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Get Your Members on the Write Path (Part One) - 11/29/2011 -

Here are six strategies for achieving more member-bylined articles in your publications.

By Apryl Motley, CAE

"Iím too busy.Ē

"Iím not really much of a writer.Ē

"Iím not sure if this is the best topic for me to address.Ē

These are the responses members often give when you contact them about writing for your publications. If they sound familiar, you know that getting your members to become authors can take more than a little convincing. At the same time, you hear from members over and over again that they most value content generated by their peers.

With that feedback in mind, many association publishers dedicate time and resources to ensuring "the member voiceĒ resonates in their publications. While it can be difficult to build a member author pool, certain strategies will make it more likely that your membersí names will appear as bylines in an upcoming issue of your publication, on your blog, or in some other content-driven medium.

  1. Make it easy by providing guidelines and/or templates. Itís helpful if you can point members to specific author guidelines and other resources on your associationís website. Even better, they will find it helpful if you provide examples of recent articles that serve as good examples of what youíre looking for in a well-written member article. In addition, templates can work especially well when youíre trying to build an online library of a certain kind of article, such as case studies. If potential authors can easily see what information is needed, the task of writing might seem less daunting.

  1. Start small with a monthly Q&A format. One of the best ways to identify potential authors is to get them writing for you in some format. For example, you might ask a specific group of members (i.e. CEOs) to serve on a panel, which would mean that they would agree to receive a monthly question to which they will provide a brief (150-200 words) response as their schedules allow them to do so. This is a low-pressure way of establishing regular communication with a potential author pool.

You want to keep an eye out for those panelists who respond regularly and often write responses longer than requested. Depending upon the desired length of articles for your publications, when you contact them about writing an article, youíll be able to tell them that they are half-way there.

  1. Monitor listservers and other community forums. That same member who tells you that he or she doesnít have time to write an article might be very active on your associationís listserver or blog. Tap into that personís preference for written expression and offer to work with him or her to develop an article based on an extended version of a particularly insightful post. This strategy works really well when you send the member a nicely formatted and slightly edited version of his or her post. Who could refuse an offer like that?

  1. Plan well in advance. Your members are not the best people to contact when you have a last-minute hole to fill in your publication. Typically, they need lots of lead time to do their best work. Most member authors require two to three monthsí notice. As you plan, think about what else these members might already be tasked with doing. Does your request to write an article fit in nicely with other tasks they are completing on behalf of the association, or does it add to their plates unnecessarily? Timing is a key factor in persuading members to become authors.

  1. Touch base throughout the process. You donít want members to feel alone in the editorial process. Maintain regular contact with your member authors to make sure they are on track to meet their deadlines and determine if they need help with any aspect of their articles. Perhaps, you can point them to other resources internally that might be useful as they complete their work.

By the same token, make these communications meaningful and try to bundle them so that member authors are not receiving one email for the copyright agreement and another requesting a photo. The more that you coordinate your efforts internally; the better it will be for you and the member author.

  1. Make it worth their while. An expression of gratitude definitely goes a long way. Members who write for both your print and electronic publications should receive a personalized thank you note from you along with additional copies of the publication if applicable. Consider recognizing your authors at annual meetings by hosting a special reception just for them or giving them buttons or stickers that say, "Iím proud to write for XYZ publication.Ē

As much they appreciate public recognition of their efforts, your authors may appreciate professional recognition even more. If your association offers a certification program that requires ongoing continuing education for re-certification, consider giving members credit for writing articles.

These strategies should make the authoring experience a pleasant one for your members. Even better, itís their word-of-mouth marketing about how great it was to write for your publications that will help most in building your member author pool.

Apryl Motley, CAE, is a freelance writer and communications consultant.


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