Posts Tagged ‘associations

24
Mar
15

Time for a MOOC-like makeover

moocMassive Open Online Courses. The public seems to embrace them, while higher education remains skeptical of their educational value.

But either way, MOOCs probably aren’t going anywhere, so it’s wise to take some tips from their success.

So what’s a MOOC? Essentially, it’s a teaching format that’s open and accessible to learners around the globe, provided they have Internet access. A MOOC is a social, networked learning experience that blends a subject matter expert (instructor), technology and convenience. In other words: a hybrid-learning format that appeals to today’s 24-7 learners.

In the background, a successful learning management system is key to operating a successful MOOC. Many associations already employ a LMS, and since they retain experts in niche and trendy areas, they’re prime to offer their members a MOOC-like learning opportunity.

That’s according to Web Courseworks, a learning technologies and consulting company. It recently released a whitepaper with 10 tips for instructional designers and LMS administrators, inspired by the success of MOOCs.

There are MOOC-like things associations can do to entice learners. Since associations are nimble and can respond quickly to industry trends (much more quickly than higher education institutions can), associations are prime MOOC providers, the whitepaper says.

Associations need three things: people (SMEs, instructional designers, LMS administrators), processes (course development, marketing) and technology (video, left-navigation layout).

“Professional and industry associations … don’t have obligations to a tenured faculty, so they can recruit faculty based on what content is in high demand; and their members are applying new knowledge and techniques in the field, giving them the ability to provide valuable job-related training,” the authors wrote. “Learners should be turning to your association to fill gaps in academic training and address evolving standards and techniques within a community of practice. Use the promotional power of a MOOC to ‘claim’ a hot topic and gain recognition as the go-to source for related educational material. A timely MOOC is a great way to connect educational and marketing goals.”

Word of caution: A MOOC isn’t a webinar and it’s not a regurgitation of a PowerPoint presentation.

Yes, put your SME on screen, but involve your instructional designer. Rather than overloading learners’ brains with a massive amount of information, Web Courseworks suggests chunking up information – in short segments – based on learning objectives.

mooc.org_And it’s important to check in with your learners to make sure they “get” it. The whitepaper suggests offering two- to five-minute video segments, with a check-in wedged between segments. Simple multiple-choice questions, or weekly quizzes with unlimited attempts and feedback, work well. Of course, this means LMS administrators need to ensure systems are capable of importing and exporting questions and managing social learning elements.

Perhaps the biggest draw of a MOOC is its social learning function. It’s impossible for an instructor to answer all questions, so students rely on each other for assistance. Discussion forums, in which peer feedback can occur, are musts for MOOCs, the whitepaper says.

Of course, all of this is moot if learners aren’t motivated. So, try offering digital badges and certificates (shareable on social media) for credit completion or educational advances.

Oh. And MOOCs are generally free, or at least low cost.

“Think of a MOOC as an entry point for members into your educational offerings,” Websource says. “It can be the ‘loss leader’ that grabs the attention of learners and promotes premium items in a course catalog. Advertise related course offerings within a MOOC, or use it to satisfy prerequisites for a larger certification program. Transform ‘free’ into ‘freemium’ by offering a MOOC as a small piece of a larger professional development and certification puzzle.”

What do you think? Does your association offer a MOOC? Or, do you offer webinars that could be transformed into MOOC-like offerings? Share your advice here.

In the meantime, check out a previous blog post on MOOCs.

09
Mar
15

The public is listening and associations are spending

bigstock-Public-Relations-Concept-in-th-17050577As a public relations professional, imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a new report that found associations are spending an unprecedented amount of money to sway public opinion.

No, I’m not excited that associations are shelling out big bucks, but it’s validation.

It’s true that we’re spin doctors, but we’re there when you need us. It’s our job to help you sort through the clutter of public confusion, misinformation and media madness.

Last month, the Center for Public Integrity released a report on the PR spending of Washington, D.C.-based trade associations.

“It’s been well-publicized how much industry spends on lobbying the government, but little is known about how much money goes toward influencing the public,” the center says. “In an effort to find out more, Center for Public Integrity reporters examined the tax returns for trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012. The IRS requires the groups to report their top five contractors.”

The report found that from 2008 to 2012, 144 trade groups spent $1.2 billion – 37 percent of the total amount spent on contracts – on PR and marketing. By industry sector, energy and natural resources associations were the big spenders. Business associations came in second, spending more than $200 million on public relations, marketing and ad services. And, perhaps of special interest to our readers: The food and beverage association ranked No. 4 in PR spending.

At one time, associations earmarked thousands of dollars for lobbyists. But that’s slowly shrinking, thanks to the advent of social media, blogs and citizen journalism. Whereas lobbying engages policy makers, public relations engages a public platform devoid of class, gender, race and socioeconomic divisions.

So why the shift to public relations?

“They certainly want to influence the general public because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry,” said Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week.

154067314-about-us1And it seems Edelman is thriving. The nation’s largest public relations firm, which employs 5,000 people, netted the most revenue. According to the report, associations paid Edelman nearly $350 million, with the American Petroleum Institute carrying most of the load.

It’s important to note that the report measured only the most politically active associations in Washington, D.C., so some key players could have been left out of the analysis.

However, “the contractor information provides an inside look at the way trade associations use PR and advertising to ply the American mind,” the Center for Public Integrity says. “Trade groups determined to fight regulations and boost profits of their members have spent heavily to influence how the public perceives policies that affect everything from the air we breathe to the beverages we drink.”

A word of caution: Transparency is important. If you budget for public relations efforts, make sure your members know where your association stands.

So, all this said….what do we do?

prtopnewsimageEssentially, PR pros are message makers. In a sticky situation, it’s our job to help clients maintain their integrity. But we’re also storytellers. Earned media (or non-paid media coverage) is key to reputation building, especially in a market in which PR pros outnumber journalists.

Is your association setting a trend? Does your association have an awesome success story to share, i.e. outreach or community service? Do you have a member organization that’s doing something incredible? That’s where PR can help. For starters, check out Public Relations Society of America, which includes a directory of PR firms and service providers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to reach out to me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

03
Mar
15

11 ideas for partnering with local venues

UnknownWhen’s the last time this happened to you? There’s a highly recommended, world-class speaker you’d like to feature at an upcoming program. She’s perfect for your event in every way, except for the associated price tag. After much negotiation, you’re able to secure the “friends and family” discount; however, it’s still more than you’ve budgeted.

If your meeting comprises a qualified audience of planners or other decision-makers, you might consider an in-kind sponsorship with a local hotel or conference center. Following are 11 ideas for partnering with local venues:

  1. Select three venues that might like to showcase their property and reach out to them directly with the understanding that this partnership will be secured on a first-come, first-served basis
  2. Allow venue to give tours/sales kits following the program
  3. Encourage two to three venue staff to participate in the program and to be available during registration, breaks and meal functions to engage with attendees
  4. Recognize venue as the title sponsor in promotional materials (e.g., print, website, social media, magazine, email)
  5. Give venue a couple of complimentary registrations to parcel out to potential clients; venue could make these VIP experiences with a complimentary overnight and breakfast before/after the program
  6. Give venue the complete participant list before/after the program
  7. Allow participants to register at a discounted rate if they complete a brief meetings portfolio survey that is then shared with the venue
  8. Allow venue to set up a booth near registration
  9. Allow venue a three-minute introduction, video or slideshow to kick-off the program
  10. Encourage venue to host breakfast/lunch; during this time, a venue representative should be assigned to each round to meet and engage with participants
  11. Ask venue what other deliverables they would like to receive [perhaps association-related products and services] and do your best to share whatever you can

What other ideas do you have for successful partnerships between venues and 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.




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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