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Social Media: Why Bother? Part One - 1/19/2010 -

Here's why: Your members can connect with your association in ways you never dreamed possible through social media. It's time to address your concerns and take the plunge—or even just dip your toe into the water.

By Carla Kalogeridis


Well, let's see: Forrester Research says about 46 percent of online American adults age 18 and older use social networking sites. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women over age 35, followed by men and women age 55 and over. And last year, use of social networking by adults ages 35-64 grew by 60 percent.

Any of those groups sound like your members?

And yet, even if you are convinced that social media is here to stay, your association may still have other worries, including:

  • We don't have time, staff, or the knowledge needed to engage in social media.
  • What if we lose control of our brand image? Our content? Who we are?
  • It's too late for us to implement a social media plan. One of the members jumped the gun and set up a social media site for our members already.
  • We can't measure results.

All these concerns and more were addressed at the recent Association Media & Publishing's Lunch & Learn on Social Media Strategies, featuring presentations from Lynn Morton, manager, marketing technologies membership, marketing & strategic business development for the American Academy of Physician Assistants, and Ami Neiberger-Miller, PR maven and writer, Steppingstone LLC. In short, the presenters believe that:

  1. Social media is an opportunity to strengthen relationships with association members.
  2. Your members can connect with your association in ways you never dreamed possible through social media, and they can do it from the convenience of where they live today. Right now.
  3. You can build social media outreach within the strategic communications plan that already exists for your association.
  4. You can buy help. Consultants abound.
  5. If you don't have a lot of time, select one social media forum that best suits your audience and needs, and do it well. Grow as you gain confidence.

In part one of this two-part article covering the Lunch & Learn content on social media strategies, here are several comments from Ami Neiberger-Millert on the topic of associations making their way in the social media world. (Editor's note: Presenter Lynn Morton's interview will be featured in the next edition of Final Proof.)

Q: Why are some associations still "afraid” to participate in social media? Is there any scenario you can imagine when participating in social media would NOT make sense for an association?

Neiberger-Miller: Some associations are afraid to participate in social media because they don't know much about it. Others are concerned about resources being too public, or about how to juggle social media into a workload.

Q: What role can social media initiatives play in the overall goals of the association?

Neiberger-Miller: It can improve how members perceive your association and improve their relationship with your association. It should be viewed as another tool to market the association to members.

Q: How do you find out exactly how members want to engage with your association?

Neiberger-Miller: Sometimes members will not self-identify that they "want” social media communications from their association if asked directly on a survey. Yet those same members are joining Facebook in droves and may subscribe to a Facebook fan page or group for your association. While they may visit your association website only a few times a month, many of your members are visiting Facebook every day and spending significant time on the site. Social media gives you an opportunity to reach out to your members in a virtual space where they already are and engage them. It also gives them an opportunity to self-identify themselves to others as a member of your association.

Q: What's the best way to handle negative comments made about an association, its media products, or services on a social media site?

Neiberger-Miller: Be honest and direct. On Facebook you have the ability to delete comments posted on a fan page or group, so that is an option if things get out of hand. But you are likely best off addressing something head on. My experience is that many nonprofits and associations worry about negative feedback, and yet, they often receive very little negative feedback.

Q: How do you benchmark your association's social media success? What does success in the social media arena "look like”?

Neiberger-Miller: There are a lot of new tools emerging to assess social media success. A quantitative approach involves counting everything – number of fans, number of re-tweets, number of posts and comments. There are a number of free tools that can assess influence in social media, but many of these are still in a developmental phase and rely predominantly on counting.

Some people forget to check their traditional website statistics. Are people coming to your traditional website from a social media page? A more qualitative approach also looks at the quality of the interactions (are people replying, stating an opinion, or talking about you), as well as the numbers.

Q: How will relationships with your members or potential members change through social media?

Neiberger-Miller: Some of these relationships will likely get more personal and the interactions more frequent.

Q: Who is the best person to be responsible for posting and generating content?

Neiberger-Miller: This can vary. In some associations, this responsibility is shared among a group of people. Because associations often want a personalized relationship with their members, sometimes the social media communication is more personalized and linked to an individual.

Q: What are some of the costs you should budget and plan for? What types of things can fall into unanticipated costs?

Neiberger-Miller: I would recommend drafting a plan—even if it is a limited one—before jumping feet first into social media. You need to think through what your goals are for interacting in this new medium.

You also need to know who you want to talk to, what their needs are, and how you plan to approach them. Not all social media forums and tools may be needed. Often, organizations think that they must be present on all platforms at the same time. That may not be necessary. Go where your members are. Many of them are already on these platforms. Use contests and questions to reach out to members and engage them through a social media platform.

Q: What message would you give to association leaders who are still uncomfortable with their association's participation in social media?

Neiberger-Miller: As someone who works with clients on branding, one thing I often mention is that you also need to protect your brand. There are "kind, gentle souls” out there who will set up a page for an association or group that is not "official” but does not always share the information the association would like shared. Often, these are well-intentioned people just trying to help, but sometimes they pose significant challenges to organizations. The reality is that if you don't build at least a minimal presence, someone else may do it for you, and then you will be in the position of bringing a renegade presence into alignment with your brand. Building it yourself is often easier and not nearly as complicated.

I would also say that social media is a very useful tool for engaging members and other partners where they already are.

Association Media & Publishing thanks Lynn Morton (Twitter, @AAPALynn) and Ami Neiberger-Miller (Twitter, @AmazingPRMaven) for presenting at the Lunch & Learn and participating in this article. Carla Kalogeridis(Twitter, @CarlaKalo) is editorial director of Association Media & Publishing.

For more information on Association Media& Publishing Lunch & Learns, including sponsoring, speaking, or attending, please contact Emily Hicks.


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