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The Online Content Opportunity for Associations
By Tony Lorenz, Co-Founder and CEO, bXb Group, LLC

Online content is exploding. It is now possible for anyone to publish rich, multimedia content from virtually anywhere at any time. As a result, associations have the unique opportunity to be content leaders, which is arguably one of their most important value propositions.

But this opportunity will be realized only if associations act with some level of expediency by meeting the quickly changing expectations of their members. Today, there is a growing gap between what members expect from their associations regarding content and what associations are delivering. Still, associations must manage content properly. For example, members may experience information overload, especially when information is of low quality and/or packaged poorly.

The solution is content curation, which is the process of identifying relevant, quality information, adding a level of context to it and then sharing the results. But some associations use outdated methods of content curation and therefore do not meet the needs of today’s member marketplace. For example, websites that do not work well on mobile devices are a common problem. In addition, finding valuable content outside the confines of associations, the leading voices of their industry, is often difficult. Another potential miss for associations is not using video content, one of the most explosive of all content forms on the Web.

Associations must embrace new approaches to content or they will miss an opportunity to remain relevant. That is because associations do not have the corner on the content curation marketplace that they enjoyed in the past. Members are availing themselves of new options and deciding every day if associations are delivering the content members need and want.

With more and more millennials joining the workforce, associations must also learn how to engage this next generation. It is not easy, especially for those reluctant to embrace major changes, but it can be done.

Content Curation Strategies

Associations can employ specific content curation strategies, and there are five generally accepted methods, according to Rohit Bhargava, founder of the Influential Marketing Group and marketing professor at Georgetown University:
  1. Aggregation: Aggregation involves collection, not interpretation. It is the most common form of curation and typically the least useful. Online directories are a primary example.
  2. Distillation: This method begins with the gathering of content. The mass of information is then summarized to highlight a key point for the reader. Infographics are a common form of distillation.
  3. Elevation: Elevation of content happens when the curator is deeply immersed in the daily conversation of a given area of the industry and spots a larger industry trend as it arises. The top stories on many digital websites provide this level of curation to the audiences they serve.
  4. Mash-ups: Initially created by artists who take content from a variety of sources and combine it to create something entirely new, mash-ups are a major trend in most of the arts, although they carry certain inherent intellectual property issues. Think of a contemporary artist who uses lyrics from a song from the 1960s in his or her music today; or an industry thought leader who applies the best practices from one industry into another industry.
  5. Chronology: Chronology places events in a timeline to show the progression of a topic or idea. It is another method that uses infographics.
In addition to the different methods of curation, it is also important to consider who or what is doing the curation. There are three primary options:
  1. Algorithmic curation: Computer-run algorithms determine what the most relevant information is regarding a given topic. Google is the most relevant example.
  2. Social curation: Social curation – also known as curation by crowdsourcing – results when many people share in the aggregation and curation of content across a variety of social platforms. Be aware, however, that social curation can quickly devolve into little more than a popularity contest.
  3. Expert curation: This method involves a topical expert weighing the quality of the information presented and making selections. Expert curation can also include an editorializing element, in which the expert not only judges content for quality, but also provides a point of view. Associations – either directly or working with partners – have a distinct opportunity in this area.
The Opportunity for Associations

Some people believe that when it comes to content curation, media companies, individual influencers and brands can replace much of what associations produce at near-equivalent or better quality, and deliver it more rapidly than associations typically do today.

But can they?

Associations have the opportunity to be the gold-standard content provider, bringing the very best of their industries’ or professions’ content together by leveraging sources that include media companies, thought leaders and other associations. Associations also take a more neutral position when compared to other content sources (i.e., media companies or brands that sell goods and services), so their content is inherently more valuable.

But if leading associations want to seize this opportunity, they cannot do so through yesterday’s transactional model. In the past, members have most often paid for association benefits through annual membership. Going forward, associations should focus on member engagement rather than transactions. Members – especially those part of the younger generations – want to have a different type of relationship with their associations, both in terms of content and other issues.

Associations need to look at other industries that might not be perfectly analogous, but can still provide hints as to what associations should be thinking about – and sometimes worrying about – in terms of content. For example, consumers have a unique relationship with content creators in the television and movie industries. Through a flexible business model that reflects market expectation, Netflix has expanded opportunities for both content consumers and content creators (studios that create movies and TV shows) at the expense of Blockbuster, which was once a titan of the industry. In a matter of a few years, however, that titan turned into the Titanic. Now Netflix is not only distributing content in a highly efficient way online, it is now also creating its own content (i.e., House of Cards), which is proving to be a very successful contributor to Netflix’s continued growth.

Associations must demonstrate they are worthy of their members’ attention and resources. One primary way to do so is to filter, focus and clarify relevant, industry-related information through content curation. By doing so, associations will build stronger brands, increase their value propositions and – most importantly – win the battle between the associations and external content providers.

  Tony Lorenz, CMM, is co-founder and CEO of bXb Group, comprised of, which curates business content online with and for industry-leading associations, and Culture22, an award-winning agency that delivers creative and interactive solutions to some of the world's leading brands.

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