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How to Build an Electronic Strategy - 5/4/2010 -

Two association leaders shared their digital publishing experiences at a recent Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn: one focused on fine-tuning your digital publication strategy, and the other told a rip-roaring tale of editors on a road-trip collecting profiles on "rebel” members and documenting the whole project online.

By Laura Goetz

ELECTRONIC PUBLICATION AND MESSAGING STRATEGIES go well beyond posting the full content of print vehicles online. But before you launch any new strategy, know why you are implementing it, and make sure that it is "consistent with your brand and your mission,” advises Jill Hronek, director of communications for The Sherwood Group, Inc. Hronek shared the stage with Edward A. Adams, publisher, American Bar Association (ABA), and editor and publisher, ABA Journal, at a recent Association Media & Publishing Educational Program on "Building an Effective Electronic Strategy for Your Publication,” sponsored by Texterity.

Here are the key take-aways:

  1. Know what your membership wants and needs, make a plan, and develop meaningful measures for outcomes. Engage your readers and offer greater value with formal and informal online education modules (e.g., continuing medical education, case studies, journal image quizzes), social media (Twitter during association meetings, Facebook afterward to extend speaker discussions), blogs, and online discussion groups.
  2. Sustainability is key. Volunteer-driven initiatives require commitment and a succession plan. Buy-in from the board, staff, committees, members at large, and subgroups is essential. Hronek says think through the implications, retain control, assign responsibility, and "seek feedback and expand the idea.” Let go of what isn't working. It's all part of the process of "learning, unlearning, and relearning.”
  3. Maintain consistency across your publication, website, email communications, and social media presence. The impression members, prospective members, and the general public have when they leave the site or social media outlet is what you will be judged by. The brand is not a logo or a design or a color scheme, says Hronek: "The brand is what they leave with.”

Rebels with a Cause

The ABA Journal's website is quite robust, but even so, Edward Adams thought there was an opportunity to make it so much more. Consider these features of The ABA Journal website:

  • The website adds value to the print product and encourages interactivity;
  • The full content of each print issue is freely available online;
  • News items and story summaries are posted throughout each day;
  • A "blawg” directory lists legal blogs by topic, author type, region, and law school; and
  • The site offers several ways to stay connected via social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed).

These features and more net the website 1.5 to 2 million page views per month. But as editor and publisher of ABA Journal, Adams viewed this as a springboard. He wanted to try something "really cool” that could change—for the better—the perception members have of the association.

Launched in 2009, the Legal Rebels tour generated excitement among members and staff alike. Members nominated peers they consider to be "innovators” and "pathfinders.” From the hundreds of responses, ABA staff selected 10 lawyers to interview during a two-week road trip along the East Coast. Members and staff collaborated on a manifesto wiki, which was signed by lawyers who consider themselves legal rebels.

Advertisers provided in-kind contributions, including a rental truck, hotel rooms, and cell phones. After hiring a professional videographer and affixing a webcam to the dashboard of the rental to enable live web streaming of team discussions in transit, the team hit the road. Adams' cell phone was linked up with Google Latitude, enabling followers to track their progress in real time. One video per day was posted to YouTube, photos were posted to Flickr, and the site included a "song of the day” widget.

Throughout the trip, the engaged readership sent messages via email, Twitter, and Facebook, with questions to ask the lawyers profiled, questions about what had been asked, and suggestions on where to eat along the way. The buzz generated approximately 400,000 unique visitors each month, which was attractive to advertisers.

When asked whether the Legal Rebels online project affected the print ABA Journal, Adams responded that the project showed concretely that not everything must be in print. Whereas there are 50 complete profiles on the Legal Rebels site, only 16 profile summaries appeared in the print ABA Journal.

The Legal Rebels project got people to look at the American Bar Association in a new way. There is a renewed sense of what the organization is and what it can do, and there are plans to build on the Legal Rebels franchise.

Whether you are dipping your toes in the water of online publications, consider yourself an expert in social media, or are embarking on a radical new electronic communication strategy, be ready to "learn, unlearn, and relearn” every day.

Laura Goetz is senior editor, Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for doing an excellent job of covering this Lunch & Learn for the members who were unable to attend.

Don't miss the upcoming feature on digital publication strategy in the May/June 2010 issue of Association Media & Publishing's Signature magazine.


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