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An Association Publisher's Content Manifesto - 4/23/2013 -

Recognize that the content you create and curate is your hottest tool to keep current members and attract new ones.

By Phaedra Brotherton

Social media and the need to be where our members are have forever changed the way we produce and develop content. And like it or not, today’s publishers are in the content marketing business, says Monica Bussolati, principal and content strategy director for Bussolati Associates.

"Because you tell a story to move people to action – whether it is to drive their empathy or get them to renew – content creators and curators are in the influencing behavior business,” she says. But content is not great until it’s consumed or shared.

"Where we tell our stories is now different, and that where is affecting the how,” notes Bussolati. "I’m sure many association writers have crafted a killer story that was under 140 characters,” she says. "So, the bottom line is that the 24-7, real-time delivery system of the social-mobile web is changing how you work.”

Social media tools not only get the content out there, but they also allow us to measure how popular or useful content is to readers, which can inform our content development choices and help us stay relevant; this can only be good for editors professionally. "When editorial content curators align their efforts with the departments like marketing and membership, then you are fully leveraging your content to achieve more results,” Bussolati says.

One association that seems to be on the right path is the American Physical Therapy Association. Senior Director of Publishing and Member Communications Lois Douthitt says that although APTA "doesn’t have it all figured out yet,” the association has made several significant changes in the past couple of years to reflect the new reality. As for content marketing, Douthitt points out that association publishers have always been concerned with producing content to help increase membership and promote the industry and profession.

"Now I don’t mean it’s only about propaganda, and I don’t mean that we don’t write objectively,” explains Douthitt. "If anything, I think that in the content marketing mindset we’re relieved of obligations to publish hard sales pitches for member engagement; instead, the content we create and curate — the valuable information our members can use — is itself the pitch,” she says.

Douthitt shares a few of the changes that APTA has made to address this new reality:

· Revised the publishing mission. One major change coincided with the redesign of the magazine. APTA decided to publish only need-to-know content as opposed to nice-to-know, says Douthitt. "It must encourage a change in behavior — get members to renew, share, like, buy, attend, act, practice differently because they found value in what we provided — or it doesn't belong.”

· Removed the term "magazine.” APTA also removed the word "magazine” and renamed the publication PT in Motion to take advantage of packaging the content in a mixed-media model. This gives the publication "more room to evolve into something other than a traditional magazine,” says Douthitt. "The PT in Motion brand now labels the print magazine (a PDF replica) an interactive digital edition and a simple HTML format on our website. It also covers our daily digital news feed and an online buyers’ guide.”

· Unbundled content. APTA also branded magazine departments and columns separately so they can be downloaded individually or combined with other items. For instance, one of the columns has been turned into a podcast that features members sharing their career stories. This podcast can be downloaded through iTunes and is also linked from the columns in the digital magazine and from the association’s consumer website.

To remain relevant, Douthitt advises publishers to get used to being outside of their comfort zone and study and learn from others – including those outside their industry – for good ideas. "We have to let go of our old assumptions and learn what it will take to attract and keep our audiences.”

To AM&P members, Bussolati offers up a "Content Marketing Manifesto,” affirmations designed to help association publishers proudly embrace their role as content marketers:

1. I am a marketer.

2. I hold the hottest tool for driving member retention: content.

3. My content topics are aligned with my organization’s business goals.

4. I am in the influencing behavior game.

5. I am engaged in an ongoing dialogue with our audience.

6. Our association has an organization-wide content strategy.

7. I am not deterred by internal silos.

8. I use all tools and channels available to engage.

9. I am accountable for the efficacy of my content.

10. I am an innovator in identifying new content ideas and types.

11. I take thoughtful risks.

Bussolati is taking the content discussion to a new level at this June’s 2013 Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting with a session titled, "Why Not Having a Content Strategy Worked in the Past, But Won't in the Future.” Bussolati says attendees will walk out of this session with a plan for their own content strategy and an understanding of the technology choices that will move you to a contemporary model of content creation.

Phaedra Brotherton, a member of the AM&P Education Committee, is senior writer/editor for the American Society for Training and Development.


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