Lessons from the Association Laboratory Content Strategy Summit

Blog take over by Nikki Haton Shanks, Strategist!

I’m Nikki, a strategist at Association Laboratory, and I’m stepping in to take over Dean West’s from My Seat at the Bar blog for this month.

Association Laboratory held its 2nd Annual Content Strategy Summit on Thursday, November 7 at the OLC in Rosemont, IL, in collaboration with .orgSource with nearly 30 attendees!

What did we learn?

Research shows the majority of associations are implementing content strategy.

What prompted this Summit?

Each year Association Laboratory conducts a global scan of the association business environment called Looking Forward™. In 2019, the study collected data from more than 400 association chief staff officers and senior domain executives across 20 industries.

And guess what? 54% of Looking Forward respondents said they were implementing Content Strategies.

This data point was the basis for a day-long program devoted to thought-provoking questions and strategies related to content.

3 Key Content Strategy Takeaways

The three main takeaways I learned from the participants and speakers were the following:

1.      Content strategy is not easy.

Easy Peasy, lemon squeezy. Right?

For most organizations, this isn’t the reality. In a qualitative study asking 21 association professionals about content strategy, the research indicated that developing and implementing a content strategy is new, difficult, and resource intensive.

Attendees at the Summit echoed this point. How do you shift your organizational thinking and identify content strategies related to your overall strategic plan?

Some ways Dean West, the MC and Association Laboratory President, had attendees think about the process included the following:

  • What is your objective? What are you trying to get done?
  • What is your scope? Think of your audiences, your market, geography, or topics.
  • What is your competitive advantage? Who is your most substantial competitor, and how do you differentiate yourself from them?

These issues can all be highlighted in a content strategy mission statement.

Amy Williams from .orgSource provided a great tool from the Content Marketing Institute for attendees to start building a framework around content goals:



Source: Content Marketing Institute 




2.      Build a Content Team

But how do I actually start building a content strategy with my team? “Team”…that’s the tricky part.

If you are fortunate to have a team that is on board with helping develop a content strategy, here are some potential roles to consider:

  • Driver or project lead – this is your champion and can help address any questions or concerns related to the strategy.
  • Manager or director – they can help with the tactical side and staying on track.
  • Editor – will help with quality assurance.
  • Analytics expert or IT – someone who can conduct monitoring or reporting.
  • Communications – this person will handle the distribution of content.
  • Customer or member advocate – they will ensure content relevance.

However, most organizations don’t have a team and a single person is often the only one attempting to understand and implement a content strategy.

If you are tackling this by yourself, start small and scale up as you get familiar with the process. You’ll get more efficient as you go, but it’ll take some time.

Some initial steps include the following:

  • Identifying your audience. Who is your primary market? What are their behaviors? Goals? Challenges? What is most relevant to their needs?
  • Auditing your content. What content do you have that speaks to your audience? Rank and sort all of your content based on when it was produced, revenue generated, relevance to audience, frequency of access, etc. Use a tagging mechanism to code all your content so that it’s easy for you or your staff to see trends and to stay organized. At this alone? Consider tapping into your volunteer network to help.
  • Optimizing. I wish I knew everything about search engine optimization (SEO). Don’t get too bogged down. For example, we started small at Association Laboratory by simply tagging all of our white papers with similar properties using the File Properties menu in Word. Check it out and  you’ll see what I’m talking about. All of our documents list “Association Laboratory” as the author instead of a staff person’s name. Simple but effective when the document is being sought online by search engines. Amy also had a great recommendation for a book if you’re interested in learning more about SEO strategy.

3.      Show Me the Money

So how do you make money? That IS the million-dollar question.

Dean West had a great strategy for this. Here’s your step by step guide:

First, identify a piece of content or topic that really drives participation or attendance for your organization.

Second, build a Knowledge Asset Tree #knowledgeassettree. This is a framework outlining how the forms of your specific content asset will evolve over the next three years. . Below is a simple version.

Third, take the piece of content that you identified and place it in the first column. Now decide what you can do to expand upon that content in years 2 and 3.

For example, a white paper in year 1 evolves into a webinar series in year 2 and in year three is extended into an event. This creates a predictable path to guide planning, pricing, marketing, etc.

Source: Association Laboratory Inc.

An example from Association Laboratory is our Looking Forward™ environmental scanning research. This research is turned into paid webinars, speaking engagements, and other educational products which all generate additional revenue for us as a company.

There are many frameworks that can help you see where the $$ is at- this is just one.

There are a ton more things I could talk about related to the Summit and Content Strategy.

So, if you want to support our “content asset tree” for Content Strategy, download Association Laboratory’s Introduction to Creating and Sustaining an Association Content Strategy. See what I did there? (HINT see #3, AKA, this blog leads to a white paper download) #knowledgeassettree.

For those who attended the Content Strategy Summit – thank you! And thank you to. orgSource for collaborating with us on this program. It was a blast!

Nikki Haton Shanks, MBA, CAE