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Social Media for Associations: The 3 Most Important Concepts [Audio]

Written by Joshua Paul | on June 10, 2011 at 1:10 PM
What Associations Need to Know ABout Social Media
Josh Paul
Higher Logic

Are you tired of hearing about social media? Cut through the fire hose of information and find out the 3 most important things that association executives need to know about social media.

Are You Clear on How Social Media Can Truly Help Your Organization Acheive Its Goals?

A few days ago I facilitated a program at ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership on advanced social media. "Associations of associations" - like ASAE, consultants, and vendors continue to hold social media workshops and idea swaps, but many association executives and managers walk out of the room without any more clarity than they walked in with about how social media can work for associations "“ some association professionals, looking for guidance, even follow advice that is detrimental to their organization when it is positioned as credible.

Let's cut through all of the noise. Let's move beyond how to set up a Twitter account. Let's focus on getting results for your association.

Here are the 3 most important things that associations need to know about social media:

1) Your Social Media Activity Must Align With Your Organizational Goals

It does not make sense to put someone in charge of your social media activity or community management if they are not following a strategy that rolls up to major organizational goals "“ like event or product revenue, public awareness, legislative action, and membership growth or retention.

Social media is a tool, just like direct mail, email, or phones. As an association executive, you would launch a direct mail campaign or have someone make outbound calls to members if it was not directly part of achieving your association's goals.

I recently took part in another ASAE event for associations and the question "˜what is the purpose of social media?' came up. To help you bring the concept of social media aligning with your association's goals down to earth, you should know that the goal of social media is to GET FOUND.

Social media helps people find your organization for membership, your events, your programs, your product, and information on the issues you are advocating for. Listening to your community and engaging your members takes a backseat, and also contributes to, getting found.

2) Content, Social Media, & Search Engines Must All Work Together

If you attend an event for associations on marketing, you'll see that the conversation is dominated by social media. How many times a week do you tweet? Why is it easier to engage members in a private member community rather than a free LinkedIn group? Etc.

The secret that nobody is talking about is that activity on social networks by itself won't have a significant impact on most associations. The combination of content production (blog posts, white papers, ebooks, videos, podcasts, etc.), search engines, and social media create a platform to continuously get found by the audience you are targeting.

Keep in mind that search engines dwarf social media as a place where people look for specific information. For the most part, associations are not producing enough web content and not enough people understand the basics on how to get found on search engines.

How Do All Three Work Together?

Here is a very simplistic explanation. It starts with creating helpful, insightful, and original content (not about your organization). That content is indexed by search engines and shared with your network through email and social networks. Some members of your network then share your content with their network and some even link to your article or video from their website or blog. This gives you bonus points with search engines.

All of this (optimized content, level of sharing in social networks, and inbound links from other credible sites) help you get on the first page next time someone search for your topic in Google or Bing.

Tip: Search engine optimization (SEO) is not the job of marketing, IT, or your guy person. Everyone in your organization who produces content or edits content should have an understanding of how to rank in search engines.

The good news is that associations are already producing a lot of content in the form of journals, studies, white paper, and more. They also have a built-in network of people who will consume, share, and link to their content.

Tip: If you are concerned about giving away your value content for free, don't worry. Keep the content that makes membership value inside your private online community or behind your journal subscription. Create "teaser content" for the public (and search engines).

For instance, you can boil down your 12 pages white paper into a few 600 word blog posts with links to join your organization, purchase the white paper, or log into your private online community to read the whole white paper.

3) Measure Reach and Conversions

Reach is a social media metric that gives you the total number of people engaged with your organization. Start by adding together all of the following:

  • Members
  • Prospective member leads
  • Donors
  • Sponsors
  • Private online community members
  • Twitter followers
  • Facebook fans
  • Blog subscribers
  • Email newsletter subscribers
  • LinkedIn and Facebook group members

This number gives you your organization's total reach. You want to measure this number each month and ensure that it is growing. You'll also find good insight if you break down the total growth as well. For an example, what would it tell you if your blog subscribers doubles in one month, but your Twitter followers only grew a little? Make sure that your organization's reach grows each month by producing great content.

Reach Is Only Half of the Equation

Reach lets you know how many people follow your content and messages. However, reach only gets you half way to making an impact.

You need to convert your website visitors. The ultimate conversions are purchases, registrations, membership applications, donations, etc. However, there are many higher level conversions like downloadable presentation, videos, webinars, ebook, and white paper guides that your audience (including members of the media, legislators, prospective members and donors, the public) want to know about, but they might not be ready to engage you in a low level way, such as joining your organizations or making a donation.

Converting website visitors higher in the funnel allows you to add them in your database so that you can nurture those people over time to gradually bring them to the next levels of engagement "“ eventually converting them on your major organizational goals.

You'll notice that the three pillars above are quite interconnected. It is difficult to know if your online activity is aligned with your corporate goals if you don't measure reach and conversions. You'll find it hard to convert your audience if you are not driving them back to your site for your content. These connections could go on and on.

Now It Is Your Turn

  • What has your experience been with social media?
  • Is your organization's social plan focused on the three tips in this article?
  • What questions to you have about public social media or private social networks for your association?

Add your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Maybe I, or the community that reads this blog, can help!

Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Social Media, Associations, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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