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Focusing the Content Lens - 6/22/2010 -

When creating content for members, more is not better, and the most successful association media products are those that address the needs of multiple demographics. Here are several good insights on how to grow and engage your membership through great content planning.

By Cecily Walters

When planning content for your members, the lens through which you present this content is very important, explained Lou Ann Sabatier, principal of Sabatier Consulting, during her presentation at the Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn held May 18th. Specifically, "More is not better,” Sabatier emphasized. Titled "Growing and Engaging Members with Content Planning,” the event held at the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C. (sponsored by IPC Print Services), featured presentations by Sabatier and Tom Haines, senior vice president for media for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

While it is important for members to know that your association's content—which Sabatier defined as text, graphics, audio, video, data, or any combination of these—was recently updated, quality is more important than quantity. She explained that the goal for those creating association content is to "act as a hamster by pushing users back and forth between your blog, website, and magazine.” The website should be an automatic place that members visit to access new content, she added.

But in addition to publishing content created by association staff, it's important to remember that many publishers are embracing the increasingly mainstream user-generated content. Content created by members may take the form of forums, blogs, and/or online communities. While such content can be a useful way to create both varied and valuable information for your association, editors who are accustomed to being gatekeepers must adapt to losing a certain amount of control over this type of content, Sabatier advised.

Other current trends in content creation include the expansion of multimedia content, such as combining traditional print content with video and bringing together print and online content production, Sabatier reported. The creation of these new forms of content can require additional and/or different skills than those possessed by "traditional journalists.” Mobile content, she said, is more than just a trend—"it will not go away.”

Sabatier's suggestions for managing and producing content include naming a "chief content officer” to oversee the pooling of print and online resources. It is also essential to make content easily searchable by adding meta data and tags. She added that content planning not only incorporates what you are going to include, but also what you will leave out.

She revealed that brands that thrive—vs. survive—meet the needs of one or more demographics, rather than simply publishing for a certain demographic. "Recognizing this core principal is key to creating and sustaining audiences that are engaged and profitable for association publishers,” Sabatier said.

Tom Haines knows what it's like to have an engaged audience. Since 1995, he has taken the publications content produced by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) from a monthly magazine and annual directory of airport information to two monthly magazines, a biennial directory of airport information, an online airport directory updated daily, eight websites, two weekly e-mail newsletters, a video channel, and mobile applications. According to Haines, AOPA has made this transition by understanding the changing expectations and requirements of readers and AOPA members. This knowledge came about through what he described as "research, research and research.”

To gain continued access to your content by members, it's necessary to be familiar with your various audience segments. Then, Haines explained, "Give them more across all channels and understand who else like them might also want that content.” To keep your content fresh, he noted, the research you perform will assist you in identifying gaps in your existing content, as well as shedding light on potential windows of opportunity.

While an important aspect of content planning is deciding what content should be produced, you may also find yourself dealing with generational issues in the process, Haines revealed. For the first time, three generations are employed in the workplace at once—Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y/Millennials—and all may have different ideas for creating content and using technology. To ensure that staff members can work together effectively to plan content, Haines suggested giving them an opportunity to interact, such as through social time that will allow them to share experiences and interests that transcend beyond generations.

Cecily Walters is assistant editor for School Nutrition magazine at the School Nutrition Association in National Harbor, Md. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover the Lunch & Learn for those members who were unable to attend.


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