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A New Association Benchmarking Report Urges Us to Keep on Listenin', Be More Social and Embrace the Pivot

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by Ronn Levine

I just got through an in-house Zoom meeting where we talked about the importance of conducting listening tours of your members and/or audience. And someone said, well, those are a thing of the past for now. 

Not true really. In some respects, our remote working can be an advantage there. It can be easier to reach people in our audience than it was before when everyone had busy travel schedules and internal meetings. (I doubt that everyone is even taking as much vacation.) And while Zoom fatigue is a real thing, Zoom and other platforms do provide a focused dynamic for conversations. There’s certainly no hiding or looking away. Plus there's still the phone.

I write this after just receiving a new survey report from Naylor called the 2020 Association Communications Benchmarking Report. There are some good lessons here for association publishing people.

We should still listen. Just over 80% of respondents believe they generally create relevant content, and 38% are conducting communication-specific surveys at least once every 12–24 months to stay on top of members’ needs. Despite this, only half believe they have a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs. If we were doing more listening, we would have a better handle on that.

Do you have proper metrics? Nearly half say their inability to measure communication effectiveness is a serious or significant challenge. In this same meeting I just finished, someone raised a good point—how are we going to measure if we’re successful? Sounds simple except 49% know it isn’t. Around 3 in 10 respondents say their organization has no process for measuring engagement.

Our mindset has to pivot as well. Even in this COVID era—the survey was done post-pandemic—live events remain the No. 1 measure of member engagement—72% of respondents agree—and 91% of respondents believe face-to-face interaction at live events is the best way to determine member needs. I came across a quote this week from Robin Thurston, CEO of Pocket Outdoor Media: “In media, one of the things that you have to do is figure out your A plan, but also your B and C plans. And your growth strategy, so you’re always ready for a pivot if needed." We need to embrace virtual events.
 
Are you involving young people internally in your outreach? Half of respondents say they struggle to engage with young professionals. Diversity takes on so many forms, and age is certainly one of them. If possible, have a range of ages represented on your important teams.
 
Are you being social enough? Despite social media’s effectiveness for driving traffic to organization websites—it’s number one at 90%—only 1 in 5 respondents feel strongly that their organization's social media strategy is well defined, and only one-third strongly agree that social media is a high priority for their organization.
 
Consolidate your outreach. Three in five felt their members are “too busy” to read or interact with their organization’s communication efforts, and nearly half felt members had “too many competing sources of information” to choose from. The last thing you want is to be competing against yourself. Make every member/customer touchpoint count.
 
We preach data but are we doing enough with it? More than half of respondents (55%) said they need to improve their ability to “collect and use member data effectively.” They also agreed that they did not “target or segment their communications” for different member subgroups as well as they should.
 
So be sure to segment. While more than half of respondents reported that they customize communications for new members and student members, less than 1 in 5 are customizing their communications for other important subgroups, such as mid-career members and late-career members. In fact, only one-fourth of respondents said they bother to segment their communications for the “almost-new” members—those who’ve belonged to the organization for just 7 to 24 months.
 
Can you over-webinar? You can definitely over-email, but webinars are doing okay. Webinars rose from the seventh most valued communication channel in 2019 to the second most valued communication channel in 2020. Makes sense.
 
You can download the report here.

Ronn Levine is editorial director of SIIA.


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