Seven Social Media Platforms to Keep an Eye On

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Now is a great time to expand your knowledge of social media beyond Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, thanks to a new crop of social venues.

If your association is still trying to get a grasp on Snapchat, you may be behind the times when it comes to social media trends.

Despite the fact that the dominant social networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube—get the most attention, social media is continuing to evolve, and there are some interesting social networks worth watching even if you don’t have a use for them yet.

Among them:

Clubhouse. The most high-profile of recent social media apps, this tool features breezy audio conversation, creating a level of intimacy missing from large social networks. (Other factors creating heat: The network is invite-only, iOS-only, and loaded with celebrities.) The concept is hot enough that, according to Axios, both Twitter and Facebook have started working on competitors.

Discord. Akin to a more mainstream version of Slack, Discord first gained popularity in the gaming community because it allows conversations over voice, video, and traditional text chat. (Signifying its gaming roots: Its logo looks like a controller.) Despite initially being seen as niche, Discord has broadened its appeal, doubling in size during the pandemic to more than 120 million monthly active users. That surge puts it on pace for growth similar to Snapchat (265 million daily active users), Pinterest (459 million monthly active users), and Twitter (192 million daily active users).

Signal. A desire for more privacy mixed with a growing concern about larger social networks has helped draw attention to this secure chat application, which broke through to mainstream audiences last fall. According to Fast Company, its success is partly due to a privacy policy update by one of its primary competitors, the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, that was unpopular with users because it allowed more data to be shared with third parties.

Caffeine. Twitch is clearly the biggest player among live video-streaming networks, and YouTube’s live offerings are also popular, but the pandemic has helped raise up other players as well. One new entry to the field is Caffeine, formed by a team of former Apple executives in 2018, which serves as a platform for what founder Ben Keighran calls “social broadcasting.” Caffeine has attracted a slate of celebrities by offering a way for them to stream content directly to their audiences.

Planetary. A big concern among social media fans is centralization, in part because of factors such as openness, privacy, and moderation. This concern has been driving the creation of alternative social network experiences, such as Mastodon. The brand-new Planetary, which launched to the public just last month, is an attempt to create a mainstream version of a social network built on distributed principles. Its founder, Evan Henshaw-Plath, was Twitter’s first employee. (Henshaw-Plath is also helping with a formative effort to decentralize Twitter.)

EarBuds. An audio platform like Clubhouse, EarBuds encourages curators to share what they’re listening to with a broader audience. Founded by a former football player and directly inspired by his experiences on the field, EarBuds and other similar tools could help bring back an intimacy lost in the digital era.

Text messaging. Bet you didn’t expect to see this here, did you? Well, texting is having a bit of a renaissance because of new tactics that could help organizations reach broader audiences. Recent tools such as Subtext, which works sort of as a Substack for texting, have emerged to take advantage of the broadcast capabilities and high response rates of text-based social media.

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Make the Most of Your Virtual Conference Content

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You may be sitting on a content gold mine after a year of virtual meetings. In addition to offering it on-demand to attendees for a set amount of time, consider these ideas to boost post-event engagement.

With associations hosting virtual events over the past year—many including recorded education sessions—they likely find themselves with a lot of content at their disposal.

While your virtual meeting may be over, how can you give that content some additional legs? Here are a few ideas for using it to drive post-event engagement and revenue, expand audience reach, and build stronger relationships with attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors.

Rebroadcast your event. While many associations offer their conference content on-demand to people who couldn’t attend, consider replaying it at a certain date and time to encourage people to tune in and learn. While it may not technically be “live,” pushing it out this way will give people the sense they are attending a new event. It’s also a good way to highlight your sponsors, exhibitors, and partners again.

Create microlearning opportunities. If possible, break up session recordings into several shorter presentations. These could attract an audience of people who prefer to learn in smaller chunks or who only want to learn about niche topics. These opportunities will also give your association a chance to experiment with pricing. For instance, do you offer them all as a bundle, or do people pay for them on a one-off basis?

Develop soundbites for social media. Video posts on social sites are known to yield higher engagement rates than written posts. Editing your event video into bite-sized segments that capture key moments or messages is a great way to fill up your social media calendar. Just remember to tailor each video to the specific platform.

Create an event summary. Once the event wraps up, consider putting together written recaps that summarize key findings, takeaways, and learnings from the keynotes and education sessions. You could then put those recaps, as well as sessions recordings, into an email that you send out to attendees or even your entire membership. This email could also be appealing to a sponsor.

Host spinoff events. Look at your most popular sessions, and then offer people the opportunity to reconnect to dive deeper into those topics. You could have a moderator guide these small-group discussions, or you could invite the original speaker back to do a live Q&A. These spinoff events could also be prime opportunities for sponsorship—consider giving sponsors a few minutes at the start of each one to talk about their products and services.

How is your organization extending the life of the content offered at your virtual events? Please share in the comments.

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Are Your Member Perks Inviting Churn?

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When a single benefit or annual meeting draws members in, membership churn can become an issue for associations. With the same concern emerging for streaming video services, a membership pro sees a solution in offering year-round value.

As streaming competition has flooded the entertainment market over the past year, a discussion familiar to membership pros has begun to emerge: How are these streaming services going to deal with membership churn?

As a Bloomberg Opinion piece explains [subscription required], many people signed up for streaming services to watch a single show or a handful of buzzworthy delights. But once viewers finish watching those particular offerings, the wealth of competition invites people to cancel their subscriptions and turn elsewhere for their next entertainment fix.

And according to Lane Velayo, CAE, owner and CEO of Synergos AMC, streaming services are the perfect way to frame your association’s approach to engagement and member churn. If members are joining because of one event or a temporary discount, it may not be enough to keep them around, he says. Instead, associations should focus on creating constant value.

“Just like we see with Netflix and HBO and everybody else, people are buying these subscriptions,” he says. “They want immediate gratification, and they want something to keep them continually engaged. And we have to look to our missions and visions as association leaders to say, ‘How do we continue to do that?’”

One way, says Velayo, is to constantly hit members with value. While the pandemic has messed up plenty, it actually offers an opportunity on this front to change things up.

“As work changes, as things become more virtual,” he says, “is this an opportunity for us to reimagine some of our product offerings so that we’re not so reliant on this one physical, in-person thing that we’ve always done?”

Velayo compares this to streaming services in another way: Many of them have developed a variety of options to keep viewers interested over the long haul.

“It’s not to say that that one Game of Thrones type of show isn’t going to be a core driver for you, and that in-person conference or that leadership opportunity could be that core driver,” he says. “But I think that there are ways that we can curate that content or make those community networking opportunities more relevant year-round.”

While more diverse membership offerings are easier to build in a digital environment, this is also true for your competitors—just look at Netflix’s growing number of challengers. Velayo notes that this means the churn could be driven not just by member disinterest, but by added competition.

“We are going to see more competitors, more entrants into the marketplace—that feeling that they can offer, in a more agile way, the same types of content, the same types of experiences that associations used to have the market on for the longest time,” he says, suggesting that associations adjust accordingly.

How can associations update their strategies? Some thoughts from Velayo on the tradeoffs between value and member churn:

Focus on repackaging broadly. Much as Velvet Chainsaw’s Sarah Michel, CSP, said in a recent interview on hybrid events, one way to extend the value of the content you create during a big event is to share it in an asynchronous way, allowing value to translate to different audiences over time. Velayo expanded on this idea, suggesting that national associations could build digital content opportunities from all parts of the organization. (Keeping with the TV theme, he compared the approach to Netflix’s aggregation-focused early years.) “How can we be aggregators and curators of the best of that content from a lot of different partners, whether that be state chapters or affiliates or any of those types of things?” he says.

Want just one big event? Adjust accordingly. Offering a membership with year-round value can be a useful strategy for many associations, but some may feel they can best serve their audiences through either a single primary event or a big event paired with a couple of smaller ones. “That’s fine,” Velayo says, “but you should be pricing your membership and your nonmember cost to attend accordingly.” He adds that associations that do this need to understand what it means for those events—that they must become true can’t-miss experiences.

Use the pandemic as an opportunity to adapt your member offerings. Whatever you plan to do, Velayo says, take advantage of the current moment to tweak your model to match future needs. He encourages associations to take advantage of this rare time and be mindful about which direction the organization wants to go. “Use this as an opportunity to come out of it more resilient than they have ever been,” he says.

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How Associations Can Thrive in a “Virtual Everything” World

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Why preparing for the worst can shake out your best.

After the American Water Works Association made the shift to virtual conferences and events last year, Mike Hiskey, its director of IT, characterized it as a “mind-expanding experience.”

“We couldn’t just say, alright, see you all in a couple of years,” he said. “Everybody has been learning and growing and adapting, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s fun to learn new things. It’s fun to grow, and it’s been an enlightening process, but also a tremendous amount of work.”

Hiskey shared how the AWWA has been able to keep its members engaged, provide opportunities and share knowledge in this new world of what he called “virtual everything.”

Don’t Work in a Bubble

Although the move to virtual is tech-first, it entails many moving parts, Hiskey said, noting that it’s essential to engage with teams across an organization.

“Honestly, the tech implementation might be the easiest part,” he said. “The more challenging thing is to make sure we understand how each service offering affects our member value, affects our membership benefits package.”

According to research conducted by Personify in December of last year, 46 percent of members said it was very important to engage with their associations to learn career skills or get certifications. Both networking and industry advocacy were considered very important by 45 percent of respondents.

Given those findings, should a product or service be free to members and charged to non-members or exclusively available only to members?

In some cases, the real value of a product is its ability to attract membership. In others, the value is simply the profit. But Hiskey said you have to include your entire team in those conversations to get the most insightful answer. That means collaborating with your product, finance and marketing teams. Include everyone because an interdisciplinary approach will yield the best ideas for membership value, he noted.

Embrace Worst-Case Scenarios

“One big takeaway [from the past year is recognizing] the importance of risk assessment and having an incident response plan,” Hiskey said.

At the start of the pandemic, the AWWA swiftly identified imminent challenges and drafted a plan to transition to working from home and delivering conferences in a virtual setting, he explained. “But we thought this would be for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months.”

Now nearly a year into the pandemic, Hiskey said it’s vital to think about all the possible risks and have a plan in place to cover even the most extreme outcomes. What 2020 has shown us is that it’s both prudent and valuable for associations to build resilience plans to ensure their long-term well being.

“Get people together and say, ‘Let’s seriously think about what could go wrong,” he said, and consider strategies even for scenarios that seem outlandish. “The lesson is to be a little more accepting of things that could go wrong and think about how you’ll respond.”

Evaluate the Systems You Already Have in Place

It’s not all about dreaming up worst-case scenarios. This is also a good time for associations to take a hard look at the systems they currently use.

Hiskey said the AWWA found that the past year was ideal for reworking some long-standing but antiquated workplace procedures. He pointed to one process that required someone to fill out a piece of paper and run it to three different managers for physical signatures. Not only was that time-consuming, but in a remote world, it wasn’t even possible. “This was a perfect time to make changes and improve; there have been a lot of rewarding moments that came out of our conversations.”

Personify’s research found that 83 percent of employees surveyed said that tech has been very important for engaging association members in 2020, with 42 percent saying it’s absolutely critical. What’s more, 76 percent of employees said it’s been easy for their organization to make the change to digital programming.

Never Stop Adapting

AWWA took advantage of member comfort in a digital world by launching its own platform—called envoi—to digitally deliver its standards to members. It’s provided a streamlined product outreach for the association, Hiskey explained.

“Many of our members are working from home, so now they have access to our standards in electronic format,” Hiskey said, adding that the AWWA is considering expanding types of content and accessibility to envoi over the next few months.

In the AWWA’s embrace of “virtual everything,” it uses Microsoft Teams for interoffice collaboration and communication. For large virtual conferences, it uses the webinar platform ON24. For video streaming, it uses webcastcloud. And for all of its member and customer transactions, the AWWA leverages Personify360 and views the AMS solution as “the authoritative source” on its data, according to Hiskey. “We’ve got a good rubric set up to figure out the right tool to meet the needs of a particular event, but we are looking forward to consolidating that stack.”

Be Patient

There are a lot of people coming together from different teams with a common cause. Hiskey emphasized that it’s critical to keep in mind that there’s a learning curve, and everyone is adjusting—not just your staff, but also your clients, your tech support and your members.

“This is affecting all of us; we’re all having to change what we think, what we do, how we behave, how we act,” Hiskey said. “I think that’s one of the beautiful things that came out of the last year—the support everyone had for each other.”

At the end of the day, if you intend to adapt and support those around you in an empathetic way, you’ve got a solid foundation, he said.

“As long as we continue to demonstrate value to members and make sure people understand that we’re still here for them, people will adapt, and people will change.”

This series by Personify is intended to serve as a guidepost for associations that are reacting to fundamental market shifts and proactively building a better future for their organizations.

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Tips and Tools for Helping Members Manage Stress

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The Massachusetts Society of CPAs goes the extra mile for members facing mental health issues and stress. Here are some of its leadership tips and proven tools to help members cope when they need it most.

Around tax time, the stress level among Certified Public Accountants amps up significantly. That is now compounded by a year-long pandemic, and other issues, which are leaving many people feeling overwhelmed. In response, the Massachusetts Society of CPAs has upped efforts to help its members with programs especially geared for these particularly trying times.

Amy Pitter, MSCPA’s president and CEO, is committed to destigmatizing mental health challenges by providing tools and safe spaces for open conversations among members. The efforts dovetail with an increased focus on how to improve diversity and inclusion in the CPA profession, she said.

“People’s authentic selves include any mental health issues they might chronically have, or have at the moment,” she said. “And, as with any diversity issue, you can’t be inclusive if you’re not willing to talk about it.”

Pitter has three tips for association leaders who are looking for ways to help members manage mental health issues:

  • Talk about mental health with your members. Associations must provide a safe space for their members to have open, honest—even raw—conversations. Talking about it will help normalize these discussions and remove the stigma.
  • Change is hard and comes slowly. COVID-19 has accelerated everything, so it’s OK to pause before you pivot.
  • Lead by example. Dealing openly with stress relieves stress, and association leaders must encourage their staff and members to pay attention to their mental health. It’s hard to let go of thinking that working crazy hours is a badge of honor, but the real badge of honor is to face your stress and its repercussions head on.

Caregiver Support Group

Pitter points to three tools—among many MSCPA currently has in place—the group is using to help members better cope during an extremely stressful time.

Recognizing that many members are caring for children, adult parents, family members with disabilities, and more, MSCPA hosts a CaregiverParent-Alliance Support Group—an online roundtable for members to discuss challenges, share resources, and offer advice.

The virtual groups are held during different times of the week, like Tuesday afternoons or Wednesday mornings, to be sensitive to people’s scheduling needs, Pitter said. MSCPA caps the roundtables at 12 to 15 participants to facilitate open conversations.

“People were so appreciative we were taking the lead,” she said. “Everybody is in the same boat, and they learn from each other and support each other.”

Stress Management Resources

MSCPA provides articles to members on how to help combat burnout, manage expectations, prioritize whole body wellness, and reduce stress. The aim is to provide members with unique value—not the same tax articles they could find anywhere else, Pitter said.

The articles are geared toward helping people navigate their business and work lives and focus on themes like diversity, mental health, and wellness. MSCPA supplements the articles with corresponding webinars, which encourages members to look to MSCPA for thought leadership and guidance on particular issues, Pitter said.

Social Connections

MSCPA hosts virtual social events for members, including a beer and cheese tasting and a trivia night, to provide a networking outlet for members and keep them engaged in a relaxed setting. The events used to be in-person, typically at a bar, but the revised online setting still works. CPA member firms assemble teams and compete against one another.

“It’s a real opportunity for people to have fun with their colleagues,” she said. It also helps the firms recapture a sense of office culture they’ve been struggling to regain.

“It’s something we can uniquely offer our members,” she said. “Everybody’s hungry for connection right now.”

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Membership Pro Tip: Renew Now, Pay Later

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Giving members the option of a dues grace period can be mutually beneficial.

How does it work?

With the help of its IT team, the Healthcare Financial Management Association created a “Renew Now, Pay Later” program for its largest group of members, who were set to lapse over the summer, according to Keith Chamberlain, director of membership and experience.

Members clicked a button stating their intent to renew and gave their credit card information, but HFMA didn’t charge it for 90 days, providing a grace period for payment.

Why is it effective?

It is low cost and easy to set up. HFMA’s IT team simply created a new 90-day subscription for that group of members. HFMA already had monthly billing installed, so they just leveraged the technology to use monthly dues payments in a similar way. Fewer than 100 people have taken advantage of the offer, but those who did said they were “delighted” with the option, Chamberlain says.

What’s the benefit?

Knowing that HFMA members had the backs of the clinicians they were working with during the pandemic, Chamberlain says his team was motivated to ask, “What can we do to have their backs?”

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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When the Contingency Plan Becomes the Main Event

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How associations can adapt to the times with research and the right technology.

Chris Lyons’s association faced a daunting task: Planning two annual meetings at once.

Maybe this sounds familiar: Lyons, who is the associate executive director at the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), was contractually obligated to a host city for an on-site meeting. But as the pandemic descended across the US, he realized he needed to simultaneously plan for a virtual event.

Like many associations dealing with a volatile 2020, “the uncertainty of planning two potential meeting formats divided our focus,” he said.

Eventually, the AALAS’s commitment to its on-site meeting was lifted, and Lyons and his team were able to focus all their efforts on planning a virtual event—with just a few months to spare.

The whiplash of 2020 is a common story for organizations navigating major event commitments. Executives and their staff grappled with how to rapidly transform their annual meetings—touchstones for communities of professionals who rely on them for education, networking and support—by successfully leveraging digital platforms and trying to replicate the benefits of an in-person experience.

It was a reactive, stressful year, by most accounts. But going forward, Lyons and other executives are learning from the chaos of 2020, and they’re planning to use their experience to fuel growth and efficiencies in 2021. Here are some of the lessons they’ve learned that can help guide your own decision-making moving forward:

What Doesn’t Thrill You Makes You Stronger

While 2020 may have been trial by fire for many organizations, one silver lining is that many of those same organizations discovered inner strengths – like resilience and the ability to pivot their planning in a more agile way than they had perhaps thought, especially through digital technology. This turned last year’s challenges into a springboard to inform event planning for 2021 and beyond. In this spirit, Lyons said the AALAS will continue to identify different ways to keep attendees engaged during virtual meetings—the venue of choice for at least a while longer.

For example, Lyons tapped into Personify’s technology suite to reduce reporting bottlenecks by making data more accessible to his entire team instead of relying on traditional methods of pulling data. This improved processes and allowed for more efficient and effective decision-making.

May I Have Your Attention, Please? It Depends

Audience engagement starts with tuning in, but without true interactivity, it’s far too easy to tune out in favor of another browser tab, incoming IMs, or other real-life distractions now that so many are working from home.

While many companies may be inclined to simply take their standard event format and convert it to an online version, that may not always work, according to a recent article in Fast Company. It’s important for organizers to consider what new opportunities they can provide attendees.

In exploring ways to keep participants’ attention, Lyons mentioned live polling, video chat breakout rooms, push notifications, live question-and-answer sessions, quizzes, virtual activity-a-thons, and virtual photo booths as examples of some of the strategies companies are considering for future events.

The key is to find ways to engage attendees in the online environment instead of just moving from one speaker to the next. Scheduling breaks and finding creative ways to use the digital medium to gamify attendees’ experiences can be a successful strategy, the article said.

Make Sure Your Tools Adapt With the Times

Personify conducted a study in January 2021 on the future of associations, nonprofits and events. According to its research, nearly half of association professionals said they saw a boost in tech spending in 2020. Community software, virtual event software and member self-service tools were all top-purchased items.

In order to embed their educational videos into their online engagement platform, Lyons’ association, chose Vimeo—not only for its array of features, but also for its strong privacy policies. “Though there was a nominal fee, this hosting platform provided more security controls and options than YouTube did,” he said.

AALAS also uses Microsoft 365 and Zoom, and is in the process of working with their database vendor to integrate their online exhibitor registration—A2Z Events—with Personify360—their association management system. “This integration will improve efficiency by keeping data and exhibitor transactions under one roof,” Lyons said.

Embracing new technology often comes from identifying what’s not working and making changes accordingly. One challenge Lyons’ association faced before adopting Personify360 many years ago was that their original database didn’t have capabilities for ecommerce integration. That’s what catalyzed their search for a new system in the first place. But as part of the upgrade to a more comprehensive management system, Personify360 has also given their association the ability to centralize their data, such as online exhibitor registrations, with other databases for memberships and subscriptions.

First and foremost, however, it’s important for associations to identify what their needs are when it comes to their virtual presence and strategies and then match those needs to the right tools. In Lyons’ case, it was discovering that it was possible to streamline a multitude of services under one roof. In this digital-first age, you want your plans to be in perfect harmony with your digital tools. And ultimately, those digital tools should help reinforce the reason people attend conferences in the first place: for the meaningful connections, networking opportunities, and professional development they look forward to all year. In other words, help them remember why they’re a member in the first place.

This series by Personify is intended to serve as a guidepost for associations that are reacting to fundamental market shifts and proactively building a better future for their organizations.

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Tips for Navigating a New Membership Terrain

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Associations long relied on the same channels to engage, recruit, and retain members. And then everything changed. Now what? A membership expert shares her ideas for switching course and finding new opportunities.

Association executives often default to finding a better marketing strategy when times are tough. But what if marketing isn’t the problem? More and better marketing is not necessarily the solution to all membership challenges, especially right now.

“Marketing is not a fix for value,” said Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of Avenue M Group. Instead, organizations need to think through the channels they use to engage members. “It has become increasingly important to have many micro segments within your value proposition to meet member needs—whether you are a trade or professional organization,” she said.

Associations have long counted on the same channels to engage with members. For example, in the past it was a given that members would reliably attend meetings. “That’s how we recruit them,” Jacobs said. “They come to the meetings and we give them value.” No one thought about new channels before the pandemic because everything was working. Now it’s time to “think big and bring it,” she said.

Adjacent Markets

Jacobs had a moment recently while listening to a podcast about an organic cattle ranch in California that sold meat directly to restaurants. When the pandemic hit and restaurants were shuttered, the owners considered closing the family business, which had existed for five generations. Their main distribution channel had been abruptly shut off, and the only way to survive was to find a new market and a way to expand their business. Rather than closing up shop, they partnered with neighboring ranches to sell meat directly to consumers instead.

The rancher’s predicament—and solution—reminded Jacobs of associations. For organizations that can’t deliver what they did before, adjacent markets may be able to help. Partnerships among like-minded organizations can provide a way for associations to mutually benefit one another.

“It’s not just looking at expanding in existing markets, but looking at adjacent markets where there are resources you don’t have,” she said.

Think Big and Bring It

Jacobs recommends a “swipe file” exercise to encourage thinking about solutions beyond marketing. When you see an idea you like that stands out and is effective, grab it and keep it in a swipe file.

“Put away all resource constraints, and once you come up with the big ideas, then come back and assess what’s realistic to implement,” she said. Just as commercial ventures do, look at adjacent markets that might be relevant to your business. “Think about where you might need to make some flips and changes”—like the cattle ranch.

Considering new channels for market expansion and delivering value requires a certain amount of fearlessness. “I start every year saying I need 100 failures,” Jacobs said. She challenges herself to experiment enough—and take enough smart risks—to get a dozen or more successes. “The success comes in failure,” she said.

Despite the daunting challenges of the past year, Jacobs is encouraged.

“Every organization and every board is open to change right now,” she said. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, associations would likely have stayed in their comfort zones while the drop in membership and increased competition continued unaddressed.

“I am more optimistic now for associations than ever,” she said.

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Membership Pro Tip: A Low-Cost Way to Connect Members

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Looking for simple, inexpensive ways to keep members engaged in a virtual world? Here’s one solution.

How does it work? Recognizing that its members were lonelier and more isolated than ever without the typical pathways to interact with colleagues at in-person meetings—an ongoing issue—the Council on Undergraduate Research established “CUR Conversations,” a low-cost way for members to connect on a video calling platform.

CUR sends out an email inviting members of its community to get together and share ideas for an hour on the video calls. Any member can propose a topic for the call, which is limited to a specific number of people.

Why is it effective? Members can join the casual forums to discuss hot topics, issues they are struggling with, success stories, solutions, and more. The calls often bring together members who don’t already know each other, which helps them widen their circle and build bonds with new people in a virtual world, despite the lack of face-to-face events.

What’s the benefit? “We don’t have to develop any content, and it’s not a heavy lift for us, but members are getting a lot of value out of being able to connect with their colleagues,” says Lindsay Currie, CAE, CUR’s executive officer.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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Why Associations Should Emphasize Brand Strategy Amid COVID-19

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Right now, your brand may be the most visible part of what you do. For that reason, your association should lean into efforts to strategically raise the brand. Here’s why.

Most of the time, once you have a brand set, you leave it alone and let it do its thing.

But this is not most of the time, and suddenly, the brand is more important than ever. In fact, when you can’t hold meetings and receptions, it may be the glue holding everything together.

With that in mind, here are a few considerations to keep your brand strategy in focus:

Tighter budgets require a tighter strategic focus. Recent Gartner research found that nearly half of chief marketing officers had seen budget cuts in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, and that has led many of them to reprioritize brand strategy. According to a Marketing Dive analysis of the data, a third of respondents moved brand strategy to one of their top three priorities—despite it being “near the bottom of the list in 2019.” Ewan McIntyre, a Gartner for Marketers analyst, said that the shifting economy required a shifting focus on brand awareness. “We are seeing successful brands take action that is authentically connected to their brand strategy and value proposition,” he said.

It will allow you to think beyond the crisis. Putting a focus on branding right now could also create a path forward beyond the current moment. In a resource page on the COVID-19 crisis, PwC recommends that businesses take the current moment to do some planning for a point when things are a bit closer to normalcy. “What we see today may be dramatically different in six months. In the long term, it will be essential to take a pulse of your customers to determine the need to make fundamental changes to core markets or business models,” the page states. “This is also a time to reassess your brand relative to competitors to understand your differentiating capabilities and where your company could win market share.”

It will allow you to emphasize visually what you can’t physically. In a lot of ways, brand strategy is about positioning. Now is a good time to experiment with what a brand could be. A recent Forbes piece shows how many retail brands are using digital and sensory experiences online as a way to highlight their work—and they offer a lot you can borrow from.

You should be willing to keep up right now. The one downside of brand strategy at the moment is that the uncertainty of COVID-19 means that associations, like many others, could find themselves shifting with the times. AdExchanger notes, for example, that many brands have had to adapt to the shifting attempts to reopen and close states and countries. Lindblad Expeditions, a firm that offers luxury adventure cruises, has leaned into online content marketing in its messaging as it’s had to pause service. “It’s a week-by-week thing,” noted Kim Kyaw, Lindblad’s director of advertising and digital, in comments to the website. “A lot of factors go into it, like the willingness of guests to travel, the willingness of people in those communities to allow guests and whether the airlines are going to those areas.”

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