Take the Lead on Thought Leadership
By Jason Meyers, Senior Director of Content Strategy, SmithBucklin

The internet changed everything about publishing. It forever altered the frequency with which news and information could be delivered, the methods with which content could be presented, and even the role and perceived value of advertising. But the expansion of information to the internet did something else: For better or worse, it leveled the playing field for subject matter experts. In this new era, anyone with a blog or website can proclaim himself or herself an expert. There are fewer and fewer ways to filter through the noise. Consequently, it creates confusion about who the real experts are.

This void creates opportunities for associations. Because of the collective knowledge and experience of their members, associations have the potential to strategically position themselves as centralized, authoritative resources of industry or professional intelligence and other relevant information that is not collectively available anywhere else. Associations have inherent advantages in the crowded online information game because their members are professionals who are embedded deep within their respective industries or professions, giving them expert insider perspectives. Even traditional media outlets that specialize in delivering information about certain targeted sectors are forever on the outside looking in. While they rely on sourcing information from experts to develop relevant content, associations typically project that intelligence about their professions.

The Hubbub about Content Hubs

One of the best strategies for associations to provide that depth of information is an online content hub. A content hub is the online equivalent of a regularly published, in-depth print magazine. It’s a one-stop destination that houses and leverages all the content—no matter the format, channel or platform—created about, by, and for a given sector. It’s more than a blog—it’s an online repository for news, information, and intelligence about an industry or profession. For example, the Vacation Rental Management Association launched a content hub called Arrival, which is the online centerpiece of the association’s multichannel content strategy, and it has become one of VRMA’s most highly valued member benefits.

Content hubs give associations entrée into the world of online publishing. An association that wants to become a strong source of thought leadership can leverage the content hub format to create and brand its own authoritative online source of industry news and information. Content hubs also can align with an association’s broader content strategy, including print publications. VRMA’s Arrival hub, for example, features articles from the print edition of Arrival (which is distributed to members six times per year) along with complementary, online-only content.

Content hubs provide associations with many other advantages that can help them achieve and even exceed their goals and their missions, including:
  • Content that positions an organization and its members as thought leaders.
  • Bolstered visibility that contributes to membership recruitment and retention.
  • Expanded non-dues revenue opportunities in the form of sponsored content and advertising.
  • Useful information on critical industry trends that keeps members educated and engaged.
  • Opportunities for members to build their own brands through ongoing content contributions.
Of course, associations and traditional media outlets have very different motivators for delivering content and intelligence. Media companies typically are driven by revenue and profit, with a short-term focus on achieving a return on their investment. While there is plenty of opportunity for associations to obtain non-dues revenue from content initiatives through sources like advertising and sponsored content, the primary motivators for associations are to engage and educate audiences by providing useful content, and to establish the association and its members as thought leaders.

How to Be Different

As valuable a platform as the association content hub can be, however, it still will always exist in a crowded, confusing online environment that makes it difficult for any expert to stand out as an authority. This is where the association’s own brand and the corresponding brand of the content hub become so critically important. To really be successful, it’s important to draw out the differentiators of an organization and its membership.

When evaluating a strategy for an effective content hub, take the following questions into consideration:
  1. What does the competitive field look like? Are there associations or media organizations publishing content that’s similar? If so, how can you differentiate?
  2. Who are your resident influencers? Who among your members and partners can your association leverage as regular sources or contributors?
  3. What’s hot? What topics can your organization “own” or be the authority for because of its advocacy initiatives, or the specific expertise of its members?
  4. What’s not so hot? What controversial subjects may be polarizing and are better avoided?
  5. What sells? Because monetization is important, what are the categories of content that are most important to your organization’s partners that are target advertisers and sponsors?
With proper positioning and a finely-honed strategy that’s specifically designed with your organization’s mission and members in mind, a content hub can elevate your association while also greatly benefiting your industry and its professionals.

  As senior director of content strategy for SmithBucklin, Jason Meyers works with associations to conceive and implement content initiatives customized to meet the needs of organizations and their members. Meyers has 25 years of content experience, ranging from editorial leadership roles in B2B and B2C media companies to founding his own content marketing firm.


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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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