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The Imperatives of Social Media Strategy - 1/10/2012 -

What is most critical to your association’s success in social media?

By Cathy McNamara Fitzgerald

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, QR codes—where do you start, and which type of social media does your association really need? These questions and many more were answered during Association Media & Publishing’s day of learning on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, held in the American Dental Association’s Hillenbrand Auditorium. Titled The Business of Association Publishing, the day hosted a variety of courses, one of which was "Social Media for Associations: How to Engage Your Members Using the Latest Technologies.”

The talk featured a panel of experts, including Jean Lynch, director of marketing/communications at the American Association of Medical Assistants, and managing editor of its CMA Today; Edward Bury, director of marketing/communications at Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago; and Andy Steggles, COO and social strategist at Higher Logic and author of Social Networking for Nonprofits.

Lynch spoke of her experience launching her association’s Facebook page in September 2010. She emphasized the importance of committing to a regular posting schedule before you even consider any type of social media launch. After all, she noted, regular postings and interaction are essential to building and maintaining an audience. Second, she said, it’s imperative to create a content safety net. Brainstorm with staff so that you have content at the ready.

Which types of content should you be stockpiling? Think of association news, industry news, and items of interest to your particular membership. Establish content for postings that will elicit a reaction from your readers. "Have fun with it,” advises Lynch. "On Columbus Day, for example, we focused on ‘discovery’ and how our membership [of medical assistants] might relate to that theme. With that in mind, on our Facebook page, we posted the question, ‘What is the most important medical discovery to date?’ We had a great response.”

Member-directed content will engage your audience and elicit a response, and that’s the kind of interaction you are looking to create with social media. In fact, the panelists note, member engagement is critical to the success of your association’s social media efforts.

Lynch says that she utilizes Facebook advertising to draw attention to her Facebook page. "By advertising in Facebook, we boosted our new ‘likers’ from an average of 14 a day to 63 a day!” she says.

The panelists offered good take-home advice about utilizing a variety of social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogging. They discussed the pros and cons of mobile apps. But probably the biggest message from the hour-long session was that association executives must think about the "big picture.”

Social media is not simply Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. It’s not about whether you should or should not be launching a mobile app for your annual session. Instead, it’s about all of these things collectively and more. If you want your association to succeed with social media, the panelists stress, you need to think about your specific social media strategy.

So, as your association works to incorporate and/or build its social media holdings, the panelists advise that you keep the following in mind:

· Which types of social media will best reach and engage your members?

· How will you integrate your messages across various platforms?

· How will you use social media to educate your membership and drive them to your website?

· How will you use mobile media (apps, QR codes) to drive engagement within your traditional media?

· And perhaps most importantly, how will you use social media to continue to engage your current membership while converting followers and fans to new members?

It’s a lot to think about, and it all comes down to strategy. Want to learn more? Check out the upcoming programs and events from Association Media & Publishing at www.associationmediaandpublishing.org and keep on learning.

Cathy McNamara Fitzgerald is director, communications, at the Academy of General Dentistry and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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