Ask any writer about proof reading and you’ll hear: “I can’t proof my own work… I’m too close to see it clearly.” The same concept applies to association communicators who work hard to convey the value of membership through the website and answer the question “So what?” in every newsletter message.
You know good rules for communicating. But it’s easy to fall into a habit of reporting the news, and writing messages about what’s important to the association (versus the member)….or, to not think about how a new member views your material. After all, it’s obvious to you what that information is about.
nSight Marketing Several associations recently worked with several associations on communications audits: eleven associations across two states. We asked their feedback about the experience. Three clear themes emerged that say a lot about what was standing in their way of good communications.
1. Getting everyone on the same page. Most association communications have lots of fingerprints on them. Staff writer, communications director, CEO, president, etc. Unless everyone has the same approach and goals, it’s easy to get off track.
- Mary Pilaar, Director of Special Projects and Events, New Jersey Association of Realtors®, shared this: “Having our entire staff and a sample of our local boards/association participate [in the audit] means everyone is on the same page as we move forward.”
- Roger Nelson, Jr., CEO of West Maricopa Co. Regional Association of Realtors® (Arizona), had a similar thought when asked about changes due to the audit. “Getting back to a weekly meeting with staff to discuss the WeMAR communication efforts as a group.”
2. A little distance is good. Nearly everyone we asked has something to say along these lines.
- Janet Kane, CEO of the SouthEast Valley Regional Association (Arizona), said: “When you review your own website on a daily basis, you’re too close to see what someone else sees. You know where everything is, so it’s easy to think everyone else should find information easily as well.”
- Mary Cano, CEO from North Central Jersey Association of Realtors®, felt the most valuable part of the process was “someone else’s objective view which gave us insight into what was positive about our communications and where we needed improvement.”
- Roger Nelson agreed with what was most valuable: “Seeing WeMAR communications through the eyes of an objective, third party communications professional.”
3. Keep the focus on the member. Answering the “so what” or WIIFM (what’s in it for the member) question, keeps the focus on the member.
- Janet Kane said: “We have learned to focus our messages and to vary a marketing piece based on a targeted audience. We have heavily marketed association events, but failed to present the true value of the association.” (The WIIFM!)
- Michelle Lind, CEO of the Arizona Association of Realtors®, reports “We have changed our message content to be more member-focused. The process confirmed our direction to base content on what members’ value.”
- Mary Pilaar summed it up simply: “We’re focusing more on ‘what’s in it for them’.”
The ideas for improvement aren’t new, but these association executives recognize that a third party perspective is valuable in helping to see why messages don’t get through to members. For one association, an outsider’s viewpoint “helped to jump start the process for change.” Another noted that changes had been made and “we have already received positive feedback from our members.”
If you think your team may be standing in the way of effectively getting messages through to members, learn more about the role of a strategic communications audit as part of an overall communications strategy.