Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present to the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives about Content Marketing for Associations. It was a topic that I had constantly had conversations with association executives about over the past few years, so I thought I'd put together a presentation explaining the ins and outs of not only content marketing itself, but how associations and nonprofits can successfully institute a content marketing strategy of their own. The presentation was very well received, to my delight, so I wanted to share the main points with as many others as I could.
Here are the main points I covered:
- What is content marketing?
- Defining GREAT content
- Creating effective content strategies
- Member-generated content
- Search engine optimization 101
- Measuring ROI
What is content marketing?
Joe Pulzzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as "the marketing and business practice for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action." The main part to focus on in that definition is "creating and distributing relevant and valuable content." The entire point and basis of any content marketing plan for an association is to create unique content that educates and engages current or potential members. This goes hand-in-hand with why associations are created in the first place; for the sole purpose of educating industry and association members
Defining GREAT content
Creating content for the sole purpose of creating content is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You've heard the effects of a good content marketing strategy can positively impact your association, so you just crank out a bunch of content just for the fun of it. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work like that. You must be able to create great content to separate yourself from other associations in your industry. Here's 5 things each piece of content should accomplish:
- It must be unique: You may have heard that content is king. Well, that's simply not true. Unique content it king.
- Be timely: Is the topic you're writing about timely? Does it relate to things happening right now or in-season? People want to know the here and now, not the there and then.
- Take a position, and back it up with facts: Don't be afraid to take a stance on an issue within your industry. Maybe some controversial legislation just passed that will negatively affect your industry. Write a blog about how you think it will negatively impact your colleagues and industry as a whole, but make sure you back your stance up with facts and statistics. No one likes a "facebook expert." You know, those people who have very strong opinions on things with little to no verifiable information to back it up.
- Provoke conversation: When you're writing material, always remember to think to yourself, "Could I have a conversation about this at an association meeting?" It's a great way to determine the "who cares" factor. Don't waste your time developing material that no one cares about.
- Make people smile: Don't be afraid to be light-hearted and make people smile. Show that your organization and it's employees are people with a sense of humor. Showing your organization has a human side is a great way to keep people engaged.
Creating Effective Content Strategies
Creating a strategy in order to make sure you create and distribute that content correctly is also extremely important. Without a good strategy, you're simply writing random content with no plan. You must have a plan!
- Know your audience: As an association, this one is pretty easy. You already have a very clear and concise target market for your future members and your know the specifics of what they like to look at. This is a huge benefit to get started.
- Mission statement & goals: By knowing your organizational mission statement and goals, you can coincide your content creation and dispersal along with it. Use percentages to give yourself an idea of what kind of content you should be creating for what channel. For example, if you're looking to build brand awareness as an annual goal, a great way to do that is by creating visual content such as videos or infographics for social media. Weigh the amount of content like this you'll create by how important brand awareness is to your organization to meet your annual goals.
- Stay up-to-date: Use the tools that are out there to stay up-to-date on the latest things going on in your industry. Google Alerts is a great way to have the latest information and media on a certain topic sent directly to your inbox each day. Use that information for topic ideas, or to simply share what's going on in the industry.
- Create an editorial calendar: One of the best things that we've personally done at Omnipress is to create an editorial calendar. Each month we meet to discuss the next two months of content and plan what we'll be writing, where we'll be distributing it and how else we can leverage our content. It helps everyone stay on task and not fall behind. When I come in each morning, all I have to do is look and see if I'm responsible for writing or posting anything that day. I then complete that task and I'm on to other essential duties for the day. It's a great way to stick to your content marketing plan.
- Track your work: I'm a firm believer that you might as well not create any kind of content unless you have a reliable way to track it. Track things like when you post, how you post and the success of the post to paint a clear picture for yourself (and your boss) of what's working and what's not. This will help when you're planning future content and need to decide what to spend your precious time on.
One of the other great things about working for an association is the fact that you're able to have contact with a lot of great minds in your industry. The tough part is getting those minds to contribute to your organization in the form of content. Members respect other members so it's incredibly important to enable them to share their experiences and their expertise. You can do so by offering incentives like committee titles, a little PR, or even a shiny new title to show off on their resume or LinkedIn profile. Enable your members to be part of what makes your association great.
Search engine 101
Search engine optimization doesn't have to be a big, bad, scary thing. It truly is something that everyone can do. Yes, there are very high level things that you need a little html experience to conduct, but the basics are all things we can help with.
- Meta tags: Make sure all of your metadata is completed on all the pages of your site and blog. This means completing the title tags, description, and keywords within your content management system. There's a lot of debate about whether or not these things have any bearing on search engine ranking anymore, but my motto has always been "it's better to be safe than sorry." This takes you very little time to complete each time you create new content, so why not take it to complete this task.
- Headline and body: The most important thing you can do with a headline or the body of the content is to write naturally. What I mean is to write like you would if you were speaking with someone in person. Don't simply throw the keyword you're trying to rank for in your content 100 times and think it will help you rank better. As a matter of fact, if it's used too many times, and not in a natural, conversational tone, the search engines will actually penalize you. Use your keywords naturally!
- User-friendly URLs: This is a little bit more advanced, but something we can still all impact. Instead of keeping your URLs filled with random numbers and letters like this: www.omnipress.com/123/asfdqwertasvd, reformat your URLs to easy-to-read keywords like: www.omnipress.com/associations
*These are obviously three, high-level SEO tips. There are MANY other factors that go into search engine rankings, but these will help get you started each time you create new content.
As an business, everything you do must be able to be tied back to some sort of ROI. Since your resources are even more limited in an association, you must really make sure your getting revenue back from your efforts. Here's a few things to keep in mind to do just that:
- Clearly define your objectives and goals (short and long-term): In order to measure success, you must be able to have a baseline of what success means to your organization. Using the SMART practice, you can come up with effective measurements to determine success. SMART - Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
- Key performance indicators: There are typically some KPIs that your organization can pay attention to on your website and blog to measure content effectiveness. Here's a short list
- Unique visits: A unique visit is the amount of individual visits you have to certain pages. For example, if you have 10 people come to your site, that's 10 unique visits. If those same 10 people visit your page 100 times, that's 100 visits. See the difference?
- Geography: This is a great indicator, especially for state or regional associations to determine if their content is reaching the right geographic area.
- Bounce rate: A bounce is when someone goes to a certain piece of content (page, post, etc.) and leaves without looking at any other piece of content. You want your content to encourage people to stay on your site, so the more pages they visit the better. The lower your bounce rate, the better.
- Session Duration: How long are people spending on your site, and the content on it? This is a great indicator of the quality of your content.
- Shares, likes, comments
- Followers and Subscribers