Does your Association have an online strategy to help grow membership?

(Original text published on the AENC blog)

A word on Associations – Nurses, Accountants, Bankers, Florists…Whoever. You may think your Association needs a stronger online presence, but are confused as to what that exactly means. And you see its potential.

The number of ways you can communicate with your audience can be overwhelming. And there are a few fundamentals to understand before moving forward.

“Liking” you is not enough
“If you build it, they will come” only worked in the movie. Just setting up a Twitter account or Facebook group page as standalone presences is a regressive strategy. If your association isn’t communicating its key messages, you won’t generate a following. Worse, owning these profiles with no activity or followers just looks bad and delivers the wrong message as well.

Actively communicate your messages
The first mistake in messaging is trying to tell everything, to everyone, all the time. As an association, you know who your members are, and you know how your work benefits people on a broad scale. But like any marketing strategy, it’s critical to identify specific audiences, but also deliver specific messages on how your work is directly relevant to their needs.

Identify your target goals and encourage participation
Establish a timeline around key dates and planned announcements. This may also include locally planned events. By using your online platforms to deliver your messages, you can encourage participation through “retweets” and other forms of sharing. By inviting members to be part of the process, your are both now the stewards of your organization’s brand and mission.

Any successful online strategy is about building a presence that doesn’t just give you your “15 minutes.” Crafted carefully, it will help you earn a deep, living leadership role in today’s marketplace.

Platform diving into social marketing

There has been growing attention on whether platforms like Twitter or Facebook can actually create a relationship between “likers” or “followers” and a company. The answer, technically, is yes. But the interest of someone seeing your post could be as fleeting as the Tweet or status update that caught his or her eye. Your real-time message vanishes in the abyss of other posts — it simply doesn’t have the staying power you need to create a real relationship or genuine following.

But these one-to-two sentence messages do serve a purpose. Twitter and Facebook are part of the rainbow of channels through which you drive the message of who you are and why you’re there. Too often, companies anchor themselves in a single platform to market a product, and they ride the rising and falling roller coaster of popularity.

Second Life (SL) is a good example (remember this?). SL is the 3D world where users download a client to their desktop, spend time creating an “avatar,” then invest more time learning how to float around a virtual world where they visit neighborhoods, chat with other passers-by, and perhaps stop by a “brick and mortar” to “purchase” a product they see in a display case. At first glance, SL runs antithetical to the public relations/marketing rule of making your message accessible. Some would argue you need to jump through a few too many technical hoops to arrive at the position where you hear it. But there are those in the under 40 crowd who give it a market-value presence that needs acknowledgement. SL takes a real-time message, such as a sign or storefront and encourages engagement. But only if you play the “game.” And so, marketers must play a curious game as well, to attract that demographic.

Still, SL’s esoteric nature and ephemeral appeal serves as a warning to never wed yourself to just one platform — especially when you don’t own it. The whole basis of social marketing and networking platforms is that you share them. Distinguishing yourself among others who speak loudly, promote themselves, and who may have little interest in you takes strategy and consistent maintenance.

Platforms you do own, however, are your Web site, your app(s), and your blog. These are your “call to action.” Use all other platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc., to repeat your company mantra and generate interest, always remember to drive your cloud traffic back to the place you call homepage.

So, the question remains: How do you attract, engage, and retain a customer or supporter? Use parts of all of the above. The social mediasphere has many baskets, and it is up to you to distribute the eggs according to your needs. Most importantly, remember that a successful social media presence links platforms together. That’s why they call it “cross-platform” marketing.

Your business as seen from the moon

Facebook. Twitter, Linkedin. Stumble it, Digg it, Delicious it? About 1 billion people use the Internet, and 500 million are Facebook members. Like other social networking sites, it’s free and encourages its members to post, comment and, most importantly, react to what others have posted. While there are a myriad of networks, each with unique qualities, let’s just talk about some tips on the hows and whys of successfully positioning your company online. Many small companies and a host of start-ups may want to use online marketing tools like Facebook, but they aren’t sure what to watch out for or even how to begin.

Below are just a few questions you may ask yourself before you walk down this road. There are plenty more, but these are a good set with which to start:

1. Will I open myself up to a slew of negative “comments” on a group page, even though I hear that critical comments legitimize the positive ones?
2. How “accessible” is my product to consumers? Will I spend too much time explaining what it is and why folks should care?
3. If I build it, will they come? How can I guarantee a following once I’ve created this company fan page? If no one “likes” the page, won’t that just hurt my brand?

Align your company goals with a human mission
It’s called Cause Marketing. Show your customers you are a business made up of neighbors who care about what’s happening down the street or even across the ocean. One good example of how a large company can generate experiential marketing value is the Pennies for the Planet campaign made possible by the Audubon Society and Toyota. No, this has nothing to do with cars. Toyota took an opportunity to cement a relationship with Audubon and show it’s more than just a car company. Toyota demonstrated that it is a moral leader and good steward of the Earth, as well as families and children by extension. In part, using Facebook as a marketing tool, the Pennies campaign attracts visitors to its page to “like” it and follow along as they’re provided with more information on how kids are helping to protect wildlife and habitat.

Kid’s Fundraising Efforts Will Help Protect Migrating Wildlife
NEW YORK, Nov. 18, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Kids around the country are gearing up for the third season of Pennies for the Planet, an environmental education and action campaign to protect wildlife and habitat. Pennies for the Planet is made possible by support from TogetherGreen, an Audubon initiative – in alliance with Toyota. This year’s program focuses on how to protect migrating wildlife and the habitats they depend on.

Your business, as seen from the moon
So yes, the reason for going into or maintaining a business is to make a profit. But as we all know, if you are one of 12 companies around the world that manufactures a widget, virtually indistinguishable from the other 11, then you may have a marketing problem should you want to expand your customer base.

As “all politics is local,” so, too, is business. Assess the relationship between your company and its customers. Being a good corporate citizen has never been more important for companies that can see their products hyped or devalued at the drop of a Tweet or a simple Facebook status update.

Internet Summit/Raleigh: Content is still king

The Internet Summit is here in Raleigh, N.C., this week. Some of the biggest players in the business are talking for two days about, well, how there’s a ton of data out there. One of the big themes is if we don’t use what’s freely available, we’ll lose. In short, if we don’t use the growing list of tools to make online business easier JUST because we think that we’ve got the better cyber mouse trap, we’ll all lose.

Lulu CEO Bob Young (Courtesy: Tech Journal South)

“We don’t need breakthroughs to make [online business] a huge part of our economy,” said Bob Young, founder and CEO Lulu.com. “It already is a huge part of our economy.”

Young was part of a panel discussion, “The Future of the Web,” and one of a bevy of A-list folks from around the country who descended on the Triangle for the summit. He joined others, including Joe Gregorio, a software engineer in developer relations for Google, Rod Smith, vice president, Emerging Internet Technologies at IBM, and a host of others.

Young said that businesses shouldn’t make it hard on themselves. They should do the homework that leads them to the, oftentimes, free business solutions that will make their business grow. In fact, one question from the audience touched on net neutrality.

Young said that the first order of business is to educate Congress on the “whys” and “hows” of ensuring open source information. But, despite asserting that more breakthroughs aren’t the answer, he said that without a clear and open path that will help programmers keep up with the exploding amount of data in cyberspace, people, not just businesses, will suffer.

Young added that he runs his business by letting his designers lead him and not the other way around. He intimated that any new law of control is the wrong choice and that without the freedom to “rethink” the way the Web operates, people like his young designers won’t be able to help him – or anyone else, for that matter.

It’s king, but it has be good, too

Young also said we all suffer if the quality of content isn’t maintained. He said we’re raising a more literate population, thanks to the Web, with more people writing and reading. But, now more than ever, as content is still king, business needs to find the folks who can write well. With that “ton of data out there,” only well written content can ensure significance and relevance to the audience.

“You’re interacting with text,” he said.  “And we need to harness that [potential] by paying people to write good content.”

Now on to day 2 at the Summit!

Taking on a corporate blog: Be careful.

As most in business and marketing are aware, the Web site is the first place someone visits to learn more about you and your company.  Then, they want to know how you think and your approach to business.  What’s on your mind? How do you see yourself fitting into today’s business landscape? How are you adapting?

How do you successfully earn credibility and take that extra step toward engaging a customer? Today, being a portal for information and education is critical in terms of positioning yourself as a “thought leader.”   You might think, however, “What if we’re selling a unique product but need the broad support of industry? Won’t taking a stand on one side or the other hurt our image or push one market segment away?”

(courtesy: Businessweek)

Early on, businesses were uncertain about the value of the blog. Today, an increasing number are carefully employing them in their business strategies.

Take a stand in support of education. You don’t need to sell your product on your blog.  That’s your Web site’s job.  For example, a blog can be used to identify and explain the latest developments in an emerging technology and what it is designed to do, not to rate the innovation. The same can be said for reporting the latest governmental rules and regulations, new developments in the industry space, new technology being used abroad, and so on.

Report the news.  Don’t make editorial statements. Illustrate that your company knows the industry and all its parts. Overtime, visitors will see that your company knows what it’s doing and is knowledgeable – knowledgeable enough to know that its solution fills a gap.  But your visitors will decide that for themselves as you encourage them to visit your web site.  You have empowered them with information to make personal and business decisions that, overtime, just may lead them to your door.