Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Like it, Tweet It, Pin it -- You decide

Facebook®,  Twitter®, Pinterest® and LinkedIn® are just a few places that you can engage with your members in the social media space.  The true value of being present in these spaces is hard to measure their true return on investment.  Check out a few ways that your association can start tracking your ROI today:

Google Analytics this provides you tools to track how members engage with your association’s website. When you set up your account, you indicate what page you’d like to track.  You can track items like: paid, organic, local, social, etc.  One of my former association clients did a “heat map” showing where they received the most traffic, thereby justifying their premium home page real estate.  In fact, the heat map, showed that their section of the website (career center) was the most viewed and visited page.  This built the business case for both a redesign of this section as well as increasing the prominence on other highly viewed pages. 

bitly makes your link both trackable and searchable.  This allows you to tweet shorter statuses on your association’s twitter account, as well as determine, who is out there listening to you.  This feature also allows you to customize your shortened URL so you can include keywords that you want to appear in search results.  The more you can track the more you can show the value of time(hopefully) well spent. 

Tweet Deck the largest advantage of this feature is the ability to schedule your tweets.  I usually open this up in the morning and after I check email I start crawling the web for stories about things I find interesting.  This could be anything from membership growth strategies, database best practices, interesting stories in the business world, as well as other things.  I spend about 30 minutes every morning finding these stories and then sharing them with the world via twitter. 

Klout helps you understand what the association’s sphere of influence is and how it’s changed.  The interesting thing is you can see who influences you, if you weren’t aware before.  I have a few go to’s in terms of blogs that I follow.  They are:

With so many different ways to engage with your members out there, I think it’s important for someone to share what they’ve learned.  There may be easier ways to do it, but this is what I have learned.  Hope you find it helpful!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Go it alone or outsource?

What is your association's membership niche? That's the real question, whether it's animals, a professional society or even a trade association.  Your association specializes in your niche.  You may not have gone to school for your association's industry but the amount of years you have spent working as a professional with this organization has made you a fast expert in your industry. 

Association's often outsource because they know that vendors have their niche.  WebLink International, my current employer has a specialized niche in association management software and websites.  My previous employer specialized in career centers for non-profits, while the associations I worked for were trade associations and professional societies.  Throughout my adventures, I have picked up a few skills that I wouldn't have if I had worked other places.  However, I am still faced with the fact that I know that there is a better way to do this, and quicker.

At one of my employers, I was responsible for doing graphic design.  This was not in my immediate skill set, and I made no secret of it.  However, I was willing and eager to figure it out, and take the time to do so.  I learned the very basic elements of graphic design, and could change layouts, and other things quickly.  Starting from scratch without an idea of where to go, now that was a real challenge.  What this made me understand is that sometimes, while it's cost effective it's best to not go it alone and engage experts where your budget and project needs fit.  Often times, the items that I designed from scratch took a long time to produce, and I always thought they could be better if this was in my skill set. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Budgets Make Dreams Come True

The summer brings a lot of things for associations.  One gift that keeps on giving is your budget planning.  As you prepare your budget for 2013, ask yourself what dreams do I want to come true? Budget season for me was a time to go to the table and ask for things that I didn't think were possible at any other point in the year.  You start with a clean slate, so here are some things that other association professionals are asking for this budget season.

At the ASAE Marketing & Membership conference, they took an informal survey of the room.  Approximately 95% of the room hadn't redesigned their website in three years or more.   I am all about brand consistency, but when new functionality comes out it's important as an association to stay current and not annoy your customers.  At the same conference, it was revealed that a target budget is going to depend on what you want your website to do. 

Here is a list of questions that I would ask a vendor if I were looking for a web site redesign. 
    • Open Source? Customized? Off-the Shelf? 
    • Do you have any white papers, best practices written on association websites?
    • What is included in this price and what is an "add-on" and additional charge? 
    • Is hosting extra? 
    • Is the content management system (CMS) made for someone without programming experience? 
    • What about updates/tweaks? 
    • What is your per hour charge if we go over our estimated hours? 
    • What is your experience in the association space?
    • Do you have references in my industry that I can speak to?
    • What integrates with this? database? financials? social networking? 
    • Does this include bringing over all my content? 
By asking the right questions up front you make sure that you know what you're getting into before you begin this big project.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Experience, Curiosity & Questions

I recently read a post by Joe Rominiecki discussing his 5 years experience as an association executive at ASAE.  Coincidentally, I have double the experience of Joe and I have to tell you, I too have many unanswered questions.  For the sake of brevity, I won't dump them all here, instead I will chunk them into five questions.

  1. How many people in marketing actually majored in business and or marketing? I spent 10 years doing marketing with or for non-profits, and my education had little to do with marketing.  My B.A is in American Studies, while my M.A is in Communications.  American Studies is based in history and likes to flirt with many other disciplines, it was heavy on reading and writing, which did serve me well.  Communications and marketing seem like they are closely related but if you had asked me 5 years ago which disciple I preferred, I would have told you marketing.  Today, professionals have to have more of a hybrid approach in the non-profit arena because you're dealing with limited resources and if you don't have a skill set you learn it.  Which leads me to my next question...
  2. Experience or education? It's a follow up question to the one above, but what's more valuable your experience as a non-profit professional or a certificate in non-profit management? Here are some things that I learned on the job but not in school: managing vendors (designers, printers), understanding how to talk to those vendors so that it didn't cost you an arm and leg, politics (make nice with everyone, it makes your life easier, seriously), and try to make your boss look good no matter what.
  3. Does anyone feel secure in their job? With the great recession, I can tell you I was not immune to being laid-off.  I worked for a small 6 staff association, and I was the last to be hired and the first to go when times got tough.  The association had never had someone do marketing for them, and the board didn't see the value in continuing it.  I spent three months of poorly paid government vacation being laid-off before I found my next gig.  What did it teach me? I shouldn't take my job for granted and I should do the best job that I can each and everyday.  Even with that, their are no guarantees. 
  4.  Is change that hard? Perhaps it's my age, which isn't very old, but I don't find change to be that hard.  Just because you have always done something a certain way doesn't mean you should keep doing it that way.  However, when I find myself at the crossroads of making a change I am often lingering with doubt.  Is this the right decision? Should I choose this new vendor over the one I already know? What if this change doesn't go the way I want it to? So many follow up questions, and a lot here. 
  5. How do we stay relevant with our members (customers)?  As former non-profit professional, keeping the association on the top of our member's minds was something that I spent a lot of time working on.  Emails, print, social media, I tried it all.  What did I find, people have so much information, that they rarely engaged with the association, or me.  I keep wondering, what do we as association professionals have to do to provide a service to members that they can't live without.  For your association the answer might be different.  
Basically, I think we all learn from our experience, in the end, my quest for additional knowledge always wins out.  How can I do better? What did I learn today? If I were my member, what would I think?