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.

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