Over the past decade, we have helped numerous associations with their online marketing strategy. Each association faces different challenges due to budget constraints, staff size and the evolving online marketing space. With all the options on the web today, our team has put together a list of 10 valuable ways to help associations promote their brand, market their events and, most importantly, encourage membership.
1) Create a Visually Appealing Website on a Strong CMS Platform
Associations need to maintain a strong web presence. As an online hub, websites have become the center of interaction between the organization and its members. Make sure your site is branded with the organization’s activities, cause and mission, and that it leads visitors to the desired call to action. Having a website that is up-to-date with event information, blogs, tweets, and photography will enhance the user’s experience.
A great Content Management System (CMS) should facilitate syndicating your organization’s information on the appropriate pages throughout the site. Advanced CMS platforms may even capture and report on the visitor’s clicks and search terms/keywords that brought them to the site. Always find ways to encourage your visitors to come back by providing the message that makes your association unique. When choosing a CMS, put together a list of all the features you want instead of choosing one based on name recognition or your developer’s preference. Make sure your staff tests the CMS and finds it easy to use without having to know any programming. Great content management systems should easily enable syndication and allow you to follow the business rules put in place to sustain your strategy. Your webmaster should just populate the system, thus keeping your cost of ownership very low.
2) Use Social Media
In order to survive and build membership, your organization must do positive things in the community. This reinforces your value proposition. Stakeholders enjoy reading about the results and impact your association is producing. This is especially true if it affects them directly. Use social media to focus on creating opportunities for these direct connections to flourish, and to build online testimonials and shares via other users.
Spread the word about your association’s work by promoting them on social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Quora, Google Hotpot, Yelp and other industry-related websites. By sharing your association’s work across different platforms, you increase the odds of reaching potential new members. The key to social networking is not to post blurbs about just your association’s events and news, but to post and share other association’s noteworthy news as well. This will help build a relationship with those organizations, so they will be more willing to spread your news in turn. This is a crucial strategy for all associations to follow.
3) Allow Brand Enthusiasts to Become Creators
Associations which achieve the best brand enthusiasm often do so because the members have a personal stake in the organization’s success. These brand enthusiasts become what we call “creators” because they will define your brand’s voice on the internet. These brand enthusiasts will create blogs, publish personal websites, and even create videos and podcast that will promote news and activities of your organization. The key for the organization is to give brand enthusiasts the proper tools to spread the word on its behalf. Tools such as RSS feeds, widgets, and maybe even a connection via an API to specific information will provide brand enthusiasts with the resources needed to convey your message easily. By offering this platform to brand enthusiasts, you are essentially allowing them to become creators for your association. Give your advocates the power to advocate for you! Being an association does not mean being passive.
Keep reading and to learn more ways to help your association reach out to online visitors and encourage them to stay connected with your organization easily and effectively!
4) Enable Simple, Easy and Prominent Email Newsletter Sign-Up
Newsletters are key for associations to deliver news to stakeholders. Make sure your sign-up form is simple and easy to use. The call to action should say “Sign Up” or “Join our Newsletter” instead of the generic “Go” or “Submit” buttons commonly seen. The newsletter section should also be explanatory. For example, a brief description could read “Learn more about our news and events with our monthly online newsletter” or “Keep up to date with our bi-weekly digital newsletter.”
Asking for just an email address versus a first name, last name and email will generate more opt-ins. Once the user signs up, direct them to a page that confirms their request to receive the newsletter, thanks them for subscribing, and gives them the option to view the current newsletter and other information about your organization.
Adding a social media widget to the newsletter will widen your reach by encouraging members to instantly share the article. Make sure the font in the text field is large enough to read, so the email address is entered correctly.
5) Be Consistent and Timely
Consistency is critical for users to believe in the organization and build trust. If a user signs up for a monthly newsletter, your organization needs to deliver. If your company plans to implement a social media strategy, it must be consistent, interactive and ongoing. Most importantly, if you plan on having news and information on your homepage, make sure your news is fresh and not more than two weeks old. Consistency and timely content are essential for making users trust that your association is active and working hard to serve the community.
6) Improve Membership Registration and Renewal Process
How easy is our membership process? Online forms make it easy to join and even easier for administrators to track and analyze membership data. Take advantage of the online form information, data, and personalization to help drive the membership process.
- Ask yourself the following questions to help improve your registration and renewal process:
- Can prospects easily find and complete the membership registration/renewal form?
- Do you provide your users with an easy and secure online payment method to pay membership dues?
- Do your forms collect all the information you need without having the user take extra steps?
- Do new and returning members receive confirmation immediately after submitting the form?
- Do you reach out to your renewals and abandoned prospects with powerful messages that are customized and personalized?
7) Create Viral Programs
Viral programs are a great way to raise awareness of your association. They are a form of marketing using social media and allowing users to easily replicate your message or carry out your requested action, and prompt others to do the same.
As stated earlier, brand enthusiasts are great for creating and syndicating content about your association. To create a viral campaign, simply offer a one-click or extremely easy method to help users share information about your association. For instance, ask users to change their avatar or profile picture on a particular social networking site. Another initiative might place a badge or share button on an engaging story that your association supplies.
Whether you plan to promote your organization, or a particular event, viral programs are a great way to let others spread awareness. The web is a great resource that provides organizations with tools that don’t just reach out, but are also a tried-and-true means of letting users reach in.
8) Go Mobile
eMarketer research’s latest report finds that 5 Billion people will use mobile phones by 2017. Your website should have a mobile presence that works on the top mobile platforms such as iPhone and Android.
In addition to creating a mobile site, text messaging campaigns are becoming the new norm and, in some cases, slowly replacing newsletters. The New York Times stated, via research from a cell-carrier, that 97% of all marketing messages are opened and 83% are opened in the first hour.
These statistics are too powerful for any organization to ignore and speak to the need to include this kind of approach in your overall marketing plan. Text-message marketing can be used for events, donations, promotions and important news updates. Companies like MobiQpons offer great options to start incorporating this strategy. Keep in mind that mobile phone numbers are considered extremely personal and, as such, are well-guarded—more so than email addresses or home phone lines. Make sure your users opt in for this kind of contact and that your organization uses it sparingly.
9) Continually Monitor Your Brand
Brand monitoring is a way to find out where conversations are taking place and what is being said about your firm. Following social media sites along with other blogs and websites will enable you to keep a close tab on how your organization is perceived.
While some tools are free, you will need to acquire a combination of monitoring tools to get the full picture. Below are a few resources we find work best on a limited budget:
- Google Alerts: Email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic.
- Tweet Alarm: More than 5,000 tweets are shared every second. You can search the ones that are about you via Twitter Search, but if you want to create an automatic monitoring system, Tweet Alarm is the perfect solution.
- Hyper Alerts: If your Facebook page is an important part of your strategy and digital presence, there is an online tool that will help you monitor their activity and get instant email notifications.
- Social Mention: If you have a large company with hundreds of daily mentions across the web and a recognized brand, Social Mention can not only help you track them, but also analyze data from several sources to understand their sentiment and origin.
- Pin Alerts: Pinterest is becoming an increasingly influential platform, especially in some industries. Knowing what’s being shared about you can impact your reputation. Do you want to know when someone pins something from your website?
- Topsy: A great social analytics tool, Topsy allows you to scan the web looking for mentions of your interest. What sets this service apart is the fact that it has indexed every tweet ever posted.
These tools can also help you keep an eye on your competitors and stay current on other industry topics. The information gained from these tools can provide you with opportunities to promote your organization’s comparative strengths. I call this reverse brand monitoring and it’s powerful!
10) Track Your Progress
Once you have built a strategy with all the options detailed above, and have begun implementation, make sure you put methods in place to track and analyze traffic.
Google Analytics (GA) is a great tool to help you measure your advertising return on investment (ROI) as well as track video, social networking sites’ reach and usage of particular applications. Use this free service to build goals in your GA dashboard and send yourself weekly comparison reports of the traffic on your website. By tracking activity, you will be able to make better decisions with regard to investing your organization’s resources and directing your online efforts.
Whether you use all 10 of the strategies described or just a few, it is critical that your effort is sustained over an extended period to generate the most return on your time and investment. As with any marketing strategy, a consistent approach will create the opportunity for a loyal following, and ultimately, a steady stream of online conversation about you. And as new online marketing opportunities present themselves—and they will—be flexible and ready to try different methods of reaching out, branding on new platforms, and empowering your users to be your voice on the World Wide Web.