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What Hasn't Changed - 9/8/2010 -

By Christina Folz

In recent years, association communicators have mastered a vast new vocabulary: blogs, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, wikis, social bookmarks, etc. These days, editors are often referred to as "content strategists" and are now responsible for routing content to appropriate media channels such as print, web, or video.

What hasn't changed? Fortunately, content is still king. The difference now is simply that people want more value from their content and more opportunities for engagement. "Customers and members want to interact with you," said Scott Briscoe, editor in chief of new and social media for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). "By entering the social sphere, associations can help individuals to communicate, collaborate, and connect with the broader community," he said.

Briscoe and Peter Hutchins, vice president of knowledge initiatives for ASAE, presented a session at the recent Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting about the evolving role of content in the association world. The following key concepts describe that evolution—and provide guidance to ensure that your content continues to reign supreme.

1.     Content has been democratized. Through social networking and other technological tools, content has been transformed from monologs (communication from one to many) into dialogs (conversation from many to many). To remain relevant, associations must engage members through blogs, wikis, crowd-sourced articles, and rating and review systems. Wikis are extremely valuable because search engines favor them, Briscoe said, and content that has multiple contributors is now considered more valuable and authoritative than that from a single source.

2.     Gatekeepers have been neutralized. In the past, people who wanted information about a specific industry or trade had no other choice but to go to an association to learn more or connect with other like-minded people. Today, information—and communities—are everywhere, and people expect them to be freely available. If your association doesn't offer some open content or easy opportunities for people to connect, your members will simply find what they need elsewhere. "The community doesn't want to feel that you are controlling their information," said Hutchins. "They want you to help them connect with others."

3.     Be a finder, not a filter. Traditionally, associations have served as the go-to resource for everything members need to know about their industry. Nowadays, the amount of available information has exploded, and, to a large extent, people have learned to filter information for themselves using social media tools.  Associations today should focus their energy on finding (and providing) a few invaluable resources for members, rather than trying to wade through all the information out there.

4.     To have impact, interact. People have come to expect a social experience from everything they access on the web—including your site. Members are no longer satisfied with static articles, so build in social components such as blogs, rating systems, and comment fields that allow users to react to content and start a discussion. And make an effort to initiate and join conversations as well. One nonprofit organization called Educause allowed anyone in its membership to start a blog and developed a feed for the posts on its website. At least six people who are not on staff wrote posts that helped drive traffic to the Educause site.

5.     Video is quickly emerging. In 2009, YouTube streamed 1 billion videos each day. That's 24 hours of video uploaded every minute! Video can be a great way to complement articles, and tools such as YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, Veoh, and Viddler have made it easy to stream video that looks like it is coming directly from your site. Short videos (2-5 minutes) that demonstrate how to do something can be particularly effective.

Briscoe and Hutchins suggest picking a few powerful articles from your member magazine and launching a multimedia campaign around them. You might use Twitter and Facebook to promote them, add a wiki entry related to a key concept raised in the article, follow up with a blog post, and produce a video containing an interview with the author. "Develop a content plan so you know which channel leads to which message," said Briscoe. "Don't just post content—create context."

Christina Folz (Twitter @mseditor) is managing editor of Optics & Photonics News, the monthly magazine of the Optical Society. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for doing an excellent job volunteering to cover this annual meeting session for those members who were unable to attend.


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