How can associations and their members benefit from e-marketing and social media?

Undoubtedly, there are many organisations that have jumped into the social media space without much consideration regarding whether doing so actually provides value for the organisations itself, and professional associations are no different. Establishing and maintaining a social media presence isn’t for everyone, and I would encourage any business considering emarketing and social media to step back and take the time to examine their goals, objectives, target markets and stakeholders.

Certainly planning is fundamental to ensuring an effective emarketing strategy that forms part of an integrated marketing and communications effort whilst also supporting overall business strategy and objectives. Too many associations treat social media as a one-way broadcasting self-promotional tool – it is social media – the focus should be on building relationships that are interactive and mutually beneficial for the association and its members.

So, what are the potential benefits?

Administration expenses – slashed
The web has revolutionised membership operations. What once took many staff hours to coordinate the complex and labour intensive task of enrolling members and renewing their memberships can now be completely automated using online member management solutions, meaning membership revenue can be redirected to providing member benefits instead of administration.

Email marketing
Cheap, reliable and effective email hits the spot when it comes to timely promotion and information sharing with members. It is measureable, permission based and has significantly reduced the cost of membership communication.

Online directories and portals
Many organisation websites offer a comprehensive directory of members which not only provides a great way of finding members but also assists their search engine optimisation with a highly relevant link to member blogs and websites.

Real-time ongoing focus groups
By setting up ‘listening tools’ and being present and responsive to social media platforms, associations can learn about member needs, get feedback on services and ‘crowd source’ ideas for education and events. In this way, social media can be a listening post and early warning system.

Peer-to-peer networking
Through social media, associations can host peer-to-peer networking, helping members build relationships with other members. Relationships built online can then be further strengthened at conferences and other face-to-face meetings – even online-only relationships can bring value to members.

Extended conference experience
Creating a community not only during a conference but also before and after will help to extend the experience. Conducting webinars and screening session recordings online enables members to experience sessions they may have been physically unable to attend.

Platform for credible information sharing
Professional organisations can be a platform for sharing online news, information and professional development resources – think of associations as curators of relevant information in our information overloaded society.

Interaction
Through social media, professional associations can not only build relationship with members, but also with new and traditional media, policy makers and their staff, industry influencers, prospective members, exhibitors, sponsors, conference speakers and attendees.

I reiterate that social media is not for everyone – although, as outlined above, the possible benefits it may afford are certainly worth consideration when deciding whether or not to enter the social media space.

References:
T. M. 2010, ‘How can associations benefit from social media, viewed 9 April 2011.
Reardon, C. 2010, ‘The best eMarketing techniques for member organisations, viewed 9 April 2011.

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