Thinking Outside The Mail Box: What Email Can Do, Social Media Can Do Better

Email has been the champion of mass communication platforms for a long time, and for good reason, but no one is perfect. Email has its limitations and its flaws, especially when you’re an association looking to expand its reach and better serve its members.

The time when email was the only way associations and non-profits connected with their community online is now over. Social media has long-ago inserted itself into everyday use for organizations looking to get the word out. Its not enough to send a regular newsletter to 1,000 inboxes or continually promote causes, events and news with email blasts any more. While email is still a valuable way to supplement your marketing and communications efforts, social media has evolved to arguably become the stronger of the two outreach methods.

If you’re still a little skeptical (or a lot skeptical), give us a chance to make our case. Here are three things that email does well, but social media does better:

Recruiting Volunteers

Volunteers are an important part of any operation. Whether its reaching out to members in an effort to fill committee spots or to the general public to help a cause, communicating your organization’s goals and convincing people to join in achieving them is no easy task.

Email requests for volunteers often fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately, they too often become text-heavy nuisances that get lost in the sea of other important messages your members receive on any given day. Social media, on the other hand, allows your organization to be in the right spot at the right time while also highlighting how volunteers can make a difference, not just in the lives of others, but in their own as well.

The majority of LinkedIn users are looking for a professional leg-up. Your LinkedIn page/group is where your members or community go to share their expertise in the form of articles, network and seek out opportunity. This makes LinkedIn the perfect place for your organization to advertise its need for volunteers. It’s a perfect match between opportunity-seeker and an organization in need. Additionally, LinkedIn’s Non-profit Volunteer Marketplace offers organizations a dedicated space to post opportunities and appeal to those who are specifically looking for volunteer roles in their community.

Besides LinkedIn, infographics and videos allow an organization to chart out the value of volunteering with your organization. These tools, easily published on YouTube, a blog, Twitter and Facebook, answers the question, “What’s in it for me,” that many in your community might be asking. Rather than giving a vague, down-the-road response, show the pay-offs quite clearly. For example, if your association is looking for volunteers to join the a committee, chart out the impact their decisions could have on the organization or create a video in which current committee members explain how their participation has benefited their career.

Promoting Events

Nothing says “typical, old event” like a half-dozen, text-laden promotional emails leading up your organization’s conference or initiative. Let’s face it, if you do the same marketing over and over again, your community is going to start wondering if the event is going to offer anything other than what they’ve already seen in past years.

Social media offers your organization a host of new ways to promote your event that compliment your email regiment and draw attendees, both loyal ones and newbies. We’ve covered many of the ways in which social media can help promote your organization’s event and when comparing these opportunities with what email offers, its not much of a contest.

The opportunities that social media gives your organization in promoting events can be split into two main categories. The first is proving value. We showcased the ability of infographics and video to convey value in the previous section on recruiting volunteers and the same can be said for promoting events. Tweets and Facebook posts also allow your organization to focus on one area of your events that will help provide value to potential attendees without overloading them with information or a hard-sales approach. But probably the most effective approach in convincing someone to attend an event is to hear it from someone they can relate to. Blog posts can do wonders in this area. Have a member write a post about their good experience at an annual event or something along the lines of, “Five ways to get the most out of the annual conference.” This will help members see that your attempts at promotion are not driven solely by money, but by a genuine desire to help your community.

The second of the aforementioned categories is giving your community a voice. When you allow your community to help shape the event in small ways, it will help build their faith in the value of the event and pride in helping shape it. Social media gives your organization the ability to accomplish this crucial task. Tweets, Facebook posts, blog comments and contests that can be spread over multiple platforms allow your community to chime in on everything from catering choices to lecture topics, entertainment selections and the registration process. While it is important to give your community a voice, provide carefully thought out options for key elements of your event or risk committing to something that’s over budget or impossible to deliver.

Interacting with Members

Interacting with members has always been important. Keeping your association’s community informed about organizational news, industry trends, important legislation and feedback opportunities, such as surveys, has always been a way to support members. With the advent of social media, increased interaction between member and association has become expected. While email does allow the dissemination of information, it doesn’t quite lend itself to the back-and-forth of conversation like social media does.

Email is great for relaying basic information, but social media gives associations the opportunity to showcase different perspectives of issues and initiatives. For example, an email about an association’s lobbying efforts is an effective way to convey information and updates, but a video, a blog post and/or live-tweeting give members more access to both knowledge and value, while allowing them to comment and join in.

Social media also allows your association’s members to ask questions and get the specific answers they are looking for, something unavailable or overwhelming with mass emails. The best example of this comes from platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Members are given the chance to ask questions, such as, “How do I access the online version of the association’s publication,” and get a timely and tailored response. These platforms are also conducive to asking for and receiving feedback. Posting a poll on Facebook or tweeting out a question, such as, “What was the best part of last week’s conference?” gives your community an opportunity to respond and take part in shaping their own organization.

Lastly, social media is a great tool for association’s to help stimulate conversation not just between the organization and members, but between members and their colleagues. LinkedIn discussion boards and Twitter chats are platforms that organizations can use to promote conversations and increase the amount of networking and information provided to members. Email is an unlikely source for this sort of all-way, timely and flexible communication.

5 Ways to Integrate Social Media into your Association’s Next Membership Drive

There are two types of members when it comes to membership drives; those your association wants to retain and those your association wants to recruit.

While this is simplifying things a little too much, it does highlight a significant point for associations and their membership strategy. It’s vital that organizations think about their different audiences when it comes time for a membership drive and tailor their communications to each segment.

Social media is one communications tool that associations can effectively use to connect with different demographics during a membership drive. Just like other media, online platforms don’t follow the one-size-fits-all motto. That’s why we’ve taken a look at the five people your association encounters during a membership drive and how to draw them to your organization through social media.

The Loyal Member

Everyone likes a little recognition, especially members who have invested in your association time and again. Social media give your organization a perfect platform to offer these members something in return.

Your association can profile a long-time member on its blog or in a video. It’s also a great idea to post about loyal members on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms during a membership drive. For example, tweet that a member has been a part of the association for 30 years and one interesting fact about them. Not only does this show loyal members that they are appreciated, it also highlights your association’s culture of recognition and shows others that they will be rewarded if they stick with the organization year after year.

The Lapsed Member

These are the members that your association has an on-again off-again relationship with. They were members for a bit, but haven’t paid the dues in a year or two. They’ve seen what your organization can do and didn’t find it worth their while. This where social media can team up with other communication tools and win back the hearts of lapsed members.

To create an effective social media strategy around lapsed members for membership drives, you first have to find out why they left in the first place. Using surveys or good old fashioned telephone calls can help you pinpoint the issues that created a rift between your association and lapsed members. Once you have this information, build your social media strategy around showing lapsed members how your organization has improved. For example, if lapsed members say they didn’t get enough out of events/conferences, create how-to videos on best practices in networking and getting the most value out of your association’s events/conference. Share these videos on several platforms and make lapsed members reconsider.

The Long-Time Non-Member

There are some people who aren’t members and have never been. These are the people that associations crave during a membership drive, but are often the hardest to attract. The reason for this reluctance usually focuses on a perceived lack of value that membership provides an individual. Social media, specifically infographics, can be a strong force in reversing this type of thinking.

Infographics jazz up the cold, hard numbers in an easily-readable, informative format, which makes it ideal to prove value to skeptical potential members. Crunch the available numbers on the value of benefits, programs and events and repackage them to create a positive overall picture of how your association helps members. For example, create a chart comparing the yearly spending of non-members vs. members, calculate the total savings and input it into the infographic. Infographics can be shared on almost any social media platform, which makes it a great way to reach a lot of people in any given industry and dispel any myths about a lack of value.

The New Non-Member

These are the fresh-faced individuals who are new to the industry and who your association will have to woo with a great first impression during a membership drive. Most of these potential members are part of a younger generation and are focused on networking to create a good foundation for their career. This makes for an interesting opportunity for your association on social media.

LinkedIn is a popular social media platform for young professionals looking to network and make a mark in an industry. Creating a LinkedIn group, posting articles and starting conversations is a great way to include young professionals and reinforce a culture of accessibility, customer service and learning. Moderating Twitter chats are another way to connect young professionals to industry veterans through your association and establish your organization as the go-to resource for career development. Writing blogs about relevant issues for young professionals can also highlight your association’s commitment to those who just entered the profession.

The Business Member

Industry professionals probably make up the bulk of your association’s membership, but business members (those who provide services to your main membership group) can be a crucial part of your revenue strategy and membership drive. Social media is a great way to convince potential business members to invest in your association.

One of the best ways to showcase the association’s value to business members is for companies to hear it from other companies. This means a simple guest blog can work wonders. Write a blog post that includes an interview with a current business member or, even better, recruit a loyal business member to write their own post. Focus the post on the benefits available to business members and how to best access these benefits. You can also present value in an infographic about trade show stats, sponsorship opportunities and other services.

Let’s Face It, Social Media Might Be A Loss Leader For Your Association, But It’s A Leader Nonetheless

First thing’s first; social media can have a great return on investment for your association. It might not always be the traditional, financial, X-number-of-retweets-equal-Y-amount-of-revenue. It could have a money-focused tinge to it, but where organizations are going to see the biggest impact is in the formation of first impressions.

Let’s get the terminology out of the way right now. For those who don’t know what a loss leader is, it’s a product or service offered by an organization that doesn’t directly increase profit, but gets people in the door and investing in other areas. For example, companies will sell printers at a loss in order to stimulate sales of their ink cartridges. Social media can act much the same way.

Here’s the scenario; a non-member is on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc., and sees a colleague retweet/share/like a post from your association. The content they see from your account interests them or is a helpful resource. This may be their first impression of your association in action or their first impression of your association ever. They may connect with your account, see the value of the organization and invest in a membership, service or event. In that way, your association may bring in a handful of members through the great first impression it presents on social media. After all, people go online these days to meet information and its sources.

It’s great that social media brought new members into the fold, but let’s be honest, the revenue gained from these new members does not equal the money spent on it. However, word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool. If one person has a great experience with your association, they will tell colleagues, clients or staff. This may lead to further investments in membership and increased revenue. This great experience started with a great first impression; a warm, helpful greeting as a non-member enters into your association’s house. This warm greeting is called social media.

Let’s face it, social media might be a loss leader for your association. You might spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on it every year and not see that money come back to your organization in the form of direct revenue. That’s okay. It’s a service that your association offers to help members. It’s a tool to shine a spotlight on your association and its benefits. It’s an avenue to engage members and non-members alike as well as start a conversation with sponsors and policy makers. All those elements combine to bring people into the door, to drive traffic to your website and its registration page and give your community a chance to voice their positive feedback in a public forum.

Loss leader isn’t a dirty word. Yes, it implies your organization might lose money on this particular activity, but it also implies that it’s a leader. Social media can help lead your association on the right path, it can help guide members and non-members to the most helpful resources you have and it can give a boost to other areas of your organization’s revenue strategy.