By Kenneth Hitchner
There is no one perfect way to communicate with members.
But there is a more effective way that will help your association’s key messages resonate with your stakeholders.
I call it the “Lasagna Strategy” because it came to me while I was making one of my favorite dishes. Making a tasty lasagna is all about layering tiers of yummy ingredients: First you put in the noodle, then the meat and cheese and sauce. Now, repeat those steps.
And that is the same way you communicate effectively with your members. Distribute your messages in “layers” on various mediums and then repeat. Let’s face it, when someone tells you they are thirsty, don’t give them a face full of a fire hose. Simply give them a glass of water and they will be grateful.
Here are a few communication tactics that you can add to the feast:
- Regular member emails: This should include general information about your association, a call to action and a thank-you note all in one. An impactful email moves members. Content can include: event sign-up information, member photos and fun facts, as well as why membership is important. Testimonials, which reinforce why membership is important, are powerful content. It is up to you to determine the correct frequency for your members.
The email content should be short and snappy with links to drive members back to your website for more information.
More and more members are moving toward electronic communication, so this is an effective way to reach them, as they can read your message at their desk, in the office or in line at the grocery store.
- Targeted emails for special audiences (e.g. young professionals, common interest groups or membership types): A targeted email to different constituencies will bring value. Make sure these members know their importance by tailoring communications with the right message. This specific communication will reinforce the value of your association.
For example, an email directed at young professionals could contain career development tips from members who are industry role models, as well as ways to connect on social media with their peers. It should also have clear paths for involvement in your association, which will help your board groom the next generation of leadership. Within the email, include “talk with us” information where young professionals can communicate directly with your association’s leadership, as the millennials have proven they prefer to work in collaborative environments where they feel their opinions are heard and they can make a difference. Answering them is also key if they respond to something in the email. Young professionals like to know their voices have been heard.
Like the regular emails, keep the content brief and link back to your website for additional information.
- Social media: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great ways to connect with members. It is also a great place to showcase your association’s culture, share industry news, promote your thought leadership, and events, as well as connect members with each other.
Social media allows you to show members what you are doing on their behalf in real time, rather than telling them why their support is critical. For example, if you have a meeting with someone important in your industry, take a photo and share it the same day with a note explaining what you were doing and why. (Then, you can take that bit and develop it into a short story for the member newsletter with more detail and any results you achieved.)
Members join your association to network with their peers, so social information sharing is a great way for them to virtually meet. For example, share a flyer for the next event on Facebook and ask members what the top takeaway was from the last event. This will not only provide testimonials as to the quality of your events, but it will allow members to “e-meet” each other and engage in conversation.
When members share your association’s information on their social media channels, it amplifies your message to a greater number of potential members.
If someone comments on something on your social channels, answer back, even if it just liking their comment. Communication is a two-way street and everyone likes to feel that their comment was heard.
- Website: Your association website should function as a hub of information, entertainment and empowerment for members and non-members. There should be a mix of association news, industry news, events, event registration, ways for members to connect, such as a social media feed or at least buttons that link to your channels.
Ensuring that your website is optimized is critical. This means that someone looking to communicate or gather information from your website can easily find the information, whether it is on a desktop, tablet or smartphone. It would be very frustrating for someone looking to call you if they can’t easily find the contact us information. We’ve all been to websites like that, make sure this isn’t you!
Remember Google penalizes websites that are not optimized for mobile, which will make it difficult for potential members looking to communicate with you to find your association.
- Monthly mailer: A monthly print piece allows you to connect with members in a tangible way. It is something tactile for them. Who doesn’t love getting a piece of mail that isn’t a bill?
The mailer can be something as simple as a postcard to as complex as a multi-page newsletter to a mix of the two depending upon your needs.
E-communication is so prevalent in today’s society that a printed piece will stand out as special. Once the printed piece is mailed, an electronic version can be shared on your association’s website in emails and on social media.
- Flyers: A flyer is another way to communicate with members. Use them electronically in e-newsletters, on social media, published in the monthly mailer or hand them out at your next event. Around our office, most people have a flyer of some sort on their bulletin board as a reminder.
A multi-layered “lasagna” approach to communication will ensure your message is being heard. If a member misses the e-newsletter, they have another chance for the news to waft their way with a mailer; when that gets buried under a pile of papers, there is the post on social media that will catch their eye and then finally, maybe the reminder card will be the savory morsel that gets them to take action.
Kenneth Hitchner is the public relations and social media director at CMA Association Management. If you would like to leverage CMA’s communications expertise for member engagement and growth, we’d love to talk with you. Please contact us at 800.852.4269 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.