To Improve Member Engagement, Focus on Social Media Your Members Actually Use
Two years and over 2,800 Twitter followers later, Damian Kavanagh, vice president of accreditation and membership for Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS), declares his association’s implementation of a focused social media strategy a success.
Although SAIS has had a Twitter account since 2011, it wasn’t until the organization evaluated how and where members found information that social media has effectively engaged members, says Kavenagh. “We discovered that most of our members use Twitter to stay up to date on news and issues in education,” he explains. “The association has a Facebook page and a LinkedIn account but Facebook is geared toward personal information and LinkedIn is most often comprised of job seekers.” Because members look to Twitter to meet personal and professional information needs, SAIS uses it as the association’s communications hub to share news of both types in a time-saving format.
Several tweets per day are generated by one staff person for whom social media daily posts are a part of the job, says Kavanagh. “Strategically, we post messages that reflect our members’ interests rather than association announcements. Instead, we use email for general communication about association events.” This means that tweets connect followers to articles that highlight education industry news or offer insights from peers, he adds.
Exceptions to this rule are tweets that include links to YouTube videos that serve as “advertisements” promoting specific seminars or presentations at upcoming events. “The videos feature the speakers and we republish them with their permission to give members a preview of topics that will be covered,” explains Kavanagh.
Although Twitter is the predominant social media platform used by SAIS, Facebook plays an important role in sharing more personal, fun stories and ideas. The association also uses Facebook to engage and connect with members on a different level. “We have begun to use guest editors who take over content management for a week,” says Kavanagh. “Not only will this give the page a different voice, but it creates some extra buzz and interest in our Facebook page.”
Base decisions on research, not assumptions
Researching members’ use of social media is essential to creation of an effective social media plan, says Debra Berliner, senior vice president of Kellen, a global association management and communications company. “According to Kellen’s Social Media Impact Study for Associations 2015, most U.S. associations are on some combination of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and those are generally good places to be.”
However, there is no one size fits all answer for the question of the “most effective” social media platforms for an association, points out Berliner. “The best way to approach platform selection, in our opinion, is to look at the association’s online landscape using a combination of sophisticated listening tools and analytics,” she says. “You may be surprised to learn exactly where your association’s relevant conversations are taking place, and those platforms will be your most effective communications vehicles.”
When the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), a trade association representing the manufacturers and suppliers of EPDM [ethylene propylene diene terpolymer] single-ply roofing products, evaluated social media use by its stakeholders, there were a few surprises.
“When we began using social media, we assumed all of our stakeholders accessed social media at some level but we learned that one group posted less than we thought they would, another relied on it more than we thought and one group never used social media for communication,” says Ellen Thorpe, associate executive director of ERA.
The primary goal of ERA’s social media plan is to share technical and research support that members can use to communicate the benefits of the product to the construction industry and business owners who are the ultimate consumers, explains Thorpe. “We found that LinkedIn and Twitter were the platforms most often used by our members to find business-oriented news, so they are our primary platforms,” she explains.
ERA’s goal for social media is to drive people to the association’s website, which contains a myriad of resources, research findings and technical articles. “We post or tweet snippets of articles that are linked to blog posts and longer articles on our website,” says Thorpe. “About 75 percent of all social media messages are linked to blog posts and articles on our website and we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in visits to our website since the implementation of our social media strategy in March 2015.”
Due to the technical nature of the message ERA is conveying, the association rarely reposts other sources’ articles, she explains. “We rely on articles and other content created and reviewed by our experts so we can maintain control over the messages and ensure our members have the best information,” she adds. “The blog we created as part of our overall strategy summarizes best practices, research results and technical issues and includes links back to the full articles.” The blog has been well received as a quick, easy way to survey up-to-date resources that are available, she adds.
Social media can be challenging and association staff may wonder if messages are read or if social media is needed at all, says Kavanagh. “SAIS members are in an industry that moves at the pace of a glacier. While teachers still rely on books and libraries, they also have mobile devices in their hands,” he points out. “We found out where they were going for information, and then we met them there to position ourselves as their source of information for industry news.”