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Digital Marketing Questions Every Board Should Consider
By Dan O'Brien, EVP and Chief Strategy Officer, Tech Image

With 85 percent of the U.S. population using the Internet (Pew 2013), society is becoming a community of online information gatherers. As you reflect on your own behavior, do you notice the amount of time you spend gazing at your smartphone or tablet device? As media habits continue to tilt toward an increase in digital forms of communication, it’s important that volunteer boards are aware of and embrace changes in how associations reach, engage and convert new members. This article offers ideas to help you explain this digital imperative to your fellow board members and evangelize key volunteers and staff.

If your association is like most others, marketing goals center around increasing membership, generating awareness around key issues, selling products and services, and remaining relevant with current and prospective members. Stories abound of associations that realized a bump in conference registration or webinar attendance simply by promoting registration on Facebook and Twitter. But posting registrations alone won’t build loyalty and engagement. With a large number of potential prospects participating in social media (1 billion Facebook users, 1 billion YouTube visitors, 255 million LinkedIn subscribers and 300 million Twitter users) you want to be confident your association is leveraging digital channels for maximum impact. So, how can you help your association look beyond the activities of “posting” and “tweeting” to the bigger picture of marketing so your activities can be measured through growth?

Here are four questions that will help your association better evaluate and accelerate adoption of enhanced digital marketing strategies:

1. Is your association’s value proposition clearly and consistently communicated?
The proliferation of digital media channels require clear and consistent messaging. Recognize and be comfortable that your association may lose some control of its message once it permeates the digital realm. Your association staff and volunteers supporting them must be prepared to promote a consistent strategy and business value for your association in real-time, within social media conversations and digital channels. Maintaining consistency in these diverse networks will strengthen your brand and attract more members.

2. Do you know what your members and prospective members are really searching for?
Keyword research will identify specific words and combinations of words that prospective members are using in online searches related to your association’s business. By properly integrating the right keywords, your association will better identify with its target audience and increase the opportunity that it appears higher in search results. As an example, the keywords digital marketing used in the headline of this article attracts 8,100 unique monthly searches versus integrated marketing which only gets 2,400 monthly searches. Using the keywords most people use to search for your association’s topics will increase the chances people will find your articles online. Google AdWords is a commonly used tool to help with keyword research.

3. Is your association using, curating and creating fresh, relevant content?
Reflect on how many times a day you search online for an answer to a question. Then think of all the prospective members doing the same thing out in the digital world. Is your association cataloguing their information, maximizing this knowledge and leveraging the expertise that exists within your own community?

4. Is your association orchestrating an integrated member experience in ways that pull visitors deeper into your community?
Social media can attract a large number of new visitors. However, converting them to paying customers or members occurs only when social media strategies integrate with and connect to traditional lead-generation and registration tools. Social media works best when it funnels visitors into a deeper relationship supported by a traditional sales or membership-acquisition and membership-retention processes.

The following examples demonstrate how digital marketing strategies can be successfully applied to reach, engage and influence current and prospective members in order to increase awareness, build brand loyalty, create buzz and deliver more positive experiences:

  • Digital Influencers Enlarge VoiceSHARE, an independent, volunteer-run user association of IBM customers, hired “digital influencers” to create content designed to be distributed through their own social networks, as well as members’ networks. The content aligned with top business issues (big data, privacy, mobility), giving influencers and members an authoritative voice in these trending topics. This strategy boosted SHARE’s relevance, increased its subscriber network, expanded its social media following and helped grow conference attendance in a down economy.
  • Webisodes Accelerate Association Attendance – The Chicago Automobile Trade Association (CATA) needed to build awareness and participation among a broader audience and they leveraged a strong digital marketing and social media program to accomplish it. They produced 10 daily video “webisodes” from the floor of the Chicago Auto Show that captured key events, then distributed them in multiple video channels online to broaden awareness and sell more tickets to the show. These videos were picked up by top Chicago media and received millions of impressions and more than 10,000 views online. Facebook and Twitter contests, guest bloggers and digital media coverage contributed to record attendance, thousands of new social followers and a new generation of Chicago Auto Show enthusiasts.
  • Open the Door to the World – The International Advertising Association (IAA) held their global conference in Moscow and used video and social media to invite the rest of the world to their proceedings. They produced 13 short video interviews of the top speakers, who all briefly recapped their main points. The videos were then distributed to both journalists and a broad online community through social media. These “video invitations” attracted thousands from around the world to view the full-length presentations online. This program was well received by association members who were unable to travel to Moscow.
  • Contest Contributes to Explosive Growth – The VMware User Group (VMUG) generated social media buzz leading up to and during the VMworld Conference through a creative photo contest using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social channels. VMUG’s membership has grown 375 percent in the past three years and social media has played a significant role in connecting members from all across the globe. Before the conference, participants were invited to post pictures showing how they share their VMUG experiences with the hashtag #ShareVMUG, before and while travelling to VMworld. During VMworld, contestants were also asked to share pictures of themselves engaging with other VMUG members, wearing VMUG t-shirts or hanging out at VMUG partner booths. Winners were selected based on creativity and awarded prizes like gift cards or passes to VMUG social events. This contest resulted in VMUG’s social networks seeing exponential growth over the month of the contest, as well as increased member interaction with VMUG both before and during the conference.

A board member can make a difference by becoming an evangelist and challenge fellow board members, key volunteers and staff to test new digital channels and techniques that can foster growth. Unlike more traditional marketing, digital marketing lends itself well to experimentation and innovation. Henry David Thoreau said, “Things do not change. We change.” By adopting new digital marketing strategies, you can increase member engagement, become more relevant and open new channels that will magnify the value your association delivers to its constituents.

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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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