Is Content Strategy Replacing Membership Strategy for Associations?

Recently, Association Laboratory conducted a workshop yesterday called Connecting Content to Relevance, on content strategy. This is one of a series of workshops we’re producing called Looking Forward Together. These workshops are based on our environmental scan of the association strategy environment, Looking Forward.

Today, it dawned on me, that I talk on content strategy more often than membership strategy.

Putting on my “thoughtful” cap, I pondered the evolution of associations in the content space and considered the insights gained from our participants yesterday.

Why is content strategy for associations so important?

Content strategy is the most substantial emerging strategy of associations according to association executives. Consider the following data collected from nearly 500 association leaders in Looking Forward 2020.

  • 53% say they are implementing content strategies to increase Mission impact.
  • 75% say they are working to provide more robust content.

Content strategy is so important because it supports every other strategy. How can you be successful at membership, advocacy or education without an effective content strategy backing it up?

Why is content strategy so hard for associations?

But why is content strategy so hard? Associations have been producing content for decades. Every annual conference, journal, newsletter, and webinar is content. Creating content is not some exotic strategy that association don’t understand or know how to accomplish.

The world, as we all know, is now a different place. Between the acceleration of some environmental forces and the COVID-19 Pandemic there are a lot of tail winds behind content strategy.

Our association sector research identifies the following challenges facing effective content strategy.

First, associations no longer control content production, vetting or distribution.

Historically, an important role for associations was to determine what information was most relevant to their audience. Think about approving abstracts or selecting speakers. Alternative pathways were expensive and time consuming.

Technology effectively eliminated the near monopoly many associations had as “judges” of content.

Second, competing with free is hard.

Returning to our data from Looking Forward 2021, 48% of association executives are concerned about competing with free or open-source online content.

So how do you compete with stuff that is free?

Third, association leaders struggle to produce, organize and deliver and market content.

Consider the following data from all association respondents to Looking Forward 2020.

Creation – 77% were concerned about producing relevant content and 72% about meeting members’ expectations of content quality.

Organization – 75% were concerned about content digitization and management.

Delivery – 77% were concerned about customizing information for different channels.

Communication – 74% were concerned about content competition.

These are big numbers. They highlight wide-ranging concerns and demonstrate the challenge associations are facing.

Fourth, it’s the structure stupid.

Associations are structured around product silos – membership, meetings, education, advocacy, etc. The executives in each silo then produce content targeting their membership or other audiences from their own perspective. They use their own content criteria and their own processes for identifying, vetting, and producing content.

The result is a mishmash of information being produced and delivered without any unifying theme or context.

Remember, your audience doesn’t care about your structure, only their needs.

6 essential questions you need to answer to develop effective content strategy.

To begin addressing these challenges you need to know what you’re doing and why. The following 6 questions provide guidance to association leaders.

  1. What is the purpose of your content strategy?
  2. Who is the audience for your content strategy?
  3. How will you differentiate your content?
  4. How will you produce your content?
  5. How will you distribute your content?
  6. How will you pay for your content?

By creating consensus among your staff on the answers to these questions, implementation becomes easier. You identify where you disagree or have different assumptions. You can understand how to incorporate content strategy into the rest of the association’s product/service portfolio. The process of creating consensus builds buy-in which supports sustainable execution.

Need more help? Check out the following.

Webinar: Content Strategy 101

White Paper: Introduction to Creating and Sustaining an Association Content Strategy

Also feel free to shoot me an email ([email protected]).

Content strategy is the leading emerging strategy for associations.

Content strategy is being used by associations to expand their reach into new audiences. It is being used to improve credibility and trust. Finally, it is being used to create more relevant, dynamic, and human relationships with members.

Because of this, 1 out of 5 association leaders responding to Looking Forward in 2020 identified content strategy as the strategy most critical to the future success of their association.

While I don’t believe it is replacing membership strategy, it is clearly a leading contender.

Just some thoughts from My Seat at the (Home) Bar.