conversation rates among those who’ve been referred, many associations are afraid to ask for a referral.

“When you are making your members happy with excellent customer service, it’s a perfect opportunity to ask if they know of anyone else who may have similar problems/needs that require excellent customer service,” the books says.

And although it seems logical that members want to refer others, the main reason they don’t is because no one asked, WebLink says. But when asking, make sure you offer a variety of options.

For example, some members may be comfortable submitting a testimonial, while others prefer to simply click on a rating (perhaps via your website). Or, if your association has a Facebook page, ask members to recommend you on Facebook. Simply provide them with a link to a web page, article or blog post, ask them to add a personal message and then share the link. And share their Facebook post on your page.

Of course, not all members will be willing to refer. To determine who is, conduct a survey, online or via telephone, the e-book suggests. Keep the survey short and collect contact information from those who take the survey.

question_mark_shutterstock_101783026The most essential question to ask: “On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being extremely likely, how likely are you to recommend our association to a friend or colleague?”

Next, WebLink recommends calculating your results. Those who offer a nine or 10 in response to the above question are those who are considered “loyal referrers,” while those who reply with zero to six may actually detract members. So, focus on your loyal and happy members.

“Keeping your association’s referrals growing relies on your commitment to continually improve your relationships with your members,” WebLink writes. “A good referral program is easy to understand, lets the member know what kind of people to refer, is worth the member’s time and makes the referral process quick and easy to complete.”

But all this is moot without using touchpoints effectively, WebLink says. Touchpoints are all the ways in which you engage members, from telephone interactions to email newsletters to social media. Make a list, and then figure out the appropriate messaging based on the method of engagement.

For example, take advantage of your members’ recommendations by placing them on your website. Choose a location on your website that requires members to make a decision or take action. Example: Place a testimonial on the membership application page near the membership pricing to reinforce the idea that association membership is worth the expense.

So, the next time you’re dealing with a satisfied member, whether at a conference or over the telephone, ask for a recommendation. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you just may find that your goal of increasing membership is attainable.

23
Dec
14

Lessons in leadership from 2014

This guest blog post by Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, originally ran Dec. 22 on Associations Now. Athitakis has written on nonprofits, the arts and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History. You can follow him on Twitter at @MarkANMag.

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now.

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now.

So, what did we learn in 2014?

Part of me wants to say: Not as much as one would hope. Boards remain dysfunctional. Associations often are still slow-moving ships, particularly when it comes to globalization. Diversity remains a challenge. However, I don’t want to close out 2014 with a resounding “Bah! Humbug!”

Throughout the year I’ve spoken with plenty of association leaders, staffers and experts who are doing meaningful and path breaking work; look throughout AssociationsNow.com and you’ll see my colleagues have done the same.

So take the five lessons-learned below not as a lecture about how leaders have fallen short, but as reminders that there’s always work to be done; this list only reflects where I figure that work is most needed.

It’s never difficult to find a CEO who will bemoan his or her board in private, or do it under cover of an anonymous survey.

Globalization is less of a might-do and more of a must-do. In 2014 the ASAE Foundation released research revealing that many U.S.-based associations are still struggling to expand their reach overseas. (More research is to come in 2015.) As sticky wickets go at associations, this is one of the stickiest, but it’s also among the most promising in terms of financial growth — and, even if you’d prefer to focus on mission more than money, it’s where the future members and users of your services are, particularly in the Middle East. This needn’t be an overwhelming task — even focusing on a couple of products can move the needle.

Disengaged boards are a killer. Boards are too nice to the CEO. They’re neglectful. They don’t do enough to help a new CEO settle into the gig. It’s never difficult to find a CEO who will bemoan his or her board in private, or do it under cover of an anonymous survey. And I do worry, as I wrote back in May, that social-media herd mentality might trickle down into leadership, leading to groupthink. But for the moment, I’m looking at the bright side: There are plenty of associations doing smart work assembling and educating their boards to do meaningful strategic work in the midst of these challenges.

Man-ListeningListening is an underrated leadership skill. I tend to gravitate to this particular leadership theme without explicitly trying to; it just seems that so many shortcomings with CEOs boil down to errors of miscommunication and failures to listen. If an exec isn’t listening to what his or her staffers are saying, he won’t have a sense of what their ambitions are, won’t be able to capably review their progress and will struggle to keep them on board when challenges arrive. Listening is the easiest skill to pay lip service to, and perhaps the most difficult to master.

Diversity starts with you. Without question, associations have made great progress in recent years in making their staffs and boards more diverse. But the seemingly popular instinct at addressing the issue — to create a task force or diversity committee — can risk echoing the marginalization it was meant to eradicate. Executives need to own diversity as a core competency as much as membership and revenue — all the Lean In circles in the world won’t mean much if the guys at the top aren’t getting the message and boards won’t evolve unless they’re mindful of where they’re underrepresented.

The big organizations don’t have this figured out any better than anybody else. Corporate America is often carted out as a better model for associations, particularly when it comes to generating revenue — it’s the tacit message delivered whenever somebody says, “Our association needs to run more like a business.” True enough, corporate execs get all the attention from magazine covers (well, almost all). But you didn’t have to try hard to find executives in the corporate world struggle to stay on point as much as anybody else. I gingerly suggested in March that perhaps GM was on the right path in responding to its cars’ ignition-switch problems; the months that followed have only made a fool of me. Apple’s board structure was much celebrated, but I think there are more interesting governance questions than board size. And even large nonprofits can have a leadership crisis when the executive steps into contentious territory. Case studies from the big guns can have some meaningful lessons to deliver, but ultimately the approach that works is going to be the product of what you’ve learned from what you’ve observed in your own organization.

16
Dec
14

The makings of marketing mavens

Marketing_tomschaepperTwo years after graduating college, I entered the association world.

I served as director of communications for an association for four years – and I loved every minute of it. As all association professionals understand, resources were thin but job responsibilities were huge. I was all things communications, media relations and public relations.

But marketing? Not so much.

True, we launched our first official marketing campaign a couple years into the job. But with too few hours in the day and a never-ending list of priorities, marketing just wasn’t at the top of the list.

Fast forward 10 years, and I’m now a public relations professional who loves all things marketing. Today, we blur the lines between public relations and marketing, especially thanks to digital and social media. Yet, the mission is the same: Build your brand, your reputation and your credibility by engaging key audiences with specific (albeit simple) messaging.

And that takes an incredible amount of work and vision.

Associations are in a tough spot, forced to do more with less. So where does marketing fit in?

It often struggles to justify its existence, but associations seem to be embracing it as best as they can, according to a new report by Demand Metric Research Corp., a research and advisory firm serving the association industry.

The 2014 State of Digital Marketing in Associations benchmarking study was administered mid-October through mid-November, with membership associations holding the largest response rate. The median size was 1,001 to 5,000 members.

Marketing business salesKey findings:

  • Three-fourths of associations in this study report their marketing is somewhat to very effective. Eighty-eight percent think members perceive their marketing and communication efforts as sometimes to always relevant and professional.
  • For associations rating themselves most effective at marketing, strategy and planning is their most frequently cited capability. But for those that rate themselves least effective at marketing, strategy and planning is the fifth most-cited capability.
  • E-mail, event and content marketing are the top ranked tactics in terms of effectiveness.
  • Almost 90 percent of associations include an e-mail newsletter in their digital marketing portfolio, but only 41 percent use an e-mail preference center.
  • The ownership of marketing tasks – such as pricing, positioning, promotional channels, data analysis and technology spend – is fragmented, with a number of other association departments frequently owning these tasks.
  • In an increasingly technology-driven market, IT owns most of the technical skills marketing needs to succeed.
  • Only 13 percent of associations report not using any marketing metrics. For the 87 percent that are, most are using volume or activity metrics, such as click-through rates, which don’t provide true indicators of marketing’s contribution.

So, more than half of respondents reported that marketing strategy is important, and that they have the staff to design and implement such a strategy. But the key is to achieve buy-in: Marketing is an all-hands-on-deck approach. It shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of the director of marketing and/or director of communications. Leaders should provide the vision; the board of directors should adopt it; and leadership should provide guidance to all staff. And all staff should operate with key messages in mind.

In the survey, respondents possessed three marketing capabilities: membership engagement strategies and campaigns; public relations; and membership retention and strategies.

But what about tactics?

Respondents ranked e-mail and event marketing as the top two marketing tactics, followed by social media, website/SEO and content marketing. But here’s the problem: Without content, there’s no marketing strategy. Content is the foundation from which to create all marketing strategies.

For example, e-mail newsletters and campaigns should be consistent with branding (the look and feel of the association).

The same goes with blogs. Although many associations aren’t blogging, blogs are crucial marketing tactics. They’re the perfect places to post content (content marketing). In addition, blogs are invaluable SEO tools.

Of course, marketing without analytics is useless. Google analytics are simple and effective, and associations should be using them. But the only two analytics most associations employ according to the study: click through and open rates.

“Marketing is simply too important to leave entirely in the hands of the marketing team,” the study’s authors wrote. “It is a function that must pervade the entire organization, guided by strong leadership that collaborates effectively with everyone, from the board and below.”

best-marketing-tacticsAs a marketing and public relations geek, I’m excited about the data this study provides. In summary, though, here are some takeaways, as listed in the report:

  • Strategic orientation. The most effective marketing functions in this study are those who prioritize strategy and planning. If your team feels like it’s too busy to take time out to plan and develop marketing strategy, then you’re opting for lower marketing effectiveness.
  • Embrace content. The content marketing effectiveness gap revealed in this study is huge. Most of the marketing tactics associations are using rely on some form of content as input. Learn how to develop and deploy content effectively.
  • The ownership and responsibility for some of the key marketing tasks is very fragmented. Much of this fragmentation would go away under strong, executive marketing leadership. Even without a marketing executive, associations can give their marketing teams a better chance by allowing them fuller ownership of the things for which they have, or should have, responsibility.
  • Marketing is increasingly a technical pursuit. Associations need to equip their marketing teams with the skills and training to function in the modern world of marketing.
  • Any use of marketing metrics and an analytics process is good, but even better is when that process uses metrics that do more than just report on activity levels. Association marketers need to identify metrics that truly indicate the value they create and then hold themselves accountable to them.

So what do you think? Is marketing part of the plan for 2015?

11
Nov
14

On screen or in a chair?

webeventMost of us would agree there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The email inbox is always full. Meetings seem to pop up on the calendar. And deadlines continue to loom.

Then, if you’re a working professional with kids, you have to balance sports, clubs, carpooling and snack schedules.

It’s exhausting.

No wonder so many of us are spending less time away from our offices and our families to attend professional development events or other workplace functions.

It seems associations got the memo as the industry experiences a slow uptick in virtual events.

Last week, consulting firm Tagoras released Association Virtual Events 2014, a survey of associations’ use of virtual conferences, trade shows and other events. Conducted in August, 33 percent of the 112 respondents indicated they have offered a virtual event. And about 21 percent indicated they plan to offer such an event in the next 12 months.

Tagoras found there are three standard technologies for virtual events: webinar or webcast tools for presentations; communication tools to allow for real-time conversations among participants; and document and resource sharing of event materials.

So why the boom? More than 75 percent of respondents said they offer virtual events for members who can’t attend an association’s place-based events. Tied for second place were “to be seen as offering cutting-edge technology for members” and “to support an overall strategy to deliver more services online.” The third most popular reason for offering virtual events? To reduce costs for attendees.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

“These motivations clearly reflect necessity — organizations see a need to provide more options as travel budgets are trimmed and time becomes an increasingly precious commodity for members — but they also reflect a willingness to experiment,” study authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele wrote. “Many association professionals are embracing virtual events even before their members ask for them, and they’re doing so as part of an overall strategy built on online service.”

Obviously, virtual events aren’t for all associations, and several have yet to embrace the growing technological trend. Cost and complexity of technology were the top reasons for not going virtual, while concerns about cost ranked No. 3.

At the same time, most of the respondents indicated a virtual event has to be self-sustaining to be worth the investment, while 50 percent reported a virtual event should drive revenue. And most associations reported they charge both members and nonmembers to participate in a virtual event.

“Over time, we think associations will grow more adept at estimating realistic costs and determining a plan for covering those costs, whether through registration fees, sponsorships or both,” Cobb and Steele said. “That said, there’s skepticism on the sponsorship front.”

And then there’s fear of the unknown. Will virtual events cause a decline in attendance at an association’s traditional event? Tagoras doesn’t think so.

Is it possible to learn as much remotely as it is sitting in a room with colleagues, listening first hand to an expert? Data seem to swing both ways, but nevertheless, convenience sometimes wins.

(An editorial sidebar: Multitasking and distraction are justifiable concerns. But attendees will likely check email, text and tweet regardless of where they are. Just my two cents.)

LearnwithMouseTake a look at the stats Tagoras compiled about its survey. It seems virtual equals value.

  • While 58 percent of those who haven’t undertaken a virtual event cite technology concerns as a perceived barrier, 90 percent of respondents who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the ease of use of the technology.
  • Some 58 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about costs, but 74 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the cost of the technology. And 60 percent characterize themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the revenue generated by the virtual event.
  • Some 46 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about attendance, but 76 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with attendance.

“We are still in the early days of virtual events as a trend, but the use of this format across a diverse range of organizations — and its continued use by most who have tried it — suggests that virtual events will become a mainstay of association education and events going forward,” Cobb and Steele said.

So what do you think? Does your association offer a virtual event? Tell us about it.

21
Oct
14

Know Your Members Through Better Surveys: A How-To Guide

This month’s guest blog post is by Kent Agramonte, a marketing supervisor at Naylor. He has four years’ experience helping associations with member surveys and data. It was originally posted at AssociationAdviser.

Are you interested in submitting a guest post? Contact Kristen Parker at kristen@eventgarde.com.

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

When we discuss knowing who our members are, we sometimes speak in nebulous terms, such as “We need to find out what’s best for our members” or “How can we better serve our members?” We tend to put the how or what before the who.

Recently, I was talking to an association about some of the challenges it faced and the subject of who its members were was brought up. I was surprised that this particular association didn’t know exactly who its members were. Associations tend to put members into categorical groups as broad as “regular members,” which can lead to a lack of understanding of its members. To figure out what our members truly need from us, the first step is to find out who they are. But often, this key element of association management is overlooked.

Associations tend to commission studies of their industries as a whole. While that is a great way to gauge the overall health of the industries they represent, it may not gauge the health of your individual members’ businesses. An association-specific survey will help you directly gauge the health of your membership and future needs you must address.

Getting started

So where do we start? The first step in a successful membership survey is to establish its goal. If you are trying to figure out your members’ overall business health, it is important to look at three key factors:

  1. Demographics. Questions that ask about member titles, where they fall in the chain of command and whether they are the ultimate decision-makers for their organizations can help you find out how influential your members are and the influence your association has within your industry.
  2. Economic factors. How much do your members spend on products and services each year? Do they expect their business to expand or shrink in the next 12 months? What is their organization’s revenue? These questions can help you find out the economic health of your members and will act as a benchmark for growth in future surveys.
  3. Member needs. Ask your members questions about what they need or want from your association. For instance:
    • What issues are you and your company most concerned about?
    • Is our association doing enough to focus on legislative issues that affect your business?
    • What can we do to bring additional value to you, our member?

By asking these questions, we can begin to paint a picture of what your members are going through and the state of their businesses. This information is also key to generating non-dues revenue because it is vital information for any advertiser, sponsor or strategic partner that wants to reach your members.

surveySurvey build and deployment

The second step in any successful survey is building and sending the survey. There are several free and low-cost survey tools that can help you generate basic surveys online. For example, SurveyMonkey offers a free, easy-to-use, basic version of its survey tool. Survey Gizmo is a low-cost alternative and offers a free trial. For more advanced metrics, try Qualtrics.

Once you enter your questions into the survey tool, test the survey on yourself and make sure all question logic flows the way you intended.

When you are 100 percent confident that your survey is ready to be sent out, you may want to test it on a small sample of potential respondents before sending to your full distribution list. That’s called a pilot. It’s a good way to tighten up the wording or answer choices that may end up confusing respondents.

Most online survey tools will allow you to include a link to the survey in your member outreach efforts. Our suggestion is to email this link to potential respondents or include it in an e-newsletter to your members. If you do not have a way to mass email your members, MailChimp is a commercially available tool that is free to anyone with fewer than 2,000 subscribers.

Once sent, keep your survey open for at least two weeks (but not forever) and send an update email at the beginning of the second week to remind members to take the survey if they have not already done so. If you are worried about not getting enough responses to your survey, you should offer some type of incentive to take the survey. Gift cards go a long way to helping you get responses.

recruitmentanalyticsFrom data collection to analysis

After two or three weeks, it is typically time to start looking at the results. Remember that you only need about a 10 percent response rate to make your survey statistically viable. For example, if you send your survey to 1,000 members (this is your sample size) and 100 members take the survey, than you can statistically project the results to your entire membership.

So, if 75 percent of respondents in a statistically generalizable sample are CEOs, then it would be safe to say that 75 percent of your members are CEOs. If you don’t meet the 10 percent threshold, then your results are still viable as “non-scientific” insight into your membership base. No, you cannot generalize to your entire association, but the small result pool will give you the overall pulse of members.

Once you have taken a look at the results, make sure to turn them into ratios if possible. For example, if 63 percent of your members say they are concerned about tax legislation, then it is better to say nearly two out of three members are concerned about tax legislation. Expressing numbers as ratios gives a human face to your members and allows people to better visualize results. Most people can picture two out of three people in their head, but a concept like 63 percent is harder to imagine.

Results like the ones in your survey are interesting to you, your members, potential non-dues revenue generating advertisers and the industry as a whole. So it is a good idea to share them with as many people as you can. An easy way to accomplish this is to create an infographic with short bullets that details the findings of your survey. This infographic shouldn’t be much longer than a page and should be emailed to members, industry stakeholders and included in your official communications pieces as much as possible.

Surveys generally only retain their validity for about two years. So plan to send out member surveys every other year to make sure you will always have the most up-to-date information about your members.

Conclusion

Good research, with good information, adds value to your association, your association’s communications and your members. When members see that you are making a concerted effort to understand more about them and their concerns, the more benefit they see in being a member of your association. Learning about your members helps you learn more about your association’s goals and the direction in which your association should be heading while helping you recruit potential members and associate members. The brain always knows what the body is doing, but when it comes to association management, sometimes the brain needs a road map.

30
Sep
14

Tips for improving trade show participation in 2015

Mariama Holman

Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView.

This month’s guest blog post is by Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView, a digital marketing company for associations.

It’s never too early (or too late) to start fine-tuning your organization’s participation in a trade show. The time is now; the fourth quarter of 2014 is filled with a myriad of seasonal events. Additionally, there are plenty of major events on the horizon for early next year, such as the Springtime Expo hosted by ASAE. This event hails as the most significant one-day show for association meeting professionals, attracting leaders from across the nation.

Headed to a trade show soon? Heed these helpful hints:

Develop a strategy

The association should be like a tactician competing on the battlefield – vying for new members and the continuing loyalty of old ones.

Lee Ali, managing director and founder of Expo Stars Interactive Ltd., states that 65 percent of exhibitors do not have a clear strategy or plan of action for trade show participation. Given these events are often costly, it is important to put time into thinking through trade show involvement and determining a worthwhile ROI.

Set and track goals

What are the goals for participation? How did the association perform?

Answers to these questions are necessary for assessing performance and creating a strategy to improve. Unfortunately, 97.5 percent of exhibitors do not keep track of any quantifiable results from their events. It is a best practice to always outline what “success looks like” for trade show participation and keep track of performance.

Train for success

Olympic sprinters train to win medals. Artists rehearse to perform concerts. Entrepreneurs practice their pitches to gain funding. Why shouldn’t associations train for success as well?

According to Ali, 74 percent of exhibitors do not train their staff for trade shows and events. There is a certain set of skills unique to trade shows. These skills are a hybrid of marketing and sales – knowing how to not only “sell” visitors once they enter a booth, but appropriately attract them in the first place. It is important to prepare staff by teaching best practices, running through set-up/tear down time frames and developing a familiarity with the hustle and bustle of a trade show.

Optimize

People, events and organizations are not perfect and never will be. However, organizations can always strive to improve – getting better, faster and smarter year after year.

An association is bound to make some mistakes at a trade show, whether it is falling behind schedule or not securing the amount of X, Y or Z it hoped. Utilize these moments as opportunities to learn and improve your organization’s involvement in the future.

23
Sep
14

The benefits of educating about benefits

surveyAs a follow up to my Aug. 19 post about associations offering voluntary benefits to their members, I thought it would be wise think about benefits for association employees.

I’ll mention it again: With extensive media coverage of the Affordable Care Act, benefits are on everyone’s mind. In fact, just the other day while I was grocery shopping, two women were discussing their benefits while they compared the price of cheese.

It’s true that larger organizations can generally provide better – and more comprehensive – health care benefits. But according to a rather surprising Unum survey conducted recently, most employees don’t know or understand the benefits they have.

And employers are at fault, the study found. Surveying 1,521 working adults, it revealed that employee satisfaction with their workplaces and benefits is at its lowest since 2008.

Conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Unum, an insurance provider, only 49 percent of workers indicated their places of employment are good places to work, while only 47 percent ranked their benefits as good.

But here’s the kicker: The research also showed that employees don’t feel they’re getting adequate information about their benefits. In the survey, only 33 percent of employees rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good – a drop from 2012 and a reversal to the upward trend in ratings since 2009.

So why does this matter? Associations generally operate with small staffs, so it’s important that your employees are happy, and the survey found a correlation between good benefits education and employee happiness. In other words, an informed employee is a productive employee.

In addition, according to the survey, 79 percent of workers who reviewed benefits in the past year and rated their education as excellent or very good also rate their employer as excellent or very good – compared to only 30 percent of those who said the education they received was fair or poor.

“This research underscores the value of an effective benefits education plan because when an employee understands their benefits, they tend to value them more and in turn may then value their employers more for providing access to them,” said Bill Dalicandro, vice president of the consumer solutions group at Unum.

educationBottom line: Employers need to do a better job educating their staffs about benefits. But how?

It doesn’t matter how large or small your organization is, chances are, a dedicated staff person handles human resources. That person should be responsible for providing such an education.

How? Rapid Learning Institute shared some tips in a recent blog post. It suggests offering materials for various learning types: printed materials and videos for visual learners; podcasts and audio conferences for auditory learners; and interactive online tools or worksheets for tactile learners.

The most common way to educate continues to be printed materials, the institute said, but emails, social media and internal messaging systems also work well.

Or consider hosting educational benefit sessions throughout the year. Have a little-known perk? A tax tip? Communicate with your employees on a regular basis.




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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