The state of social media in associations and what to do about it

State-of-social-media-2013

We hear over and over again that associations are struggling to recruit, retain and engage young members in their organizations. And, according to Marketing General’s 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 74% of responding associations indicated that increasing member engagement is a top membership goal. Yet, according to the report, among the top three reasons cited for members not renewing is lack of engagement with the organization.

Houston, we have a problem.

Digging deeper, when talk of social media enters the picture, associations freeze up. True, Marketing General’s report states that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the three most common social media sites used by associations, but what are they using those channels for?

Associations are using Twitter to promote events and associations are using Facebook to solicit new members or promote membership in general.

In short, they are using “push marketing”. It’s no wonder the engagement piece is a struggle; associations are not entirely on board with utilizing these online channels in the way they were designed: to communicate, engage and have conversations with their audiences.

Here’s the deal: If you aren’t offering valid, relevant, engaging content, your members aren’t going to care that you’re even on social media. And they sure as heck aren’t going to engage with you online or otherwise.

Period.

So what do you do?

For starters, keep your social media channels and don’t be afraid to use them. They won’t kill your association. And if you haven’t started to implement social media into your marketing mix, now is the time to start.

That said, let’s talk about using social media effectively to drive membership engagement so that next year, you can say you focused on retaining the great influx of members you recruited in 2013…from your social media channels!

Embrace change.

Eighty-three percent of Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use social networking sites according to Pew Internet. Basically, we’re talking about Generation Y (born between 1982 and 1995). Association must no longer abide by the “business as usual” mindset and adapt to changing communication needs of your potential members–the Millennials. They’re looking at associations who offer cutting-edge training, technology and communication tactics. Gen Y is on the go. We’re all on the go. Meet them where they are–online.

Use social media to your advantage.

There is a balance of give and take when it comes to using social media within your association. The great thing about the platforms is that they provide an equal playing field for all organizations. How you play the game is what counts. Think about the following five ways you can use social media to your association’s advantage while, at the same time, providing a benefit and engagement to your audience. This will in turn drive potential members to your social networks, to your website and, ultimately, to your membership sign-up form.

Show off your expertise

Your audience looks to you as an expert in the industry. And Millennials are researching your organization online long before you ever know about it. Provide relevant information across your social media channels that showcases the latest trends and reports in your industry. Prove that you’re an organization worth following because you can provide an “in” within the industry. Exclusive content (but not a sales pitch) is ideal here.

Build a network

According to the report, Marketing General states that associations list “networking” as a primary reason for why members join. I’m not sure if that is entirely true for Gen Y, but regardless, it’s your chance to build your own network and showcase why it pays to belong to and engage with your association.

Use your social networks to introduce mentors and mentees. Promote and congratulate members of your organization on a job well done or a recent promotion at work. Encourage discussion by way of comments, retweets, pins and likes between members and non-members alike that follow your association on social media. Use pictures; lots of them. Be a part of the discussion so that when the face-to-face networking takes place there is a sense of camaraderie has already been established online.

Prove value

Networking can’t be the only “value” you show to members. I can network anywhere; I want an association who provides additional services to meet the needs of where I am in my current career track. When your potential members find you online, they’re looking for the same thing. Discount codes aren’t going to cut it (though they are nice to send out every once in awhile). You can utilize promotion in a way that showcases high caliber speakers, events and training opportunities for members all while using social media. These same channels also give you the opportunity to showcase your organization’s personality. This is important for younger generations; they want to see acceptance and a casual, yet informative atmosphere coming from the leaders of your association. Use that to your advantage online.

Build awareness

Hashtags can be a wonderful thing and now, you can use them on Facebook and Twitter alike. Think of fun ways to build awareness and conversation around your association online. Likewise, be sure to monitor conversation and check in to your social media channels on a daily basis (yes, daily). You want to do your research on what others may be saying about you online as well, even if you’re not present on those particular channels. Many times, when conducting a Google search, a company or organization’s Facebook page appears first in the search results–even over their website. Social media channels are searchable and trackable. Understanding this is a great way to build awareness and conversation around your association.

Promote community involvement

Think about the 80/20 rule when it comes to social media content. Eighty percent of your posts should be informative and provide the answer to questions your members and potential members have; their pain points. Think free information here. The rest of the time can be used to promote specific events or your association as a whole. That said, be sure to demonstrate your civic involvements. Generation Y is all about the good cause. Give kudos to local organizations in your community or provide information on service projects available to members. These are just two examples of how community involvement can engage younger members online.

It’s not OK to just state that your association uses social media. Anyone with an email address and a sign-up form can say that. How you utilize the channels and engagement is what will set you apart from other associations in your industry. Be the change your members seek. Be fully aware of the give-and-take mindset when it comes to social media.

And the next time a social media poll comes around that asks about your association’s social media use, you can confidently say you not only use the channels, but build membership engagement around them as well.

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