‘Don’t Guess What Members Want’; Association Panel Addresses Content Management Strategies

This article was written by special assignment writer Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

We’ve all heard the saying that “content is king (or queen),” but it isn’t enough to create content. Association publishers have to make the best use of their content, and that means knowing “What Not to Do: Setting Content Priorities,” as recently discussed in an Associations Council Lunch & Learn session in October.

Figuring out what not to do in creating and generating association content requires “setting priorities,” said moderator Elena Loveland (pictured), editor-in-chief, Directorship magazine, National Association of Corporate Directors. The panelists—Kelsey Casselbury, content director, School Nutrition Association; Margaret Mitchell, editor-in-chief, Civil Engineering magazine, American Society of Civil Engineers; and Hilary Marsh, chief strategist, Content Company, Inc.—agreed.

Content is everything in a publication and also encompasses every product, project, and offering, Marsh noted.

First and foremost, “don’t try to do it on your own,” Casselbury said of creating and sharing content. “It has to be association-wide. It has to start with leadership.”

SNA is undertaking a survey of where everyone is spending time, she noted, to see the return on investment of various projects and what isn’t working. “Revenue seems to be the most important thing to us, but it isn’t always important to our members.” That leads to her next tip: “Don’t always base content on revenue-generating.”

Casselbury recommended trying to prioritize interdepartmental activities and working with various centers from the beginning of a content campaign or effort to make dissemination more effective and efficient. “There can be resistance to change, especially if you’re trying to limit the number of e-blasts to members,” she warned. “Aim to have meaningful conversations. Explain the ‘why.’”

There’s another popular saying about when you assume. Casselbury’s take is, “Don’t assume you know what members want.” She suggested looking at analytics to figure that out: “Colleagues couldn’t argue with data.”

A related tip was, “Don’t guess what members want.” Find out by looking at what members are discussing and reacting to in social media, Casselbury suggested.

“Don’t waste old materials or keep them if there’s no way to use them,” she added, even if that means reusing non-electronic items in this electronic age. Her staff recently found a stash of promotional cards that could be brought back to life in members’ hands.

Casselbury wrapped up with a reminder of that association publishers are well-challenged: “Don’t give sponsors or advertisers control,” she said. “Never forget the division between church and state — for us, between editorial versus advertising.”

Maintaining control over content volume can be a challenge, especially in a large association. “You don’t have to talk to everyone,” Mitchell said. If a content strategy is to discontinue a publication or combine existing ones into a new one, though, “you do have to check on current commitments, such as library subscriptions.”

If cutting down on the number of publications is key to a content strategy, “don’t get rid of your print magazine,” Mitchell said. “If you do go all-digital, you might reduce the number of pages.

In making any changes—whether launching new digital publications, reducing or discarding print publications, or other approaches to content management—“don’t overlook the difference between writing for print vs. online,” Mitchell advised. “It’s a different mindset.”

Marsh outlined a number of tips, starting with not forgetting to think about what your audiences are looking for. “Make it easy for them to find what they need, and connect your publication content with every other department. Think about planning processes,” she said. “Don’t keep doing what members are least interested in.”

Here are more tips from the excellent panel:

Don’t plan in silos—keep everyone in the association informed about what is coming up that might be worth developing content about.

Don’t try to work without goals—“Look at why you’re providing information and how members will use that content.”

Don’t focus on page views as a goal.

Don’t push for new content without knowing what members want—look at what the association already has and remind people of that resource. “Curate past information as reruns; people like reruns.”

Don’t forget to add an association take on daily news to make content unique.

To do more with your content, “don’t forget to repurpose material,” Marsh said.

In wrapping up the session, Loveland offered a key strategy in making the most of association content that relates to all of the presenters’ don’ts: “Don’t forget to do readers surveys before making changes—especially if you kill off a magazine—so you have data before making such decisions.”

And for generating content and feedback: “Don’t forget to use email” to communicate both internally and externally.

Award-winning freelance writer/editor Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a long-time AM&P associate member and contributor to AM&P and member publications. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com.

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