Word of Mouth, Relevancy, Transparency and ‘Endings’ Resonate Even More Now

In December 2019, The New York Times Open Team released a list of 10 Themes for News that they had come up with after “traveling the world to better understand people’s needs and behaviors.” In looking at that list now—almost a year-and-a-half and a changed world later—it’s amazing that most of these themes have not lessened in importance. If anything, they have amplified.

Take this one—time of day influences content selection. The NYT Open team wrote that, “Rarely do media organizations take time of day and the cognitive load of their users into account when publishing content… People’s daily lives demand a lot of them.” That was before the pandemic. How much are we dealing with now between schooling, childcare, pets, housework, errands, technology, etc? Survey your audience—ask when a podcast or webinar might be best for them. You might be surprised. I like to get the Washington Post headlines email at 4 pm but not in the morning when I’m focused on work. And I grimace at some good events in the evening when I’m zoomed out.

Here are five more of those themes—with our own AMPlification:

People want stories with a clear beginning, middle and, most importantly, end.
“Through our research, we heard that people flock to true crime stories for just this very reason,” they write. “When it comes to news, people want that feeling of accomplishment, as well.” “I feel like there just has to be an end… and it has to be definitive, and you need to indicate to the audience that eventually you’ll get there,” said actor and storyteller Mike Birbiglia. “Because if it doesn’t end, people will be furious.” We know how much storytelling—and our attention span—matters today. So be sure to think about what result(s) you want?

Try this. FT Live has put together five “hour-long, live panel debates in the week of April 26-30, to coincide with the publication of a series of opinion pieces.” The last one is titled, “Can Young People Save the Planet?” Now that’s an ending. Think shorter pieces of connected content.

Scheduled programming fosters ritual and connection.
Shared experiences still resonate. How many of us have paid more attention to the Chat during a talk than the actual talk? We want to connect—thus the trouble with virtual events so far. “When people watch or engage with scheduled content, the experience becomes a ritual and the content becomes a cultural touchpoint,” NYT Open wrote. “…The conversations about the content often feel as valuable as the content itself. Consistent programming facilitates these conversations—and ultimately fosters a sense of connection—by turning that scheduled content into an event.”

Try this. A weekly or bi-weekly participatory feature. Examples are Rob Ristagno’s Campfire Chats and Joanne Persico’s Bold Minds Virtual Mixer, NYU’s Salon Series—next up a talk with NPR’s Maria Hinajosa and Meetings Professional International Academy’s #RealTalk Dialogue Series | Still We Rise.

Word of mouth is still the ultimate recommendation engine.
My real estate agent friend Nya Alemayhu has been successful the last 12 months because of the personalized service she offers, a monthly newsletter called Keeping It Real based on conversations with clients, and her collaborations with other pros like loan officers and home inspectors. The result? She gets referrals and recommendations. “While algorithms can offer interesting suggestions, nothing beats the recommendations from co-workers, family and friends,” NYT Open wrote. “Personal recommendations, which are the product of ongoing personal conversations, allow for the discovery of new content to feel seamless and nuanced.”

Try this. Instagram. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) generates word of mouth and publicizes events through their popular Instagram page.

The most recent information is not always the most relevant.
This one is huge. It’s basically that relevant content may trump today’s news. “News organizations tend to surface the most recent content, but that often gets people only some of the information they’re looking for,” they write. In a recent conversation I had with a publisher, he expressed the success they’ve had repurposing their best content. “Not everyone sees it the first or even the second time around,” he said. “It’s been a huge plus for us.”

Try this. Take the top 10 most popular content pieces that you’ve done over the last couple years and schedule their repurposing in a weekly or monthly series. Call it something like Doing Our Best or Our All-Star Content.

People crave transparency.
“The public hears claims of ‘fake news’ just as often as people who work in media. When people understand the process and people involved in telling a story, they are more likely to trust it,” NYT Open wrote. When Sam Yagan, vice chairman of Match.com and co-founder of OkCupid, Tinder and SparkNotes, spoke on one of those Campfire Chats, he was believable because he told us the process that he went through after taking over Match and the mistakes they made. “I compare never failing with not having ambition,” Yagan said. “[So the question became,] how do we let ourselves test out our intuition? The intuition has to inform what data you get.”

Try this. Let your audience see—and discuss—how one of your best publications or podcasts or webinars gets done. “Come behind the scenes with us today.”


‘I Need My Book!’ Programs, Books and Other Print Ventures Can Add Diversity and Value for Your Members

“Wow, I didn’t know that they sent those. I got mine with the PMI GC registration. It’s amazing (the book).”

That comment came from Mayte Mata-Sivera, a project manager in Utah, on the site for the Project Management Institute’s EXCEL award-winning 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book (pictured here) in early 2020. We talk about membership value being when you can go above and beyond the expected, and this book serves as an example of that. Other comments use the phrases “amazing gift,” “great souvenir,” “keep forever” and “get autographs.”

Think those folks will renew?

Association innovation can entail many things in 2021 like virtual shuttle bus rides or AI house tours or metrics that combine more ingredients that the potion from the witches of Macbeth. But we’ve now reached a point—especially during the pandemic—where print can become innovative in swag boxes or as membership bonuses. And despite the absurd amounts of money being offered for NFTs, books, programs and cutouts remain valued items for people. How many Zoom backgrounds do you see splashed with books all around?

Here are some recent examples of successful forays into print.

Bar keepsakes. The Federal Bar Association put together a most impressive, coffee-table book as the centerpiece of their centennial anniversary last year. Executive director Stacy King said that “attorneys love books. They really do. Since we’ve been doing all these Zoom calls, I never realized how many of my leadership has just books on books behind them. Everyone has that prestigious bookcase with all of their books. The other [reason] was that when the celebration was over, we really wanted to make sure we had something to celebrate… for years to come. We also wanted it as a marketing tool to raise our profile. So we are actually in the process right now where we’re sending the book to all three branches of government, all the chief federal judges, so that every federal courthouse has a copy.”

Family fare. “Hi, my name is Carissima Gori Uptmor and I’m a pediatric bilingual speech language pathologist who works in a school setting. Oftentimes, kids will ask me, ‘What do you do with the kids you work with?’” That’s the start of a video by the author of the EXCEL Award-winning The Everyday Adventures of Mrs. Dennis, Speech Language Pathologist on the American Speech-Language Hearing Association website. The story follows Mrs. Dennis “through her day of adventure and… all the different ways she helps students with communication disorders.  You’ll see her in the classroom, in her therapy room, at the playground at recess, and the cafeteria!” Another book in their store is Everybody Needs a Turn: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Children With Speech and Language Disorders.

Adding diversity. ACSD had two EXCEL award winners last year—Becoming the Educator They Need: Strategies, Mindsets, and Beliefs for Supporting Male Black and Latino Students; and Your Students, My Students, Our Students: Rethinking Equitable and Inclusive Classrooms. (Nice to see the EXCEL Award logo on these pages.) The author of the former book is Robert Jackson, who began his teaching career in the Indianapolis public schools more than 20 years ago—after being cut from the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. The latter book was “written not for ‘special educators’ or ‘general educators’ but for all educators.”

To complement your virtual event. “I got my conference box this afternoon! Looking forward to the virtual fair in the next two days,” tweeted Joyce Tao last August. Just before that event—the 2020 AEJMC Conference—the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication sent a swag box with a printed program, a water bottle, a nametag, a pen and a few handouts for sponsorship opportunities. “In this virtual environment that we now live in, you lose that emotional connection to your attendees,” Amanda Caldwell, conference meetings manager, told Associations Now. “We felt that sending this box a day or two before the conference gave them that tangible thing to hold in their hand.” She also felt that it gave attendees an option for how to experience the event. “We [had] 15 concurrent sessions every 90 minutes for four days… When you have a printed program, you can lay out your day a little easier… I had a lady call me and say, ‘I didn’t get my book yet! I’ve gone to 30 conferences, and I need my book!’ Because she’s saved them all,” Caldwell said.

Fresh prints of Bay Area. And finally, here’s an example from a non-association—a transportation authority of all places. A touchless Short Story Dispenser has become popular in the Bay Area. Riders on BART, their transportation system, can access machines that print one-, three- and five-minute reads at three stations, with a fourth on the way. Created by Short Édition, a French publishing house, the dispenser has investors that include filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, who had one installed in his Café Zoetrope (pictured here) in San Francisco’s North Beach. “[Our customers] are fascinated, trying to figure out how, and why, something can exist to give them a gift, a literary gift, without depositing a coin,” Coppola told BART. There’s that word “gift” again.


With Right Content and Offerings, ASHA Shows That a Career Portal Can Deliver Big Member Value and $$$

“If you can get [students] engaged and feeling really tied to a community that supports them, they’re going to be around…”

Alexis Redmond, director, career management resources, for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), pauses briefly and then lets out a wonderful laugh before saying “for ever.” It’s a natural joyfulness that comes from someone who is helping members at all levels achieve their goals and giving her association a sensational resource—the ASHA career portal—that drives engagement and brings in revenue, especially important in these virtual times.

Redmond continues. “I annually do a presentation to our [National Student Speech Language Hearing Association] executive committee, and I always offer them free resume review. And in that process it’s kind of funny there was one [person] that came in and said, ‘I really don’t need this, I’m pretty well connected.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s talk about LinkedIn and what you can do with LinkedIn,’ and he was like, ‘Okay.’

“Now that was two years ago, and I got invited to a panel for NSSLHA this year and we were both on a panel, and he was like”—again, Redmond’s face lights up all over our Zoom call—“’Alexis, I’m so excited to see you!’ And I was like, ‘Good to see you too. What’s up?’ ‘You told me something that, at first, I was like, who is this lady and [why should I] listen to her? You told me something about LinkedIn that I never thought about and I used it. Where I’m working now it’s because I posted an article that someone [there] saw.’

“’That has now turned into a faculty role, and I’m running a clinic.’ He’s doing early childhood hearing screenings for one of the major hospitals in Utah. He said, ‘I didn’t think that was going to be possible.’”

If there could be such a thing as a career portal rock star, then Redmond would be it. She balances joy, intelligence and hard work so well that you want to listen to her… for ever.

But alas, given Zoom fatigue, we did pretty well for 45 minutes or so.

“An organization may have a hard time hiring because, for us, it’s a lot of rural clinics, and if they’re able to get a voice and share the benefits of working there, they can get really good candidates. So it’s really helpful once everyone gets to the table and shares those insights and those dialogues and they turn into opportunity.”

That’s a success story that Redmond shared that didn’t even get into the incredible architecture and moving parts of the career portal she has shepherded into fruition. Glance at that portal homepage and you’ll see these headings: GETTING STARTED, GETTING THE JOB, ON THE JOB, LEADERSHIP & SUPERVISION and PRIVATE PRACTICE. There’s quite a lot here.

‘Pulling All This Together’

In this story of career portal creation, Redmond conveys that it’s not easy and takes time to get right, but the rewards can be huge.

She started at ASHA in 2015 as a manager of mailing list sales on the sales team. “We had a separate recruitment advertising team. They had the initial assessment, and they brought us all in to pore over the findings. I’m one of those people that has a weird Jackie-of-all-trades background, so I’m an attorney by training, but my bachelor’s is in sociology and anthropology, so I just have a fascination with people in society and how things work and what makes people tick.

“I’m always that person who gets pulled in on projects because I see the stuff that people don’t see. ‘What about this? How does this play with this?’ When they got the feedback back, [the supervisor said] you need to make the job board a career step’ [place]. A lot of people in our office weren’t really looking at LinkedIn or other platforms or even at Instagram where people are sharing professional information and resume tips and interview tips. That wasn’t the goal here [at the time].”

Redmond was assigned with “pulling all this together.” For a long time, the job board was supported by a sales director who would do some programming and an occasional article, “but the focus really wasn’t on enriching the member experience,” Redmond says. She took the new role in 2017 and right away the sales functions went to the sales team, the content functions to editorial, member experience became a real thing and it all became a full-fledged process.

First up, a full content audit. “They had had various articles [posted] throughout the years, and so the challenge was that it wasn’t always a time when people were job searching or transitioning careers,” she says. “Maybe somebody wrote something cool and posted it, but there was not that kind of centralized place to find the information.” Staff could perhaps find the relevant job articles, but not members.

Slowly, they started the maturation process and figuring out the content gaps. “One of the cool things we did was go through a persona development process and brought in our practices teams, our research team, and looked at all of our surveys from the last decade or so. We mapped everything we knew about members—if they were students transitioning to professional, or mid-career looking to advance [or] an audiologist working in an ENT clinic…” Redmond recalls.

“We mapped out what resources we have for them, what’s keeping them up at night. What questions do they have when they experience going through career transition and then what content we could create. So that drove our marketing strategy because we knew the cadence of when they’re searching, when we had peak volumes of those job postings. Then we either curated content we already had or [developed] new content, so within the first year of the site made 30 pieces of content.”

Redmond says that they faced particular challenges in creating a comprehensive portal because their members can work in such a variety of settings and situations. In the past, she said, there had been too much of a “Pollyanna” approach—just go do your work and good things will come—rather than any real self-advocacy or personal brand-building lessons.

“We tried to always add a layer of that self-advocacy, making sure you’re being transparent, so that people understand what you do,” she says. “It makes them feel more empowered. So we were just trying to layer these things so that it wasn’t just like, ‘Here’s a job board, go there when you have a need,’ instead of, ‘Here, we’re always typing out information that is going to help you in your day-to-day.  Then, when you need to find a job, you will actually come to us.”

‘More Innovative’

“We knew that we needed to be more innovative with how we present information,” Redmond says. That turned into building their own improved brand voice, “more like, ‘we’re in this with you, we’re together, we’re aligned,’” she adds. That allowed them to soften their language a bit and become more approachable.

Not only did the career portal reflect that new brand voice, but the strategy became more deliberate and mobile-focused. “Instead of having like 2000- or 3000-word resources, it was like, ‘Let’s do what’s scalable from a phone,’” Redmond said. “What’s going to be something that someone can do for just a few minutes and feel that they left with a nugget that was valuable?

“Our members have heavy workloads; they don’t have time to always read a treatise, so it was really about thinking what does somebody need to know in this moment, based on the certain experience that they’re having. How can they feel more comfortable and confident in their newness?”

At that point staff listened. They knew it was about developing value, so surveys were conducted and focus groups brought in to talk about the skills members needed. At this point ASHA also discovered the value of sponsored content marketing packages, where “inside information” and “behind-the-scenes insights” could be conveyed to “help candidates stand out in their jobs and offices… from the people actually doing the hiring.”

And that meant revenue. It was a win-win situation.

“We can give tips and resources, but [it’s better to] go to the horse’s mouth and ask, ‘What are you really looking for?’” Redmond said. “We know what the job posting says, but when you’re in that interview, what are those things that are going to really make a candidate stand out?”

They created a series on Instagram and brought in members to do interviews and talk about career advancement or mentoring. They invited sponsors to talk about salary negotiation like when you get to the offer stage, what are some things that someone could say that would “move them this way or that way on the pay scale.

“For us it was a matter of going to the sponsors and saying, ‘Our members have this need. How can we partner with you to fill that need and get you some exposure in the process?’” Redmond said. “Because right now, with not being able to do a lot of in-person stuff, people are looking for thought leadership opportunities. So if you can make it really impactful [and something that] members can enjoy, [sponsors will] get their return investment.”

Redmond has worked with the sales team to develop a sponsor strategy that’s more of a partnership. “For recruitment advertising sales, that’s meant a lot of time nurturing those relationships,” she says. “We know that they have different needs and want more exposure and engagement. Our student organization has done networking events where the sponsor could come and present about what’s happening in the industry”—again, giving that inside view.

Redmond’s role has remained in the marketing and sales team. “So everything organically has that duality of understanding that there has to be a B2B aspect or a vendor aspect, whatever we’re doing on the B2C side,” she says. “So it’s really about finding those opportunities to add value. Once you know what the pain points are or where there’s gaps or need on either side, that’s when you can get anything.

“I think about little ways to bridge that gap and start with dialogue between the job seekers and employers so that’s where we either issue new content or have an event or we’ve done some things like social media stories or reached out to the podcasts,” Redmond adds.

After trial and error, Instagram, not the more expected Facebook, has become the go-to for the career portal—a career fair on Wednesday was well-advertised there. “When you’re going the route of career development content you have to know where the places are that they’re really making their decisions about their career stuff vs. just consuming content,” Redmond says. “So you can’t treat every channel the same.”

Again, she says, a key is to listen and not always joining the conversation. “Just being in the space and observing what’s happening can be really helpful to keep your content grounded. Sometimes we can get very internalized and work with our head down.”

‘User Experience Team’

They realized pretty quickly that the career journey has to be center stage, rather than all the possible topics and subsets members could get involved in. “We have a user experience team in-house that helped us do a card sort and to do some kind of journey mapping, to make sure that, as a person went from content piece” forward, it made sense, Redmond says.

“We also include feeds and all of our e-newsletters, so we needed a system that would support that. Because it’s one thing to create the content and make it appealing, but if we didn’t have vehicles to get it out there, then we created a party for ourselves and didn’t send invitations.”

It’s really about thinking through all the touch points, she adds, and all the areas that people may be engaging that could be an opportunity to get in front of them. Sponsors now come to them on a “pretty regular basis. The other thing is that we’re always being innovative,” Redmond says. “What new ways of presenting content are out there? Let’s see if this is of interest to the members.”

And that’s what it comes down to—member value. “How do they just navigate the space as an individual—that was where we had to make our pivot because we were getting beat all over the place by big-box job boards,” Redmond says. “We knew we had to do this better because they can be nimble and focused and we’re doing so much stuff. But we [knew] that if we didn’t really focus on it and figure it out, it’s going to take us years to catch up.”