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Integrating Digital Media? Donít Start Without a Plan - 11/19/2014 -


Integrating Digital Media? Donít Start Without a Plan

Leveraging digital media into your association's communications strategy can enhance member engagement and even increase revenue, but donít jump in just because everyone else is.

By Stephen Karl

To borrow from Hannibal Smith of the A-Team: "I love it when a plan comes together."

Have a plan. Follow it. Review, track, and update it. Rinse and repeat. Leveraging digital media into an association's communications strategy can be much more than a "me-too" approach. It can be a vibrant growth strategy that enhances the engagement of members, builds the associationís brand to the outside, and, yes, increases revenue. But the most essential element of a successful digital media campaign is to have a plan.

Too often our digital media strategy is driven by being told we need something, or because everyone else is. These are me-too approaches. For the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which presented the development and implementation of their respective digital media programs at the Association Media & Publishing November 6 Lunch & Learn "Integrating Digital Media into your Associationís Overall Communications Strategy,Ē the approaches they have taken to success have not been driven by external pressures, but by an internal desire to improve how things are done.

The workshop began with a basic question: How do you communicate to your audience? Simple, right? Yes ó if you have a good plan.

Videos Build Engagement

Joseph Cerquone, director of public relations for ASHA, led off the workshop by sharing how the organization has used video messaging to promote its new public service campaign, "Identify the Signs,Ē which stresses the importance of early intervention in dealing with speech, language, and hearing development concerns. The goal of the campaign was clear: show that early intervention helps the patient and saves money ó two priorities of healthcare.

Video, in addition to traditional radio PSAs, has helped ASHA deliver a targeted direct message featuring experts on staff and throughout its membership. To produce the videos, ASHA was able to use in-house capabilities, which kept costs down. When the project proved successful, and incorporating more videos became part of the organizationís overall communications strategy, the public relations department leveraged that in-house talent and dedicated a staff member to the medium. Having a dedicated in-house staff member(s) enables an organization to work on several projects concurrently, be adaptable, and initiate new projects as needed.

The video campaign also has been successful in generating strong member engagement within the organization, and that was a goal going in. The video directly showcased members to the public as subject matter experts and empowered members to be comfortable interacting with outside media as the campaign took off. In fact, ASHA is promoting those members who have engaged with the media as subject matter experts as a tie-in to its annual conference later this month, planning to host a reception specifically to recognize the outreach work. This type of recognition event is likely to build peer-to-peer encouragement to get more members to be subject matter experts in the media and spread awareness for the "Identify the SignsĒ campaign.

Lessons learned:

  • Plan the campaign for sustainability, relevance, and adaptability.
  • Gain an upfront understanding of roles, authority, and responsibilities.
  • Target key audiences.
  • Shorter is better ó for producers and viewers alike.
  • Surveys make news, provide validation, and engage members ó use the findings in the video to increase its accessibility.
  • Digital-friendly collateral can refresh a campaign, enabling the organization to update the message without re-creating all the content from scratch.
  • Video fortifies the public relations departmentís intra-office standing, relationships with volunteer leaders, and members.

Media Portfolio Evolution

AOPA has journeyed from a single magazine and airport directory in 1988 to producing a multi-channel portfolio of two magazines, email newsletters, six websites, blogs, mobile apps, digital editions, an online video news channel, and more.

How did it get there? According to Tom Haines, the associationís editor in chief and senior vice president-media, establishing a plan should be three-fold:

  1. Research expectations ó What do your members (readers) want?
  2. Competitive analysis ó What does the marketplace look like where you are looking to get in?
  3. Revenue potential ó What is the financial opportunity for migrating into digital channels?

Ultimately, AOPA has heeded Steve Jobsí advice to create its own market: "A lot of times, people donít know that they want until you show it to them."

From the beginning, AOPAís weekly video news channel, which garnered 2.2 million views in the past 12 months, has been geared around a three-screen strategy so it can be in front of its viewers when they want it. As far as the content, producing 30-minute episodes was proving to be draining. The team put a plan in place to see how reducing the length of episodes would impact viewership. Surprisingly, when they reduced the data, the percentage of viewership that stayed for the entire episode went up, and the average length a viewer watched also went up.

Perhaps the shorter episode proved less daunting to the viewer; perhaps the shorter episodes were tighter and therefore more engaging to watch. Either way, establishing a plan and tracking the results produced a win-win result: Those producing the content didnít need to drain themselves forcing together 30-minute episodes, and viewers (members) responded favorably to the revised product.

AOPA has also had financial success marrying its print and digital magazine editions and taking advantage of its membersí strong passion for its content. Digital is offered free instead of print, or for $10 extra (on top of the cost of print), members can receive both digital and print. About 28 percent have opted for both, netting new revenue. Those who choose digital only generate cost savings and the plan has resulted in no softening of renewals among digital-only subscribers.

The key to building a portfolio of media brands and successfully playing in several digital spaces is to know where you want to go (you know the audience; leverage that information); communicate up, down and sideways (set goals and establish metrics); and report results frequently (showcases benefits to all and engages group improvement).

Managing the Message

For AAUW, the challenge facing its editorial department was to revitalize a website and blog to help modernize a 130-year old organization with an older membership somewhat reticent to use digital media, but one with a large appeal to a younger audience since its largest annual program is a fellowship and grant program for university-age students. The editorial team, referred to internally as "The Avengers," has done just that.

Elizabeth Bolton, AAUWís associate director of art, editorial & media, shared that the key component to establishing a content plan was the development of a shared inter-department application called the Online Content Quad. The Quad requires AAUW staffers to fill out relevant information, pertinent deadlines, roles and responsibilities, the intended audience and message outcome, and any other suggestions or concerns that help the editorial department ensure the work flow is managed, planned, and executed on schedule. Content from within the organization must be submitted through the Quad if it is to get onto the web.

  • If the goal is to have content able to go up daily, a few times per week, or multiple times per day, it is imprudent to be producing, editing, and posting all in a dayís work. That is how mixed, incomplete messages go up online and how websites can be crowded to the point where it is difficult for them to be effective communications tools.
  • An organization, whether with an editorial department of one, two, five, or 15 people, can benefit from a Quad-type approach.
  • AAUW benefits by having all departments aware of the content being planned, and the editorial department can better manage its processes and roles.

The Avengers finally feel as though they have control over the work flow ó and it shows. The blog received a 2013 EXCEL Silver Award from Association Media & Publishing.

Steps to Integration

Whether producing PSA videos to spread awareness, researching the industry and your membership base to gauge whether thereís even an audience for new online content and whether it can bring in new revenue, or simply overhauling how your internal content is scheduled and shared with the outside world to ensure consistent messages, pursuing digital media opportunities does not have to be ominous.

There's something every organization, large or small, can approach. And while you donít need to try and pursue every opportunity at once, you do need a plan for whatever you do.

Stephen Karl is the editor for the Society of American Military Engineers and its magazine, The Military Engineer. Association Media & Publishing thanks him for his thorough coverage of this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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