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.

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.