Archive for March, 2021

Five Things Associations Should Know About SEO Today

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Search engine optimization can feel difficult to grasp, but it’s all about matching the content to the audience, a nonprofit marketing expert says.

Search engine optimization is a key tool for associations looking to reach potential members or other audiences that share their niche.

The problem? SEO can get pretty niche itself. Indeed, a quick dive into the world of SEO may scare some people away from pursuing the practice further.

That would be a mistake, says Emily Patterson, founder of Bee Measure, a firm focused on nonprofit digital outreach that has worked with many associations over the years. When it comes down to it, she says, SEO is really just providing relevant information to the right user.

“People are going to Google, and you have information you want to appear when people will find you—and you want them to have a good experience on your site when they find you,” she says. “You’re not doing any favors by just being like, ‘Oh, SEO, that’s for e-commerce companies; we don’t need to participate in that.’”

With that in mind, Patterson offers these tips for maximizing your SEO capabilities:

Put yourself in your users’ shoes. Associations often think about presenting content in a way that makes sense internally but doesn’t match how their own members think about a topic. “They tend to use jargon, keywords, and things that are internal to their organization rather than thinking, ‘How do the people that we serve and the people in this field actually talk about things and search for things?’” Patterson says. Simply think about the topic from the perspective of your target reader, she explains. After all, that’s the person you’re trying to reach.

Sell the skeptics by encouraging them to think about their own search habits. Some employees may not be familiar with digital work or the benefits of building with SEO in mind. This can result in accidental resistance—for example, an employee unaware of how SEO works won’t write headlines with keywords in mind. “Sometimes there can just be this sort of technology barrier where people are like, ‘It’s online, so I’m really intimidated,’” Patterson says. When she encounters this mindset, she emphasizes to those employees that approaching search as an average user would can shift their perspective and make it seem simpler. “Everybody uses Google and searches for things,” she says. “So when you do that, what’s your experience for the types of things you’re looking for? I feel like that helps.”

Refresh your content occasionally—if it’s relevant. No matter how well an evergreen article is written, odds are high that it will fall out of date and require a periodic refresh to ensure that it is as relevant as possible. Patterson suggests using two common search tools, Google Search Console and Google Analytics, to uncover possible candidates for refreshes. However, she warns that not all content is worthy of extra attention: “Every client I’ve ever worked with, they always have some article on their site that’s getting a lot of traffic because it’s indexed well in search, but it’s not necessarily really related to what they’re doing,” she says.

Don’t lean too hard on tools. Search engine optimization has become something of a cottage industry for third-party tools to allow users to understand competitors and maximize positions, among other things. While she acknowledges that those technical approaches have their place, Patterson says they matter less for associations than for businesses in other lines of work, such as e-commerce. “Generally, having a strong website and writing your content like how your users speak and what they’re looking for—that will go a very long way,” she says.

Understand the changing tides. The shifts haven’t been as dramatic as they once were, but Google does use its position as the primary search engine to push site owners into desirable best practices, such as mobile-first design and fast page loads. Paying attention to these changes allows you to approach not just your day-to-day content strategically but also larger endeavors, such as site redesigns. For example, Google now favors longer content over shorter content. Naturally, the most straightforward way to address this trend is to develop long-form content, but the shift can be approached with design as well, such as by consolidating multiple pages into one longer page.

 

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Some Ideas for Developing a Conference Pricing Strategy

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Since the onset of the pandemic, many associations have offered their virtual conferences for free. But new formats require new platforms and technology, and for many groups, the free model is no longer sustainable. So, what’s the best pricing strategy to take?

Last year, many associations offered their virtual conferences to members for free. But that’s likely not a sustainable strategy. As you continue to assess your conference pricing model, especially with the increase in hybrid events moving forward, here are two examples I’ve come across recently that could provide some food for thought.

Paying for additional perks. While not in the association space, Reuters Next has a pricing strategy that addresses something that many attendees have said they’ve been missing during virtual conferences: networking and informal conversation.

According to an article published by The Drum, most delegates will access the meeting’s content for free, but for around $700, people can purchase what Reuters is calling “professional passes.” These come with additional perks, including a post-event report and access to a networking program that allows passholders to schedule one-to-one meetings with other attendees and potentially even speakers.

“This is something that both parties would opt into and the system would set up a time for you to connect,” said Reuters Chief Marketing Officer Josh London. “It’s similar to real-world [conferences], but with some advantages, so you are not standing on the outside of a circle waiting for a break in the conversation.”

Balancing in-person and virtual attendees. Back in November, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) held its World Education Conference as a hybrid event. The conference drew 600 attendees to a single in-person site—the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas—and more than 1,000 virtual attendees. MPI charged $799 for the in-person event and $299 for the digital experience.

Here’s a closer look at what attendees got for those registration fees: Even though all content was presented live to both audiences, the virtual sessions were not real-time video streams of the in-person sessions. Instead, the virtual sessions were conducted by many of the in-person presenters but at different times or even on different days. In addition, the in-person agenda ran over two days, while the virtual agenda ran over four.

“We wanted our digital audience to be able to engage directly with the instructors and facilitators so they could impact the course of those conversations, connect digitally with one another, and see each other’s video feeds,” Jessie States, CMP, CMM, director of MPI Academy, told MeetingsNet.

No matter what conference pricing model your association decides on, it’s important to communicate any changes to your members and show them how the changes will provide value to them.

What new pricing models is your association considering for its upcoming events? Please share in the comments.

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Think Outside the Zoom: Four Inventive Ways to Keep Audiences Engaged Remotely

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Not every type of remote engagement has to look like a videoconference. When you’re trying to reach your members in today’s largely virtual environment, clever content deployments are key to keeping audiences’ attention.

A year ago, when offices started closing and people began to rely on digital conferencing platforms, we were often just happy to see one another through a video chat.

But that novelty has worn thin over time, and reaching members through apps like Zoom, or through video meetups, can only take you so far.

Plus, there’s the constant risk of Zoom fatigue—something that Stanford researchers recently identified as a common issue caused by continuous eye contact and high cognitive load, among other factors.

This creates a new challenge. Associations, which excel at putting on in-person events to reach and renew their member base, have been forced to reinvent these get-togethers virtually, which does not necessarily deliver the same results. Given all that, what do you do?

The key is to broaden your content horizon and consider your audience’s experience. Whether it’s through clever social media content, written content, or more produced videos, you ultimately need to diversify your messaging so it reaches your members wherever they’re the most engaged.

A few ideas for doing just that:

Provide added value. Content can’t simply exist to entertain or excite people; it should help people do their jobs more effectively. This is something Manifest has been experimenting with on its blog, called The Itch. In addition to covering the benefits of content marketing in every post, The Itch features actionable strategies businesses can use to reach their consumers. Likewise, when you’re trying to reach your members, don’t just offer them high-level fluff. Give them real tips and tools to enhance their work.

Keep it light. When it comes to delivering information targeted at the business world, content that’s impactful doesn’t need to be dry. You can still make it eye-catching or amusing. One example of this approach is a post I spotted on LinkedIn recently that playfully pokes fun at digital marketing tactics to set the stage for its own offering: good old direct mail. Elements of humor and surprise can help draw in your audience and retain their attention in a fast-paced scrolling environment.

Think snackable with your content. Through no fault of their own, the pandemic has made it hard for people to focus. With that in mind, now’s a good time to consider chopping up content into more convenient forms. Instead of forcing people to sit through a five-minute video on social media, give it to them in a minute, with the option to watch the full series later back-to-back. For instance, during Black History Month, Manifest spotlighted its Black employees through a series of quick social posts that, viewed together, highlight the agency’s diverse culture.

Send them something fun. One way that Manifest has been engaging with its Zoom-fatigued employees during the pandemic involves mailers—sometimes with treats, sometimes with fun swag. This can be a good strategy for engaging members. Send them something to let them know they’re being seen and heard. (This approach combines effectively with virtual events, too.)

Ultimately, the content your association creates represents an exchange of value. You give your members something of value, and in exchange, you get their attention, their engagement, and ultimately, their membership.

There has to be more to the transaction than just speaking toward your members. They want to learn something, to be entertained, or to take the lessons from your offerings back to their day jobs—and to absorb the information you want to share in a form that’s convenient to them.

Your members are adapting to the pandemic. So, too, should your message.


Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.

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Five Ways to Make the Most of Collaboration Software

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When it comes down to it, making collaboration software such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Asana work effectively comes down to people—not the tool itself.

Whether you’re talking about Trello, Asana, Google Workspace, InVision, Notion, Microsoft Teams, or Slack, workplace collaboration software is having a moment right now, and it’s one that will likely not fade away for a while. The pandemic merely maximized a budding interest in such tools.

That said, just because you have the software doesn’t mean that it will make your association work better overnight. In fact, collaborative software is the epitome of the truism that what makes a piece of software work for your organization is the people who use it—not the program itself.

So with that in mind, here are a few considerations for maximizing the potential of collaboration software in your organization:

Focus on finding the right tool for your organization—not someone else’s. It can be easy to get pulled in by the hype around a new collaboration tool, especially if it’s one that other organizations seem to be having good luck with. But just because it works for them doesn’t mean it works for you, writes Jed Cawthorne at CMSWire. “What I think some organizations will have found, is that for every well-meaning blog post or LinkedIn article, espousing the virtues of working a particular way with a particular tool, trying to put that advice into practice word for word just didn’t work for them,” he writes.

Bring in a champion or two. Simply dropping in a piece of collaboration software isn’t going to make it properly spread throughout an organization, so it’s important to find people within an organization who can act as “champions” to help train people on the benefits of the software. This is something that Slack recommends for its popular chat-based software. “Champions are focused on rallying people around the why, with an eye toward increasing awareness, adoption, productivity and perception. Extra points if they exhibit curiosity for new tools and a willingness to learn,” writes the company’s experience specialist, Min Young Lee. The company also recommends looking for people in the organization who can sell colleagues on the best practices and day-to-day uses of the software rather than by focusing on highly technical uses.

Encourage uptake by adapting to users’ needs. One problem that organizations might face with collaboration is the use of “shadow IT,” or unapproved applications. Part of the reason people use unapproved applications is that some need of the team is not fulfilled, such as real-time collaboration on mobile platforms. The application Mio, which integrates chat apps from different providers, recommends properly accounting for end-user needs to account for the root cause of shadow applications. If your employees need mobile access, for example, ensure they have mobile access. If they need voice chat, give them voice chat.

Make room for disparate workflows. No two employees work the same way, and that can be a major limitation to how a collaboration tool can work within an organization. A collaboration tool can be a great way to bring different work styles together into one place. One way to do that would be through platform integrations, including those offered with the help of automation tools such as Zapier or IFTTT—which your collaboration platform should support as a standard feature. Ultimately, these tools can come in handy by making it possible to work in different applications while still bringing everything together in the same platform.

If it’s not taking, understand why—but don’t force it. It can be incredibly difficult for a technology team to invest time implementing a new system, only to see employees largely ignore what’s there. But that situation might have deeper roots—perhaps employees are feeling overloaded by collaboration and need to better handle the base issues that may be harming the uptake of collaboration software before writing it off. “Companies that have successfully combated the excesses of overload have done so by focusing on the root causes of unproductive collaboration—and not merely the symptoms—in devising the cure,” Michael Mankins writes in Harvard Business Review. After all, you don’t want to keep using a piece of software if it’s not working.

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How Associations Are Celebrating Women Leaders

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Women get to take a well-deserved bow for their historic achievements during Women’s History Month. Associations are honoring the significant roles they have played—and continue to forge—despite adversity.

Women’s History Month in March is a great time to reflect on the many contributions women have made to American history—often under the radar and without the same acclaim as men. As President Jimmy Carter wrote when officially designating the first week of March as National Women’s History Week in 1980, “The achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”

While there is a great deal to celebrate, in the year since the pandemic began women have endured significant setbacks because of the crisis. In January, another 275,000 women dropped out of the labor force, bringing the total number of women who have left the workforce since February 2020 to more than 2.3 million, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of the latest jobs report. That leaves the female workforce participation rate at 57 percent, the lowest it has been since 1988.

However, women have consistently shown they are resilient and can face—and overcome—many challenges. Associations are highlighting strong women and their stories during this iconic month. Here are some examples.

The National Restaurant Association celebrates women’s contributions to the restaurant industry, noting that:

  • Sixty-one percent of adult women worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives.
  • For 39 percent, their first job was in a restaurant.
  • One-third of all U.S. restaurant businesses are majority-owned by women.
  • Women hold 56 percent of foodservice occupations, compared to 47 percent in the overall economy.
  • Nearly half of foodservice managers are women.

A Society of Women Engineers timeline highlights noteworthy milestones in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and some of the outstanding SWE members who have made valuable contributions to the world of engineering and tech.

The U.S. Tennis Association salutes women who courageously pioneered progress in the sport, as well as those whose passion and presence continues to fuel its growth and success at every level—from its grassroots to its grandest stages.

The National Speech and Debate Association is commemorating the month with a literature collection and special poster series featuring female speech and debate coaches and alumni.

The Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association unveiled a new E-Museum to celebrate Women’s History Month. The organization recognizes many women from the New York City metropolitan area who contributed to the growth of the game since the WMGA was founded in 1899.

The Little Italy Association of San Diego honors women in March by highlighting some of the female-owned businesses in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood. The businesses are not only female-owned; many include female-made apparel, jewelry, art, and more.

How is your association honoring women’s history this month? Please share in the comments below.

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Four Language Pitfalls Associations Should Avoid in Member Surveys

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Member surveys can help you make good business decisions, but poorly worded questions can create misleading or biased results. Here are a few mistakes associations should avoid when crafting member surveys.

Associations surveys can produce a wellspring of data that can be used to better understand member needs and take decision-making beyond the gut. But poorly considered questions and careless phrasing can lead to member surveys that are exclusionary, biased, leading, or repetitive—undermining the usefulness of the results.

How can you avoid these traps when asking your members relevant questions?

Cynthia Simpson, CAE, manager of member services at the National Society for Histotechnology, has focused on the role that survey questions play in member engagement over her roughly three decades in the association space. Read on for her insights on what to watch out for in the way you structure your questions.

Don’t Make Respondents Think Too Hard

Survey questions need to be easy to respond to. Concise, clear wording is key, but so is structure. For example, offering too many answer options for a multiple-choice question reduces respondents’ ability to focus on what you’re asking. A long list of choices can naturally bias respondents toward the ones that appear last on the list, Simpson says, especially if the survey is conducted over the phone.

She also warns about questions that lead the respondent down a certain line of thinking. She cites the example of a question stating that a website “isn’t easy to use unless I use the search function.”

“Having that word ‘isn’t’ in there implies that the website isn’t easy to use to begin with. Well, for some users, it may be easy to use,” Simpson says. “So you’re already misleading them and using that double negative to frame their response.”

To weed out potential biases, she recommends asking the same question in multiple ways. If one version of the question confuses or misleads respondents for a reason you haven’t considered, another version may capture the respondent’s true answer, preventing skewed results.

Be Wary of Gender Bias

Sometimes, phrasing may unintentionally reflect gender bias. Simpson, who wrote about this topic for Association Success in 2018, says it’s important to consider which descriptive attributes are used in a question.For example, using ability-focused terms such as “brilliant,” “capable,” and “analytical” may subconsciously skew male for respondents; “grindstone” terms such as “hardworking” and “meticulous” may carry a female connotation. Using attributes traditionally associated with men or women can skew the response, she says.

If you aren’t able to implement the answer, then really think hard about asking the question.

“You need to be careful to not include those types of gendered questions because the picture that the person gets in [their] mind reflects back on the question,” she explains. “The best type of questions are free of that type of language.”

Avoid Unnecessary Implications

Sometimes wording can reflect other forms of bias and result in leading questions.For example, in a survey about COVID-19 attitudes, asking whether “concerned citizens” should wear a mask creates an implication about what the researcher believes.

“That implies that if you aren’t wearing a mask, you’re not a concerned citizen,” she says. “And so using that word, ‘concerned,’ already implies that only concerned citizens wear masks and that other citizens don’t wear masks, are not concerned, and that may not be true.”

This can go the other way as well: Survey results may be skewed by social desirability bias, in which the answer to a question—say, about a controversial political candidate—is affected by the respondent’s desire to be liked. For example, a participant might respond to the question “Who do you plan on voting for?” with the answer they believe the pollster wants to hear. “You want to be liked, whether [your answer is] true or not,” Simpson says.

When phrasing a question, remove words that imply value judgments, and ask yourself in what ways a respondent could potentially be misled by the question. If asking questions over the phone, take care to monitor your responses—for example, avoid offering encouragement when a respondent expresses an opinion you agree with.

Don’t Raise Expectations You Can’t Meet

Survey questions can sometimes set subtle (or overt) expectations in respondents. For example, if the phrasing of a question hints at a new member offering, it could put you on the spot for something you weren’ actually planning to do. Even general questions about improving the member experience can lead to unfulfilled expectations.

“Be very careful what you ask,” Simpson says. “If you’re unwilling or unable to make change [implied in the question], then it doesn’t do any good, and in fact it leaves a negative thought in the respondent’s mind.”

Ultimately, Simpson says, “if you aren’t able to implement the answer, then really think hard about asking the question.”

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Boards Made Progress in 2020. What’s Next?

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A report shows that boards have become more future focused in the past year. But challenges on tech strategy and diversity remain.

The past year has helped boards get better at being boards.

That’s one of the main findings in a new report from the National Association of Corporate Directors. According to its Trends and Priorities of the American Boardroom report, released last month, leaders are spending more time on internal education issues and recognizing the need for diversity in their organizations.

For instance, the average number of hours spent annually on “director education” increased more than third last year, from approximately 24 to 33 hours. “In an unusual environment, directors increasingly sought assurance that they are well informed on rapidly evolving issues affecting their organizations,” according to the report. And a substantial proportion—43 percent—said they’re not paying enough attention to broader “oversight of organizational diversity and inclusion.”

Directors increasingly sought assurance that they are well informed on rapidly evolving issues.

Those findings seem to be a direct result of the pandemic and deeper conversations about social justice issues in 2020; less time flying to meetings can mean more time dedicated to the organization’s work. That’s good news, as is the fact that boards seem to be more concerned with issues pertaining to the future of their organizations than they are with matters of board operations like agenda planning, meeting management, and board evaluations.

But more time in remote meetings can be a mixed blessing, and the report also points to a few trouble spots that associations ought to be mindful of.

Chief among them is digital transformation. Approximately 40 percent of the respondents said their boards don’t spend enough time on the issue, but fully half of them say the “increasing pace of digital transformation” will have the greatest effect on their companies in the next year. (Cybersecurity and safe employee work environments were also top concerns.)

Last month, my colleague Ernie Smith shared some recommendations about how boards can better orient tech on their agendas. One key is to keep technology conversations centered on the organization’s overall strategy, instead of drifting into the weeds by talking about specific tools. As Thad Lurie, CAE, vice president of business intelligence and performance for Maritz Global Events, told Smith: “When you talk about the actual technology, it’s like figuring out how to reprogram your grandma’s VCR again. There’s just not going to be a lot of utility there.”

The same kind of strategic thinking ought to apply to the diversity challenge that the NACD report surfaces. Getting better at DEI issues is increasingly seen as essential. As the report points out: “Corporate commitment and follow-through via effective diversity, equity, and inclusion programs that are embedded into the organization’s operations are now a clear expectation for key stakeholders including investors, customers, and (most important) employees themselves.”

So while it’s progress that such a substantial proportion of boards see the value of diversity across their organizations (that 43 percent figure cited above), the report suggests there’s also a bit of a “rules for thee and not me” dynamic: According to the report, there’s substantially less support for conversations around diversity within the board. Approximately 70 percent of respondents say they’ve dedicated enough time in meetings to the diversity of management voices presenting to the board, and to the diversity of voices in the boardroom. When the makeup of boards still skews strongly white and male in both nonprofits and corporations, 70 percent of respondents saying they’ve spent “enough time” on the diversity of voices within the board should at least raise an eyebrow.

Boards have had an extremely challenging year in terms of how they go about their business and how they think about strategy, at a time when expectations on a number of fronts have been upended. To a substantial degree, they’ve stepped up. But there’s still work to do.

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Build a Convincing Case for Virtual Event Attendance

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With a ton of virtual learning options out there right now, associations are turning to new marketing techniques to get attendees interested in their upcoming programming. These three ideas may provide the boost you’re looking for.

Since March 2020, all of us have probably attended our fair share of virtual conferences and other educational programming. But now, a year into the pandemic, there are so many online learning options out there that it may feel overwhelming to choose what to attend—or even what events you’ll be willing to be pay for.

This oversaturation in the market also affects organizations, which may be struggling to find ways to stand out in the sea of options and keep up momentum, especially when many saw record-breaking attendance numbers for their 2020 virtual conferences.

As a result, many groups are getting creative about how they’ll build attendee interest in their 2021 online learning opportunities. Here are some examples that could provide inspiration for your association’s efforts.

Source ideas from your potential attendees. The more you get people involved in the event ideation process, the more invested they’ll be and the more likely to attend. One way to do this is to invite your prospective attendees to help shape programming by submitting questions, input, comments, or feedback via your website and social channels. You can then use that information to develop conference session topics or to source speakers. For its June 2021 conference, the Online News Association has a suggestion box where people can share their ideas for sessions and speakers. Once the submission deadline closes, the ONA21 program team reviews every idea (there were more than 400 last year) and comes up with a short list of sessions. According to ONA, these recommendations account for roughly two-thirds of their final conference programming.

Host a make-the-case webinar. CreativePro Week—a May online event for creative professionals who design, create, or edit in Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, and Microsoft PowerPoint—is hosting a “Should I attend?” webinar next week. The 30-minute live discussion will cover everything from conference sessions that attendees don’t want to miss, to a former attendee sharing what it’s like to participate in CreativePro Week online, to organizers discussing why some attendees say they prefer the online event environment. In addition, webinar participants will get the chance to ask questions and receive a special discount code to the event. There’s also a “why attend” brochure [PDF] and a preview video.

Add a wow factor. Can you offer something unique or fun or over-the-top that could give your virtual event a boost? For its IMPACT 20 virtual conference, the Internet Marketing Association got creative. Sinan Kanatsiz, IMA chairman and founder, told Convene that the group did “atomic-bomb-level marketing.” To get attention, IMA set a lofty goal from the start: attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the largest attendance for a virtual marketing conference in one week. Registration was free, and giveaways included a Tesla Model 3, as well as $100,000 worth of merchandise. While this strategy may not be possible for everyone, it seemed to work for IMA: The event welcomed more than 117,000 registrants, setting a new Guinness World Record.

As associations continue to host online-only or hybrid events, they need to make a creative case to an audience worn out from spending so much time in front of their screens about why they should attend.

What new techniques—marketing and otherwise—is your association experimenting with to get people to register for your virtual events? Please share in the comments.

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Make Your Learning Programs Better Match Member Needs

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Your members have high expectations for the education your association delivers. Meanwhile, your learning programs also have to support your organizational strategy. One learning expert says a disciplined focus on member needs will serve both goals.

One challenge that association members face now is making time for education. With changing schedules and shifting professional demands, members have a lot on their plate. How can associations ensure that their education offerings match their members’ current needs?

Jeff Cobb, cofounder of educational consultancy Tagoras, says that one plus side of the pandemic is that people are more comfortable with remote learning than they were a year ago. But it comes with a rub, he says: “The expectations have gone way up.”

Because webinars have become so common, the element of novelty is gone. “The traditional webinar presentation style just no longer cuts it for most people—there’s just a saturation of that at this point,” he says. “So, people are looking for something different out of the experience.”

This has led some associations to encourage presenters to try new things to juice up engagement. But tactics focusing on excitement can only go so far, Cobb says. The larger solution involves rethinking the education model to meet both member needs and the organization’s.

Know the Audience

The key to building effective education programs is understanding your audience, Cobb says. That means drawing on what you know about your specific members, as well as understanding how adults learn.

Cobb cautions that this doesn’t necessarily mean catering to people’s “learning styles.” The idea that people have different learning styles has been heavily researched in recent years and found to effectively be a myth. Still, it’s a myth that’s widely believed.

“That doesn’t cancel out the fact that people perceive themselves as wanting to learn in different ways,” Cobb says. “That’s going to drive their decision to purchase.”

Other factors, such as convenience and lack of time, may make learners more interested in different forms of education. Offering a mix of learning formats, including bite-sized options and asynchronous programs, can increase the value of membership, he says.

He notes that curated, facilitated peer discussions, such as roundtables and “mastermind groups,” are generally underused in the association world, adding that learning doesn’t have to be formal to be valuable.

“If you talk to your average executive, for example, you know they’re usually going to tell you they learned most from talking to their peers about what they’re doing in their organization,” Cobb says. “So, can you bring that together in a structured way that helps people get access to it.”

Align the Business

Of course, associations have to align their educational programming with overall organizational strategy. Tagoras researched this issue last year with a study on the growing virtual events market.

Cobb recommends that organizations “bake in” data collection or surveying so they have a way to track what’s working and what isn’t. “With any kind of event that you’re planning—face to face, online, whether it’s overtly described as educational or not—it has to actually deliver value that in some way or another can be measured,” he says.

Direct collaboration with employers can provide insight into how the education you provide is working in the field. “You’re really getting a much deeper, more accurate assessment of what employers need and how your learning offerings align with that need,” Cobb says.

“Associations are often like the perfect bridge between that academic preparation and what actually has to happen on the job,” he says. “And if associations can be that bridge in a measurable way, the amount of value that represents in our current world is just enormous.”

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Membership Pro Tip: Build Up Your Community With Trial Membership

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The Healthcare Financial Management Association offered a trial membership last year, which led to a notable increase in members—and great insights to help improve offerings.

How does it work?

Industry professionals who want to try out membership in the Healthcare Financial Management Association can sign up for a free 30-day trial with no strings attached.

All member benefits are available to trial members except HFMA’s print magazine. They get unlimited access to the group’s online content—including digital access to its publications—certification programs, online education, and members-only resources like HFMA’s online community.

Why is it effective?

Since rolling out the free trial—first as a pilot from April to August last year, then fully in September—nearly 47 percent of trial members converted to paid membership, adding 350 new members in just over 10 months, says Keith Chamberlain, HFMA’s director of membership and experience. Implementing the program was low cost and low effort: The IT department just created a new member category in the system.

What’s the benefit?

Prospective members get to experience the entire array of HFMA resources and services to determine if membership delivers the value and solutions they are looking for from the organization.

For those who do not ultimately convert, HFMA has all their contact information to communicate with them about HFMA resources available to nonmembers, such as conferences and professional certifications.

Chamberlain’s team continues to promote membership to them, too. The team contacts those who did not join to find out why, which provides insight into how HFMA can improve or revise the features and benefits of membership.

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