The ROI of Content
When association leaders think of return on investment (ROI) for their association’s activities, they often focus their time and resources on their annual meeting or event — and rightfully so. But they have another effective means of engaging with members, attracting new members or segments of membership, and expanding the association’s reach and influence. In fact, they have a stockpile of it at their disposal — their content.

An association’s content is a valuable commodity. Of course, associations can monetize content through traditional display advertising and sponsored content from partners, among other strategies, but what’s often overlooked is the ROI that content can generate beyond monetization. Through a content hub — a centralized online repository for the relevant industry content the association and its members can produce, including online articles, white papers, surveys, infographics, videos, podcasts, webinars, and even content from a print publication (if one exists) — associations can engage with members all year and generate significant long-term value for the association.

Thought Leadership

By showcasing an association’s expertise, information, and insights, content hubs can be used to position the association as an industry thought leader, which in turn, can help the association broaden its appeal to new audiences and grow its membership.

“The content hub — and content in general — helps convey the thought leadership of the organization and expertise in a given industry or profession,” says Jason Meyers, senior director of content strategy for SmithBucklin client organizations. That can elevate the status and visibility of the organization within the industry. It can also lead to growth, as that expertise may entice industry professionals and partners to join or become involved with the association.

Further, being the authoritative voice for an industry can have an impact when advocating for critical industry issues. “An association should strive for its publication to be perceived as the bible of the industry, and associations have that opportunity with their publishing and content initiatives,” Meyers says. “The value is sometimes overlooked. An association may treat it as a member benefit or revenue opportunity, but they also need to think about content as a way to position their organization as an industry authority.”

Engagement and Education

The number one reason members don’t renew is lack of engagement, according to Marketing General’s 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Further, association leaders call it one of the biggest challenges they face. However, with timely, relevant, actionable content, associations can capture the attention of members and keep them engaged. For example, educational content helps members advance in their careers or better understand the industry.

The best way to determine if content is relevant is to survey readership regularly to find out what content they want (and don’t want). “What is necessary to the professionals you want to reach, and what isn’t?” asks Meyers. “Also, understand what other industry content resources your audience consumes, and why, then take steps to ensure that your content is different and meets your audience’s specific expectations and needs.”

A content hub can also highlight the expertise of members. Many association members value the opportunity to publish their own content because it gives them a platform to elevate themselves in the profession. It not only engages members, but also prospective members if the association provides access to content by non-members.

With more platforms for content publishing and more varied types of content — such as articles, videos, and podcasts, the association increases the opportunities to engage with members and the industry as a whole. “The type of content may vary, but the most important thing is to have it focused on what's working for members,” says Meyers.

Associations can measure engagement by click-throughs, open rates, and other tangible metrics. How many people are visiting the site? How many people are reading the articles? How long are they staying on the site consuming the content? What actions are they taking as a result of consuming the content?

“The best demonstration of value is how engaged people are with the content,” says Meyers. If a topic resonates with readers, then develop more content in that area. If it isn’t meeting expectations based on member feedback, then it’s relatively simple to change the focus and try something else.

Measuring the ROI

Boards need to be very clear and consistent in defining the purpose of the content platform. Establish those objectives in advance. Is it to increase engagement scores? Reach new audiences? Increase membership? Generate revenue? With goals clarified, you can then measure the ROI of the content strategy via the underlying metrics annually to check progress.

It’s also critical to communicate to members the purpose of the content hub and how it serves the industry. Branding is a good way to market the content hub and ensure consistency across all the various vehicles — whether its newsletters, print publications, online hubs, or something else, says Meyers. Not only should the brand be consistent, but the content should be in line with the overall purpose of the content platform. Posting content that is not in line with that defined purpose can reduce its impact, says Meyers.

It can take years to firmly establish the content brand in the industry, but if the content is consistent in its purpose, it does take root. “The organizations that have success with their content strategies are the ones that clearly define the purpose of the content strategy and have consistent branding,” says Meyers. They find that the investment produces ROI that generates value well beyond revenue.
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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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