Associations Increasing Use of Social Media for Member Service and Communication

Recently, while catching up with a friend, she shared a story which might sound familiar to association management staff with a focus on member recruitment. Earlier in the week, she had met a friend serving in the military and asked if he was familiar with the service member association for whom she works. To her surprise, the young man had never heard of the group, nor did he have any knowledge of the benefits he was missing out on. Later that week, the same conversation occurred with another young man serving in the same branch of the military.

She quickly began to question how many potential association members actually knew about the service member association and its many benefits. She came to the conclusion that greater social media use by her office might be a way to effectively reach out to younger audiences – and a larger audience in general. An association focused on recruitment should not wait for people to find them; rather, the association needs to get out and find the potential members it wants, and educate and inform them. In this case, the association was missing a huge audience and membership base – the younger generations who not only look for and use information on social media, but share information with hundreds of friends and acquaintances.

From Mail to Email to Social Media… Bridging the Communication Disconnect

“More than half of reporting associations (57%) are involved in at least one form of social media” (Angerosa Research Foundation). Associations are in the midst of making the transition into using social media as a prominent service and communication tool. The channel has great potential for delivering information and support to a mass audience, or to a single member, in real time. Over half have already started to adopt channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube to improve member service and communication, but many associations continue to hesitate on making the switch.

Social media sites and channels have taken communication to an entirely new level. This new world of networking consists of instantaneous member service, immediate updates and real time, on-the-go news and information. It allows small groups to expand and advertise like a large organization and allows large organizations to directly engage like a small group. Once you get started in this world there is no turning back. But then again, who would want go to back to dial-up connections, expensive mail communication or mass emails filling up members’ inboxes?

This is where the disconnect between multiple generations of members becomes a factor. Social media is the dominant player in today’s society, especially among the younger generations. Companies, service providers and associations of all types are being encouraged to adopt these instant forms of communication. It tends to be the more established veteran groups, companies and associations who hesitate to adopt these new channels of communications because 1) their longstanding communication and service methods are what they are comfortable with and 2) for any person, group, association, or company diving into social media and creating a professional presence for the first time can be intimidating.

The bottom line is that if associations don’t adopt social media tools and policies, then they are putting their continued survival at risk by remaining loyal to their outdated communication methods.  Social media is crucial in getting an association’s name and message out there, and additionally, the use of these forms of real-time service and communication reinforces an image of the association being active, receptive and responsive to its members.

Making the Social Transition     

For organizations that have not yet built up their social media presence for service and support, taking the first step is not as intimidating as it may first appear. Here are some helpful reminders when building a social media presence:

1. Identify Your Target Audience: Who are you currently communicating to and who do you want to promotion association membership to?

2. Start Slowly: There is no rush to create multiple social media accounts and pages at once. Create one and get comfortable with it. Then start developing another.

3. Make Your Social Media Presence Professional But Attractive: Keep in mind social media channels are a free promotion venue. Portray your association the way you want it to be seen by outsiders looking in, but add enough to keep members’ attention.

4. Consistency is Key: Creating the social media page is only the first part of the battle. The second half is giving the page or account life and keeping it that way. Creating an account and not updating the content is useless.

5. Be Active But Not Too Active: Post links and pictures, comment, like and follow. Get your association, group, or organization’s name out there. However, don’t overwhelm the audience and readers with an overload of information that might make them “unlike” or “unfollow” your organization on social media.

6. Use Tools to Serve a Large Audience: For associations with large and active followings on social media, consider social media monitoring and engagement tools and/or incorporating your association’s knowledgebase content as a self-serve information resource on your social media page.

7. Use Social Media for Effective Event Promotion: Encourage attendance, introduce key attendees and speakers, allow members to more easily connect before and after the event, create a buzz and conversation around the event – and at the event, keep everyone up to date with what’s going on and what’s happening next. “For many associations, about 20% of their members are active in the sense of attending conferences and trade shows. With social media, you can engage the other 80% of members in ways that enhances their connections to your association,” says Tom Lehman, author of the Lehman Reports™ industry studies.

For additional information on using social media for association membership service and communication, Association TRENDS recently released its 2012 Association Social Media Report offering adoption and activity levels, rankings and best practices.

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