As a writer and professional communicator, nothing (O.K., well, not very much) is more frustrating than people who can’t communicate. Or even worse yet, companies. Inconsistent messaging drives me nuts.
But seriously…communication is a hard gig for most companies, especially with the advent of social media. Communication is everywhere.
So it’s not really a surprise that associations continue to struggle with effective communication, according to Naylor’s 2015 communication benchmarking study.
While associations have made headway in navigating communication chaos, only 6 percent of the more than 700 associations surveyed reported they have a fully integrated communications strategy.
Perhaps more problematic, however, is that very few associations employ social, mobile or video strategy.
All this said, there’s good news: Associations realize they need to do a better job – starting with what they have. For example, if given a budget increase, more than one-third of respondents said they’d develop a mobile strategy while another one-third said they would pour resources into social media.
More than one-half of respondents have optimized their websites for mobile, while more than one-third have done so for newsletters and blogs for mobile. And it seems more associations are connecting with members on social media.
But let’s face it. Without content, communication efforts are null. It’s hard to know what audiences want, so let’s trust Naylor.
According to its survey, in 2015 respondents chose best practices and how-tos as the most important topics. Second and third: professional development and industry trends. That’s changed from 2014, in which survey participants ranked lobbying/advocacy as most important. So maybe this is why 58 percent of those surveyed say members ignore at least half the communications they receive.
At a glance from the report:
- 41.7 percent of associations feel understaffed overall
- 43.5 percent feel their publishing/content creation teams are understaffed
- 43.6 percent feel their social media teams are understaffed
“To their credit, associations are working hard to shed their stereotype as overly cautious, slow-moving, bureaucratic organizations,” Naylor said. “They have made significant strides in optimizing their websites and publications for mobile, and in offering members a wide variety of streaming video content, mobile apps and social media outlets. But, there is a big disconnect between associations’ willingness to try new forms of communication and their willingness to put a viable strategy behind those channels, much less staff them adequately, support them financially and measure them aggressively.”
Now that we’ve identified the communication challenges, what do we do about it? How do we transfer the knowledge we’ve learned?
Naylor has some suggestions.
- To build better content and greater engagement, you must start by asking what they want and why. Create a survey and ask your members, for example, whether they prefer digital or print communications – and why.
- Take a closer look at who your stakeholders are and what they are telling you — and what they’re not — to uncover areas for improvement and set your goals. Take into account all audiences – staff, advertisers and members. Looking at membership demographics can provide insight into content consumption – Which publications are your competitors?
- If you don’t have a social media strategy, get one. Don’t create a Facebook account just because. Instead, use your survey data to determine topics that lend themselves well to social media and then determine how, and through which platforms, your audiences want to learn.
- When it comes to your digital communications, make every message count. In other words, integrate content and make messaging consistent. Start with subject lines for emails and e-newsletters. Make them catchy, but then, once they click, what will readers find? If people opt out, find out why.
- Stop under-utilizing video. Case in point: Event Garde started incorporating video into our e-newsletters a few months ago. Continuing education, event memorialization, live streaming and integration opportunities make video an incredibly viable communication tool.
- Designate an ambassador of integration. Establish someone who can liaise between all departments and audiences to make sure content is integrated and on message.
- Review available communication vehicles and consider how much more powerful a message can be if it’s repurposed across different channels. Think about what can enhance current content (i.e. video). Or repurpose your conference program book and reword it for social media.
- Make sure your content and communication vehicles are ready for consumption on the go. As part of your communications audit, ask your IT staff to analyze how mobile-friendly your websites, blogs and e-newsletters truly are.
- Don’t wait to measure—incorporate it as an everyday practice. Remember: Data are good. Measure early and often, and chart how your different communication vehicles are performing so you’ll know what’s working best.
- Track your results, and if you didn’t perform well in a certain area, ask for help. If you discover after analyzing data that you can’t give members what they need, this makes a good argument for boosting staff and budget.
“As we said in our 2014 recommendations, avoid ‘shiny-object syndrome’ and the temptation to be all things to all people,” Naylor said. “Consider how relatively simple a communications strategy can be with a Take AIM approach. Gather member feedback, deliver great content, monitor results, and watch engagement levels rise.”