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In Search of the Sweet Spot - 5/24/2011 -

Here’s some great insight from two associations who went beyond digital "flipbooks” to take their communications to the next level.

By Jennifer J. Salopek

Inside the dark-paneled, high-ceilinged meeting room at the National Guard Association in Washington, DC, scores of attendees listened as representatives from two associations described how they had moved beyond PDFs and flipbooks to offer members true engagement with online content. The May 12th Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn session was moderated by Karla Taylor of Karla Taylor Communications and sponsored by Automated Graphic Systems.

Case Study: ASAE’s Interactive Extras

Well over a year ago, after Apple launched the iPad, the staff of ASAE’s Associations Now began wondering whether they should create an iPad app. This required answering the larger question, "What role would the magazine play as part of ASAE’s overall content strategy?” said Mark Athitakis, senior editor of Associations Now. There was no denying the appeal of digital publishing.

"We wanted to be exciting, forward-thinking, to demonstrate for our members by leading the way,” he said. "However, we didn’t want to be so bleeding-edge that we left them behind; we sought the sweet spot.”

Rather than develop an app, the ASAE team decided to create a quarterly series of Interactive Extras, themed digital supplements that included interactive features. To free up resources, two fewer issues of the print magazine would be produced. Athitakis emphasized that the Interactive Extras are not a replica of the magazine, but rather a true supplement to it. Finding the right production partner was key.

ASAE began with a long short-list of 11 vendors and asked them all the same set of questions. Some of the questions addressed preferred platform, lead time, price structure, archiving, and registration. Staff created a matrixed spreadsheet that collated all of the information and shared it among departments. Once the list was narrowed down to three finalists, the issues "got very granular,” Athitakis said.

The three finalists were asked to respond to an RFP for a hypothetical issue that would include 25 screens/pages of editorial, 10 screens/pages of ads, one embedded video, one embedded audio clip, six pop-up sidebars, and 30 hyperlinks. Attempting to create a truly collaborative partnership, ASAE also asked vendors, "What do you want to try?”

ASAE selected Trifecta and produced its first Interactive Extra in January 2011; the theme was "governance.” Athitakis shared some lessons learned from the experience:

• Thinking ahead is critical. Think very far ahead.

• Edit-design connection needs to be close.

• Space is tight!

• Navigability is key.

• Building awareness and attention take time and effort.

• Design is an iterative process.

• "Let’s try it!” vs. "Let’s not blow the budget.”

• Think about what’s next on the horizon.


Also, he said, "We learned that you need to do more hand-holding than you might expect to show readers what they can do with an interactive magazine. People need to be told, ‘Click here.’” They also discovered that readers don’t begin at the beginning of a digital publication, but instead dip in and out.

Associations Now produced its second Interactive Extra on "publishing” in April and plans a third for July.

Case Study: Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation's Mobile Content

The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) has been innovating by strategically using social media, animation, audio, video, and apps to engage consumers with its mission: to promote conservation through increased participation in boating and fishing. Its promotional campaign, "Take Me Fishing,” encourages experienced boaters and anglers to introduce someone new to their avocation.

In determining an overall digital strategy, Maria Knight, RBFF’s director of online strategies, said her organization approaches it with two questions in mind:

(1) What do we want people to do; and

(2) How do they want to engage?

RBFF was an extreme early adopter of social media, creating its own online community, Fishington, in 2008. Facebook was just beginning to outpace MySpace, Knight said, but was still focused on consumers; fan pages didn’t yet exist. However, she now recommends Facebook as a great place to get your feet wet with social media.

"Consider the available time and resources to manage and maintain social channels,” she said. "They require a commitment.” Also, Knight advised, social media is a conversational tool, so use language your end users understand.

RBFF has also experimented with mobile delivery of digital assets. Although its members are always on the go, there wasn’t much data available about audience preferences around mobile, Knight said. What RBFF did know was that users’ number-one need was to find and gain access to places to boat and fish. A mobile app seemed like just the thing.

The foundation looked for opportunities to leverage what was already out there. "We did some research into existing apps and found the Boat Ramp app, which was created by an independent mobile developer,” Knight said. "We contacted him directly and were able to work out a multi‐year licensing agreement with him; he rebranded the app with our look and feel.”

RBFF also learned that by 2012, 50 percent of all web searches will be conducted from mobile devices. The foundation launched a mobile version of its website, a scaled-down version that delivers the content most relevant to users on the go. It now generates almost 40 percent of RBFF’s site traffic, said Knight.

RBFF’s two viral video campaigns were "successful, but not in the way we expected,” said Knight. She noted that such campaigns require lots of teasing and seeding to build word of mouth, as well as a clear call-to-action for users.

"It’s a learning process, and you must be willing to take risks,” she concluded. "Even so, unless there’s data to back up an initiative, we don’t do it.”

Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer who specializes in association publications. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn session for our members who were unable to attend.


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